By Alethea Smartt LaRowe
When Susan Toepfer gave her friends Mr. Beer Kits for Christmas 10 years ago, she never dreamed it would change her life. Living in Snoqualmie, Wash., at the time, she and her husband, Al, weren’t even beer drinkers. Out of curiosity, Al used the kit to make a few extract brews and got hooked on the process. He soon switched to all grain and, after sharing his beer with friends and family, received a lot of positive feedback. Eventually he entered his homebrews into fairs and local contests and won some awards.
In 2010, Susan’s brother, Les, offered his barn as a possible location for Al to brew on a larger scale. The first time Susan saw it, she referred to it as a “rat hole” and the name stuck. It took two years to get all of the necessary licensing and permits as the barn is located on 10 acres of exclusive farm-use land southeast of Bend.
Once the brewery was operational, the Toepfer’s needed a place to sell their beer. When the original Old Mill Brew Wërks space in the Phoenix Building-West became available, they decided to open a brewpub.
The new business is a family affair. Susan’s brother and sister-in-law, Les and Peggy Keele, and sister and brother-in-law, Ken and Shelbie Deuser, teamed up with the pair as co-owners and helped with the funding. Al and Susan are the licensed brewers. All family members contribute in some way, either working behind the scenes or pulling pints at the pub. “It’s a great thing to do as a couple,” Susan says.
The brewpub is a cozy, family-friendly place to enjoy an upscale Southwestern-inspired meal paired with one of the 10 Rat Hole beers on tap. There’s live music two nights a week and Wednesday is locals night with $2.50 pints from
4 to 8 p.m. The pub is also the only place you can find their beers for now. According to Susan: “We plan to start selling 22-ounce bottles at the pub in late May or early June.”
While Susan continues to work as an accountant, Al has retired from his 35-year career as an auto technician and is focusing on the brewing. He counts another well-respected homebrewer as his mentor. Currently brewing on a 2.5-barrel system with an 80-gallon boil pot and four 80-gallon fermenters, Al brews three to four times each week. To keep up with demand, the Toepfer’s have already purchased an additional four fermenters and have doubled the number of kegs.
Their three tasty flagship beers are Rye IPA (peppery spice of rye and bright citrusy flavors of whole-cone hops), Rotation Red Ale (mild, delicate English style ale with a hint of sweetness) and Vanilla Porter (fresh Madagascar vanilla beans, six malts, chocolate and flaked oats). Al has also made some experimental beers like Peppermint Porter and is working on a green chile beer for the summer months.
“Our goal is to do a few things really well,” Susan says, and by all measures, they are. Rat Hole joins the expanded version of the Bend Ale Trail in May. This summer, the brewpub celebrates its one year anniversary on Saturday, July 19. A large outdoor party will feature live music, BBQ, and plenty of Rat Hole brews. In the meantime, keep an eye on their Facebook page for news about events at the pub, seasonal menu items and, of course, new beers!
Rat Hole Brewing
( a ) 384 SW Upper Terrace Dr. Bend, Oregon
( p ) (541) 389-2739
(h) Monday - Saturday: Noon to 10pm, Closed Sunday
Owners: Susan & Al Toepfer, Les & Peggy Keele, and Ken & Shelbie Deuser
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.