Oblivion brewmaster Darin Butschy (left) recruited three new partners last fall, and their capital, enthusiasm and labor have re-invigorated sales and visibility. Pictured, clockwise: Bryan Harrison, Chris Springer and Ryan McDevitt. Photo courtesy of Ryan Schneider, Oblivion marketing/digital media coordinator
By Patty Mamula
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Oblivion Brewing in Bend has been on an economic roller coaster since opening in the summer of 2013.
Owner/brewer Darin Butschy and his wife started the small eastside brewery. Sales were slow at first, especially since it was a bare-bones, two-person operation with self-distribution out of their Subaru. The clean, crisp, easy-drinking beers soon gained a following and a local restaurant owner decided to open a pub on Northwest Galveston Avenue and feature Oblivion’s beer.
“We gave them rights to our name. We had nothing to do with the pub itself. We had all eight tap handles,” said Butschy. The pub was busy — too busy for owner Jon Sargent and he closed it after seven months at the end of 2015.
“It hurt the name,” said Butschy. “People thought the brewery was closed.”
When the couple split up, Butschy was on his own for a while. Business was definitely down. That’s when he recruited three friends to help shore up the operation. Together, they bought 65 percent of the company and Butschy retained 35 percent. Chris Springer, who worked at JELD-WEN for 23 years before retiring a couple of years ago, is now the assistant brewer and production manager. “When we came to meet Darin we really liked his beer and wanted to be involved,” he explained. The rest of the trio includes Bryan Harrison, who handles business management, and Ryan McDevitt, who is in charge of sales and distribution. “We have 85 active accounts now. We self-distribute all over Central Oregon in Bend, Redmond, Prineville, La Pine, Sisters and Sunriver. We are talking with distributors now,” McDevitt said.
Starting last fall when the new partners came on board, the brewery has seen steady growth. Production alone has increased to 60 barrels a month — three times the amount made in the same period of time last year. A small office was recently repurposed as a taproom inside the brewery for tastings and growler fills. The space is similar to Boneyard Brewery — no frills, just beer. While there are limited hours at this point, Butschy said drop-ins are welcome if you call ahead since someone is almost always there working.
Butschy learned to brew at SLO Brew in San Luis Obispo, Calif. while he was studying chemistry at Cal Poly. “I was there for six years during the time when Firestone Walker was negotiating a buyout,” said Butschy, “foreshadowing what it has become.” His brewing work brought him into contact with California’s craft leaders like Sierra Nevada Brewing Company and Anderson Valley Brewing Company.
He moved to Bend for the Northwest lifestyle and the excellent water. “I kept brewing to stay sharp on my game,” he said. As he saw more and more breweries pop up, he decided to go commercial. “I brew more traditional beers. I try to keep it balanced and traditional. That’s the way I was trained, not swaying away from what beer should be.”
His 10-barrel system includes a couple of 10-barrel fermenters along with one 20-barrel vessel and two 40-barrel tanks. Business manager Harrison is not stopping there, though, adding that “six more 40-barrels are on our wish list.”
The top-selling flagship beer is an IRA called Road Ryder, described as a “dry-hopped bomb.” Introduced as a fall seasonal, it took off and is now available year-round. “Our red is one of the best; it’s where we stand out,” said Harrison.
Oblivion has six regular beers, with additional seasonals and a few one-offs. All the beer is draft only. Other beers include a German-style pilsner with German lager yeast and hops in accordance with the German purity laws, a summer ISA, an IPA with five different Oregon hops and a stout featuring ten malts. Butschy is also aging a blond in Woodford Reserve bourbon barrels for the low-production/specialty XTap at the Bend Brewfest in August. Additionally, Oblivion’s Oblivious Blonde recently won the Central Oregon Beer Week SMaSH (single malt and single hop) competition. It’s customary for the winner to brew the official Central Oregon Beer Week beer the following year.
With that victory and a path for continued growth, Butschy and his new partners are looking forward to reestablishing Oblivion in Central Oregon and they’re having a good time while doing it.
Oblivion Brewing Co.
63027 Plateau Drive, Suite 4, Bend
Hours: Noon to 7 p.m. Thursday through Saturday
By Jim McLaren
For the Oregon Beer Growler
The idea seems as obvious as Mount Hood on a clear, spring day: Beer, bicycles and tours celebrating both.
But the obvious sometimes takes time to get rolling. In this case, it took a trip to Belgium seven years ago by an IT guy looking to reboot his work life.
