By Chris Jennings
For the Oregon Beer Growler
In today’s growing world of beer, it seems we’re constantly bombarded by an insane array of different styles. Naturally, some are better than others. And among the winners is an elusive concoction that has often gotten a bad rap. The style I’m referring to is the apple beer or graff. This unique beverage, certainly familiar to fans of Stephen King’s “The Dark Tower” series, takes the flavors of a traditional dry cider and blends them with a lovely mild ale. Not a cider and not quite a beer, it’s a whole new world of brewing possibilities — particularly was we approach the apple harvest.
The graff can be misunderstood and commercial executions can lead palates astray. Some recent iterations have shifted the flavor profile toward that of a cider or straight up apple flavor. But in the past, these brews were not a cheap way to try to sell cider; instead, they were more of a balanced beer-to-cider experience. This was achieved by using a more complicated and delicate technique to bring together two different forms of fermentation. While it’s possible to make a harmonious graff, it will require more work and planning than simply adding apple flavoring to a beer.
When those first homebrewers set out to create a graff, probably after a few pints one afternoon, they may have decided to simply add cider to a beer, post-fermentation. That’s likely how the snakebite was born. After such a “Eureka!” moment, the next natural course of action would be to ferment the beer and cider together. But this has its own list of problems, the biggest of which is choosing the proper yeast. Though all yeast will ferment the sugars in beer and cider, some of the flavors that are produced can be very specific to each finished beverage. The optimal strain for beer and cider together tends to be a British ale yeast. It will accentuate the malt flavors in the beer while subduing the tart, bitter notes of the apples.
Now that the yeast is out of the way, it’s time to focus on the apples. Not all of them are well-suited for cider making. In fact, you don’t need to use whole apples at all. Pick up some cider juice from the farmers market or grocery store — just be sure there aren’t any added preservatives. Only about half of your finished volume should be cider juice. For instance, if you’re making a 5-gallon batch, only 2.5 gallons (or less) of cider juice is necessary.
The beer base can be a little more complicated. While there are many beer styles, some won’t taste as good mixed in with a cider as others. Ultimately, though, it all has to do with personal preference and there are no hard rules. Traditionally, the base beer would be an English mild. Whatever you go with, make sure it has a low alcohol content, a light roasted note, little-to-no hop bitterness and a pleasant, biscuit-like aroma. Once blended with the cider juice, fermentation should produce a malt-forward dry beverage with a smooth apple finish. After electing your beer base, make a half-size batch. Once you’ve blended the wort, cider juice and yeast, it will ferment as normal and possibly become your next award-winning batch.
By Kris McDowell
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Harvest is a time for reaping what has been sowed. And while hop farmers are bringing in the fruits of their labor, the collaboration between Culmination Brewing and Reverend Nat’s Hard Cider is producing fruits of their combined labors.
Collaborations are fairly common in today’s beer world, with more breweries crossing the beer borders to team up with other adult beverage producers. These hybrids can be somewhat difficult to classify and won’t tempt all consumers from their respective markets. However, those open to new taste experiences may find something they enjoy that requires no classification beyond that fact that it’s the product of talented craftsmen.
Culmination and Reverend Nat’s collaboration, called Our Glass, goes beyond a single brew and encompasses a series of hybrids. The first release was Watermelon Cherry Sour — a blend of two sour beers produced by Culmination (a barrel-aged Flanders red with cherries and a blueberry blonde sour) that was co-fermented with Reverend Nat’s Granny Smith cider and fresh Hermiston watermelon juice.
The inspiration for this first in the series came from local food-beer-everything-tasty aficionado Steven Shomler’s love for and relentless pursuit of Reverend Nat’s Holy Water(melon) cider. Steven also has an ownership stake in and hands-on involvement with Culmination, which made the project launch even easier. The brewing teams could also often be found hanging out at each other’s locations, so there was a foundation of familiarity. Tomas Sluiter, principal owner and certified master brewer at Culmination, explained that the “caliber and quality of Reverend Nat’s made them attractive” to form a strategic collaboration and long-term relationship with.
