By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Sam Draper Eslinger’s grandmother passed away in 2004 and he was supposed to follow family tradition and pass down his middle name, which was his grandmother’s maiden name. However, he didn’t have any kids. After relocating from California to Oregon’s Umpqua Valley in 2010 to start a brewery, he realized what to do.
“I could pass on the name by naming the brewery after her,” says Eslinger. From there, Draper Brewing opened its doors to the public on July 1, 2012. It was a different time in the city of about 22,000. While many breweries now call Roseburg home, when Draper opened the only major craft beer presence in town was the McMenamins Roseburg Station Pub & Brewery.
With flagships Chocolate Porter, Cream Ale and IPA, Draper also focuses on sours and barrel-aged beers. Eslinger sees Roseburg’s citizens and tourists as ready for beers inspired by brewing traditions from all over the world, but bringing palate-pushing beers to a small city is the latest bend in the road for Eslinger’s brewing journey.
Growing up in Northern California, he was working in construction in Sacramento, Calif. at the start of the 21st century when he “started enjoying beers I couldn’t afford.” A co-worker homebrewed and shared advice. “I decided to start making hefeweizens and such that I enjoyed but couldn’t really afford,” says Eslinger. “So I got into homebrewing, started reading books, got really passionate about it.”
During 2002–2003, an injury and rehab forced Eslinger to consider big life changes.
“I realized I wanted to make beer.”
Still working construction during the day, Eslinger attended night school for classes that would help him qualify for the American Brewers Guild. He also started doing cellar work at BJs, who hired him as a brewer after he completed his training.
“I was fresh out of school, a beer nerd. They knew I was frothing at the bit to brew something I could put my name on,” says Eslinger. “They were already barrel aging, so they got some in, gave me seven beers, some barrels and some fruit, and told me to blend and age and run with it.”
After a stint at Lost Coast Brewery, Eslinger was ready to go out on his own. His family had acquired 30 acres in Tenmile, and he could set up shop there. Despite being a California boy who was moving to Oregon, he saw opportunity. “The town I grew up in was an old logging town, and Roseburg is an old logging town, so it wasn’t a stretch.”
There was also an untapped market. “Everyone else has come after me. It’s crazy how many we have here now compared to when I started.”
Earlier in his homebrewing journey, Eslinger had dabbled in barrel aging but had to give it up while living in the Humboldt County area. Relocating to Umpqua Valley’s wine country restored access to wine barrels. With much interest in the brew-it-if-you-got-it traditions of Belgian farmhouse ales, Eslinger was also inspired by the 25 plum, apple and pear trees that had been planted by the original homesteaders in 1949. “Forty feet from the brewery are all these fruit trees,” he concluded. “Made sense not to waste it.”
In addition to the flagships, Eslinger brews seasonal beers, such as summery Blueberry Wheat Ale. He prides himself on brewing any style, but Eslinger’s heart is with Draper’s Renaissance Series of barrel-aged and sour beers. He consults local winemakers for suggestions on using fruits and barrels for limited-release beers. Many Renaissance beers also are fermented with Lactobacillus, Pediococcus, and/or Brettanomyces, and barrel condition for at least one year.
Eslinger’s tastes lean toward “more esoteric beers,” and he knows that can be a challenge. “When I opened, I didn’t intend on making an IPA,” he explains. “First account I got said I was crazy if I didn’t make an IPA. Now that pale ale is one of my biggest sellers. You can’t walk away from it.”
Draper’s flagship beers provide a gateway into other offerings. “If you just have esoteric, it’s harder to tell if the brewer can make good beer. But if they have a regular pale ale or cream ale, and it’s good and clean, that proves to people that I can make good, clean beer. It gives the customer a barometer of trust, and they can work their way up to trying the different, more esoteric stuff.”
The inaugural 1-barrel system is now a 7-barrel system, but Eslinger jokes that “my brewery’s not modern by any standard.” Equipment in the 2,400-square-foot brewery includes open primary fermenters and closed conditioning tanks, a mix of gear from a now-defunct area brewery and even a repurposed dairy tank from 1956. Draper’s 2015 production was approximately 200 barrels, and the same is expected for 2016. Current distribution is primarily local, with some accounts in Eugene and Portland.
Draper’s 3,500-square-foot tasting room is located in a registered historic building constructed in 1908. With seating for up to 40 people, there is live music and other events throughout the month. In addition to Draper bottled and draft beers, the tasting room curates a selection of 60 sour ales and European imports. “We go out of our way to educate — help people try beers they haven’t tried.”