It’s a sunny Memorial Day in Hood River. As a light breeze comes off the Columbia River, Claire Cohan is setting up bottles of beer and the makings for sandwiches on picnic tables in Port Marina Park. Soon, a group of riders with tour company Beercycling will arrive and devour the spread.
Claire says this tour began in Portland, where the group met and test rode bikes rented from The Bike Concierge in Oregon City. “We stayed at the Jupiter Hotel, and from there we rode across the Tilikum and Steel bridges to get warmed up. That was the first day. Then we got a tour at Hair of the Dog, which, of course, is amazing.”
During the five-day tour, riders pedal 20-32 miles per day. The route from Portland east to Hood River is mostly flat with the 900-foot climb to Vista House overlooking the Columbia River Gorge being the most breathtaking — both in terms of the view and the oxygen-sucking effort.
On day two, the group rides to Troutdale where they’ll spend the night at McMenamins Edgefield. Day three has the big climb and a stop at Thunder Island Brewing Co. in Cascade Locks. On day four, the group pedals the finished part of the Historic Columbia River Highway, then loads into a van to hop the gap along the unfinished section. A picnic lunch in Hood River is followed by visits to Full Sail Brewing Company and pFriem Family Brewers.
As Claire is running down the itinerary, 12 riders and Evan Cohan coast into the park; the riders are quickly off their bikes and moving toward the beer and food.
Evan comes over for the interview. But he first asks, “Can I have a beer while I answer questions? I’ll answer better that way.”
So, why did Beercycling start in Europe? Taking a sip from a special, non-breakable tasting glass Evan explains, “I’d been there once with friends. Flanders has a dedicated bike infrastructure that goes that entire part of the country and into Holland. You can get between points pretty much traffic free. The whole country is the size of Maryland, and when you focus on a couple of provinces you can really get anywhere really quickly.”
Evan likes beer, likes cycling, but what he wasn’t so happy with back then was his job. “I was having my, kind of, ‘I’m-done-with-my-day-job crisis’ in my mid-20s. Earlier than most. I thought, ‘What would the dream job be?’”
He found the answer on the road through Flanders. “It was a magical trip when you get into Belgian beer and you hear the stories about the Trappist monasteries. We just went for fun on a spontaneous trip, but I learned a lot.”
And he wanted to share what he learned — not as some sort of elaborate pub crawl, but as a lesson about the cultures surrounding beer. “You go along these canals and through farms, and it was amazing. And we got a couple of tours there. The Flemish people are really generous. And I thought this would be the ideal place for a bike tour. It has all the ingredients for logistics to make it happen safely. It would be like doing bike tours in Belgium visiting breweries.”
Stan Bashaw came from North Carolina for the debut Oregon tour. With a beer in one hand and a sizable sandwich in the other, he says he’s participated in a Beercycling event before. “I happened to see a Facebook post Evan put up about Beercycling and from day one I said, ‘Someday I’m doing that.’”
Stan then convinced friends to go with him. “We had the best time. Cycling in Belgium, the Belgians are used to bikes being everywhere. At least back in North Carolina, folks are used to bikes being annoyances. It’s been really great here [Oregon].”
The Beercycling European tours include mini-seminars on brewing, rides through hop fields and visits to ancient breweries. But Stan has one particularly fond memory: “The part of the tour that is really appealing in Belgium is all the food. Oh my gosh, we had such great food. The picnics we had alongside a bike path, Belgian bread — fresh made that day. Oh my God, it is just amazing.”
The food was especially welcome when “we biked out to the North Sea on a really cold day. I think that was really one of our favorite days. We were cold. We were wet. We found a coffee shop because we were so cold. We got warmed up, then rode past World War II artillery fortifications that go on for miles. We had a 20-knot wind behind us, and we barely had to pedal.”
Bashaw and his friends liked Oregon’s attitude toward cyclists but are anxious to do another European tour next year.
It took Evan and Claire about two years to work out the Oregon tour logistics, but they’ll hold three this year and perhaps more next year.
In Europe, Beercycling has grown to six tours: three in Flanders in northern Belgium, one in the Ardennes in southeastern Belgium, another around Milan in northwest Italy and a loop around Amsterdam in Holland.
The tours run from five to ten days with prices ranging from $1,475 in Oregon to $2,850 for one of the Flanders tours. Visit beercycling.com for dates, itineraries and bios of the guides.
By Ezra Johnson-Greenough
For the Oregon Beer Growler
It would be difficult to overstate the importance of the Oregon Brewers Festival. It’s not just a festival, but THE festival of the Pacific Northwest and the largest of its kind in the country. So large does the OBF loom that when you mention “Portland” and “beer festival,” most assume you’re talking about OBF. It’s become the measuring stick for all other beer events, and in 2017 OBF will set the bar even higher by working to end intoxicated driving by launching a Safe Ride Home program.
