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 Sam Wheeler
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Southern Oregon’s craft beer scene is in for another big boost as newly founded Common Block Brewing Company prepares to open its doors and taps in downtown Medford.
The new brewery-restaurant venture from Ashland-based Standing Stone Brewing Company’s former co-owners and operators Alex and Danielle Amarotico is slated for a December opening. The industry-savvy Amaroticos, who ran Standing Stone for the last 18 years, had been batting around the idea of starting a new brewpub for the last two years before deciding in February that it was time to start from scratch, Danielle Amarotico said.
“Over the years, we’ve looked at a few different places. When we looked at this one, we got super excited because we could actually see a vision of an amazing brewery. It’s a really beautiful pocket of downtown,” she said. “We are absolutely looking forward to this adventure. The opportunity presented itself and we loved the building. This one felt just perfect.”
Medford’s 1947 Monarch Building, with its strong Streamline Moderne style of architecture, stands as a historic focal point in a newly developed portion of downtown known as The Commons. The former and first Dodge dealership building in Medford will have working garage doors to connect one outside deck to the main restaurant and brewery, where construction plans call for a fireplace and mezzanine.
With about 200 planned indoor seats and 100 more split between two decks outside, patrons will be able to overlook adjacent Pear Blossom Park or main Medford thoroughfare Riverside Avenue. Inside, the mezzanine will house seating and what will most likely be a 15-barrel brewing system, complete with a hop back to ensure fresh hops are used in the brewing process, Danielle Amarotico said. The couple plans to hire between 50-60 employees for the restaurant and brewery. Current Standing Stone assistant brewer John Donehower, who formerly worked as a production brewer at Pyramid Brewing Company, will head brewing operations for Common Block. He’ll be charged with developing all of the beers.
“We’re so excited to have just named John as our brewer. He’s really great.” Danielle Amarotico said.
At this point, Common Block isn’t considering production status for its brewery. “We just want to open our doors and get our feet wet selling our own and other local brews,” Danielle Amarotico explained.
It’s very possible, because of how backed up the brew equipment industry is, that there will be some lag time between the restaurant and brewery openings.
“It’s very likely we’ll have the restaurant open before the brewery. We’re just not going to wait to open based on that alone,” Danielle Amarotico said.
But beer drinkers rest assured, craft brews from around the State of Jefferson will still be flowing from Common Block’s taps before its own brews begin to boil.
Diners can expect a family-friendly atmosphere and well-rounded lunch and dinner menu from the restaurant. And just because the couple is walking away from Standing Stone, don’t expect them to leave that brewery’s flagship sense of sustainability behind.
“It’s just who we are. Where we go, I assume it will follow,” Danielle Amarotico said. “And it certainly has room to grow.”
“We are both just really, really excited,” she said.
By Sam Wheeler
School spirit has never tasted so good at Southern Oregon University in Ashland.
Medford-based Southern Oregon Brewing Company recently teamed with the university’s Alumni Association to craft a mascot-spirited, easy-drinking, Northwest-style red ale that’s malty smooth with a subtle hoppy smack.
“It’s a beer that primarily has appeal here in Southern Oregon. My goal for this whole project was to cross market and support our local college,” said Tom Hammond, founder and owner of Southern Oregon Brewing Co.
Of course, “it’s a great beer,” Hammond said. “Generously hopped with a decent backbone and it’s a pretty beer—has nice coloration.”
The 22-ounce bottles of Raider Red Ale and its custom tap handle are emblazoned with the school’s name and Red-Tailed Hawk logo and the beer represents a blossoming marketing avenue for SOU, said Alumni Affairs Director Mike Beagle.
“I’ve had a couple of SOB beers, but this is my favorite. We’re excited about it and it’s really been popular at tailgating events,” Beagle said. “For us, this was a way to get our logo and our spirit mark out there. I think it’s something that adds a touch of class to what we do.”
The school’s Alumni Association and SOB came together for a small production run of the ale in 2011, Hammond said. But legal red tape associated with having the school’s name tied to the adult beverage didn’t pan out, so a larger run was put on hold. Once Beagle kicked the project back into gear and the beer’s licensing agreement was sorted out a few months ago, Hammond received the go-ahead to start crafting Raider Red once again.
In a month, the brewery has turned out two batches of Raider Red Ale for a total of 60 barrels, said Hammond. Most of that has already been assigned to a store shelf or tap handle in Southern Oregon. It’s one of the most popular beers at SOB’s tap room, said bartender Katie Savacool. Another perk for registered SOU grads is a 25 percent discount at the SOB tap house, Hammond said.
“It looks like a beer that’s going to have some legs,” Hammond said.
By Gail Obest
When the “big one” hits, Mike Dimon and Theresa Delaney of Portal Brewing
Company in Medford will be ready. The ”big one” refers to the legendary earthquake that will send western California into the ocean and bring the Pacific to Medford’s front door. Surfboards are parked above the brewery’s taphouse bar, “just in case the ocean comes up,” Theresa said.
The beer and food menu reflects the owners’ love for the surf: Wave Watcher Pale Ale, Undertow IPA and Donegal’s Break Oat Stout, to name a few.
It is an example of the Portal experience, served up by Theresa, whose daily regimen includes “nap, surf, eat and drink beer.” When I visited the brewery in May, Mike was working on “The Great Misadventures of Jezaniah Kline, a Big Black Stout – Whispers of Aged Whiskey Barrels & French Licorice,” and Theresa was assisting him. Theresa brushed off her work clothes to the Portal brewing taproom in Medford’s quaint downtown is located in an historic city fire station the old jailhouse is also part of the structure pour me a taster tray of several samples from the brewery’s 3-barrel system brewed offsite.
If you visit the taproom – open Wednesday through Saturday — there are always at least 10 Portal brews on tap, and a cider. You’ll also find an extensive menu of gyros, sandwiches, snacks and full meals made with local ingredients and prepared by Theresa and her son. Theresa has been cooking professionally since she was a teenager. Her gyros are so famous in Southern Oregon they attracted the attention of Gov. John Kitzhaber, who visited Portal Brewing twice recently.
Mike’s brews reflect his dedication to the best ingredients, sourced locally, where possible. Maris Otter malts and non-GMO grains are at the base of Portal’s beers, but you might also find something like brown rice and dried organic coconut, realvanilla beans, or slow-roasted organic buckwheat in your beer — the beer Theresa chose to sip while she talked to me and served me samples. Mike takes no shortcuts on quality ingredients, Theresa said.
Attributing it to his Irish-Italian upbringing, Mike makes beer like a winemaker, Theresa said. “It has body and balance. It’s complex.” Mike learned to brew from his grandfather, Ray, a home brewer, back in the ’70s, when Jimmy Carter legalized home brewing.
The brewery is offsite and the taphouse is small, with seating for about 50 people. The brewery sells all of its beers at festivals and in the 1906 building that was once a part of the Medford Fire Hall where hoses were stored in the days when they were hauled by horse-drawn carts. There was once a jail in the back of the building. The building has housed various businesses in the past 100 years but was vacant when Mike and Theresa found it. They opened in 2013.
Look for Portal’s mobile unit — a VW bus equipped with taps — during Medford celebrations.
Portal Brewing Company
[a] 100 E 6th St, Medford
[h] Wednesday – Thursday, 4 to 10 p.m.; Friday - Saturday Noon to 10 p.m.
Owners/Brewers: Mike Dimon & Theresa Delaney
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