By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
When 16 Tons Taphouse and Bottle Shop made its first sale on April 22, 2010, the Eugene craft beer scene was quite different from what it would be five years later. Home to only a handful of breweries and brewpubs, most of the area’s craft beer was coming from Portland, Bend or farther afield.
How things have changed.
“We definitely started our business at a good time,” says founder and owner Mike Coplin, “and have been very fortunate to be a hub for the growth of the beer industry in Eugene.”
Coplin recognized that craft beer would only grow. Eugene/Springfield area breweries such as Ninkasi, Oakshire and Hop Valley were making leaps in distribution and offerings, and momentum was gaining locally for more breweries to fire up the brew pot. But what Eugene needed was a neighborhood hub where people could experience the best that craft beer had to offer, whether from a brewery across town or around the world.
When 16 Tons first opened its taphouse doors at East 13th Avenue and High Street in downtown Eugene, its 900-square-foot space was packed with beer, wine, sake and more. Beers from Oregon, California, New England, Germany, Belgium and beyond gleamed on shelves or waited in stacked cases on the floor.
By October the taphouse was selling draft beer, but Coplin knew more was needed. “Customers had told us that additional food options and outdoor seating were high priorities.”
In July 2011, Coplin added a second location, rebranding the former Supreme Bean Coffee Company in south Eugene’s Woodfield Station shopping area as 16 Tons Cafe. That move allowed Coplin to provide extensive outdoor seasonal seating plus a coffee and food menu. Today 16 Tons offers 31 rotating taps and approximately 700 bottles of beer, wine and cider. Each year both locations tap more than 500 different beers and stock 1,500 bottles, with a special focus on limited and seasonal releases.
“We frequently stock beers, ciders and wines that are scarcely available anywhere else,” says Coplin. “We always have barrel-aged sour ales and stouts on tap. Our cider selection is one of the largest in Oregon. We've been very fortunate over the last five years to be embraced by Eugene's beer community, and that has allowed us to build great relationships.”
Coplin also focused on the serving experience. “As far as I know, we were the first non-brewery in Eugene to make growlers popular,” Coplin says. 16 Tons also began serving all its drinks in measured glassware, “ensuring a proper pour.”
Additionally, 16 Tons has been strongly involved in the greater community. In-store events such as Cheese Wars (a beer/wine pair-off), the annual Week of Wild, and the Eugene Winter & Strong Ale Fest help the public approach esoteric beers and discover new ways to appreciate beer. Coplin also established Eugene Beer Week, a now annual celebration that brings together pubs, breweries and other craft beer destinations throughout the local area.
16 Tons continues to be involved in Eugene Beer Week, 2nd Saturday South Willamette Art Walk and other community fundraisers and events. In 2014, 16 Tons also expanded its brewery collaborations. “Each year we make a wild ale for our anniversary,” Coplin says. “In 2014, we also produced two versions of 16 Tons IPA with Vertigo Brewing and Upright Brewing.” Logsdon Farmhouse Ales is brewing this year’s anniversary beer, Sech 'n Brett, a saison fermented with Brettanomyces yeast and lightly infused with peppercorns.
The overall craft beer scene has changed too and 16 Tons is evolving with it, curating its selection as new breweries and beers become available. “We frequently buy beer, wine and cider from very small producers who do not have a distributor,” he explains. “Several new distributors in Oregon — including Bigfoot Beverage, Running Man and Alebriated — have increased the beers available. Many beers that we work hard to stock are extremely limited, so we are only able to source a few cases each year.”
As 16 Tons enters its next five years, Coplin expects craft beer to continue growing and gaining market share and for the Eugene/Springfield area to potentially double its number of breweries. But he will keep focused on what’s guided 16 Tons so far. “We love our customers and try our best to deliver what they want,” says Coplin. “We’ll continue to work toward having the most intriguing selection of beer anywhere.”
Taphouse & Bottle Shop
[a] 265 E. 13th Ave., Eugene
[a] 2864 Willamette St. #500 (in Woodfield Station), Eugene
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.