This July 26-30th marks the 30th anniversary of OBF, held at Portland’s Tom McCall Waterfront Park. It’s the largest beer fest in the U.S. by attendees, claiming 80,000 or so visitors annually and in 2016 it contributed an estimated $29.3 million to the local economy. Other impressive stats it boasts: 44.2 percent of last year’s attendees were women and 20.2 percent of out-of-town visitors stayed in rental lodging.
Art Larrance, now of Cascade Brewing, founded OBF in 1988 after being inspired by Oktoberfest in Munich and the first Waterfront Blues Festival in Portland. At the time, Larrance and Fred Bowman had founded Portland Brewing — the city’s fourth brewery — and were asked to provide beer for a new event. The two Hillsboro High alums launched the Papa Aldo’s Pizza Blues Festival during the last weekend of July at Waterfront Park. The inaugural celebration was a hit, with kegs kicking as quickly as they could tap them. Surprisingly, then, the event sponsors sold the Blues Festival to the Cascade Blues Association and the date was moved to the Fourth of July weekend. That left an opportunity to purchase the park rental space during the last weekend of July, which Larrance did for $500. He reached out to Widmer Brothers Brewing, BridgePort Brewing Company and McMenamins for help starting a beer festival that no one expected to succeed.
“One of the big questions we got were, ‘How much alcohol do you get out of the hops?’ People did not have a clue what the hops were. Now, people are going ‘I want to try that Citra hop!’ We are all becoming hop experts,” Larrance said.
The first OBF in ‘88 created a template for the token-based, low-cost outdoor beer event that has become perhaps the most popular model. The Great American Beer Festival was founded in 1987 and took place indoors with a session-based entry fee featuring unlimited (but small) pours. Larrance did almost everything differently. OBF, with an outdoor setting, was free to enter and attendees could purchase a plastic mug and $1 drink tickets. The only major change in the last 30 years is a switch from paper tickets to reusable wooden that also double as free advertisement for the fest. That first event featured 22 breweries from six states. With an expected attendance of around 5,000, approximately 15,000 showed up, which had brewers scrambling to keep up with beer sales. These days, the festival takes up twice the length of Waterfront Park that it used to and has stretched from two days to five.
In 1994, Larrance left Portland Brewing. “They said, ‘You’re kind of a starter, but we need more of a finisher. We need more nationally known people … MacTarnahan’s had bought more stock and they didn’t want me around.” Portland Brewing gave Larrance their interest in OBF and he went on to purchase the rest of the shares of ownership from the Widmers and the Ponzis (founders of BridgePort).
A major misconception about OBF is that it does not or should feature more Oregon brewers, but from the beginning that was not the goal. “We wanted to showcase Oregon beer, but not to say we were the best. We want to get out-of-staters ... to stand the local beers up against all the others so that people would say ‘Oh, that Oregon beer is pretty darned good.’ We wanted people to make up their own mind.” A lottery system is used to choose participants, though breweries that have been longtime supporters are grandfathered in. Larrance says narrowing down contributors is the most difficult aspect of the event.
In 2013 the festival attempted a switch to real glassware instead of the much-maligned plastic mugs. Unfortunately, the Boston Marathon bombing put an end to that two years later with law enforcement insisting upon no glass in the park. “The police said glass can be a weapon and I know it can ever since I was chased around a strawberry patch by a girl with a broken beer bottle because I hit her with a strawberry 60-some years ago” says Larrance.
Another aspect that sets OBF apart from other beer events is Larrance’s insistence on keeping it family friendly. He fought the Oregon Liquor Control Commission when a contingent tried to prohibit children. Larrance strongly believes in keeping the family unit together and said “We really had to work hard to show them [OLCC] we were aware of the minors and we really want them there with their parents.” As a compromise, event organizers created a permission slip for parents to sign in order to bring their kids.
In 2012, OBF introduced the International Tent that featured beers from the Netherlands. “It all started with Mark Strooker,” recalls Larrance. “He started it by contacting Travel Portland and saying ‘I want to try to get the Oregon Brewers Festival to the Netherlands.’ Well, I thought, I haven’t been to the Netherlands since 1976. So I went over there to a festival at De Molen Brewery called the Borefts Beer Festival.” Larrance asked Strooker to invite 10 or so Netherlands brewers to OBF. The festival would pay for travel and the featured beers.
