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 Erica Tiffany-Brown
Of the Oregon Beer Growler
For the last three years, I’ve dressed up as a hop during the Halloween season because a.) hops are awesome, and b.) I’m both too lazy and not creative enough to conjure up some other costume. Although I love traditions, I’m growing tired of doing the same thing year after year. But one thing I never get tired of is Oregon beer — so, I’ve decided to brew up some new rituals for all of us featuring our favorite treat. Below, you’ll find four different fall activities — beyond just Halloween — and the beers that go with them. October will never be the same again!
Ashland’s Caldera Brewing is already Halloween-friendly thanks to their logo, a bubbling black cauldron. But what will really put you under their spell is the Toasted Coconut Chocolate Porter. The brewery uses in-house toasted coconut chips and natural liquid chocolate to create nothing short of Mounds bar goodness. The beer already claims to be dessert in a glass, so why not take your state of sugar-induced bliss one step further by pairing it with the Hershey’s tropical treat? | 6.2% ABV, 24 IBUs
Aside from having a great name, Nut Crusher Peanut Butter Porter from Wild Ride Brewing in Redmond blends the chocolatey, caramelly, nutty notes loved by porter fans and amplifies them times a thousand with an undeniably creamy peanut butter flavor. It’s a beer that pairs well with E.T.’s favorite food group — Reese’s Pieces. Added bonus: The candies will double as a type of breadcrumb trail when you’ve imbibed too many beers and can’t find your way back home! | 6% ABV, 18 IBUs
Fall Activity Pairing: Trick-or-Treating
Even though you’re too big to get away with going door-to-door asking for candy — unless you secretly steal from your kid’s stash — there are likely plenty of leftovers from that giant variety pack you had every intention of handing out to costumed little monsters. Instead of ravaging it like a zombie, here are some more Oregon beer and candy pairings to help you savor every last bite: Rusty Truck Brewing’s Taft Toffee Porter with Heath bars, Base Camp Brewing’s S’more Stout with Peeps marshmallows, and Rogue’s Hazelnut Brown Nectar with Ferrero Rocher.
Pumpkin Spice and Everything Nice
Pumpkin beer (or pumpkin anything for that matter) is one of those things people either seem to love or hate. But even the biggest pumpkin skeptic could be made into a believer with Rogue’s annual Pumpkin Patch Ale. “Crafted from patch to batch,” each year Rogue employees pick fresh pumpkins from Rogue Farms in Independence, load them up and drive them 77 miles to the Newport brewery. The pumpkins are then roasted and pitched into the brew kettle, creating a final product that rivals even the best witch’s brew. | 6.1% ABV, 25 IBUs
Complex enough to be in a category all on its own, Cascade Brewing’s Pumpkin Smash is not for the average pumpkin beer fan. The Portland barrel house is highly regarded for its sour beers, and Pumpkin Smash does not disappoint. Each year’s batch offers a different experience — for example, their 2015 version is a blend of blond and quad ales aged in bourbon and brandy barrels for up to 22 months with pumpkin and spices. In September, the brewery released the 2015 blend on draft only, with vintage 2013 and 2014 bottles available for purchase. If the spirits are in your favor, you’ll likely still be able to score a rare bottle at the brewery, or at bottle shops such as Portland’s Belmont Station and The Bier Stein in Eugene. | 10.8%-12.35% ABV
Fall Activity Pairing: Pumpkin Patch
Check out Heiser Farms in Dayton for the ultimate pumpkin overload. On Saturdays and Sundays in October, the farm has cannons that shoot pumpkins more than a quarter of a mile! They will also be serving Heiser Pumpkin Ale from Silverton’s Seven Brides Brewing, a brew made with pumpkins grown right on the farm.
