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
By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
From a free bike share program to special brews for community causes, Eugene brewpub Falling Sky is always involved.
“We’re really receptive to any partnership with the community, especially if it’s something that we align interests with,” says co-founder Jason Carriere. “We’re very open and connected to the community. We don’t turn people away.”
Falling Sky supports many causes that are rooted in sustainability and environmentalism. It’s part of what Carriere sees as the cyclical nature of brewing, which is a business that depends on healthy natural resources and agricultural products. “We depend on the ecosystem to provide what we need to make good beer.”
Falling Sky’s commitment to the environment is visible as soon as you walk up to their Pour House & Delicatessen at West Eighth Avenue and Blair Boulevard. Seven bikes are available free of charge (with a $150 deposit on a credit card) for anyone to borrow for up to 24 hours. Falling Sky supplies locks and helmets, and the bikes have built-in lights. Local shop Arriving By Bike keeps the cycles in good repair.
“We have a lot of people who come to Eugene from out of town,” says Carriere. “This has been a good way for them to get around town without too much trouble.” Sometimes people just ride along the nearby riverside bike paths or use the bikes to check out different neighborhoods while looking for housing.
Other Falling Sky programs tend to focus on special days where portions of certain beer sales go to a particular cause. Sometimes Falling Sky also works with nonprofits or other organizations to brew a beer around a specific cause. From initial conversation to rollout, it usually takes four to five weeks to develop a promotion. However, it might take up to two months if there is a beer release involved. “We typically just get together and have a meeting, talking about what they’re interested in,” explains Carriere. “We try to pick (a beer style) that appeals to a broad base of people, so that we can really pump up the beer and the connection with the charity.”
Recent examples have included Tree Line Pale Ale, brewed in support of Friends of Trees, a Northwest nonprofit that plants and cares for urban trees. Falling Sky donated $1 for each Tree Line pint sold, as well as $5 (enough to buy a tree) from sales of a special Friends of Trees T-shirt. In a similar vein, $1 of each pint of Floodplain ESB went to support the McKenzie River Trust, which helps protect area watersheds and critical habitat lands.
After winning an award for best medium-sized transit district in the U.S., Lane Transit District (LTD) reached out to Falling Sky. They collaborated to brew Mash Transit Ale, an English-style pale ale, to publicize and celebrate LTD’s achievement. Purchasing a pint came with a bonus: a free bus ride. Falling Sky also donated $1 of each pint of Mash Transit to Lane Coalition for Healthy Active Youth.
“We consider mass transit an environmental cause, in terms of keeping cars off the roadway,” explains Carriere. “It encouraged people to ride the bus who don’t often ride the bus.”
Falling Sky community support efforts can also be as simple as a flyer and a one-day deal. By bringing in an organization’s printed flyer or graphic on a smartphone or tablet, a customer can have 25 percent of their purchase donated to the cause.
For larger promotions and support, Falling Sky leverages in-house resources for brewing a special beer, promoting the cause in its locations and across social media, and developing a custom T-shirt. “We’ll do a beer release event where they can come in, set up a table, share information and talk with people,” explains Carriere. “It gives them a platform to get their message out. And when we go out to sell the beer, we also try to bring out promotional materials for the cause too.”
Coming up, Falling Sky is brewing a kolsch to support The Oregon Brewshed® Alliance. It will be released during the week of Earth Day (April 17–23).
“We’re a really small brewery,” says Carriere. “We don’t have a community outreach director or anything like that that some of the larger places have, so we rely on the community to come to us and work with people. Typically (co-founder) Rob Cohen, lead brewer Scott and I sit down with you and figure out what we can do to help.”
Falling Sky Locations
[a] 1334 Oak Alley, Eugene
Pour House and Delicatessen
[a] 790 Blair Boulevard, Eugene
Fermentation Supply Shop
[a] 1331 Willamette St., Eugene
By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Sometimes newlyweds return from their honeymoon and immediately prepare a room for a baby. But for Kiley and Michael Gwynn of Eugene, they returned from their 2008 honeymoon/first anniversary trip to Hawaii with a passion for a new hobby: homebrewing.
“We fell in love with Maui Brewing’s CoCoNut PorTeR, and that started us because it wasn’t available in Oregon,” says Michael. What began as a way to keep a beloved beer in the pantry, though, became an extension of something else. “It’s one more way for us to be connected,” he explains. “There are very few things we do separately. This is one more way to collaborate with each other. Like with any couple, you have so much going on, you don’t always see each other during the day, so this builds that connection even more.”
