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
It’s the start of a new year, so time to brace yourself and get up to speed on some of the upcoming developments in the craft beer scene from Eugene to Roseburg to McMinnville.
Alesong Tasting Room and Beer Club
Currently the newest brewery in the Eugene/Springfield area, Alesong Brewing & Blending starts 2017 with additional developments: the opening of a rural tasting room and inclusion in a beer club.
Located on 4.5 acres bordering a winery about 20 miles southwest of downtown Eugene, the 3,500-square-foot facility will house a barrel room, production facility and tasting room. Co-founder Matt Van Wyk expects a spring opening.
Meanwhile, Alesong beers will be among the offerings in the Rare Beer Club, one of the memberships offered by monthlyclubs.com. “We were so happy to have connected with Alesong,” says Kris Calef, monthlyclubs.com president. “I can honestly say that I haven’t been as excited about working with a brewery as I was after tasting Gin Hop Farm. Outstanding beers.”
New Name for Mancave
After a year of ups and downs, including the loss of its brewery space, Mancave Brewing Company has established an alternating proprietorship arrangement with Elk Horn Brewery. To further mark the brewery’s new chapter, founder Brandon Woodruff has also renamed the business. With limited production of less than 25 barrels per month, Manifest Beer Company plans to release a beer per month, with limited keg distribution in the Eugene and Portland areas. The first release will be Exalted IPA.
“We wanted to give up more often than not, so many things piled against us at once,” said Woodruff on the brewery’s Facebook page. “Only two things kept us going: an insatiable search for beers unlike any other, and our family of followers.”
Oakshire Takes It Back to the Brewery
While visitors to Oakshire Brewing now come to its Public House in the Whiteaker area, the 10-year-old establishment wanted to take things back to its roots. The public will once again be welcomed into its production brewery, complete with a small tasting room — a tradition that had been abandoned for some time.
During the summer of 2017, Oakshire plans to resume Friday tastings “that were once a staple of the Oakshire beer experience,” says co-founder Jeff Althouse. “Beer, brewery tours, music and food carts will showcase the roots of our small company and allow our old and new friends to enjoy a beer at the location where it all happens.” More details will be announced in spring.
Oakshire will also bump up its CORE seasonal line: Sun Made Raspberry Berliner Weisse, with real raspberries, will be released in February 2017, followed by the original Sun Made Cucumber Berliner Weisse in May. Oakshire has added dedicated equipment for kettle souring and plans to release more sour beers.
Ninkasi’s Three Bs
Ninkasi goes into 2017 with a new distribution partnership with Bigfoot Beverages, a new director of brewing process development and a return of their popular Believer Double Red Ale.
Beginning this month, Eugene-based Bigfoot will distribute bottled Ninkasi beers to off-premise accounts in Eugene. This change will allow Ninkasi’s local distribution team to focus on sales to area bars and restaurants.
While completing his doctorate in Brewing Science at Oregon State University, Daniel Sharp interned at Ninkasi. Now with his completed Ph.D., Sharp returns to Ninkasi — but as the brewery’s new director of brewing process development. Drawing on his research on hop utilization and impacts to flavor and aroma in brewing, Sharp will focus on improving Ninkasi’s brewing capabilities as well as leading educational and research efforts.
And did you believe that Believer could come back? Originally released as a winter seasonal in 2006, the popular double red ale returns through April as part of Ninkasi’s Seasonal Release Series. A portion of all Believer sales will be contributed to three national nonprofits.
Lookingglass Looks Ahead
Lookingglass Brewing, located outside of Roseburg, aims to expand its brew system and Winston-based taproom, as well as add a bottling line, says founder Mark Nunnelee. “Ideally, we would like to expand to a 7-barrel system and increase the number of our sales accounts,” explains Nunnelee. “The number of accounts we can have currently is limited due to the size of our brew system.” Nunnelee is also exploring a partnership with Winston Donuts Cafe to bring food into the Lookingglass tasting room.
Backside Brewing Co. in Roseburg recently began bottling and self-distributing its popular flagship Axeman Red. Backside’s 22-ounce bottles initially will be available at the tasting room and in select locations in Southern Oregon.
“We’re really excited for bottles,” says owner K.C. Mckillip. “Getting beer on draft is great, but you only have one tap handle. The bottle gets our logo and image on the shelf. Axeman is one of our top-sellers, and there are so many more potential places for us to see beer now.”
