By Patty Mamula
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Another brewery in Bend? Sounds foolhardy. A risky business decision at best. But don’t jump to conclusions. What it you offered something no one else did? That’s the case for Immersion Brewing — the ONLY place in town where you can brew your own beer.
Sean Lampe, co-owner with his partner Amanda Plattner and her sister Rachael Plattner, said, “We felt like Bend was perfect. We’re focused on the highest-quality beer and experience. If you don’t have people around challenging you, you won’t make great beer,” he said.
According to the Bend Visitor Center, the city has plenty of challengers. It has more breweries per capita than any other city in Oregon; as of last June, the Oregon Brewers Guild listed 26 in Bend.
Immersion opened last summer after many construction delays. “We signed the lease in December of 2014 and have been working on it for a couple years,” said Lampe.
The idea for the BIY (brew-it-yourself) business originated 18 years ago in Lampe’s college dorm room at the University of Colorado where he was homebrewing. New Belgium was a small local brewery then and Lampe quickly latched onto craft beer’s flavor, which was so distinct from domestics. While still a student, he worked as an assistant brewer at Walnut Brewery in Boulder, Colo. for two years. After graduation, he continued homebrewing in Tokyo where he worked as an IT recruiter for large financial companies. “There wasn’t much of a beer culture in Tokyo,” he said.
When the market crashed in 2008, so did his job and he returned to the states for work. Once again, he started homebrewing. “It was difficult in such a small space and hard to get the ingredients. I was always disappointed with the results,” he said.
Frustrated and dissatisfied with his beers, he realized there was a business opportunity in the failures. He wrote a plan for a brew-it-yourself shop where customers would have professional equipment, plenty of space to work and the best ingredients. Fellow UC alum Amanda Plattner suggested launching the idea in Bend, where she had family.
“We wanted to be more than a homebrew store,” Lampe said. “We wanted a place where you could come and have a great beer and food experience, where you could relax and enjoy yourself, and make some beer, if you were interested.”
Immersion is conveniently located between the Old Mill District and Downtown in one of Bend’s best known landmarks, the 100-year-old Box Factory — a long, red building that’s home to about 30 businesses. When you walk in, the first things you see are the shiny brite tanks, positioned in a semi-circle behind the bar. The five vessels are part of a 10-barrel JVNW system. Lampe wanted exposed tanks and said Immersion is one of the first to get the manufacturer’s rose-gold stainless steel version.
Josh Cosci was hired as the head brewer. Previously with Three Creeks Brewing Company and Worthy Brewing, he was originally in the wine industry in the Willamette Valley. While the lineup of regular beers is still evolving, Cosci likes to barrel age those that become mainstays in order to accentuate different characteristics.
For beer lovers who want to make their own concoction, there is a separate system made up of eight 5-gallon tanks. Ingredients are labeled on open shelving and there are recipe booklets with more than 30 options. IPAs are the most popular, with about half of all customers choosing to brew that style. “But, we get a good mix,” said Lampe. “They are all recipes that I have brewed and like.”
Reservations can be made online for sessions that are generally available Thursday through Saturday. Group size is limited to four people per kettle and an assistant brewer helps customers with the process, which typically lasts about two-and-a-half hours. Of course, it’s not all work and no play. Amateur brewers can order food and drinks to enjoy while they make their beer. Three weeks later, customers return for bottling and labeling, taking home approximately five gallons of beer or a case of 22-ounce bottles. The entire experience costs $180 to $220, depending on the recipe.
The beer lover in your life might enjoy a BIY session as a holiday gift. Or you could schedule your own brew day and give a carefully crafted beer with customized label to your friends and family this year. Whatever the reason or season, gift cards are available.
550 SW Industrial Way #185, Bend
By Patty Mamula
For the Oregon Beer Growler
The space formerly occupied by Rat Hole Brew Pub is now home to North Rim Brewing. The new location for Rat Hole is in Sunriver. The backstory is somewhat complicated with beer being the common denominator — along with family.