The couple focuses their time on work, craft beer, homebrew, “beercations,” and their dog, a red heeler named Penny. Today that Maui porter is a regular homebrew for the Gwynns, but their hobby has grown far beyond one clone. They started basic, but a “good tax refund” coincided with information that someone in Salem was getting out of brewing. The Gwynns bought his 10-gallon, single-tier, all-grain setup (though they now use a 26-gallon brew pot to accommodate larger batches). Their garage houses four 60-gallon wine barrels and a full-sized bourbon barrel. They maintain one bottling line for standard yeasts and a second for beers made with wild microbes. Members since 2009 of Eugene-area homebrew club the Cascade Brewers Society, in 2015 Michael, a learning specialist at University of Oregon’s University Teaching and Learning Center, became club president. (The Gwynns also keep the club’s Flanders barrel, and various other member barrels, in the garage.) A social media strategist at Oregon Community Credit Union, Kiley has promoted Eugene Beer Week and runs the Eugene chapter of women’s craft beer group Barley’s Angels.
“We brew things that aren’t as easy to get locally,” says Kiley. “The last year we’ve done a lot of Belgians, saisons, more beers for their sour character. This year we’re doing lots of British beers — ESBs, milds, real ales on a homebrew scale. It’s not something we’ve done before.”
Every year Michael and Kiley brew a different beer for holiday gifts. For 2015 they brewed a Belgian breakfast stout, modeled after Founders Breakfast Stout from Michigan. The Gwynns developed a variant they called Vanilla Latte, brewed with coffee beans and vanilla beans. Kiley designed labels and Michael worked with a mobile canner out of Salem for canning.
The couple met in 2001 while attending UO. “We met at a party, slowly got to know each other over the course of a year,” says Kiley. “It wasn’t an instant thing, but grew over time.” Six years after meeting, Kiley and Michael married in 2007.
A love of craft beer has been a constant. “Growing up in Oregon, you’re more steeped in craft beer than other places,” explains Kiley. “The cheapest thing I ever drank was Henry Weinhard’s.” When Kiley turned 21, her “first legal beer” was a growler of Bombay Bomber IPA from Steelhead. The next day Kiley went to High Street and brought home a Mason jar of Ruby. “My father was a Coors Light drinker,” Kiley recollects with a laugh, “and he just talked about how bitter it was.”
Michael came to craft beer in part through his love of cooking. “I’ve never been an exceptional cook, but I enjoy tinkering with food and flavors and have the do-it-yourself mentality,” he says. Already wading the shallow waters of the growing ocean of craft beer, a barrel-aged stout “blew me away with the flavors,” says Michael. “We had it with a meal where everything just worked together perfectly. I was heading for homebrewing, and that got me there.”
As with the rest of their relationship, both Gwynns cite collaboration as key to their homebrewing. Brews begin not over the kettle, but over discussion, says Kiley: “What do we feel like? What’s in season? What do we have? What could be different from what we have? We talk about recipe formulation together — hops and yeast.”
From there, the couple goes into a mode of division of labor. One gets a yeast starter going, one goes to the homebrew store. Brew day is on the weekend, after a full work week. “He does most of the work on brew day,” says Kiley. “He does the manual labor while I get other stuff done around the house or run errands. Some days we have a brew day together, but we are involved in so many other things related to beer, that we find those brewing hours work best with him brewing and me cleaning the house.”
For other homebrewing couples, both Kiley and Michael suggest collaboration as a top priority.
“Make sure you’re doing something that works for both people,” says Kiley. “If you only brew one batch at a time and you don’t have multiple years of beers to rely on, make sure you brew something you both can enjoy.”
Honest feedback is also key, says Michael, who considers his “nose and palate” to be less refined than his wife’s. “I’ve gone to Kiley multiple times with beer ideas,” he says. “I can’t tell you how many times she’s shot me down. And I don’t take it as a slap to the face. With our relationship, we are each other’s best friends and we can be blunt with each other.”
They also make time to talk back and forth, bouncing more ideas off each other until they have a concept and recipe. Then, once the beer is in a glass, they compare notes and discuss the final product: Did it work the way they both intended? What worked well? What can be improved next time?
“Everyone has something to bring and be part of the conversation,” says Michael. “Things will work out.”
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