By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
In advance of opening for the season on June 2, Detering Orchards sent out an eye-catching email to fans of their Coburg-area farm:
“During this off-season, we converted our old squash barn into a new place for people to relax and enjoy some of the best local craft cider and beer around. We are excited to announce a partnership with Eugene-based, award-winning Elk Horn Brewery. From farm-to-brewery, and back to the farm again, come out to Detering’s new Tasting Room to enjoy some Elk Horn hard cider or craft beer.”
Located north of Eugene, Detering was founded in 1934 and has become a seasonal, family-friendly mainstay destination for U-pick produce, a farm stand, food and drinks, festivals, games and other events on the working farm. In January of this year, Stephen Demergasso and his fiancee Tina Dao took over ownership. They immediately began considering new offerings to attract the public — not just for buying produce, says Demergasso, but to make the farm more of a place to “hang out.”
“The concept of the Tasting Room is you can taste the fruit in the drink,” explains Demergasso. “Detering has always made cider and done pressing for fruit. Elk Horn is a previous vendor, so I emailed and asked if they would like to have an exclusive relationship.”
Elk Horn’s owners, Colleen and Stephen Sheehan, visited and agreed. The Sheehans and Elk Horn helped Detering locate and install the equipment they needed and provided staff training on beverage descriptions and proper pouring techniques.
“It's a perfect symbiotic relationship,” says Colleen Sheehan. “Detering gets new clientele — the parents that enjoy shopping for fruit and roaming the grounds with their children while casually being able to sip on an alcoholic beverage — and we get exposure to a new group of people that might have never heard of us before.”
While Elk Horn has worked with Detering in the past, they have also often needed to source fruit and juice from farther afield. The new partnership helps them bring in fresh produce and juice straight from a farm that’s much closer to Elk Horn’s location near the University of Oregon campus in Eugene. It also adds another craft beer destination to the Coburg area, which is also the home of Crossroads Farm’s Agrarian Ales.
“I’m excited to experiment with something different and more local,” says Sheehan. “I want to do something with rhubarb, more flavors of cider, barrel-aging.”
The Tasting Room seats 30, but alcohol is allowed throughout the farm stand area. A sound system and TV allow people to catch a game or take in some live music. Visitors can wander the grounds among cows, goats and other livestock in pens, and kids (and kids at heart) can ride a new mechanical bull. There are four taps pouring two beers and two ciders from Elk Horn. Cheary Cherry and Peary Perry both featured Detering fruit. Elk Horn will provide exclusive brews for the Tasting Room as well as Elk Horn beverages available at the brewery (sometimes with slight modifications, too, such as extra cherry juice for the Detering version). Taps will rotate throughout the season as different crops come to harvest throughout summer and fall.
“We are looking at having something with rhubarb for July, maybe something else with cherries as we get those harvested and juiced,” says Demergasso, who coordinates with the Sheehans and the Elk Horn brewing team on ideas. “We definitely want to do a peachy blond beer after peach harvest, so probably come August we’ll have that available.”
As Elk Horn looks ahead to the rest of the season, they see the partnership as a way for their brewers to be as nimble as possible with the best, freshest and most local seasonal ingredients available. “As soon as they start producing fruit, we'll raid them,” says Sheehan. “Blueberries, cherries, peaches, apples — hopefully a little taste of everything!”
For Detering, Demergasso sees a chance to supply quality fruit and juice to an artisan local business and to find new ways to draw people to the farm. “I bought the farm because I believe in local farms,” he says. “It’s another way to supply the people of the south Willamette Valley with our fruit and other produce. Our farm is a fun place to hang out in the summertime, so we want to be a cultural hub for the community. People can come out here, get produce, have a drink and spend some time.”
30946 Wyatt Drive, Harrisburg
By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
For Colleen Sheehan and her husband Stephen, the choice was simple. They were tired of working “cubicle life jobs” for other people and wanted to work for themselves. So in 2010 they opened a food cart. Delacata became a Eugene sensation — but it also set the couple’s sights higher. In 2014 they opened Elk Horn Brewing and never looked back. The campus-area brewpub seats 150 inside and outside, has garnered accolades for being a local favorite and brewed 328 barrels of beer on their 20-barrel system last year.
