By Michael H. Kew
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Might as well hit the ground drinking.
After weeks in the tropics enslaved to Bud Light, I am desperate for some fresh Oregon IPA. Luckily, I know Scott Saulsbury.
I grab my bag and eagerly hail a taxi for the 3-mile ride from Rogue Valley International-Medford Airport to RAM, Southern Oregon’s newest brewpub. There I find the smiling Saulsbury, 49, lording over RAM’s shiny 10-barrel JV Northwest system.
Immediately he hands me a pint of tasty Table Rock NWIPA, his first seasonal recipe for the new 7,245-square-foot building that hosts a busy restaurant, a large multi-televisioned bar and Saulsbury’s brewhouse. Open since December 2016, the Medford site is Oregon’s fourth RAM, the chain that launched near Seattle in 1971. There are 30 other RAMs across Washington, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio.
Naturally, RAM’s newest brewmaster is thrilled with his gig.
“Many of the regular Southern Oregon Brewing drinkers are coming to RAM,” he says. “They sort of followed me here. It’s really surprising and great. Been nice seeing the familiar faces. And they want some of the SOB beers to resurface here as specialties, so I’d like to do some knock-offs of what I was making over there.”
Over there is the once-popular Medford taproom fed by SOB’s 20-barrel brewhouse where, until a year ago, Saulsbury made popular flagships. With the property’s owner Tom Hammond, a Medford anesthesiologist, Saulsbury had helped start SOB in 2007, after working in real estate for a few years. SOB’s sales were steady through 2012, then dropped 10 percent annually until 2015, when Hammond chose to sell.
“We don’t have the resources to compete in today’s beer market,” Hammond told Medford’s Mail Tribune last September. “The idea of scaling back to be just a local brewery was not a possibility. Being in a smaller market made us very dependent on distribution to other parts of the state and region … we were never able to establish and maintain a big enough part of our local market to be stable in the long-term.”
“Tom hung on as long as he could,” Saulsbury tells me. “He loved it and wanted to keep it going and it got to a point where there wasn’t a way forward without a lot of capital. The business model working today is more of this heavy-on-the-retail/growler fills, because shelf space is so jam-packed. A good model for SOB would’ve been — if there was money — to own two or three retail outlets where they just serve SOB beer. More SOB beer sold over SOB taps, less through distributors, because you’re just not making money after they take their sales percentage.”
SOB poured its last pint the night of Sept. 30, 2016. The business remains for sale, turnkey and intact.
“I show it to prospective buyers all the time,” Saulsbury says. “It’ll be interesting to see what happens. It’s a beautiful brewery.”
Last summer, after brewing his last SOB batch, Saulsbury worked for O.A.R.S., a major outdoor outfitter and tour guide offering multi-day whitewater trips through the pine-forested canyons of the lower Rogue, from Galice to Foster Bar, the river’s official Wild and Scenic section.
“It was epic. I had a great six-month period exercising and being outdoors. If I could afford to, I would retire today and be a dirtbag river guide,” he says with a laugh.
The job stemmed from the company’s craft-beer rafting trips. “I’d gone on some of those,” he says, “being the beer guy with the jockey box.”
Makes sense. Growing up in Grants Pass, Saulsbury was raised on the Rogue, running right through town. Tailing a short college stint in Santa Barbara, Calif., he studied philosophy at the University of Oregon. “Then I needed to get a job,” he says. “I’d been homebrewing a little, and I thought brewing would be a fun career. I was lucky to be in on that early-1990s microbrewery wave.”
By 1993 he was an assistant at Eugene’s Steelhead Brewing Company, then moved to Bend and became brewmaster at Bend Brewing Company. But Saulsbury owned property off Highway 66, east of Ashland, and wanted to build a cabin there, so in 1997 he zoomed south to launch Caldera Brewing with Jim Mills. “I knew Jim just from the local Ashland scene,” Saulsbury said. “Caldera was his baby, and he needed someone to make beer. Good timing.”
But initially the business dragged, so in 1998 Saulsbury found another job back in Bend, this time at Deschutes Brewing. “My time there was probably my most creative. We had a group of brewers interacting constantly, talking about the possibilities. We were able to put quality ahead of cost. Carrying that along through the years has allowed me to keep that alive in all the brewing opportunities I’ve had.”