When it came to the actual brewing, there was no doling out of “we’ll do this, you do that” instructions. The final product was the result of a true partnership, and one that seemingly worked well. The small batch consisted of six 1/6-barrel kegs and 450 22-ounce bottles, nearly all of which sold out quickly. Only a few bottles remain in the possession of each brewer and a couple of kegs will be brought out at a yet-to-be-determined time. Commenting on how the sour has evolved, Jim Bonomo of Reverend Nat’s said, “It’s getting more sour, but the watermelon flavor is still there.”
The name Our Glass was the brainchild of Devin Benware, part of Culmination brewing team. Tomas contributed the idea for the logo — two tulip glasses positioned base-to-base, forming the interior of a shadowy hourglass. The image is set like the hands of a clock would be at approximately 4:58 for the first of the series. As new collaborations are released, the “clock” will continue to move on each label.
Plans for future beer-cider hybrids include a barrel-aged, Tepache-based barleywine. Composed from Costa Rican pineapples, piloncillo (unrefined cane sugar) and spices, Reverend Nat’s Tepache is a “lightly alcoholic elixir.” However, the original brewing schedule has been thrown a bit off course due to the fickle nature of crops. The delay has nothing to do with ripeness (the pineapple plant produces throughout the year). Instead, a recent price spike in the Costa Rican supply due to volcanic activity has put things on hold. As a backup plan, to ensure the brewing schedule doesn’t go too far astray, Nat’s has bottles from the last batch of Tepache that can be added directly to the barrels with Culmination’s barleywine.
Another collaboration will involve Reverend Nat’s Winter Abbey Spice, a cider that is inspired by Northeast-styles that use raisins, cinnamon and nutmeg. Winter Abbey Spice is actually a blend of two ciders - Revival, their flagship cider, and Providence, which is made with raisins. What was initially called “Apple Pie” when the taproom started blending them has since taken on a life of its own to the extent that 75 percent of each batch of Providence is allocated to making Winter Abbey Spice. Due to the success of the first collaboration, expect larger batches of subsequent hybrids.
Both Reverend Nat’s and Culmination see a strong future in collaborations like theirs, in part because the cider business is growing, especially in mature markets like Portland where plenty of drinkers are looking to expand their palates. Tomas also believes that Portland consumers demand more due to the fact that so many people who now call the city home are non-native. He hails from Grand Rapids, Mich. and says in general terms, “everyone in Grand Rapids is from Grand Rapids.” In fact, he specifically asked one well-known and well-respected Grand Rapids brewery to collaborate with him and they replied that they simply don’t do collaborations.
That brewery’s loss is the gain of others who are likeminded. The Culmination-Reverend Nat’s collaboration is a fluid affair among friends, where getting together to spitball ideas is key along with firmly believing in the quality of what the other is creating. Listening to the two producers talk — the ideas generated by their creativity and openness to experimentation — gives the impression that there is no end to what they’re able to come up with. And just like friends do, when a bump in the road comes along — like the price of pineapples — they find a way around it. Beer drinkers and cider drinkers alike can raise their glasses to that.
By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Sometimes when people retire they are ready to just kick back with a cold one. But Mark Nunnelee decided that instead of merely drinking the beer, he should be making it.
While working with NASA, Nunnelee and his wife transferred from Southern California to Oregon in 2008, but took early retirement in 2010. “I wasn’t quite ready to retire, but I did. I had to do something though,” explains Nunnelee. “I love beer, and since moving here had discovered craft beer.” In 2011 he also discovered homebrewing. “Friends, family, even strangers were telling me, ‘You gotta sell this stuff!’ I got a lot of encouragement from a lot of people, even business owners who would tell me they’d sell it.”
The Nunnelees were living in the unincorporated community of Lookingglass of Douglas County. With a population of 855, the area is considered a suburb of Roseburg, which is 9 miles to the northwest. Nunnelee figured the peace and quiet made their property a nice spot for a small brewery. In 2010 they had constructed a shop near the house, and in 2014 the Nunnelees began converting the shop into a brewery while applying for an Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) permit.