Originally released as a seasonal in 2014, Ninkasi’s Dawn of the Red has become almost as much of a cult classic as the movie it’s named after — 1978 horror film “Dawn of the Dead.” The brewery’s label designer and art director, Tony Figoli, is obviously a fan of the film, so what better reason to add this zombie-themed pairing to your to-do list this Halloween season and beyond? According to the Eugene brewery, “it doesn’t take brains to know this IRA is a delicious choice any time of year!” | 7% ABV, 75 IBUs
The infamous Black Widow only summons herself two weeks out of the year, but she always leaves a lasting impression. Originally brewed at the McMenamins Thompson Brewery 25 years ago on October 15, 1991, this deep-black porter infused with licorice root is so enchanting she will be the star of her own “Widow’s Weekend” at various locations. While she’s available October 15 through Halloween at all McMenamins pubs, the Thompson Brewery usually releases the popular seasonal earlier than the rest. But don’t get too lost in her web, as she won’t be here for long! | 7.35% ABV, 30 IBU
Fall Activity Pairing: Scary Movie Marathon
Although there is a 1987 crime thriller which shares the name “Black Widow,” McMenamins has a lot more to offer than that in the scary movie department this month. The company’s Mission Theater and Pub in Portland offers a variety of screenings all year long, but in October, you’ll find that classic spooky movies are their specialty. “The Craft” and “Scream” are both celebrating their 20th anniversaries, “Little Shop of Horrors” is celebrating its 30th, and “Carrie” is celebrating its 40th. There will be multiple showings of each, along with the movie “Se7en.” Don’t forget to order your favorite McMenamins beer as liquid courage as you prepare to be scared!
Putting the Oktober in Oktoberfest
If you’re pumpkin-phobic, have no fear, Deschutes is here! The brewery recently added a new fall seasonal to its lineup: Hopzeit Autumn IPA. While this beer may or may not conform to the Reinheitsgebot (a German purity law only allowing water, barley and hops as ingredients), the beer is at least “100-percent gourd free” according to the brewery, and “blends the malt body and flavor of a Marzen with the hop profile of an IPA.” It even has its own hashtag: #SayNoToPumpkinBeer. | 7% ABV, 60 IBUs
For those of you wanting something you could drink a few steins of without being frightened by flavors, this section’s for you. Block 15 Brewing’s Autumn Farmhouse Ale, dubbed as a “harvest celebration of Pacific Northwest regional farms,” is a part of the brewery’s seasonal bottle-conditioned series. The beer truly lives up to its description, featuring organic North American malts, organic oats from Green Willow Grains, Willamette Valley hops, and honey from Queen Bee Apiaries, also located in Corvallis. | 7.4% ABV
Fall Activity Pairing: Oktoberfest
Although Munich’s famous Oktoberfest may be over, luckily for you there are still some Oregon breweries that are hosting their own versions of the revered German celebration this month, including Block 15’s Bloktoberfest on Oct. 21 (Pro Tip: You get free entry if you wear German-themed clothing). On Oct. 8 in Portland, not only is Zoiglhaus Brewing hosting its own Oktoberfest, but Widmer Brothers Brewing will be putting on an Oktoberfest at Pioneer Courthouse Square featuring rock band X Ambassadors.
No matter how you’re celebrating this month, don’t be too spooked to try a new Oregon beer!
Acacia Cooper started as brewmaster at Climate City at the end of May. The native Bend-ite is happy to be back in her home state. “I had always had it in my mind to return at some point to buy property and start a family, so it was wonderful timing when the brewmaster job opened up.” Photo courtesy of Acacia Cooper
By Andi Prewitt
Of the Oregon Beer Growler
The new head brewer at Climate City Brewing Co. is ready to shake up the status quo in her brewhouse. Acacia Cooper, who started working at the Grants Pass business at the end of May, said she is coming into the new position with the goal of diversifying the beer offerings at her workplace.
“It’s very common for a brewery to have only one strain of yeast and use it exclusively, but I want to brew beer styles from all over the world with all different kinds of yeasts and with all kinds of unique ingredients,” Cooper explained. “I want to push the boundaries of what is traditionally considered "beer" ingredients and expose people to some extremely different, creative and delicious beers. I've already got styles on tap from Germany, England, France and the U.S., and I'm planning on introducing many more.”
Cooper, who graduated from Southern Oregon University five years ago, got her start in the industry with a paid-in-beer internship at Ashland’s Standing Stone Brewing Company. Like many professional brewers before her, Cooper became fascinated with the mix of art, biology and chemistry after taking up the hobby of homebrewing in college. “So, instead of pursuing my pre-med degree I decided to follow my heart, got my degree in chemistry anyway, and applied it to brewing,” she said.
The stint at Standing Stone was followed by a summer as an intern at Snake River Brewery in Wyoming. Cooper landed her first job at California’s Anderson Valley Brewing Company, where she was the lead research and development brewer for four years. She believes that prepared her to take on the new role.