We’ll begin with North Rim because it’s the newcomer. The brewery, started in northeast Bend in 2014, had just lost both its beer maker and reputation when Chris Hudson took over as head brewer last October. He immediately started turning things around. When he first met with the owner and looked over the 10-barrel brewhouse, he was stunned at the lack of standard operating procedures and equipment. Hudson said, “After I cleaned everything up, I revamped it. All the recipes are my own.”
Hudson brings more than eight years of experience and skill to North Rim, where he is not only the head brewer, but also the only full-time employee.
“I started brewing on a fluke,” he said. Back home in Joseph, he was 23 years old and broke after his third season of commercial crab fishing. Looking for something different, he went to Terminal Gravity Brewing in nearby Enterprise where owner Steve Carper hired him as a keg washer. Two days after he started, two of their four brewers quit. That allowed Hudson to bypass keg washing and immediately begin learning to brew with Carper. “I got into it and really liked it,” he said.
Five years later, he had moved up to assistant brewer when Widmer hired him. He followed that with a short brewing stint at Three Creeks Brewing Company in Sisters. “I prefer the artistry of brewing, changing things up and trying new recipes,” he said. “I was looking for that perfect place.”
On a whim, he went to a festival and met the North Rim rep, who told him their brewer was quitting. He liked the challenge and saw the opportunity to do things his way.
“My most prized beer is the South Slope Saison. It’s in production right now. Personally, I don’t drink IPAs and IRAs. My dream and goal with brewing is to create beers in the 4-6 percent ABV range that are drinkable, the kind where you can enjoy three or four in one sitting.”
Around the same time Hudson took over at North Rim, the Rat Hole Brew Pub in Bend was finding itself in a bind for beer. Les Keele, retired teacher and principal, owns the pub with marketing director Ken Deuser, his brother-in-law. They’re not the only people with important roles at the brewery. Al Toepfer makes all of Rat Hole’s beer. And last October when he and his wife Susan Toepfer, Keele’s sister, opened a second Rat Hole site in Sunriver. There wasn’t enough beer to sustain both places.
“Even when we were the only outlet, we frequently ran out of some beers,” said Keele. “We could go through four kegs in a week.”
The Rat Hole team met with Hudson, tasted his beer and felt it would be a great fit at the brewery’s Bend location. Deuser said, “His style of beer matched up with our original beer intent.”
Keele is planning on holding Meet the Brewer events on Sunday afternoons this summer. “Chris is very personable and knowledgeable. People will enjoy talking with him and getting to know him.” He also plans on hosting outside block parties featuring North Rim beers. North Rim may have a tasting room in the distant future, but the former Rat Hole pub with its Old Mill District location, comfortable deck and established menu with a Southwestern flair is a great fit.
Rat Hole’s Inception and Evolution
Al Toepfer got into brewing one Christmas years ago when Susan gave him a Mr. Beer kit and his first batch turned out great. He took to brewing right away and expanded his home operation from their kitchen table to the bathtub to their backyard and started winning awards for his creations. “He’s very creative and comes up with unique ideas that everyone likes,” said Susan Toepfer.
While his beers were getting better and better, his full time job as an auto technician in Seattle was becoming more and more challenging because of back issues. That’s when Susan Toepfer’s brother invited the Toepfers to come to Central Oregon, a place they loved, and set up a brewery in the aging 700-square-foot outbuilding on his ranch in southeast Bend.
Cleaning up the “rat hole” of a shed was a full-time project that took the help of family and friends. While processing the paperwork was a years-long process, the 2-5 barrel nano-brewery finally became operational in 2010.
“Everybody loved the beer,” said Deuser. “We were hand-bottling 22s as fast as we could.”
Keele said, “Eventually we realized we needed a tasting room. Because of the agricultural zoning, we couldn’t have one at the barn, so we began to look for a place.”