After getting TTB approval in 2015, Lookingglass Brewery was licensed to sell beer on July 1, 2015, but Nunnelee was still setting up the brewery and equipment (today Nunnelee and his wife are the only people working at the brewery, though friends occasionally volunteer). Nunnelee wanted to set things up right — just the way he used to at NASA.
“The government harps on safety and quality. That’s the part that I think I brought with me from that job: quality and quality assurance,” he explains. “My goal is to have the highest-quality beer around. I’ll never cut corners as far as quality of the beer goes.”
On Nov. 2, 2015, the Nunnelees sold their first beers through Lookingglass.
“I wanted to test the market, so when we opened I only had two for sale: AnyTime Pale Ale and HappyTime Raspberry Red,” says Nunnelee. “They both did pretty well.”
Nunnelee added OverTime IPA, but kept the lineup at three beers until April 2016 when the Lookingglass Tasting/Tap Room opened with seven beers.
The tap room was a natural next step for the business. “Lots of people were asking where they could find our beers,” says Nunnelee. “We felt like we had to have a place where they could come and try them all.”
However, that somewhere didn’t work out to be the closest large city — Roseburg. “We looked all over the place — looked at locations in Roseburg, and things didn’t pan out for one reason or another,” says Nunnelee. But he kept eyeballing a place in nearby Winston (also home of the Wildlife Safari, which partners with Lookingglass sometimes for events), and his wife said they needed to check it out.
“It was perfect,” says Nunnelee. “Location. Space. It was just by chance. We’re the only brewery out there, so that’s nice.”
The 1,000-square-foot facility uses about 500 square feet for the 25 seats in the public area. In advance of football season, a new 65-inch TV hangs on the main wall, and a smaller 50-inch screen is above the bar. Nunnelee plans to open the tasting room on Sundays for pro games.
Lookingglass now has eight beers available, along with third-party cider and various local wines at the tap room. While the area’s newest brewery has some accounts in the Douglas County area (and occasionally as far afield as Albany), most sales are through the tasting room. In addition to the three inaugural beers, Nunnelee is working his half-barrel system hard to keep up with demand for SummerTime Blonde Ale, HopTime IPA, BreakTime Brown, SpringTime IPA, OverTime IPA, and PrimeTime Porter.
You might have noticed a commonality with the names there. “The time theme just came to me,” says Nunnelee. It started with the AnyTime Pale Ale. “It’s really just any time of day, any time of year. Some beers you want at a certain time of year, some you want anytime.”
Upcoming releases include a fresh-hop pale ale (with hops from a local friend) for the 2016 Umpqua Brewfest on Oct. 8. A stout will also be available during fall and winter, along with a “special, festive-type beer.”
Demand for Loogkingglass beers does have Nunnelee thinking hard about upgrading his current system: a 30-gallon kettle, 30-gallon mash tun and 20-gallon hot liquor tank. “I can get about 20 gallons per batch, depending on the style. We brew triple batches a couple of times a week. We’ll yield 60 gallons each time we brew,” says Nunnelee. “I’m looking to upgrade the system soon. Those small systems are labor-intensive. I want to expand, have a brewpub in town, get the brewery and tap room under one roof.”
Nunnelee also believes in giving back to the community. Ever since opening the brewery, he’s donated 10 percent of revenue to local causes, such as the benevolence fund through the church he and his wife attend in Roseburg. He’s also helped support local Fourth of July fireworks, and is currently looking for additional organizations and events to support in Winston.
The small-town feel is also part of what Nunnelee likes about basing his brewery in a tucked-away valley and having his tap room in a town of 5,379. “We’re small in a small area. We can do just about anything,” he explains. “If someone asks us to make a special beer, we can work with people and do it.”
After working in Southern California, Nunnelee figures brewing is a good reason to come out of retirement. The commute also can’t be beat.
“It’s a 20-foot walk to work.”
Lookingglass Brewery Tasting/Tap Room
[a] 192 SE Main St., Winston
By Andi Prewitt
Of the Oregon Beer Growler
You can romance the cans all you want, but they wouldn’t have kept the company going another 80 years.
