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.
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