By taking the job at Climate City, the native Bend-ite gets to be back in her home state. “I had always had it in my mind to return at some point to buy property and start a family, so it was wonderful timing when the brewmaster job opened up at Climate City,” Cooper said. Her perfect desert-island beer is, in an appropriate nod to her hometown, Deschutes Mirror Pond Pale Ale. When not working up a sweat in the brewhouse, Cooper enjoys organic gardening with her husband and making compost tea. But tranquil pastimes are not her only passion. Cooper welcomes a good, old-fashioned bar fight, so take note of her guns if you happen to see her after work.
“I'm also pretty good at arm-wrestling, and can sometimes be talked into friendly competition at the bar after a few good pints of craft beer,” Cooper said. Consider yourself warned.
Climate City Brewing
[a] 509 SW G St., Grants Pass
By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Sam Draper Eslinger’s grandmother passed away in 2004 and he was supposed to follow family tradition and pass down his middle name, which was his grandmother’s maiden name. However, he didn’t have any kids. After relocating from California to Oregon’s Umpqua Valley in 2010 to start a brewery, he realized what to do.
“I could pass on the name by naming the brewery after her,” says Eslinger. From there, Draper Brewing opened its doors to the public on July 1, 2012. It was a different time in the city of about 22,000. While many breweries now call Roseburg home, when Draper opened the only major craft beer presence in town was the McMenamins Roseburg Station Pub & Brewery.
With flagships Chocolate Porter, Cream Ale and IPA, Draper also focuses on sours and barrel-aged beers. Eslinger sees Roseburg’s citizens and tourists as ready for beers inspired by brewing traditions from all over the world, but bringing palate-pushing beers to a small city is the latest bend in the road for Eslinger’s brewing journey.
Growing up in Northern California, he was working in construction in Sacramento, Calif. at the start of the 21st century when he “started enjoying beers I couldn’t afford.” A co-worker homebrewed and shared advice. “I decided to start making hefeweizens and such that I enjoyed but couldn’t really afford,” says Eslinger. “So I got into homebrewing, started reading books, got really passionate about it.”
During 2002–2003, an injury and rehab forced Eslinger to consider big life changes.
“I realized I wanted to make beer.”
Still working construction during the day, Eslinger attended night school for classes that would help him qualify for the American Brewers Guild. He also started doing cellar work at BJs, who hired him as a brewer after he completed his training.
“I was fresh out of school, a beer nerd. They knew I was frothing at the bit to brew something I could put my name on,” says Eslinger. “They were already barrel aging, so they got some in, gave me seven beers, some barrels and some fruit, and told me to blend and age and run with it.”
After a stint at Lost Coast Brewery, Eslinger was ready to go out on his own. His family had acquired 30 acres in Tenmile, and he could set up shop there. Despite being a California boy who was moving to Oregon, he saw opportunity. “The town I grew up in was an old logging town, and Roseburg is an old logging town, so it wasn’t a stretch.”
There was also an untapped market. “Everyone else has come after me. It’s crazy how many we have here now compared to when I started.”
Earlier in his homebrewing journey, Eslinger had dabbled in barrel aging but had to give it up while living in the Humboldt County area. Relocating to Umpqua Valley’s wine country restored access to wine barrels. With much interest in the brew-it-if-you-got-it traditions of Belgian farmhouse ales, Eslinger was also inspired by the 25 plum, apple and pear trees that had been planted by the original homesteaders in 1949. “Forty feet from the brewery are all these fruit trees,” he concluded. “Made sense not to waste it.”
In addition to the flagships, Eslinger brews seasonal beers, such as summery Blueberry Wheat Ale. He prides himself on brewing any style, but Eslinger’s heart is with Draper’s Renaissance Series of barrel-aged and sour beers. He consults local winemakers for suggestions on using fruits and barrels for limited-release beers. Many Renaissance beers also are fermented with Lactobacillus, Pediococcus, and/or Brettanomyces, and barrel condition for at least one year.
Eslinger’s tastes lean toward “more esoteric beers,” and he knows that can be a challenge. “When I opened, I didn’t intend on making an IPA,” he explains. “First account I got said I was crazy if I didn’t make an IPA. Now that pale ale is one of my biggest sellers. You can’t walk away from it.”
Draper’s flagship beers provide a gateway into other offerings. “If you just have esoteric, it’s harder to tell if the brewer can make good beer. But if they have a regular pale ale or cream ale, and it’s good and clean, that proves to people that I can make good, clean beer. It gives the customer a barometer of trust, and they can work their way up to trying the different, more esoteric stuff.”