Amid river guiding, Saulsbury got wind of the RAM slated for Medford. “An ex-Deschutes friend of mine was the brewmaster at the Salem RAM, so I contacted him, then RAM directly through a recruiter before they’d even posted the job. The building hadn’t been built, and RAM likes to hire locally, so they were sort of waiting for people to come out of the woodwork.”
“One of my questions for them during my interviews was: how much creativity will I be able to bring to the table? With the flagships, RAM wants people who have had RAM beers elsewhere to have the same experience here. But with the seasonal specialties here, RAM is definitely encouraging me to make crazy stuff and have fun. It’s going to be great.”
RAM Restaurant & Brewery
165 Rossanley Drive, Medford
By Ezra Johnson-Greenough
For the Oregon Beer Growler
In March, Portland’s Metalcraft Fabrication shut down after facing a federal lien, causing the company’s bank funds to be emptied, according to industry insiders. Owner Charlie Frye acknowledged the bank had closed accounts, but did not address this specifically when asked for comment.
The closure came as somewhat of a shock since Metalcraft was one of the greater success stories in Oregon’s craft beer industry. Co-owner Charlie Frye came from well-established manufacturer JV Northwest to found an innovative brewery-centric fabricator. Metalcraft reportedly made more than 1,000 tanks for businesses in 30 states and three countries in the last 10 years, including equipment for some of our state’s best breweries like Breakside Brewery and pFriem Family Brewers.
Many are left wondering how a company that was once praised by beer makers and business journals alike can suddenly close and see some of its relationships with clients go sour.
Charlie Frye and his then-wife Jen Baque opened Metalcraft in 2007, starting off welding furniture and building facade components before picking up work fixing tanks and equipment for breweries. By 2015, the business expanded by moving into a huge new warehouse to become one of the few U.S. fabricators that could make larger equipment — tanks more than a couple hundred barrels and brewhouses beyond 30 barrels. And just last year, Metalcraft teamed with Pelican Brewing Company to develop a new dry-hopping method. The resulting “Hopinator” received a rave review from brewmaster Darron Welch, who said Metalcraft “perfected a design that was exactly what we wanted. Not every fabricator would have been that patient.”
However, it wasn’t long after that when Metalcraft began scrambling to keep the doors open long enough to finish millions of dollars’ worth of projects.
“A number of factors contributed to Metalcraft’s demise,” said Frye in my original article breaking the closure for newschoolbeer.com, “the greatest one being several unforeseen challenges associated with our expansion.”
Metalcraft entered the brewery fabrication business at just the right time — before the big boom that would become the industry’s largest period of growth, post-2010. Growth was quick and used equipment became scarce, which led to longer lead times and down payments. Industry sources familiar with the matter indicated these upfront down payments ranged from 15-40 percent.
“The company got themselves into a cash crunch,” said Thad Fisco of Portland Kettle Works, another local fabricator that has offered to help finish Metalcraft’s work for clients. “[Metalcraft] ignored some basic fundamentals to maintain cash to finish deals. You begin to burn those deposits to finish projects that were contracted previously.” There are no rules against operating this way.
According to Fisco, this is “unfortunately not an uncommon occurrence in the manufacturing industry.”
The practice of taking on new jobs and even discounting them in a mad dash to use that money to finish past work that may not have even gotten underway “unintentionally turns into a Ponzi scheme.” Fisco says this is a critical issue for the industry overall and one that he expects could cause a few more fabricators to go bankrupt.
You might be wondering if this has anything to do with the unsustainable growth of the craft beer industry. Yes, a little. As brewers get bigger, and some more desperate to compete, they may plop down huge sums of money upfront without checking a fabricator’s creditworthiness.
Meanwhile there is mounting competition from China where fabricators routinely offer a cheaper but lower-quality product. Some American companies have even stooped to selling Chinese equipment and marketing it as U.S. made, according to Fisco. However, the larger the tanks, the higher the shipping costs, and that can decrease margins and any competitive advantage.
According to comments Frye made to me in March, he laid off 35 employees, which would’ve been a significant cut to the 50-60 people he reported would be hired by 2015. He also hinted at some financial mismanagement, saying “a business owner should always be aware that their finances are in order and those trusted to manage them are qualified to do so.”
Frye declined to answer additional questions, stating “I'm not prepared to give any more interviews at this time.” For now, then, it’s impossible to know the full story of what happened to Metalcraft. But its failure is bad for both the brewery fabrication business as well as brewers and should serve as a wakeup call to each.