Larrance soon found out that the brewers actually did not know each other that well and the trip to Portland strengthened their bond. Since then, Larrance has traveled back to the Netherlands to explore setting up OBF there but doubts remain about the cost and attendance. Still, Larrance says, “I fell in love with the country, the people, the attitude. It’s kind of like us 20 years ago.”
Since the first International Tent, OBF has brought brewers from other countries. However, import costs have skyrocketed, so the feature will take some time off this year. To beat escalating shipping costs, Larrance wants to fly beer makers here to make a special batch at an Oregon brewery. While that may mark the end of the International Tent, it also relaunches a Specialty Tent (formerly called the Buzz Tent), which will serve smaller kegs not available at the regular pouring stations.
The Safe Ride Home Program is a new update to this year’s festival and was still in the works as of press time. Working with the Portland Bureau of Transportation, Larrance and OBF want to eliminate any post-festival intoxicated driving. “We want to have zero loss from the festival. We want people to get rides home safely.”
The program has a few initiatives, some of which they are still figuring out how to implement. One is a deal with SmartPark Garages. Drivers who come to the festival will be given a receipt that provides a $5 discount for anyone who decides to leave the vehicle overnight and pick it up the next day between 9 a.m. and noon. Another option is an expanded deal with Radio Cab. A little-known OBF benefit is that two taxis are available at the event to transport intoxicated patrons. This year, $20,000 has been raised to fund a fleet of cabs that will be located across the street from the park and discounts will be given to festival goers.
“We are working with Portland Police. We have the same motive to get people home safely. We want them to come back next year.” says Larrance.
Art also hopes the program will go beyond OBF and extend to all the states’ beer fests. “It’s not going to be just for us. We are trying to set up for all beer festivals and working with the guild so they can implement the same thing to work it out this year and figure out how it works best. So you know if you come to Oregon and go to our festivals, there won’t be any issues and you will come back. We will get you home safe.”
By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
In 2014, fledgling soccer club Lane United FC was looking for sponsors. They soon connected with Oakshire Brewing, beginning a partnership that has helped each organization evolve.
“I thought Oakshire would come in as a minor sponsor,” says Lane United founder and managing director Dave Galas, recollecting his original pitch to Oakshire co-founder Jeff Althouse. “Jeff stopped me, pointed to the front of the jersey, and said ‘I want that. I want to be the title sponsor.’ They’ve been our main title sponsor ever since.”
For Althouse, it was another way a local craft brewery could be at the heart of community sports and outdoor activities, as Oakshire had also been with Playground Sports and Human Foosball League.
“I grew up playing soccer and always felt at home with my teammates, coaches and the soccer community,” says Althouse. “When the opportunity came up to partner with our local upstart club, Oakshire jumped at the opportunity. We often identify as an underdog in a market of large brewing companies, just as an upstart soccer club fights to exist as an organization, and on the field at every match. It's a natural fit.”
Based in Eugene and founded in 2013, Lane United plays in the Premier Development League’s Northwest Division, a stepping stone for many professional players and a source for Major League Soccer franchise reserve squads. Oakshire is Lane United’s official kit sponsor, and club jerseys are emblazoned with the 10-year-old brewery’s logo. Club events are also held at the Oakshire Public House, which is no stranger to fans of football — the globally beloved feet-only version, that is.
“The Public House had just opened when the sponsorship began,” says Galas, who is a fan of Oakshire’s Reclamation Lager, Overcast Espresso Stout, and Sun Made Raspberry Berliner Weisse. “We did a lot to drive business to the pub. That first year was also World Cup, and the Public House showed lots of games there, like the U.S.-Portugal game, when they got a special permit to open early. The building was so full, people were sitting outside.”
Like Althouse, Galas grew up with soccer in his life. Spending part of his childhood in Geneva, Galas would watch matches with Liverpool, St-Etienne and the Dutch national team. When he founded Lane United, Galas saw the club as integral to providing value to the community. Part of his original goal for the team was to have a regular soccer presence at then-vacant Civic Stadium (which burned down in 2015). The club currently plays at the Bob Keefer Center in Springfield, though Galas and others are working to establish a new stadium presence at the former Civic site, which upon completion will serve as the new permanent home for the club.
That new Civic site will also incorporate beer and pub areas on the grounds as part of the stadium’s infrastructure, says Galas. “Beer plays perfectly into the fan culture,” he explains. “The culture of soccer fandom is very social. There’s plenty of drinking, but it’s different from your traditional American sports. There isn’t a tailgating scene, but there’s a drink at the pub beforehand. Various groups get together at the pub during the game. Having a brewery as title sponsor plays in perfectly with that culture.”
