By Patty Mamula
For the Oregon Beer Growler
GoodLife Brewing in Bend has been on a roll ever since it opened five years ago this June. “We’re five years ahead of our business plan and 800 percent ahead of production goals,” said sales and promotions coordinator Chris Nelson.
To celebrate and give back to the community, GoodLife started a Sustainable Session Series in February with a portion of sales going to a Northwest nonprofit. The first beer is the Brewshed Session Ale, available through the end of May, with proceeds going to The Oregon Brewshed® Alliance, created to protect Northwest watersheds.
Nelson said, “All the session beers will be different styles. The new one coming in June is called Wildland Session Ale and we are donating 1 percent of the sales to the Deschutes Collaborative Forest Project. The one for October will be Mountain Rescue, GoodLife’s first beer. The proceeds from that will go to Deschutes County Search and Rescue.”
Native son Curt Plants started the brewery along with Ty Barnett, who’s originally from Joseph. The two managed to secure the business’s enviable west side location through a combination of incredible timing and luck. They were one day away from signing a lease on a facility in northeast Bend and planned to focus on production.
But they happened to drive by an indoor tennis center for lease in the Century Center Events venue. Immediately they were hooked. The building had high ceilings, good light and plenty of space: 22,000 square feet inside and 9,000 square feet outside. They jumped at the chance to lease it and took the financial hit for the buildout. At the time, people wondered what in the world they would do with all that space.
It turns out, plenty. When you drive into the GoodLife parking lot, you’re right in front of their beer garden. The fenced area features a few tables, a firepit, a bocce ball court and a food cart. There’s room for kids and dogs to run or to spread out a picnic and hang out. In the summer, it’s constantly full and often the scene of charity events.
The brewery is directly to the left of the garden. With all the new tanks GoodLife keeps adding, the brewhouse is close to needing an expansion. But before they opened and installed a 30-barrel system, the empty space was cavernous and obviously so. There was so much room initially, the touring company Cycle Pub moved in. It was a beneficial partnership for a while, but GoodLife eventually needed to grow and the bike company found a new home. Curt’s older brother Mark has now taken over a section of the building for BackDrop Distilling. This is another win-win arrangement, as Mark uses the brewery’s wort and GoodLife gets his barrels. Plus, the copper still is an eye-catching addition.
Growing up, Curt was interested in learning about different beers. Curt and his father, a music teacher in the Bend school district, often vacationed at Odell Lake, which is about 65 miles southwest of Bend. That’s when father and son would sample beers to educate their palates. One day, Curt’s dad suggested he continue his studies at the Siebel Institute because he knew his son was passionate about beer and didn’t like traditional schooling. Curt went on to complete coursework there, got a job at Rogue, but eventually turned his focus to opening a brewery with co-founder Ty.
GoodLife got going with a 30-barrel, four-vessel system and produced 3,100 barrels during the first year. Growth continued from there, including the addition of two 240-barrel fermenters and a 130-barrel lagering tank. Last year, production hit 20,000 barrels. Nelson said, “The 30-barrel system will max out at 55,000 barrels a year.” Right now, they brew four batches a day, six days a week from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.
The expansion was driven by their purchase of a canning line. They had been using a mobile unit that filled 30 containers a minute. But the new line can handle 122 cans in that same amount of time. The line from Palmer Canning out of Chicago was, at the time, the largest the business had shipped west of the Mississippi. The equipment will allow GoodLife to keep up with demand in their distribution markets, including Oregon, Idaho, Hawaii, Washington and Vermont.
For GoodLife and so many other local enterprises, sustainability is simply a part of life in Central Oregon. Spent grain recycling started with a phone call from Curt to longtime family friend Dave Holmberg, his former teacher and principal. Holmberg, who worked with Curt’s father at the same school, also owns Anchor Heart Ranch and raises cattle. Holmberg described that, “Curt asked if I still had cattle and said he was starting a brewery. Would I be interested in taking that stuff?”
Holmberg started with one small trailer to haul off GoodLife’s spent grain, but he now owns four large trailers and two 1-ton diesel trucks to handle all of the byproduct. He arrives in the morning, depending on the brew schedule, with an empty trailer to replace the full one, which contains 10,000-12,000 pounds of spent grain. Not only do Holmberg’s cattle benefit from the process; hogs at High Hope Acres in Culver also get some of the load. Holmberg additionally picks up the trub (yeast mixed with beer, the stuff left at the bottom of the fermenters) in 300 gallon containers — five or six a week.
“With the trucks and trailers I have now, and with GoodLife’s 30-barrel operating system, I can keep up with them for the foreseeable future,” said Holmberg. “Between me and my other driver, even with increased production, we will just be busier recycling spent grain.”
Future plans for GoodLife? “We have the option of building on the lot adjacent to our parking lot. If we were to do that, we would be going big — comparable to Deschutes with a 100-120 barrel system. Or we will stay put — maybe put in a 60-barrel system and continue as a regional brewery,” said Nelson.
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