When fabricators go bust, some brewers who have sunk large sums of money into equipment will have invested too much to recover. That may include some of Metalcraft’s clients. Bill Baburek of Infusion Brewing Company in Benson, Neb. is one of those affected by the closure. “They took $45,000 dollars in deposit money from us in late December,” Baburek said, “for a $60,000 tank order, and now we get nothing for it!”
“If another company the size of Metalcraft or bigger goes down, it’s going to be a big deal,” warned Fisco. “It starts to tear the fabric of the system that is in place ... people that are looking to buy right now should take a moment to check the credit of the people they are looking at doing business with. Find out what’s going on with the business before jumping in with both feet.”
By Patty Mamula
For the Oregon Beer Growler
It’s hard to believe, but true. There are still a few places in Oregon where craft beer is NOT king. Albany, sandwiched between Corvallis and Salem, is one of those places. Not exactly a craft beer desert (Calapooia Brewing and Deluxe Brewing Company are both located in Albany) — but close when compared to other cities that boast at least half-a-dozen breweries.
Enter Vagabond Brewing from Salem. When the opportunity arose to take over a former growler fill station next to Albany’s Heritage Mall, Vagabond jumped on it. Vagabond Brewing Outpost, a cozy sports pub, held its grand opening March 31. Located at 14th Avenue SE in Albany, it’s in a prime spot right off the city’s busiest street. “We have all the business on this end of town,” said Vagabond co-founder Dean Howes.
Vagabond Brewery, on Salem’s north side, celebrated its three year anniversary in February. The founders are James Cardwell, Alvin Klausen and Howes — three Marines who served multiple tours of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq and traveled all over the globe once they completed their service. “We developed a passion for beer and wanted to figure out something to do together,” said Howes.
They decided to capitalize on that passion and start a brewery named Vagabond. “We zeroed in on Salem. There wasn’t much happening here for beer,” said Howes. They wrote a business plan and scraped together enough capital to qualify for and secure a Small Business Administration loan. “We brewed with anyone who would give us the time of day — Gigantic, Breakside, McMenamins in Salem and several others. This industry is incredibly accommodating, “he said.
Their beers will be featured front and center at the Vagabond Brewing Outpost. Ten of the taps will be Vagabond’s and the other 20 pour guest beer and cider, with an emphasis on local products. Vagabond’s lineup is American, mostly Northwest styles. Their best-selling beer is a hop-heavy IPA called Attack Owl. It’s named for some local birds that began attacking people in a Salem park. The owl attacks made the national news and so did the beer. Howes said, “At one point, people were buying it as fast as we could make it.” Naturally, when Rachel Maddow mentioned it on her show, they sent her some samples.
Vagabond, which made 50 different beers last year, also plans on adding a 20-barrel lagering tank in order to make larger batches. Some of that increased capacity will surely be due to the traffic in Albany. The Outpost, which seats 60 inside and offers outdoor accommodations, features a new bar that was built by the three partners. In fact, the three did much of the construction work on the new location. Although the pub has a kitchen, the focus for the immediate future will be on beer.
Klausen and Howes plan to manage the Outpost and work the bar so they can get a handle on it and work out any kinks as they come up. During that time, they’ll launch the search for a manager.
Growth has been steady for this trio of Marines turned brewery owners. Last year, Vagabond opened the Victory Club in downtown Salem. Located between Commercial and Liberty Streets NE, it has a retro, speakeasy feel. The brewery itself is undergoing a 2,000-square-foot expansion. In the fall, a new 10-barrel brewhouse from JV Northwest will replace the current 3.5-barrel system. Vagabond produced 700 barrels last year, and with the new system capacity will increase to 2,500.
2195 14th Ave. SE #103, Albany
By Patty Mamula
For the Oregon Beer Growler
An ambitious startup craft brewery plans to open two locations in two different cities in March. Founder and brewer Jeremy Turner clearly aspires to live up to the mantra: “Go big or go home.”
Ancestry Brewing is a family business started by Turner and his father Gerald Turner with essential support from industry leader Al Triplett. The branding and marketing focus on a family tree of beers and the anchor logo recognizes the Turner family’s naval service.
The brewery and flagship location in Tualatin at 20585 SW 115th Ave., directly off Southwest Tualatin-Sherwood Road, is a 7,200-square-foot, brand new warehouse space. With most of the construction delays and speed bumps behind them, the founders anticipate opening in March.