Oakshire’s original commitment runs through the 2017 season, but Galas says he and Althouse will be discussing options on how to continue supporting each other. “We are very much a hometown, grassroots organization,” says Galas. “Oakshire’s approach to community outreach and the beers they brew go into that same mentality.”
Althouse also recognizes that sense of synergy with LUFC, as well as a shared purpose in the broader community. “Oakshire's partnership with Lane United Football Club allows us to connect with the most passionate local sports fans who share our values,” he explains. “We're thrilled to host LUFC events at our Public House in Eugene, and we love cheering for our home team at the pitch. Soccer and local beer just go together.”
Lane United Football Club
Official Lane United FC supporters’ group
By Dustin Gouker
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Central Oregon is home to world-class athletes and world-class beer. It was probably inevitable that the two would converge at some point.
Nate and Valarie Doss — two of the best disc golfers on the planet — are working on getting their own brewery, Bevel Craft Brewing, up and running in the region. And the married couple from Bend has already done a number of collaborations with breweries around the country related to their travels for disc golf.
The pair has won seven disc golf world championships between them. Nate, 32, won three of those; the rest belong Valarie, 31 — including the 2016 world title — who is better known in disc golf circles as Valarie Jenkins.
But why beer and disc golf? It’s a pretty natural connection to listen to the Dosses talk about it. They’ve found a lot of crossover between the sport they love — and make their livelihood from — and the beer industry.
“We travel a lot, and we do a lot of driving and we go through all these different cities and states,” Valarie said. “So our favorite thing to do between tournaments is to check out the local breweries.
“And there is always a disc golfer when we go, whether it’s behind the bar or the owner or the brewer; it’s really incredible how much of a connection there is.”
Both of them grew up playing disc golf, but the idea of trying to make a career out of craft beer is a more recent development.
Nate said he got the bug to start brewing after visiting a friend working at Boulevard Brewing Company in Kansas City, Mo. several years ago. He brewed his first batch at home in 2012, and the idea of a disc golf brewery started percolating for the Dosses. Then the couple moved from California to Oregon five years ago and things got a little more serious.
“Luckily there’s a lot of craft brewers and owners that play disc golf — have a passion for the sport,” Nate said. “And just through who we are and the world of disc golf, we started meeting a lot of these people and becoming pretty good friends with them.”
As the couple tossed around the idea of planning their own brewery and learning more about brewing, those relationships turned into an internship for Nate at GoodLife Brewing in 2013.
From there, the pair started developing a business plan and getting investors lined up. They came up with a name and branding — Bevel, which comes from the beveled edge of a disc.
But the Dosses note that it’s been a slow process. After all, they are still in the prime of their disc golf careers, which pays the bills. They can travel for months at a time, sometimes internationally, to play in the biggest tournaments. When talking to the Oregon Beer Growler for this story, the couple was getting ready to head to this year’s World Championships in Georgia.
But they hope to get things rolling later this year in earnest. Finding commercial space in Bend to open up a brewery/pub is a challenge in the quickly growing town. (A recent story in The Bulletin reported that 12 people a day are moving to Bend.) In the short term, the focus of Bevel would be just on making beer; a pub with a connected disc golf course would come later.
In the meantime, the pair has been upping their profile on the beer scene as opportunities become available. In 2015, they struck a deal to do a collaboration with Fiddlehead Brewing Company in Vermont in connection with a tournament, resulting in the release of Understable IPA.
That initial collaboration has led to more beer making. Already this year, Nate says they’ve completed four collaborations with breweries near disc golf tournament stops. That included a beer (Pine Bender Pale) with Calapooia Brewing Company out of Albany for this year’s Beaver State Fling in Estacada.
These projects are quenching their thirst for getting into the beer industry for now, while they wait to get Bevel off the ground.
“That’s our idea, we’re doing these disc golf collaborations to not only do what we love, which is making great beer, but really bringing disc golf closer to craft beer and vice versa,” Nate said. “Bringing in local business into a sport that’s up and coming.
“Craft beer and disc golf go hand in hand.”
The Dosses’ Favorite Disc Golf Courses
Where do world champion disc golfers like to play when they are in Oregon? They said one of their favorite courses anywhere in the world is Milo McIver State Park in Estacada.
Some of their other top picks:
· Pier Park (Portland)
· Blue Lake Regional Park (Fairview)
· Hyzer Pines (Sisters)
· Coyote’s Den (Crooked River Ranch)
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.