Mckillip plans to extend distribution gradually, with the hope to have four packaged beers by summer.
Expansion/New Brewmaster for Salud
Roseburg’s Latin-inspired Salud Restaurant & Brewery is expanding. After naming a new brewmaster, Chad Northcraft, owner Manny Anaya has announced that Salud will be moving their brewery to an off-site facility. The new brewery will be walking distance from the restaurant, allowing more dedicated space for brewing, conditioning, packaging and distribution.
New Brewery Planned
A gluten-free brewery in McMinnville is in the works. Doppelganger Brewing applied for Oregon Liquor Control Commission licensure in October 2016. Its current address is on Northeast Riverside Drive in an industrial part of town.
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."
By Kris McDowell
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Love 'em or hate 'em, pumpkin beers are a fall staple that vary widely from pale, sessionable offerings to heavy, hearty brews. One of the best in Oregon falls in the latter camp and comes from 9-year-old Oakshire Brewing in Eugene. Big Black Jack Imperial Chocolate Pumpkin Porter gets a rating of 94 out of 100 on RateBeer, so while it might not be everyone's cup of tea there are plenty of people that enjoy the boldly flavored beer.
Oakshire's head brewer, Matt Van Wyk, brought the recipe for Big Black Jack with him when he started there six years ago. The first small batch was brewed the following year and started out as many specialty beers do — being a keg-only offering. Beer drinkers took to it quickly, however, and within a couple of years Oakshire began selling it in 22-ounce bottles as well.
The recipe has basically remained the same since Matt started making it, with only minor malt changes based on availability. He describes it as a hands-on beer due to the spices — nutmeg, dried ginger, whole cloves and cinnamon chips — that go into every batch. Similar in variety and amount to a premixed pumpkin pie spice blend, Matt's hand weighing ensures the beer comes out just the way he intended. After weighing, the spices are put into mesh bags, the equivalent of gigantic tea bags, which are then placed into buckets marked with the time each will be added to the boil. Just as "mise en place" allows a chef's process to flow smoothly, having the "tea bags" ready allows the Oakshire brewers a smoother brew day. Most brew days, the team is juggling three batches, transferring them from tank to tank, one after another. A delay with one batch could throw off the entire brew day. And even when Matt isn't leading the brewing, his process helps grease the wheels for the making of Big Black Jack.
In addition to the spices, each batch of beer gets solid dose of 70 percent dark chocolate and cacao nibs — 10 pounds of each. Unlike spices that might float to the top, these ingredients risk falling to the bottom and scorching the brew kettle. To avoid that problem, hot wort is poured over the chocolate and nibs in a separate bucket to create a sauce of sorts that’s then added to the boil. Lucky for the brewing staff, there’s always plenty of wort-chocolate to spare and Matt traditionally treats everyone to sundaes by bringing in ice cream the days the beer is brewed.
Pumpkin brews are often a point of contention for beer lovers because they tend to hit the shelves and taps before the pumpkins could realistically be harvested most years. But Oakshire plans ahead while using pumpkins from Stahlbush Island Farms in Corvallis. The team roasts, purees and freezes pumpkin every year, so the puree used in this year's batch of Big Black Jack actually came from last year's pumpkins. It's a method that eliminates the unpredictability of the growing season and allows the beer to be brewed in August, well before any local pumpkins could be harvested and processed, with the finished product reaching craft beer drinkers' lips in early September.
Being a spiced beer, Big Black Jack is one that is best when it’s fresh in order to experience the full spice profile. But the fact that it's also an imperial porter, coming in at 7.5 percent ABV, the beer can hold up to a bit of aging. Its flavor will change after a couple months, with the spice notes retreating, allowing the chocolate and roasty characteristics to become more assertive.
Knowing his beer was suitable for aging, Matt went one step further last year and aged part of the supply in two Heaven Hill bourbon whiskey barrels. A recent sampling confirmed that as it has aged, the spice notes have mellowed out — almost to the point of being absent. In their place is a rich, wood flavor from the barrels that complements the imperial porter. Fans of barrel-aged beers will likely have to visit Oakshire's Public House in Eugene for a sample, although it's possible that a keg or two may escape and surface at a special event in the Portland area.