“We live once. Let's try and enjoy this life to the fullest,” says Colleen Sheehan, “which for me, is experiencing the trials and tribulations of running your own business.”
Pub culture was nothing new to Sheehan. During her middle school years she and her family lived in London. After school her parents would take her to local pubs, where over a shandy she absorbed the English pub scene. “Nowadays, I enjoy all types of beers, depending mainly on the environment around me,” she says. “I like everything from a chewy stout to a bitter IPA to a summer wit. My husband and I have become real fans of sours in the last few years.”
Those travel experiences also broadened her perspective on the world and as an entrepreneur, helping Sheehan feel more willing to identify new possibilities and take chances. But the Eugene native and graduate of the University of Oregon also credits her education with instilling and honing the skills she needed to develop and implement her and Stephen’s business plan for Elk Horn.
“I do everything from payroll, accounting, scheduling, hiring, cooking, managing, to just making sure the daily operations are in order,” explains Sheehan. “My husband calls me the Oz behind the curtain.”
However, Sheehan also realized that her husband’s people and persuasion skills would be key in making Elk Horn not just a dream, but a reality. “Stephen is the sales guy — the schmoozer that brought in investors and made sure that the bank approved my plans,” says Sheehan. “I came up with the business plan and worked all the logistics of how, when, where and why the brewery would operate.” Despite her meticulous planning, Sheehan acknowledges that women entering business face hurdles based on sex and gender. “I honestly don't think I would have gotten investors or the bank loan needed without a man being involved.”
With Elk Horn now open for nearly two years, the Sheehans continue working as a team. “I excel in bookwork and planning, and he excels in running a solid staff and talking with the customers,” Sheehan explains. “We continually drive each other to work harder and be better at what we do.”
Sheehan knows that she is a woman who owns a brewery in a business dominated by men, but she sees that merely as an opportunity for more women to become involved. “I like beer as much as any man out there, so why not work with a medium that I love and enjoy.” However, she also hopes to be a pioneer who helps other women realize they can be part of a brewery, from the brewhouse to the boardroom. “Women just need to be more interested in the craft brewery scene,” says Sheehan. “The more they become interested and want to be a part of it, the more they can. I know when it comes to hiring more brewers when I expand, I'm going to, of course, give any woman with good experience a shot.”
Elk Horn currently has more than 40 employees, with plans to add more this summer. Providing economic opportunity and good jobs is one of the positives of owning a brewery, says Sheehan, as it is both personally fulfilling and improves the broader community. Another benefit of being a woman who owns the brewery? Closing the wage gap. “I set my wage, and I set others’ pay as well,” says Sheehan. “I am not biased when it comes to male or female and setting their pay based on gender. I believe in equal pay for individuals who do the same job, and then those who excel are paid accordingly.”
Sheehan sees the current craft beer industry as only just having scratched the surface of beer’s full potential. She and Stephen talk regularly with Elk Horn’s brewers to come up with a different take on beers, ciders and even meads. “It's cool to think of different bittering agents to use, different additions, what herbs can do, what fruits or vegetables can do, how different bacteria creates different mouth reactions,” says Sheehan. “It's a wonderful platform to tantalize your taste buds while giving you a buzz. It's so exciting to come up with a new flavor profile, watch it be executed and then watch a customer’s reaction to it.”
Sheehan plans more tastings and blending parties for women, and she and Stephen are at work to expand distribution from in-house to an expanded local and regional tap presence. They are hard at work on other plans too: their first child is due in August. For Sheehan, though, starting a family is another evolution for the brewery and another way to dovetail life and business.
“I love running a business” she says. “I love challenging, hard work. I love the ups and downs.”
As Sheehan keeps the brewery going day after day, while also planning for the future, she also sees craft beer as similar to man’s — or woman’s — best friend. “Craft beer is like having a dog,” she explains. “It eases a stressful day, it gives you something to do in the Oregon rain. It’s great to take to the beach during a hot summer, and it's always there for you when you need it.” And it’s something to look forward to.
“Right now my favorite beer is the non-alcoholic one, but once I have this baby, I'm really looking forward to our Wapiti Pilsner on a hot August day.”
Elk Horn Brewery
[a] 686 E. Broadway, Eugene
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