By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
In 2016, there was pizza. In 2013, there was a deli. But before all of that in 2012, there was just a brewpub called Falling Sky located in a downtown alley in Eugene. Throughout five years of change, there has been a constant:
“We want to be the most Eugene brewery in Eugene, the most representative of Eugene’s culture,” says co-founder Jason Carriere.
Instead of zigging before they zagged by focusing on territory, tap handles and shelf space, Falling Sky worked to grow a devoted local following. The business came together thanks to Carriere, owner of a homebrew store now named Falling Sky Fermentation Supply Shop, and Rob Cohen, who brought his experience with the restaurant industry. Ultimately, the two wanted a family-friendly neighborhood place.
But they did not expect what would happen next. The Falling Sky path has been different from other breweries, in part, because of the food. After barely a year in operation, Falling Sky had an opportunity to open a second location near other Whiteaker-area breweries. Expanding that quickly would be challenging, but the site was too good to pass up. It also gave them a chance to develop their food operation — the brewpub kitchen was cramped and constricted Cohen’s vision for the menu. The Falling Sky Delicatessen, which opened in 2013, elevated their fare: house charcuterie (the pastrami alone is worth a trip), pickles and fresh-baked breads.
In 2015, Falling Sky changed again. In addition to the popularity of the two locations, plus a few taps in the Portland area, the owners were in discussions with the University of Oregon about opening a space in what would be a newly renovated student union. Before that third location, a pizzeria, opened in 2016, Falling Sky expanded the brewery to meet demand.
“Both the deli and the pizzeria were surprises,” says Carriere. “The response we got from the community was great, and both of those were just opportunities that came along — maybe a little bit before we were ready for them — but we decided we had to take them anyway.”
After five years of massive — and sometimes not-entirely-expected — change, the Falling Sky team is looking forward to getting back to the basics of the day-to-day. The brewpub started with 25 employees and today has 75 across all three locations. With no more expansions or construction projects on the horizon, Carriere says he and everyone else is ready to focus on “investing time and energy into being one of the premier breweries in Oregon.”
Part of that is now dialing in the brewery expansion. “Because of the constraints of the building we’re in, as we planned we realized that if we wanted to put in additional tanks in the future, it’d be this huge ordeal,” explains Carriere. “We’d have to shut down the brewery and restaurant, because it’s challenging to get big equipment into the brewery.”
Falling Sky kept its current system but installed electrical and plumbing upgrades, along with other big equipment, such as a cold liquor tank, another whirlpool tank, four lagering tanks and two open fermenters. “Now we can do three turns in a day,” says Carriere, “where previously just trying to do two would have been a 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. ordeal.”
In 2012, Falling Sky produced 800 barrels and made an all-time brewery high of 1,111 barrels in 2016. Carriere estimates that the brewery could be on track to produce 2,000 barrels in 2017.
Not that they’re done adding new gear. An Energy Trust grant will help upgrade the brewery’s boiler. Automated grain handling is on the horizon along with installing a bigger pump for the brew system and adding an external grain silo. “We always hunted around for used brewing equipment that is interesting and cool, such as the Austrian-manufactured open fermenters,” says Carriere. “It’s part of our international theme to cobble together a little brewery museum back here.”
The upgraded brewery has also given Falling Sky the freedom to compete for more beer awards and take on new opportunities. As part of the grand opening for a new Whole Foods in downtown Eugene, the store approached Falling Sky about doing a beer. The final product, Retrograde Red, was available in 22-ounce bottles — a first for Falling Sky. “It was a good opportunity to test the waters more in a low-risk situation,” says Carriere. “It’s one of those things that we’d been meaning to look into, but didn’t have a reason — and then a reason came along.”
Now Falling Sky is pursuing limited bottle and can releases as part of a “presence of mind campaign,” instead of trying to compete for broader distribution and shelf space. “This gets our name out there so that when people see a different beer in a bar, maybe they’ve had our beer in a bottle, so maybe they try that other Falling Sky beer,” says Carriere. “We want to communicate to the state of Oregon that we are makers of quality beer, and that if you get one of our beers, any of our beers, it will be clean, drinkable and well-made.”