Fortunately, a space opened in the Old Mill District when a brewery moved to a larger spot. Rat Hole Brew Pub took over the lease and opened in 2013. Like many new businesses, there were ups and downs. Still, the beer was popular and the quality was always high, with Al Toepfer taking home awards, including a silver and bronze at the Denver International Beer Competition in 2013.
The Toepfers moved to the Sunriver area and started thinking about opening a larger brewery, preferably a 7-barrel one. They also wanted a new location, knowing their “rat hole” brewery was short-lived since Keele was selling the ranch. They found an interesting combination of warehouse and restaurant space on the same lot, more than 6,000 square feet in all, and opened up Rat Hole Brewing in Sunriver last October. The Toepfers did most of the remodeling and refurbishing of the bar and restaurant. They recruited David Cohen, a creative chef who had just sold his half of Rockin’ Dave’s Bagel Bistro in Bend. “The menu is not typical pub fare,” said Susan Toepfer. Some favorite dishes include Dungeness crab cakes, a chile buttermilk-marinated roasted chicken and a Monte Cristo sandwich — all made with fresh ingredients. They also now serve breakfast.
The 2.5-barrel brewing system is installed in the warehouse attached to the restaurant. Susan Toepfer said, “We’re in the process of getting approval from the county to open the brewery. Once we do, we’ll be able to brew seven days a week because we’re so close.” When it’s up and running, she plans to seek funding for a 7-barrel system. In the meantime, they have 21 guest taps and a small amount of Rat Hole beer flowing.
The upcoming Oregon WinterFest, slated for Feb. 12-14, offers a Royal Run on Sunday in Bend. The event used to be poker-themed, but organizers say they may shake things up this year. For $30, racers get entry to the run, admission to all three days of the event and a post-run beverage. Photo courtesy of Lay It Out
By Dustin Gouker
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Rarely do you find a running event in Central Oregon that doesn’t have some tie-in to all the craft beers you can find in Bend and beyond.
The upcoming Oregon WinterFest, slated for Feb. 12-14, is no different, with the Royal Run planned for Sunday during the three-day spectacle.
WinterFest is a family-friendly event filled with music, performances, vendors and more. But the celebration of winter in Bend is also used as a great excuse to drink beer outside.
Racers in this year’s run get quite a bargain for $30 — admission to all three days of the event (normally $10 a ticket), entry into the race, a souvenir glass for the first 200 registrants and a post-race beverage. You would be hard-pressed to find too many running races with an entry fee that affordable.
“Yeah, it’s a great deal,” said Michael Coe, race director for the Royal Run. “You have post-race refreshments and lots of fun to go around. Everyone usually has a great time.”
The WinterFest race has been going on for several years, but it’s changed and evolved almost every time it’s been held, according to Coe. It was once a Warrior Dash event -- more obstacle race than anything else. The 2016 version will be a little tamer than the initial iteration of the WinterFest race, according to Coe, although the details are still being worked out.
“It’s going to be somewhere between a straight-up running race and an obstacle race,” Coe said. “It definitely won’t be a really intense Marine-style obstacle course.”
The course will be a loop in Bend’s Old Mill near the Deschutes River — between 5 kilometers and 8 kilometers, depending on its final configuration.
At the end of the race, runners — usually a couple hundred people participate, Coe says — will get to cool down on the final day of WinterFest with a post-race beer. It’s hard to think of a better way to enjoy Central Oregon.
