By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
When Alesong Brewing & Blending opened its 2,500-square-foot facility in an industrial area of west Eugene in 2016, it was just the beginning.
“The dream since we all came together to start Alesong has been to have a brewery in the country, somewhere we can brew beer that reflects this little piece of the Willamette Valley,” says Doug Coombs, who founded the brewery along with his brother Brian and former Oakshire brewmaster Matt Van Wyk. In its first year, Alesong has acquired accolades, including a 2016 Great American Beer Festival gold medal, and now distributes throughout Oregon and the San Francisco Bay Area.
In July, the founders’ dream became real. Alesong opened its newly constructed 3,500-square-foot hilltop tasting room and wild fermentation and aging facility, located on 5 acres next to King Estate Winery on Territorial Highway southwest of downtown Eugene. With eight taps, beer to go, and views of the surrounding valley — not to mention air filled with microbes influenced by the agricultural and winemaking areas surrounding Alesong — the new space serves both as the public face of Alesong, but also represents the brewery’s wild side.
At the core of Alesong’s brewing philosophy is a dedication to unique, limited-release beers — no flagships or regular offerings here. Focused on oak aging and Belgian-inspired techniques, Alesong brews both wild and non-wild beers, using locally grown fruits, herbs, special yeasts and other microbes. Since the brewery adopted techniques similar to those used by artisan winemakers and lambic blenders, the owners believe their products will appeal to wine lovers too.
“Our desire is to capture the terroir of our little piece of the world through a combination of local ingredients and microbes,” says Coombs. “We also believe in the parallels between what we're doing with barrel aging and blending and what our neighbors in the wine industry are doing. There's a good opportunity for crossover between customers, both those that love beer and those that may not yet love beer because they haven't been exposed to some of the more unique styles that we make that could be more approachable for someone who's more into wine than typical craft beer.”
Surrounding the tasting room are extensive grounds where Alesong plans to have lawn games, child activity areas, “nooks and crannies” for hanging out, and crop and orchard space to grow produce that will end up in Alesong beers. A patio with 10 picnic tables wraps around the front and one side of the building, with space at the back for a small stage for live music. Food carts and in-house small plates are available, but picnics are welcome too. Inside, a large, bright common area houses comfy chairs and a couch. Alesong also is planning on holding onsite educational sessions for the public, plus special events for people on the brewery’s mailing list.
Currently Alesong brews wort at Block 15 Brewing in Corvallis, then brings it to the Eugene location on Conger Street for fermentation and aging. Now the wort’s final destination will depend on whether it’s going clean or wild. Throughout the rest of 2017, Alesong is moving some of its fermentation tanks, barrels and other equipment to the new Territorial Highway location, which will serve as the wild fermentation counterpoint to the “clean” facility that Alesong retains at Conger Street. (Future plans may include an onsite brewhouse at the Conger Street site for access to municipal water and wastewater infrastructure.)
Beers bound for spirits barrels will be fermented, aged and blended at Conger Street. The goal, says Coombs, is to prevent exposure to “wild bugs” such as Brettanomyces. “The new facility will look a lot like the current in-town facility, with stainless fermenters and blending tanks, an open-top fermenter for some more wild experiments. The barrels and packaging equipment for our ‘wild’ beers will move out there as well,” explains Coombs. “Having the separate facilities helps us focus on and control our wild and sour program better, and the distance gives us peace of mind that our ‘clean’ beers won’t get contaminated.”
While Alesong says they haven’t had any cross-contamination issues so far, Coombs notes, “There's always a little more stress than we'd like that comes along with doing testing on all of our clean blends.”
After a fast-paced year that involved a lot of founder-aided construction, painting and other work related to getting the tasting room up and running, the team’s collaborative roles are solidifying. Each founder is blending his own expertise with the brewery’s operations. “Matt and Brian work pretty closely together to manage production, with Matt leading the charge on the hot side and Brian claiming responsibility for the cellar,” explains Coombs. “I’m the point on most of the sales, marketing and admin, but those are all team efforts as well.”
Two new employees manage the tasting room. However, Coombs says that he, Brian and Matt will be there regularly, “bartending, bussing and just hanging out and chatting with people. We love being out there and love sharing our process and story. It's a big part of why we're all doing this to begin with.”
With construction finished, Alesong is refocusing on what matters most: the beer. “We're looking forward to more experimentation with spontaneous fermentations,” says Coombs. “The native microbes out in the country are a lot more exciting than what we might've been able to pick up on West 11th [Avenue].”
Alesong Brewing & Blending
80848 Territorial Hwy, Eugene
Dogs, minors and picnics welcome
By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
After six years as brewmaster for Eugene-based Oakshire Brewing, Matt Van Wyk (left) has resigned and joined forces with two brothers, Brian and Doug Coombs, to begin a new venture. AleSong Brewing and Blending will focus on barrel-aged and farmhouse beers, with plans to begin selling product in 2016.
“We are looking for property where we can build our destination tasting room,” says Van Wyk, a Siebel Institute graduate. “Our ideal location would be somewhere south to southwest of Eugene in proximity to the great wineries that are out there.”
AleSong is also securing a warehouse space “where we can age and blend beer and begin to get some beer in the hands of eager fans,” says Van Wyk. “We’ll operate out of whatever warehouse space we can find until we get our property developed.”
Instead of installing a brewhouse, AleSong plans to work with other breweries to produce wort, which AleSong will then ferment.
“The beers we make will primarily be aged on oak,” explains Van Wyk, who began and managed a renowned barrel, sour and wild beer program during his tenure at Oakshire. “Many will be ‘farmhouse-inspired’ and utilize much of the great Oregon bounty that we are so fortunate to have access to: fruits, vegetables, spice and, of course, hops.”
In addition to Van Wyk’s background at Oakshire along with Illinois’ Glen Ellyn Brewing and Flossmoor Station, he was awarded 2006 Small Brewpub Company Brewer of the Year at the Great American Beer Festival and led Oakshire to a 2013 gold medal in the GABF Wood- and Barrel-Aged Beer category.
With a chemistry degree from the University of Oregon, Brian Coombs worked with Van Wyk for two years at Oakshire, launching a quality assurance/quality control lab, and has also been employed at King Estate Winery near Eugene. Managing the business side of AleSong, Doug Coombs has a degree in economics from Princeton and was the founder and CEO of Columbian event ticket agency biciq.com.
AleSong is operated under Lane County Brewing, LLC. Van Wyk and the Coombs filed articles of organization LLC paperwork with the State of Oregon in July 2015. Van Wyk’s last day at Oakshire was Oct. 23.
AleSong plans to sell primarily at their tasting room, with some local/regional distribution. Plans also include a beer club. Similar to wine clubs, members will receive special club-only beers.
“I’m very excited to start this new venture and also very excited to work with Brian and Doug, two people who share a similar vision for this type of specialty brewing,” says Van Wyk. “The three of us are like-minded and singularly focused on making the highest-quality, barrel-aged beer."
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