The distinct labels that wrap around Oregon Fruit Products’ shiny metal containers certainly stand out on a store shelf. Brightly-colored berries pop on the black backdrop as a little bee hovers over the produce. Classic recipes for desserts like Oregon blueberry pie and flaming cherries jubilee that used to be printed on the back of the cans were the highlight of many a meal throughout the decades. But just because a product has a beloved history, doesn’t mean it’s bringing in enough money, long-term. And while the cans made by this Salem-based business are nowhere close to being abandoned, sales figures indicated it was time to diversify. And that’s, in part, how an 80-year-old fruit cannery found that it could make a product craft brewers would want while also ensuring some of the state’s bountiful harvest ends up in beer all across the country.
One afternoon in early August, a lone forklift operator darted among stacked pallets in a warehouse with ease. The scene at Oregon Fruit Products was starkly different from the factory grounds a few months ago. Multiple drivers would have been navigating an obstacle course of delivery trucks, berry crates and rows of metal drums. The delicate aroma of raspberries, blueberries and plums was likely mingling to build a powerful scent crescendo of fruit salad in a nearby building where workers draped in white lab coats and hair nets sorted through the produce. The processing, packing and labeling all happen to the rhythm and vibration of large machines that fill the patchwork of cavernous structures with the sound and sensation of urgency. After all, fruit has its own timeline — one that sets the schedule of some 200 people on the manufacturing floor during peak season.
CEO Chris Sarles had to describe what harvest would look like on the Salem campus since it was largely over in August. Hot temperatures pushed up picking time just as they did in 2015. This year, summer had hardly begun when he was eyeing the end of the season.
“So it was a good harvest in Oregon again this year, and a lot of great fruit. But it was just very early,” Sarles said. “By Fourth of July, we were already talking about, ‘I can’t believe we’re this far done.’”
While some of those crops end up in the traditional cans, a growing supply is devoted to Oregon Fruit Products’ purees, which are shipped to more than 125 breweries across the state and 500-plus nationwide. And those are the kind of numbers you’d want to see if you were part of a company that needed a new path to profits.
The purees’ success is no mystery if you think about it from a brewer’s perspective. Consumer demand for fruit beers continues to increase, but making them — and making them well — can be difficult and sticky. Those firm, red beautiful cherries also come with pesky stems, for instance. Gathering enough quality, in-season fruit for a brew can sometimes be a challenge on its own, but once you’ve amassed the goods, that supply still has to be prepped. The peeling, dicing and de-seeding can be pretty unappealing once you’re up to your elbows in peaches. The puree provides beer makers with the best part of the fruit while leaving the labor and mess to Sarles’ company. He pointed out another benefit — the 42-pound packages can be stored, unopened, without refrigeration for 18 months, freeing up valuable cooler space in breweries while giving brewers access to a variety of fruit, regardless of season.
Oregon Fruit Products aseptic packaging line makes all of that possible. The business actually acquired the equipment many years before Sarles came on board — he figures it must have been in the mid- to late-1980s. At the time, that owner also was looking for ways to branch out. But aseptic packaging of fruit for breweries wasn’t part of the agenda. Craft beer was still developing in the region, however, it didn’t take too long for a brewer to approach the cannery.
“I think a brewery phoned here and said, ‘Hey, we’re looking for some fruit. Is there anything you can do to help out?’ And … ‘Well, we’ve got a machine …’ The next thing you know, aseptic puree is born for the company,” Sarles said, estimating that call came in the mid-1990s.
From there, Oregon Fruit Products nurtured a small, but solid, base of customers. McMenamins was within the first 20 accounts, making it one of the company’s longest-standing relationships to this day. The star for its Ruby comes from Sarles’ company — raspberries are flash-heated to minimize bacteria before they’re quickly cooled and packaged. And when something works in the Northwest brewing community, news gets around since sharing is a practice most producers embrace.
“The business has continued to grow nicely. It’s really fun to watch one brewer tell another brewer tell another brewer,” Sarles explained. “And they only do it because they believe in what they’re using.”
