By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
“Willamette Brewery of Eugene will begin brewing beer at its production facility this coming winter. The brewery will not have an attached restaurant but will have production capacity to distribute kegged beer throughout Eugene and other locations in the Willamette Valley. The company's founders, Willamette Valley natives, share a love of Oregon and a commitment to the local economy.”
Taken from the brewery’s original website, the above was the plan for Jeff and Chris Althouse, the brothers who founded what is now known as Oakshire Brewing. It was 2006. Instead of the 4,500-plus breweries currently in the U.S., there were 1,460 (more than a thousand of which were brewpubs). Yet two homebrewers in the southern Willamette Valley thought they could make and sell some darn good beer, no pub required.
So far so good. Integral in the Oregon beer boom, and with beers that have attained national recognition, Oakshire recently celebrated its first decade. What’s in store for the next 10 years?
When Oakshire brewed its first six barrels in late 2006, it was just the brothers. They hoped to make enough Oakshire Amber to have a profitable business and make a decent living. Today Oakshire has 23 employees across its production, public house and administrative teams. On pace to brew 8,500 barrels of up to 80 beers for 2016, Oakshire’s beers can be found in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Denver, Alaska and Vermont.
“We wanted to create good beer experiences by giving access to our beer wherever people were most comfortable drinking it.,” explains CEO Jeff Althouse. “We were Eugene’s beer then, and I think we’re Eugene’s beer now — Eugene’s brewery. There are wonderful breweries here, but our intentions now and then were always clear. The number one thing I’ve learned in 10 years of operating Oakshire Brewing, is that our No. 1 resource is our people — not just people who work here, but the people who drink the beer too.”
Self-described as “opposed to high risk,” Althouse has focused on measured, tactical, strategic growth. “Once something worked, it made sense to grow it and change incrementally, and even take a step back when we needed to,” he says. “There’s plenty of stuff we’ve gotten wrong too. We look at it, we learn, we pivot.”
That’s applied to equipment growth, such as adding labeling machines, a canning line and, more recently, a heat exchanger for kettle souring. It’s also key in Althouse’s ongoing strategy around distribution. Oakshire markets three categories of beers: Core (year-round and seasonal sellers), Pilot (single- and small-batch beers) and Vintage (bottle-conditioned, barrel-aged, wild and high-ABV beers).
In the next 10 years, “we might have a hundred different metropolitan areas where we sell Vintage beers, and there’s a chance we‘ll sell our Core beers only in Oregon,” says Althouse. “It‘ll be neat if we’re tightening the geography on beers that should be drunk fresh and broadening it on beers that are meant to be aged.”
One of Oakshire’s biggest changes has been adding the Public House (though they rely on food carts for grub), which opened in 2013 in Eugene’s brewery-packed Whiteaker neighborhood. In 2012, the tasting room at the production brewery was taking up room needed for a canning line. The Public House both increased space (and freed up the brewery for production, packaging and shipping), and helped Oakshire stabilize profits. “We’re a tricky size. We have the overhead of a larger brewery, but the gross profit of a small brewery,” explains Althouse. “We needed to have the additional revenue and gross profit associated with the public house operation.”
For example, Pilot beers are a popular and distinctive part of the brand, but it was hard to profitably factor them in to the company’s distribution. Now, even the smallest batches — sometimes just one keg — can be tapped exclusively at the Public House. As an additional benefit, customers can give direct feedback to pub staff and brewers. Now, Oakshire fans hit the Public House every Tuesday at 6 p.m., when a new Pilot beer is tapped.
The Public House also anchors its community presence, from partnering with Lane United Football Club to its Wednesday Oakshire Inspires program, where $1 of every beer sold benefits a different local nonprofit. The brewery’s growth also enabled it to enact a “1% for Watersheds” program, where one percent of local revenue from Watershed IPA sales goes to the McKenzie River Trust. Given the success of the Public House, when Althouse looks ahead at Oakshire’s next decade, he sees potentially opening a second location — but doesn’t know where yet.
What he does know is that Oakshire will continue to grow in its own independent, strategic, committed way. “Our vision was not complicated. We wanted to run a nice brewing company that involved the community,” says Althouse. “We brewed for a small area, and we wanted to be able to make a living the right way — a just and sustainable business. That hasn’t changed.”
Oakshire Brewing Public House
207 Madison 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
From Vancouver, British Columbia, to San Diego, Calif., in 2014, Eugene-based Ninkasi Brewing Company donated 120,000 pints of Ninkasi beer, worth approximately $150,000, to causes throughout its distribution area. Donations were managed through the company’s Beer is Love program, established in 2012.
“Beer is Love is a core piece to Ninkasi’s company culture, value system and method of business,” says Nicole Nelson, Beer is Love Northwest program manager. “It is beyond worthwhile to make positive steps toward a better community and offer support in any way we can.”
During 2014, Beer is Love supported more than 500 organizations. Through 90 “Pints for a Cause” nights, the program also raised $22,456 for nonprofit and community organizations in the Eugene/Springfield area.
“We look for sustained meaningful partnerships and general alignment with our own beliefs about community partnership,” Nelson explains. “We support organizations primarily through in-kind product donation and volunteer hours. We have open conversations with our partners about how to best work together and create the best situation possible for each donation and event.”
Nelson recalls one of Ninkasi’s early donations: contributing beer to downtown Eugene’s New Zone Gallery in 2009. Though Ninkasi’s efforts have grown substantially since those first kegs, Ninkasi still donates to New Zone monthly for Eugene’s First Friday Art Walk.
As more requests came in and more support went out, Ninkasi realized they needed a formal program and an organized process to manage donations and relationships with community organizations. It also helped them manage expectations on what projects they could and could not support. Today, the expansive program is part of Ninkasi’s entire distribution area, encompassing events at the Eugene tasting room, national sales, and point-of-purchase programs. “We are looking to contribute to causes in every way possible,” Nelson says.
The company also allows employees to use paid work days to support local causes of their choice. Ninkasi employees have created literacy kits for United Way, assembled mailers for the School Garden Project and The Service Board, walked dogs at Luvable Dog Rescue, volunteered in their children’s elementary schools, and planted native species for the McKenzie River Trust and Berggren Demonstration Farm.
Ninkasi has also had an evolving relationship with Springfield/Eugene Habitat for Humanity. “Habitat affiliates turned out to be wonderfully reciprocal enthusiastic partners,” Nelson explains, “and Ninkasi became more and more involved with the cause. Eugene/Springfield is our local affiliate and Jean Stover, the resource development coordinator there, has become part of the Ninkasi family.”
As part of their most recent assistance, Ninkasi has sponsored construction of a Habitat house in Springfield. “We contributed financially to the project,” says Nelson, “and also are sending teams to help build, probably 12 employees total so far.”
As of press time, Ninkasi did not yet have projections for its 2015 Beer is Love donations, but they expect the program to continue serving more causes. “We believe in community and working together for positive results,” says Nelson. “As our regions grow, so does the program.”
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