To register: oregonwinterfest.com/winterfestrun
Other Ways to Exercise and Drink Beer in Central Oregon
If you want a way to burn some calories before having your beer, there are lots of ways to get your fix around Bend:
Great Nordeen Nordic Race, Jan. 30, 2016: Racers usually enjoy a few brews after the 18K and 30K distances at the post-race party. More info: mbsef.org/nordic/races
Bend Beer Chase, June 4, 2016: This 70-mile relay race is not for the casual runner or for people who don’t enjoy beer. Up to six people run through the high desert with free beer samples at relay exchange points. Almost every brewery in Central Oregon is represented. More info: bendbeerchase.cascaderelays.com
Pub runs, various dates: Bend running store FootZone commonly holds short runs that end up at various drinking locations around town. The next one is Jan. 25. More info: footzonebend.com/events
Twilight 5K Run/Walk, Aug. 11, 2016: The Deschutes Brewery-sponsored event serves Twilight Ale to race participants at the end. More info: superfitproductions.com/races/twilight-5k-run-walk
Thrilla Cyclocross, September 2016: Bend’s cyclocross series gets racers thirsty. You don’t get free beer as a part of racing your bike, but enjoying a beer while heckling competitors is part of the experience. More info: mbsef.org/events/mbsef-thrilla-cyclocross-series
Since the prototype was built and peddled around the country in 2013, Cascade Cycleboats has sent six barges to California, Minnesota, Texas, Washington and Portland. BrewGroup PDX/Back Pedal Brewing Co. operates the BrewBarge pictured here, which seats 14 and cruises up and down the Willamette River for about 90 minutes. Photo by Andi Prewitt
By Branden Andersen
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Kyle Allen was sitting in the Old Mill District when a cyclepub went meandering by — a group of people half pedaling and half drunk moving through the streets toward another brewery, where the evening gets just a little hazier. It was 2012, and the hype around breweries and brewery-related activities was hitting its stride.
Allen, who owned a painting company at the time, had his “aha moment”: Looking at the Cycle Pub spin by, with rafters floating in the river, he wondered about combining the two to make the ultimate summer drinking experience.
He sold his painting business and started Cascade Cycleboats, a company specializing in building 15-person, pedal-powered pontoon boats with built-in coolers for beer and wine.
“At that point, I had owned a painting company for 10 years,” Allen said. “I was sick of painting. I went crazy, sold my business and just went for it.”
In 2013, Allen teamed up with his friend Lance Waltjen, who had considerable fabrication experience, and built a prototype that Allen toured across the country.
“It was the longest trip of my life,” Allen said. “But we made two sales from the trip, which helped everything kick off.”
Allen rented a warehouse space in southeast Bend and started manufacturing the cycleboats. While he acknowledged drinking while exercising on bodies of water can be very dangerous, Allen took every step to make sure that his customers were not put in danger — starting with receiving safety accreditation from the U.S. Coast Guard Marine Safety Center, making his company one of two in the country that have earned the difficult-to-receive mark.
Since the prototype was built in 2013, Allen and Cascade Cycleboats have sent six boats to Portland, Houston, Minnesota, San Diego and Seattle. Since everything is built and fabricated in-house, each boat takes roughly two months from order to water ready.
Cycleboats are mostly used on large bodies of water, Allen said. The pedals have a built-in gear shift mechanism that will help riders go against a strong current or wind. And if that’s not enough to cut it, a solar-powered motor will kick in and get the boat where it needs to go. While the boats currently in action are owned privately, Allen believes there is room for brewery sponsorship.
“It’s only a matter of time,” he said. “It’s a perfect opportunity to showcase your product in a really fun and unique way.”
In Portland, BackPedal Brewing Co. in the Pearl district purchased one of the Cascade Cycleboats, contributing to the company’s beer recreation scene. When BackPedal was The BrewStop, they were known as the starting and ending place for bike bar tours. Now the owners have revamped the location, which is all but a few doors down from 10 Barrel Brewing’s new location, to create a nanobrewery with BrewCycle and BrewBarge experiences.
Allen is working on a couple new orders: one cycleboat is heading to Tennessee, while the next is heading up to Portland. He is working on plans to make bigger boats that would house more people, but for now it’s all about keeping up on orders and enjoying the momentum.
“People love being on the water,” Allen said. “In summer, they want to be on the water and have a good time. That’s what we’re offering here.”
For more information, visit www.cycleboats.com.
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