For several years now, Turner and his father have been interested in starting a family business. Since Turner, an Oregon State University graduate in chemistry and biochemistry, has been homebrewing for more than 13 years, a brewery seemed like the logical business to get into. His day jobs at Hewlett-Packard and, most recently, the Portland Venture Group, combined with some brewing experience at Kulshan Brewing Co. in Washington, convinced him that a brewery was in the family’s future. But nothing was coming together until they met Al Triplett, a 24-year brewing veteran with Redhook.
“He blew the doors wide open for us,” said Turner. Triplett, now an equity member of the Ancestry team, helped secure hop contracts, which will be in place through 2020, and connected them with other essential suppliers and industry leaders.
“We identified this bare warehouse space in November of 2014. We wanted a suburban location and this Tualatin place was ideal,” explained Turner.
They went to work prepping the space — just a bare rectangle with a dirt floor. They even had to put in a wall dividing it from the adjoining auto business. With the usual paperwork and contract delays, it took until this June to complete the main infrastructure.
The 10-barrel, state-of-the-art system from JV Northwest — including six fermentation and two brite tanks with all the shiny bells and whistles, costing more than $500,000 — was installed in July.
“We finalized all our OLCC papers in October,” said Turner, “ and we’ve been brewing since then.”
Up until then, they had been testing and experimenting with the recipes. They worked with John I. Haas, Inc., the largest hop operation in the world, and used their innovation center in Yakima, Wash. to test out several of Turner’s homebrew recipes. They brewed up pilot batches and did blind tastings with 20-100 people, pairing Ancestry’s brews against industry-leading beers. Since then, they’ve also done guest tap tastings at Hop N Cork in Lake Oswego and the Platypus Pub in Bend.
“We built extra time into our business plan to test everything out,” said Turner.
They plan to have 12-14 of their beers on tap, plus cider and perhaps root beer and wine. To start, the beers will be identified by type — IPA, ale, ESB, stout and Belgians. They will be listed on Ancestry’s family tree of beers with three different pillars for American-style beers, British Isles beers and Continental European beers. “The actual names will come from our customer reviews and feedback,” said Turner.
He will be joined by brewer Trevor Lauman, who favors British-style beers, such as porters and stouts, which he describes as more balanced and malty. “I want to bring back a couple different styles,” he said, “including British mild.” He proudly served me a sample of the mild with its distinct hazelnut taste achieved without the use of hazelnut extract.
Lauman, also an accomplished homebrewer, returned to school several years ago to study computer science, but quickly switched to fermentation science at OSU. While completing that program, he gained experience at Ninkasi in Eugene and Feckin in Oregon City. He joined Ancestry in July and, like the entire team, looks forward to the official opening. But preparation for that day has meant working numerous 15-16 hour days.
The tentative brewing plans call for around 1,500 barrels of production the first year and 2,200 the second, with brewing happening two or three times a week and double brews every two weeks. Since one barrel of beer equals 31 gallons or 320, 12-ounce bottles — that’s a good amount of beer.
The crisp navy-and-white logo, created by Portland-based Nemo Design, is everywhere — on their growlers, on the lid of the tanks, on all the growler labels, the glasses, tasters and kegs. The brewery’s interior, while industrial, is airy and bright with plenty of natural light. The windows and outdoor space overlook a natural wetland. A rustic wood bar will offset the custom wallpaper of enlarged maps from Limerick, Ireland, a nod to the Turner family’s roots. The shiny, new brewhouse and cold storage facility are adjacent and open to the taproom, yet still separate from it.
Ancestry will sell traditional growlers and bottled beer to go along with prefilled, pressurized growlers in 16, 32 and 64 ounces. Their bottling machine can handle 12-ounce bottles and 750-milliliter barrel-aged bottles. PDX Sliders will be the food partner at both locations, and their staff will handle all the kitchen responsibilities. The award-winning food cart has come out on top at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry’s “Eat Mobile” competition two years in a row.
Ancestry’s second location in Portland’s Sellwood neighborhood is on the Springwater Corridor at 8268 SE 13th Ave., which is handy for bikers. Its outdoor service area will have a bike-up growler fill with two large sliding doors to the outside. The taproom and kitchen, on the ground floor of a new apartment complex, will be about 1,300 square feet.