Another local business that sources fruit from Sarles is Worthy Brewing Company in Bend. It’s offered two new beers this summer — a peach saison and an IPA with mandarin orange and grapefruit purees — with Oregon Fruit Products getting a shout-out on their labels. Cider Riot, Ecliptic Brewing and Vagabond Brewing are also customers, and Sarles even does house calls for Ecliptic’s John Harris, when urgent.
“Yeah, I often haul fruit north in my car at night and meet him early the next morning if he’s in a pinch,” Sarles said. “I’ll always help a brewer out if they need it.”
And a number of those brewers are no stranger to Sarles, Harris included. The man who now oversees the processing and packaging of fruit actually worked in the beer industry for much of his career, which has helped him steer Oregon Fruit Products toward ramped up production of the brewing purees. Sarles left Columbia Distributing after 25 years when former owner Ed Maletis recruited him in 2014. Maletis bought Oregon Fruit Products three years earlier from the founders, the Gehler family. Sarles said the move was natural because the Maletises always treated him like family. But he also saw the challenge that moving industries would bring and it reignited his excitement for managing. Sarles could’ve easily settled into a comfortable retirement from Columbia in a few years rather than spending that time not only learning a new business, but also working to establish credibility with a group of people who didn’t know what to expect from him as a boss. Those are responsibilities not everyone would want to assume that far into a settled career. But maybe the decision was prompted by a flashback to Sarles’ feeling of accomplishment he got when he started his own beer and wine distributorship right out of college — the days of simultaneously carrying out the duties of chief toilet scrubber, head of sales and president/CEO. He definitely noticed that it was harder to feel like he was making a difference at Columbia with its growth. The effect of a single conductor diminishes when forced to share the stage with another symphony … and a choir … and a marching band meandering through the aisles.
“Understanding the importance of people in the overall business, I wanted the chance to go do that again,” Sarles explained. “And knowing that I had gotten to a place in a big business where I was one of 2,500 people in Columbia, you begin to see less of your own impact because it’s so big. And I really wanted the chance to go back and say, ‘I think I know what it takes to help create an opportunity for a company to succeed.’”
Sarles’ decision to make brewing purees more of a focus during the last two years has helped put the company on a path toward a more stable future. Oregon Fruit Products is planning on hiring a salesperson devoted to brewery accounts, a job that Sarles has effectively held. So the additional staff member will give him more time to do all of that important, CEO-type stuff. Additionally, this year’s new, limited-edition puree flavors have been snapped up quickly. Mango, which came out in May, saw incredible popularity, prompting Oregon Fruit Products to make a second batch.
“And pineapple sold so fast, we went through more than half — almost three-quarters of it — in two weeks,” Sarles said.
But beyond the numbers are the relationships, and Sarles seems to have that part of the business down as well. He underscored the importance of procuring fruit as close to home as possible. Many of the farms working with Oregon Fruit Products are a mere 20 minutes away, and some — like the plum growers in Forest Grove and Eugene — have been doing business with the company for generations.
That sense of commitment extends to employees as well. In a shifting economy where spending your entire career at a single company is increasingly rare, you’ll easily find people at Oregon Fruit Products who’ve been there for 20, 30 and 40 years. Sarles said one woman is marking 54 years at the business after starting there at the age of 16. It’s not uncommon for children who grew up with a parent processing or packing fruit there to join the team when they’re adults. At one point, three generations of men in the same family had positions at the Salem facility. Sarles knows it was critical to recognize these dynamics when he took over while proposing adaptations, which can be uncomfortable, at the same time.
“So how do you come in and gently support people for what they’ve done so well, yet nudge/push that we need to develop a change in order to not only survive, but thrive for years? And I think there’s a fine line there between somebody coming in and being a bully,” Sarles described, “and sort of being obnoxious when they come in as a new leader and somebody who takes their time — yet they’re firm enough to say, ‘We need change. Let’s do this together.’”