Big Black Jack joins a host of other pumpkin beers from Oregon breweries with fall availability.
Oakshire’s Big Black Jack Imperial Pumpkin Porter is made using pumpkins from Stahlbush Island Farms in Corvallis. The squashes are actually roasted, pureed and then frozen the year before in order to eliminate the unpredictability of the growing season. The method also allows the beer to be brewed in August.
Oregon-Brewed Pumpkin Beers
7 Devils Brewing Co. | Winter is Coming Pumpkin Porter | 5.4% ABV | IBUs N/A
Agrarian Ales Brewing Company | Cucurbita | 4.5% ABV | 10 IBUs
Agrarian Ales Brewing Company | Von Tassel | 6% ABV | 15 IBUs
Breakside Brewery | Sweet Potato Mole Mild | 4.2% ABV | 10 IBUs
Burnside Brewing | The Dapper Skeleton | 5.9% ABV | 11 IBUs
Cascade Brewing | Pumpkin Smash Sour Ale | 11.9% ABV | <10 IBUs
Climate City Brewing | Galloping Hessian Pumpkin Ale | 4.5% ABV | 35 IBUs
Ex Novo Brewing Company | Pumpkin Biere de Garde | 8% ABV | 20 IBUs
Fearless Brewing | Smoked Pumpkin Ale | 8.35% ABV | 28 IBUs
Fort George Brewery | Squash Buckler | 6.5% ABV | IBUs N/A
Great Notion Brewing | The Great Blumpkin Ale | ABV/IBUs N/A
Green Dragon Brew Crew | Bring Me Pie | 7% ABV | 25 IBUs
Griess Family Brews | PJ's Pumpkin Pie | 5.4% ABV | 13 IBUs
Ground Breaker Brewing | Squash Ale | 5.7% ABV | 30 IBUs
Hair of the Dog | Greg | 5.5% ABV | IBUs N/A
Laurelwood Public House and Brewery | Laurelwood Pumpkin Ale | 7.5% ABV | 25 IBUs
Lompoc Brewing | Bibbidi Bobbidi Brew | 5% ABV | IBUs N/A
McMenamins Edgefield Brewery | Duskbringer | 6.06% ABV | 14 IBUs
McMenamins Kennedy School | Pumpkin Porter | 6.19% ABV | 12 IBUs
Misty Mountain Brewing | King Under the Pumpkin Russian Imperial Stout | 8.7% ABV | 40 IBUs
Oakshire Brewing | Big Black Jack Imperial Chocolate Pumpkin Porter | 7.5% ABV | IBUs N/A
Opposition Brewing Company | Nickabod Cranium | 6.4% ABV | 37.9 IBUs
pFriem Family Brewers | Pumpkin Bier | 6.9% ABV | 15 IBUs
Portland Brewing | Rico Sauvie Pumpkin Ale with Spices | 6.5% ABV | 30 IBUs
Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery | Name TBD | 5.5% ABV | 25 IBUs
Rogue Ales | Rogue Pumpkin Patch Ale | 6.1% ABV | 25 IBUs
Seven Brides Brewing | Heiser's Pumpkin Ale | 6.7% ABV | 15 IBUs
Silver Moon Brewing | Twisted Gourd | 6.8% ABV | 25 IBUs
Stickmen Brewing Company | Imperial Sour Pumpkin Lager | 9.8% ABV | 11 IBUs
StormBreaker Brewing | Pumpkin Peddler | 7.3% ABV | 13 IBUs
Three Mugs Brewing Company | "A Clever Pumpkin Name" Ale | 7.5% ABV | 35 IBUs
Vagabond Brewing | In Gourd We Trust | 5.1% ABV | 25 IBUs
Vertigo Brewing | We Don't Know Jack III | 6.3% ABV | IBUs N/A
By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Breweries throughout Oregon are establishing or growing programs to age beer in wine and spirit barrels. They also face a common problem: barrels are getting harder — and more expensive — to source. Some breweries are dreading a looming barrel shortage, but the reality may be far different, depending on the way breweries want to begin, maintain, or expand their barrel programs going forward.
“Barrel sourcing is getting harder these days,” says Matt Van Wyk, brewmaster and head of the barrel program at Eugene’s Oakshire Brewing. “Not because barrels are becoming more scarce as a whole, it's just that the pie is being broken up in a lot more pieces. And it's not the small neighborhood breweries who are necessarily taking all the barrels, but the larger regional breweries who often get ‘first dibs.’”