The inaugural 1-barrel system is now a 7-barrel system, but Eslinger jokes that “my brewery’s not modern by any standard.” Equipment in the 2,400-square-foot brewery includes open primary fermenters and closed conditioning tanks, a mix of gear from a now-defunct area brewery and even a repurposed dairy tank from 1956. Draper’s 2015 production was approximately 200 barrels, and the same is expected for 2016. Current distribution is primarily local, with some accounts in Eugene and Portland.
Draper’s 3,500-square-foot tasting room is located in a registered historic building constructed in 1908. With seating for up to 40 people, there is live music and other events throughout the month. In addition to Draper bottled and draft beers, the tasting room curates a selection of 60 sour ales and European imports. “We go out of our way to educate — help people try beers they haven’t tried.”
To increase Draper’s sour production — and protect flagship beers from potential cross-contamination — Eslinger recently constructed a new 480-square-foot sauerhouse at the Tenmile brewery for blending and barrel storage. The two facilities also help him plan Draper’s future and increased distribution.
Eslinger knows his tastes can be a challenge for the market, but he looks ahead with the same confidence that brought him to believe he could start an esoteric craft brewery in a small city. “I’d like to see the market go more and more in that direction. I go to San Diego, Sacramento, Portland … I see it going that way.” And he’ll have Draper at that forefront, pushing the public’s palate.
[a] 640 SE Jackson St., Roseburg
By Sam Wheeler
For the Oregon Beer Growler
“It’s the climate,” is a fitting motto for the city of Grants Pass, and Climate City Brewing Company knows how to make those mild winters and warm summers just a little bit better.
With delicious beer, that is.
Climate City was filling its first pint glasses back in March in its revamped historic brick building at 509 SW G St., and it was looking to take its first-rate craft beers to the regional growler market this fall.
And maybe a few bar taps, said Climate City co-owner Steve Baksay.
“We want to be selective at first — kind of brand ourselves to the crowd around here before we start sneaking up to Portland,” said Baksay, who is also a self-employed physical therapist in Grants Pass.
For supplying kegs in Southern Oregon, the brewery has been eyeballing Gil’s in Ashland, Beerworks and Growler King in Medford and Frank N Stene’s Monster Growlers in Grants Pass.
The most popular beer at Climate City is its Nookie IPA, said Baksay, which comes in at 6.5 percent ABV and 65 IBUs. The beer is crisp and clean with a malt backbone — everything you’d expect from a Northwest IPA.
The brewery pours three additional core beers: an easy-drinking Yellow Belly Blonde at 4.8 percent ABV and 20 IBUs; Rainie Falls Red at 5.5 percent ABV and 50 IBUs, which nails that hard-to-find, malty-bitter balance; and the Hyperion Porter at 5.8 percent ABV and 40 IBUs, which would make a splendid breakfast or shower beer.
At Climate City’s circa-1886 digs, though, beer is only one side of the story, said Mike Held, general manager of the restaurant, who, prior to settling in Grants Pass in August, called Texas and South Carolina home.
“I have had some pretty good restaurants under my belt and this place takes the cake in ambiance and beauty, along with the food and beer,” said Held. “I am just really excited about the direction that we are heading.”
The smoked duck poutine is one of the most popular menu items, he said, as has been the blackened-salmon and chipotle cream pasta dish dubbed “Mamacita.”
The restaurant boasts about 200 seats, Held said, 50 of which are outdoors. The restaurant’s outdoor patio is perched above Gilbert Creek with a fireplace centerpiece and hops growing nearby.
Brewmaster Brandon Crews joined the Climate City team from Rock Bottom Brewery in Portland, said Baksay, and has been a perfect fit.
Baksay, who owns the brewery and restaurant with his wife Jodi Paquin, a social worker, and longtime friends Mark Simchuk and his wife Christine Meis, who are local podiatrists, said Climate City will be looking to add another 20- to 30-barrel system in addition to is current 10-barrel system sometime next year.
The system will go in at a new site and coincide with the brewery switching gears into production mode with bottling and distribution, Baksay said.
“We’re looking forward to the next year,” he said. “We’ve already learned so much.”
It’s been an exciting journey, Baksay said, since the four co-owners started bantering with each other about starting their own brewery at the Winter Brewfest at Josephine County Fairgrounds in November 2013.
“After two or three, or four pints of beer we started talking about breweries,” Baksay said. And the rest is Climate City.
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