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.
Mellie Pullman, who was the first woman brewer at a brewery in Park City, Utah, broke ground again as the first female college professor to launch an online course on the business side of craft brewing. She’s seen here at Terminal Gravity in Enterprise. Pullman lives in Eastern Oregon. Photo courtesy of Mellie Pullman
By Patty Mamula
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Mellie Pullman’s adventures with beer have come full circle. In 1986 she was the first woman brewer at Schirf Brewing in Park City, Utah. Today she is the first female college professor to launch an online certificate program focusing on the business side of craft brewing.
Pullman brought her homebrewing experiments, mechanical engineering degree, some experience at a construction company and a truckload of bravado to Park City while on a ski trip there in the ‘80s. When she noticed a business plan for a new brewery lying on a table at her friend’s condo, she had to read it. Instantly, she decided the job was tailor-made for her.
Soon she was the partner and brewer in charge of production, bottling, hiring and training. “We packaged Wasatch beer (Schirf Brewing) from the day we opened in the fall of 1986,” she said. “We had to ramp up big for the ski season.”
Pullman stayed for three years and Schirf doubled in size every year. Then she moved on to a startup brewpub chain in Arizona. Eventually she returned to Utah to round out her business education. She got her MBA and then her Ph.D., changing direction from brewing to teaching.
In 2005 she moved to Portland to teach at Portland State University’s School of Business Administration. She has concentrated on supply chain management courses, incorporating her extensive background in restaurant work and interest in food into her courses. While teaching and conducting numerous research projects, she became interested in online courses as a way to expand access for students. Several years ago, she floated the idea of a program that focused on the business of craft beverages. With the support of her dean, Pullman began developing the first ever online certificate program for craft brewing, which consists of four courses that take about five weeks each.
The first two courses are Basic Business for Craft Beverages and Craft Beverage Business Management. “It’s a condensed version of business school, focused on how to run a business,” Pullman said. Topics like schedules, cost of product, the most efficient way to market and accounting are covered.
Pullman learned about the ins and outs of online classes by creating them. She designed the curriculum. There are no books. “I took information from the supply chain management course and went out into the field and video recorded people on site. For example, we recorded how a company did labels.
“I have developed the entire content but collaborated with a marketing, finance, accounting and distribution person on their particular classes. I give them guidance and help shape the videos and curriculum. I am not the video star for those classes.
“We were on a shoestring budget. The first videos I shot on an iPhone.”
In an average week, students will watch three to four video lectures, complete several readings and an assignment as well as participate in a live session. At first, Pullman kept herself out of the spotlight, feeling that the experts were the best industry representatives. But in time, she became more comfortable sharing her expertise in front of the camera.
Many local breweries, distilleries and auxiliary businesses are participating in the program, including Cider Riot, Hopworks Urban Brewery, Great Western Malting, New Deal Distillery, Portland Kettle Works, Reverend Nat’s Hard Cider, Rose City Labels, Worthy Brewing Company and more.
“The demand for the program is high,” said Pullman. “We were totally oversubscribed within two weeks when we rolled the program out about three years ago.”
While she said the ideal number of students in a class is 50, the entry level classes are always around 60. The course was offered three times this year because the waiting list was so big. At least one-third of the students in the program are women.
The program is global with students from the U.S., Latin America, Europe and China. Originally, there were many people from the Northwest, but that market has become very saturated. Pullman is interested in doing more work internationally and has changed many of her spreadsheets into metric dimensions. “The broader our appeal, the better it is for PSU’s branding.”
Students can enter the program through any of the individual classes except for Craft Beverage Business Management, which requires the introductory course be taken first. Students must also then complete two of the three electives for the certificate. The program can be completed in 20 weeks. Some people use it to get a better job. One of her students was with Firestone Walker Brewing Company and he’s now the craft beer guy at AB InBev.
In addition to teaching, Pullman is involved with several grant projects focusing on sustainability. Recently, she and another instructor supervised three PSU students who entered an international sustainability competition. Each student invested more than 50 hours researching how to strategically sustain business investments for their chosen client, Hopworks Urban Brewery. They won the oikos Case Writing Competition, which supports the development and use of cases on sustainability, along with 5,000 Swiss francs (about $5,200 U.S. dollars). Pullman and her fellow social entrepreneur instructor are writing a teaching manual based on the project for other academic institutions.
Pullman works in Portland, but lives in Joseph on acreage with a giant vegetable garden and apple trees. “I am a skier and mountain person but prefer the rural emptiness of the Wallowas,”she said. At home in Eastern Oregon she is involved with an emerging craft malt team. And in her spare time this summer, she is completing a book on craft beverage business management with John Harris of Ecliptic Brewing that is expected to be available in August.
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