Brewers from around the region have voiced similar perspectives and concerns, but the industry on the whole has been changing greatly, in ways that are not always apparent from a brewery’s day-to-day operations perspective.
Tom Griffin is a barrel broker who’s been linking breweries with barrels for 19 years. When he began in 1996, three U.S. breweries were using barrels. Since then, he’s brokered barrel sales in 14 countries.
Things have changed.
“My business over the last 15 years had doubled every year,” Griffin says. During his first year doing business, he brokered barrel sales to 25 breweries for a typical barrel price of around $35. In 2014, Griffin received inquiries from 2,000 breweries, meaderies, cideries and distilleries, ultimately supplying barrels to 900.
While many brewers wonder about the impact of multiple breweries buying barrels — or the effect of large breweries buying large quantities — Griffin puts things in perspective. According to Griffin, 1.5 million barrels were sold and shipped last year, with an estimated 50,000 being used in the brewing industry, which is about 3.33% of barrel production.
“The popularity of brown spirits — Scottish, Japanese, Canadian — is what’s driving this whole phenomenon,” Griffin explains. “Supply cannot keep up with the demand. Brewers aren’t driving barrel shortages. The huge demand for brown spirits is.”
Back at Oakshire, Van Wyk has seen the impact of a more limited supply. “Bourbon barrels used to be sourced for $90–120, plus shipping. Now we are reaching levels twice that amount.”
Griffin has seen similar changes. “Nineteen years ago, a barrel was $35,” he says. “Today I’m seeing $155, plus shipping, and it can be as high as $250.”
Supply also varies greatly month to month, year to year and tree to tree, Griffin explains. “Wood can vary because of what side of the hill it grew on,” he says. “The minerals in the ground are different place to place. It’s such a more variable product.”
Wine barrel quantities vary depending on the harvest, and can cost more than bourbon barrels. “Young bourbon barrels are the easiest to get. Old barrels have the best, most-aged whiskey. Following that, rye, then brandy barrels.”
As Van Wyk looks ahead to the short- and long-term, he’s not yet seeing a big change in Oakshire’s barrel program. “We may just have to work harder to source barrels,” says the brewmaster. “They are out there, we just have to find them and make some relationships … The cost of ingredients will always affect beer pricing, and barrels are simply an 'ingredient' because they can't be used indefinitely. We also might decide to sell more of our barrel-aged beer in-house as a way to keep pricing manageable. But we'll evaluate all of that after the beer is made and ready to sell.”
One change Van Wyk is considering is to source barrels closer to home from Oregon wineries. Van Wyk also notes that wine barrels can be reused more times than bourbon barrels, spreading the barrel cost across more beers and making the use of wine barrels a more profitable option. “We may increase our wine barrel inventory and fill in with spirits barrels where available,” he says.
However, over the next 12 to 24 months brewers can expect some easing on the supply side. “Three major groups will start or expand operations for cooperage in the U.S.,” says Griffin. “That will ease the pressure on the brown spirits industry. Plus there’s unprecedented growth for artisan everything, but especially beer and brown spirits. Everyone’s jumping on that bandwagon, so the commodity side of this is picking up.”
During the next 24 months, Griffin says breweries can expect to see more price variability. “There will be a price bump over the next year or so too, but smaller than we’ve seen over the last five years,” he says. “This year the price bumped $30-60. Medium bump to come, maybe two small price bumps, $10 and $10. I see $200 as the ceiling, then things will level off.” After three to five years, “we’ll see supply relax a lot.”
Combined with being aware of the changes coming for the barrel industry, for the brewery looking to begin a barrel program, Griffin offers some advice.
“I never would have said this two or three years ago, but I’ll say it now: Get one barrel and do it small. Practice. Just practice. Get to know the nuance of aging beer in barrels. Treat the barrel as an ingredient, but remember that it’s a whimsical one where you cannot expect consistency. Do barrel beers because you love them, not because you think you’ll make a lot of money with them. Practice and hone your craft. Make it special.”
Above all, Griffin says, “be patient. The market is bonkers right now, but in a few years a patient brewer running a small program could be ready to expand to bigger things.”
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