Imran Haider, a longtime friend of Turner’s who teaches at OSU, will assist with management responsibilities, and Mel Long, who has extensive experience as a beer distributor, will be the cellar manager.
Turner said they had initially hoped to open both locations at the same time and then kept going back and forth about opening dates. As it stands now, they plan to open the Tualatin location first, followed by Sellwood a week or so later. Check the Ancestry website for updates.
By Kirby Neumann-Rea
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Commercial brewing is returning to The Dalles for the first time since pre-Prohibition.
Freebridge Brewing, 710 E. Second St., is about to open in the historic Columbia River Gorge city. Steve and Laurie Light took over the historic Mint building and plan to open Freebridge to the public on Jan. 15. The name originated with the first bridge over the Deschutes River, which was crossed by pioneers traveling along the Oregon Trail. Legend has it that the “Freebridge” was blown up by the Moodys, who ran a toll bridge near the mouth of the Deschutes.
Steve is taking five years of intensive homebrewing experience and turning it into a second career. He’s now making beer on a larger level after spending 20 years as a fly fishing guide on the Deschutes River, which meets the Columbia 17 miles east of The Dalles. Laurie has worked in retail and industry supply over the years. She was born and raised in the city to a family of multigenerational wheat farmers.
“This has been a long time coming,” Steve said. “People around here talk about how this town of 17,000 has had no brewery, while Hood River, a smaller community, has five. People here in The Dalles also want good, local beer.”
The Dalles has had several outlets for regional craft ale, including Clock Tower Ales, Rivertap Pub, and the new Route 30 Bottles & Brews downtown. Now, with Freebridge starting operations and Sedition Brewing Company opening a few blocks away, The Dalles gets two new breweries at virtually the same time. The last place beer was made in The Dalles was the old Columbia Brewing building near the Columbia River.
“People have said, ‘What took you so long?’” joked Steve.
After charging up the glycol system on Dec. 13, White and master brewer Mike Boler dropped their first beer shortly before Christmas. They will focus on traditional styles, including pales, stouts and lagers, starting with pub and keg sales and adding bottles later this year.
“There aren’t many lager makers around. They’re more expensive and take longer, but we know there is a real desire for this style of beer. We vetted the demographic, spending a lot of time in the brewpubs in the Gorge and elsewhere,” Steve said.
Freebridge also plans on producing a Belgian saison, a pilsner and a German wheat, using local grain when possible (The Dalles being wheat country, after all). The brewery’s glistening new 10-barrel system was designed by JV Northwest of Canby. Freebridge debuted at Main Street Uncorked in October, with an American pale ale and an IPA that the Lights made at home. The brought their beers to the public again at a Chamber of Commerce event in December at Sunshine Mill, the beautifully refurbished winery and artisan plaza. That time, in addition to the pale ale, consumers got to sample a dry, bourbon-aged Irish stout. Steve “dry hopped” pieces of bourbon barrel wood after initial fermentation. The steeping process gave the beer a “creamy, silky quality,” he said.
“That definitely helped build some hype, but we have to say that our reception has been great. The support of the community of The Dalles, and the entire Gorge, has been really gratifying,” Laurie said.
The brewery will employ the Lights, two brewers and four or more pub workers once the operation is up and running. The pub will offer 10 taps, reserving some for guests and for cider.
“The pub will start simply — pub fare including sandwiches and soups, and we’ll expand as we get busier,” Laurie said. Look for charcuterie and cheeses from Olympia Provisions and Ancient Heritage Dairy. New furniture and some interior tweaks are planned, but guests will recognize the relaxing vibe created by the previous inhabitant, Erin Glenn Vineyards.
“We want people to see it — to have that connection to the making of the beer,” Steve said.
He said he’s refined his skills during the past five years, but bringing Boler on board was essential to the success of the Freebridge beers.
“Mike is a real student of the craft. He has the knowledge and skills to ensure we are successful,” Steve said.
The Dalles’ Second Street is shaping up into a destination neighborhood for the fermented arts, between the Freebridge, Sunshine Mill and the forthcoming Sedition Brewery. Sedition is planning on a February 2016 opening. Owners Aaron and Kelly Lee started out as Defiance Brewing Company, but they decided last month to formally change the name to avoid a trademark dispute with a company back east. But if you’re familiar with their raised fist logo, that will remain the same. It will fill one of the walls inside the pub.
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