Collaboration with brewers is also key. You may wonder how Sarles comes up with new puree flavors like passion fruit and rhubarb. It all comes down to brewer requests. Research for the 2017 lineup of purees is still underway, but BackPedal Brewing Co. in Portland has already told Sarles they want to experiment with one of the new creations. Oregon Fruit Products has even developed puree for individual breweries by asking what flavor, texture and color they’re aiming for before sending samples and letting producers experiment from there. That process has led to several new beers, including a blood orange concoction from The Rare Barrel in Berkeley, Calif. Those projects gave Sarles the confidence that Oregon Fruit Products could set out on its own and develop purees without first partnering with a brewery.
“I started feeling like we could begin making them [the purees] without them necessarily having to be collaborative projects. We seemed to have begun to understand a little bit about what we needed to do. In the beginning, I wasn’t certain that we were on the right track,” Sarles said. “And now I think we understand it. But if there’s ever — as I’ve said, anytime somebody’s got an idea, if they want to come to us and experiment with us, we’re always game to make sure it goes top of the list and then try and work with them.”
Even if that includes more unusual produce like kiwi (there’s a guy who grows them in Eugene, according to Sarles) or prickly pear.
By spring of 2018, Oregon Fruit Products will have moved out of its aging warehouses and started operating in a brand-new plant, not far from its original footprint in Salem. If anyone is concerned that all of this progress will cause what’s still been a very quaint company to lose its personal, family-run touch — you only need to look to the pallets of brewing puree for assurance. Sarles will continue to uphold that ethos by including a hand-written thank-you note with every new shipment of puree to a brewery, just as he’s done since he started.
“I feel honored to be just sort of this caretaker of inheriting this rich tradition and legacy business and being able to make sure that I do everything — gives me little goosebumps — do everything I can to make sure there’s another 80 years for other people to not only work here, but also enjoy the fruits of our labor in the process,” Sarles said.
Literally, the fruits of their labor — the phrase just naturally slipped out, illustrating how connected the man has become with what’s inside of the can while moving the company forward.
By Dustin Gouker
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Bend Brewing Company has always been the sleeping giant in the Central Oregon craft beer scene. Under new ownership, BBC is awaking from its slumber.
The second-oldest brewery in Bend is expanding its footprint. Bend Brewing Company’s pub in downtown has been surrounded on all sides by empty lots for much of its existence. But a deal to purchase one of the nearby parcels will mean the brewpub will be getting a huge upgrade.
BBC will be constructing a beer garden overlooking Mirror Pond, with plans to open sometime in 2017, according to Packy Deenihan, the new owner of BBC along with wife Leslie.
“I can’t tell you how many locals and longtime Bend-ites would come in and ask ‘What’s going on with the lot next door?’ It’s a natural fit for us,” Deenihan said. “Since we took over ownership, we always thought it would be really cool to figure out how we could own the lot.”
The Deenihans took over BBC this past winter, and the purchase of the nearby land came this summer. Changes were already visible at the pub under the new owners, with an indoor, open-air bar being installed near the front entrance.
City regulations prevent the planned BBC beer garden from going right up to the water’s edge. But visitors will be able to sit outside with a much better view of the section of the pond behind BBC.
“Being able to drink BBC pints on Mirror Pond is going to be pretty special and really unique for Bend, because there’s no other brewery that has that setting directly on the river,” Deenihan said.
That includes Deschutes Brewery, with a pub just a few blocks away and famously makes a pale ale that bears Mirror Pond’s name.
Deenihan said plans for the space are still in flux, but the outdoor space will likely include a pouring station, a fire pit and a pavilion for live music.
Despite being one of the first movers on the Bend craft beer scene, BBC has remained small while newer breweries — like 10 Barrel Brewing, GoodLife Brewing Company and Crux Fermentation Project — grew quickly.
But that appears to be changing under the Deenihans, who have plans to increase production capabilities. Deenihan said he thought the opening of the beer garden alone might outstrip BBC’s current ability to keep up with demand. The business could build a brewing facility on one of the lots it just purchased, Deenihan said, or go off-site.
That would mean BBC’s beer, commonly an award winner at festivals and competitions, could start appearing on a lot more taps around the state and the Northwest.
“For me, that’s my No. 1 priority — how we can get more beer made,” Deenihan said.
Bend Brewing Company
[a] 1019 NW Brooks St., Bend
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.