It’s about more than brewing beer and cooking food, though — it’s also about creating a strong culture. “What we’re building here is bigger than any one of us,” says Carriere. “People have worked for us, then left for other opportunities, and then came back. That speaks volumes about our family in the Falling Sky team.”
As local beer culture changes and the industry continues to grow, one thing surprises, humbles and motivates Carriere. “I’m amazed by the number of people locally who still, five years on, haven’t heard of Falling Sky. There’s still room for growth even in our own community, and that’s cool.”
Falling Sky Five Year Anniversary, March 1–31
Daily growler fill specials, brewery tours and tastings, special anniversary gear and apparel, brewer’s dinner, special-release and cellar beers, and more.
Falling Sky Brewing House
1334 Oak Alley, Eugene
Falling Sky Delicatessen
790 Blair Blvd., Eugene
Falling Sky Pizzeria
University of Oregon Erb Memorial Union
1395 University St., Room #46, Eugene
By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
In 1979, a little place called Home Fermenter Center opened in Eugene. Focused on winemaking and homebrewing, the shop cranked along for 35 years until 2014, when the original owner, Jim Stockton, decided to retire.
Stockton passed the reins to Jason Alderman, 43, who has lived in Eugene, off and on, since 1998. He and his wife Jennifer have been upgrading the shop and expanding offerings. In April, the Aldermans celebrated two years of fermentation as a passion and a business.
Q: What led you to take over Home Fermenter?
JA: I was a regular customer and found out the shop was for sale. I have always worked for larger companies and was ready for a change. I felt it was finally an opportunity to do something for a living that I had more passion for: fermentation.
Q: What is your background?
JA: We started playing with different ferments back in 2007 and really found ourselves enjoying making beer. Most recently, I was an operations manager at a regional distribution center for a big box home improvement company. Our distribution experience has definitely given us good experience with supply chain and with inventory levels.
Q: How does the shop support home fermenters?
JA: Prior to taking over at the Home Fermenter, the shop was heavily focused on the wine side of the business. We feel that we have the beer side caught up with the times and would now say that the beer and wine sides are evenly represented. We have sought to support the home fermenter by carrying more product to make cheese, soda, kombucha, kefir and other fermented drinks and foods.
Q: How do you and your wife split the day-to-day duties?
JA: Jennifer has taken a big role with the wine, cider, kombucha and fermented food side of the operations. She has been experimenting with different ingredients and techniques to be able to share her experiences. I tend to be more of the go-to for the beer and draft departments. As a team, we keep everything going and keep a strong focus on customer service.
Q: What have been the ups and downs of the past two years?
JA: Being able to bring new life to the shop has been rewarding. It's great hearing customer feedback that we are taking the shop in the right direction. Being able to talk about fermentation most of the day is also an up.
A down is not having the time to brew as much as I like. We had to sell and buy a house last year to cut down on our commuting time. Now that we are settled, some of that time for brewing will be coming back.
Q: What have you been changing?
JA: We are currently rebranding. We are removing the "Center" from the name and going forward with Home Fermenter. This year, we are planning on getting the building painted and new signage.
We recently purchased a new electric house grain mill with a 60-pound hopper, as well as a new vacuum-sealing machine. We will be repacking hops and sealing them with a nitrogen flush. We have added new items to inventory, most of them being beer-related. Later this year, we plan on switching out the store fixtures and giving everything a needed update.
One large project currently going on is improving our website, homefermenter.com. We hope to turn on our online store this year.
Q: What are your thoughts on Eugene’s craft beer and homebrew communities?
JA: I love Eugene's and Springfield's craft beer scene. It's great to see the collaborations and support that the local breweries give each other. I have had the opportunity to attend a few of the Cascade Brewers Society club meetings over the last year. There's a great group of brewers over there, and I've picked up good information on improving brewing every time I visit.
Taking over the Home Fermenter was a big leap for us, but we are glad that we took that jump. It's great being able to follow some passion in life and being able to work with people with the same passions. We are thankful for the opportunities and thankful for our wonderful customers. Their support and sincere feedback and comments have been most valuable as we go through this journey. We are thankful to be a part of the homebrew community and look forward to it for many years to come.
[a] 123 Monroe St., Eugene
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