By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
In 2016, there was pizza. In 2013, there was a deli. But before all of that in 2012, there was just a brewpub called Falling Sky located in a downtown alley in Eugene. Throughout five years of change, there has been a constant:
“We want to be the most Eugene brewery in Eugene, the most representative of Eugene’s culture,” says co-founder Jason Carriere.
Instead of zigging before they zagged by focusing on territory, tap handles and shelf space, Falling Sky worked to grow a devoted local following. The business came together thanks to Carriere, owner of a homebrew store now named Falling Sky Fermentation Supply Shop, and Rob Cohen, who brought his experience with the restaurant industry. Ultimately, the two wanted a family-friendly neighborhood place.
But they did not expect what would happen next. The Falling Sky path has been different from other breweries, in part, because of the food. After barely a year in operation, Falling Sky had an opportunity to open a second location near other Whiteaker-area breweries. Expanding that quickly would be challenging, but the site was too good to pass up. It also gave them a chance to develop their food operation — the brewpub kitchen was cramped and constricted Cohen’s vision for the menu. The Falling Sky Delicatessen, which opened in 2013, elevated their fare: house charcuterie (the pastrami alone is worth a trip), pickles and fresh-baked breads.
In 2015, Falling Sky changed again. In addition to the popularity of the two locations, plus a few taps in the Portland area, the owners were in discussions with the University of Oregon about opening a space in what would be a newly renovated student union. Before that third location, a pizzeria, opened in 2016, Falling Sky expanded the brewery to meet demand.
“Both the deli and the pizzeria were surprises,” says Carriere. “The response we got from the community was great, and both of those were just opportunities that came along — maybe a little bit before we were ready for them — but we decided we had to take them anyway.”
After five years of massive — and sometimes not-entirely-expected — change, the Falling Sky team is looking forward to getting back to the basics of the day-to-day. The brewpub started with 25 employees and today has 75 across all three locations. With no more expansions or construction projects on the horizon, Carriere says he and everyone else is ready to focus on “investing time and energy into being one of the premier breweries in Oregon.”
Part of that is now dialing in the brewery expansion. “Because of the constraints of the building we’re in, as we planned we realized that if we wanted to put in additional tanks in the future, it’d be this huge ordeal,” explains Carriere. “We’d have to shut down the brewery and restaurant, because it’s challenging to get big equipment into the brewery.”
Falling Sky kept its current system but installed electrical and plumbing upgrades, along with other big equipment, such as a cold liquor tank, another whirlpool tank, four lagering tanks and two open fermenters. “Now we can do three turns in a day,” says Carriere, “where previously just trying to do two would have been a 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. ordeal.”
In 2012, Falling Sky produced 800 barrels and made an all-time brewery high of 1,111 barrels in 2016. Carriere estimates that the brewery could be on track to produce 2,000 barrels in 2017.
Not that they’re done adding new gear. An Energy Trust grant will help upgrade the brewery’s boiler. Automated grain handling is on the horizon along with installing a bigger pump for the brew system and adding an external grain silo. “We always hunted around for used brewing equipment that is interesting and cool, such as the Austrian-manufactured open fermenters,” says Carriere. “It’s part of our international theme to cobble together a little brewery museum back here.”
The upgraded brewery has also given Falling Sky the freedom to compete for more beer awards and take on new opportunities. As part of the grand opening for a new Whole Foods in downtown Eugene, the store approached Falling Sky about doing a beer. The final product, Retrograde Red, was available in 22-ounce bottles — a first for Falling Sky. “It was a good opportunity to test the waters more in a low-risk situation,” says Carriere. “It’s one of those things that we’d been meaning to look into, but didn’t have a reason — and then a reason came along.”
Now Falling Sky is pursuing limited bottle and can releases as part of a “presence of mind campaign,” instead of trying to compete for broader distribution and shelf space. “This gets our name out there so that when people see a different beer in a bar, maybe they’ve had our beer in a bottle, so maybe they try that other Falling Sky beer,” says Carriere. “We want to communicate to the state of Oregon that we are makers of quality beer, and that if you get one of our beers, any of our beers, it will be clean, drinkable and well-made.”
It’s about more than brewing beer and cooking food, though — it’s also about creating a strong culture. “What we’re building here is bigger than any one of us,” says Carriere. “People have worked for us, then left for other opportunities, and then came back. That speaks volumes about our family in the Falling Sky team.”
As local beer culture changes and the industry continues to grow, one thing surprises, humbles and motivates Carriere. “I’m amazed by the number of people locally who still, five years on, haven’t heard of Falling Sky. There’s still room for growth even in our own community, and that’s cool.”
Falling Sky Five Year Anniversary, March 1–31
Daily growler fill specials, brewery tours and tastings, special anniversary gear and apparel, brewer’s dinner, special-release and cellar beers, and more.
Falling Sky Brewing House
1334 Oak Alley, Eugene
Falling Sky Delicatessen
790 Blair Blvd., Eugene
Falling Sky Pizzeria
University of Oregon Erb Memorial Union
1395 University St., Room #46, Eugene
By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
It’s the start of a new year, so time to brace yourself and get up to speed on some of the upcoming developments in the craft beer scene from Eugene to Roseburg to McMinnville.
Alesong Tasting Room and Beer Club
Currently the newest brewery in the Eugene/Springfield area, Alesong Brewing & Blending starts 2017 with additional developments: the opening of a rural tasting room and inclusion in a beer club.
Located on 4.5 acres bordering a winery about 20 miles southwest of downtown Eugene, the 3,500-square-foot facility will house a barrel room, production facility and tasting room. Co-founder Matt Van Wyk expects a spring opening.
Meanwhile, Alesong beers will be among the offerings in the Rare Beer Club, one of the memberships offered by monthlyclubs.com. “We were so happy to have connected with Alesong,” says Kris Calef, monthlyclubs.com president. “I can honestly say that I haven’t been as excited about working with a brewery as I was after tasting Gin Hop Farm. Outstanding beers.”
New Name for Mancave
After a year of ups and downs, including the loss of its brewery space, Mancave Brewing Company has established an alternating proprietorship arrangement with Elk Horn Brewery. To further mark the brewery’s new chapter, founder Brandon Woodruff has also renamed the business. With limited production of less than 25 barrels per month, Manifest Beer Company plans to release a beer per month, with limited keg distribution in the Eugene and Portland areas. The first release will be Exalted IPA.
“We wanted to give up more often than not, so many things piled against us at once,” said Woodruff on the brewery’s Facebook page. “Only two things kept us going: an insatiable search for beers unlike any other, and our family of followers.”
Oakshire Takes It Back to the Brewery
While visitors to Oakshire Brewing now come to its Public House in the Whiteaker area, the 10-year-old establishment wanted to take things back to its roots. The public will once again be welcomed into its production brewery, complete with a small tasting room — a tradition that had been abandoned for some time.
During the summer of 2017, Oakshire plans to resume Friday tastings “that were once a staple of the Oakshire beer experience,” says co-founder Jeff Althouse. “Beer, brewery tours, music and food carts will showcase the roots of our small company and allow our old and new friends to enjoy a beer at the location where it all happens.” More details will be announced in spring.
Oakshire will also bump up its CORE seasonal line: Sun Made Raspberry Berliner Weisse, with real raspberries, will be released in February 2017, followed by the original Sun Made Cucumber Berliner Weisse in May. Oakshire has added dedicated equipment for kettle souring and plans to release more sour beers.
Ninkasi’s Three Bs
Ninkasi goes into 2017 with a new distribution partnership with Bigfoot Beverages, a new director of brewing process development and a return of their popular Believer Double Red Ale.
Beginning this month, Eugene-based Bigfoot will distribute bottled Ninkasi beers to off-premise accounts in Eugene. This change will allow Ninkasi’s local distribution team to focus on sales to area bars and restaurants.
While completing his doctorate in Brewing Science at Oregon State University, Daniel Sharp interned at Ninkasi. Now with his completed Ph.D., Sharp returns to Ninkasi — but as the brewery’s new director of brewing process development. Drawing on his research on hop utilization and impacts to flavor and aroma in brewing, Sharp will focus on improving Ninkasi’s brewing capabilities as well as leading educational and research efforts.
And did you believe that Believer could come back? Originally released as a winter seasonal in 2006, the popular double red ale returns through April as part of Ninkasi’s Seasonal Release Series. A portion of all Believer sales will be contributed to three national nonprofits.
Lookingglass Looks Ahead
Lookingglass Brewing, located outside of Roseburg, aims to expand its brew system and Winston-based taproom, as well as add a bottling line, says founder Mark Nunnelee. “Ideally, we would like to expand to a 7-barrel system and increase the number of our sales accounts,” explains Nunnelee. “The number of accounts we can have currently is limited due to the size of our brew system.” Nunnelee is also exploring a partnership with Winston Donuts Cafe to bring food into the Lookingglass tasting room.
Backside Brewing Co. in Roseburg recently began bottling and self-distributing its popular flagship Axeman Red. Backside’s 22-ounce bottles initially will be available at the tasting room and in select locations in Southern Oregon.
“We’re really excited for bottles,” says owner K.C. Mckillip. “Getting beer on draft is great, but you only have one tap handle. The bottle gets our logo and image on the shelf. Axeman is one of our top-sellers, and there are so many more potential places for us to see beer now.”
Mckillip plans to extend distribution gradually, with the hope to have four packaged beers by summer.
Expansion/New Brewmaster for Salud
Roseburg’s Latin-inspired Salud Restaurant & Brewery is expanding. After naming a new brewmaster, Chad Northcraft, owner Manny Anaya has announced that Salud will be moving their brewery to an off-site facility. The new brewery will be walking distance from the restaurant, allowing more dedicated space for brewing, conditioning, packaging and distribution.
New Brewery Planned
A gluten-free brewery in McMinnville is in the works. Doppelganger Brewing applied for Oregon Liquor Control Commission licensure in October 2016. Its current address is on Northeast Riverside Drive in an industrial part of town.
By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
“Willamette Brewery of Eugene will begin brewing beer at its production facility this coming winter. The brewery will not have an attached restaurant but will have production capacity to distribute kegged beer throughout Eugene and other locations in the Willamette Valley. The company's founders, Willamette Valley natives, share a love of Oregon and a commitment to the local economy.”
Taken from the brewery’s original website, the above was the plan for Jeff and Chris Althouse, the brothers who founded what is now known as Oakshire Brewing. It was 2006. Instead of the 4,500-plus breweries currently in the U.S., there were 1,460 (more than a thousand of which were brewpubs). Yet two homebrewers in the southern Willamette Valley thought they could make and sell some darn good beer, no pub required.
So far so good. Integral in the Oregon beer boom, and with beers that have attained national recognition, Oakshire recently celebrated its first decade. What’s in store for the next 10 years?
When Oakshire brewed its first six barrels in late 2006, it was just the brothers. They hoped to make enough Oakshire Amber to have a profitable business and make a decent living. Today Oakshire has 23 employees across its production, public house and administrative teams. On pace to brew 8,500 barrels of up to 80 beers for 2016, Oakshire’s beers can be found in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Denver, Alaska and Vermont.
“We wanted to create good beer experiences by giving access to our beer wherever people were most comfortable drinking it.,” explains CEO Jeff Althouse. “We were Eugene’s beer then, and I think we’re Eugene’s beer now — Eugene’s brewery. There are wonderful breweries here, but our intentions now and then were always clear. The number one thing I’ve learned in 10 years of operating Oakshire Brewing, is that our No. 1 resource is our people — not just people who work here, but the people who drink the beer too.”
Self-described as “opposed to high risk,” Althouse has focused on measured, tactical, strategic growth. “Once something worked, it made sense to grow it and change incrementally, and even take a step back when we needed to,” he says. “There’s plenty of stuff we’ve gotten wrong too. We look at it, we learn, we pivot.”
That’s applied to equipment growth, such as adding labeling machines, a canning line and, more recently, a heat exchanger for kettle souring. It’s also key in Althouse’s ongoing strategy around distribution. Oakshire markets three categories of beers: Core (year-round and seasonal sellers), Pilot (single- and small-batch beers) and Vintage (bottle-conditioned, barrel-aged, wild and high-ABV beers).
In the next 10 years, “we might have a hundred different metropolitan areas where we sell Vintage beers, and there’s a chance we‘ll sell our Core beers only in Oregon,” says Althouse. “It‘ll be neat if we’re tightening the geography on beers that should be drunk fresh and broadening it on beers that are meant to be aged.”
One of Oakshire’s biggest changes has been adding the Public House (though they rely on food carts for grub), which opened in 2013 in Eugene’s brewery-packed Whiteaker neighborhood. In 2012, the tasting room at the production brewery was taking up room needed for a canning line. The Public House both increased space (and freed up the brewery for production, packaging and shipping), and helped Oakshire stabilize profits. “We’re a tricky size. We have the overhead of a larger brewery, but the gross profit of a small brewery,” explains Althouse. “We needed to have the additional revenue and gross profit associated with the public house operation.”
For example, Pilot beers are a popular and distinctive part of the brand, but it was hard to profitably factor them in to the company’s distribution. Now, even the smallest batches — sometimes just one keg — can be tapped exclusively at the Public House. As an additional benefit, customers can give direct feedback to pub staff and brewers. Now, Oakshire fans hit the Public House every Tuesday at 6 p.m., when a new Pilot beer is tapped.
The Public House also anchors its community presence, from partnering with Lane United Football Club to its Wednesday Oakshire Inspires program, where $1 of every beer sold benefits a different local nonprofit. The brewery’s growth also enabled it to enact a “1% for Watersheds” program, where one percent of local revenue from Watershed IPA sales goes to the McKenzie River Trust. Given the success of the Public House, when Althouse looks ahead at Oakshire’s next decade, he sees potentially opening a second location — but doesn’t know where yet.
What he does know is that Oakshire will continue to grow in its own independent, strategic, committed way. “Our vision was not complicated. We wanted to run a nice brewing company that involved the community,” says Althouse. “We brewed for a small area, and we wanted to be able to make a living the right way — a just and sustainable business. That hasn’t changed.”
Oakshire Brewing Public House
207 Madison St., Eugene
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