To increase Draper’s sour production — and protect flagship beers from potential cross-contamination — Eslinger recently constructed a new 480-square-foot sauerhouse at the Tenmile brewery for blending and barrel storage. The two facilities also help him plan Draper’s future and increased distribution.
Eslinger knows his tastes can be a challenge for the market, but he looks ahead with the same confidence that brought him to believe he could start an esoteric craft brewery in a small city. “I’d like to see the market go more and more in that direction. I go to San Diego, Sacramento, Portland … I see it going that way.” And he’ll have Draper at that forefront, pushing the public’s palate.
[a] 640 SE Jackson St., Roseburg
By Pete Dunlop
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Chris Ormand got an offer he couldn’t refuse. And it didn’t come in the form of a severed horse head.
After more than a decade of formative fun at Belmont Station, Ormand is moving to General Distributors, where he will be craft brand manager. He’s been the purchasing manager at the Station, responsible for what makes it into the coolers and onto the floor, for many years.
“I’m moving on for a combination of reasons, definitely not just for money,” Ormand said. “I wasn’t unhappy. There have been many offers over the years. This was the first that was strictly craft-oriented. I’m delighted that I’ll be focused on what I know best, which is craft beer. Plus, I’ll be working alongside [VP of Craft/Specialty Beverage] Bob Repp, someone I’ve known and respected for years. ”
General is hoping to tap into Chris’s experience in inventory control and sales trends at the retail level. He’ll help them smooth the gap between distributor and retailers. His collection of industry contacts may also come in handy.
“Chris understands ordering and forecasting,” said Tiny Irwin, general manager at General Distributors. “He’ll help us manage inventory more efficiently and ensure that the freshest product reaches shelves. I also think his relationships will help drive sales for current partners and attract new ones to our portfolio.”
Ormand’s time at Belmont Station dates to 2005, when it was just slightly more than an afterthought next to Horse Brass Pub. They sold novelties, specialty food and off-beat videos, most of it imported from the U.K. There was beer, as well. The Station stocked some 400 beers in those days.
“We displayed a bottle of each beer with a price tag,” Ormand recalls. “All the actual beer was stored in giant walk-ins. Customers would make a list of what they wanted and we would gather it for them. It was horribly inefficient. But you couldn't ask for better product storage conditions.”
Serendipity landed Ormand at Belmont Station. He had moved to Portland from the Midwest in June 2004 and was living in an apartment near the business. Shortly after losing his coffee shop job at the end of the year, he ventured across the street to grab some bottles to celebrate his unemployment.
“Alex Ganum (who went on to found Upright Brewing) was working behind the counter. I mentioned that I was unexpectedly out of work. It turned out he had just accepted a brewing position at BJ's and was giving notice. He told owner Joy Campbell she should hire me. That led to several hours of chatting with Don Younger, who was a partner in the business, over pints. I agreed to start the next day, Jan. 5, 2005.”
He spent his first six months working in the bottle shop. When the buyer left to pursue another opportunity, there was little interest in the position. So it fell into Chris’s lap. Serendipity had struck again.
There have been a lot of changes over the years and Ormand has seen them all.
“Probably the biggest change was the relocation,” he says. “We were a small store with 400 beers and a bunch of novelties. In early 2007, we moved to the current space on Stark Street and became a true bottleshop, with more than 1,300 bottles and an attached beer bar. That was enormous.”
The best part of that story is that Belmont Station’s growth occurred slowly and organically, allowing them to build a customer base and beer selection while maintaining high standards of freshness and quality.
“I see new places opening nowadays with 1,000 beers right off the bat,” Ormand says. “I just shake my head because I know half of those beers will be stale before they sell. Our inventory here was built over time, which allowed us to mostly avoid that issue.”
Things have obviously changed a lot in recent years, during which the local brewery count and number of available beers has exploded.
“Demand for most imports has plummeted in recent years,” Ormand says. “That’s probably because we have local breweries producing great beers that are fresher and less expensive than their imported counterparts. Most people like local.”
The big exception to the import decline is sour and wild beers, which have gotten increasingly popular in recent years. Beers that were once “shelf turds” are now all the rage.
“I loved sour beers when I arrived at the Station,” says Ormand, “But we could hardly give the stuff away for years. We’d get Cantillon or Fantome and cases would sit for months. That flipped around 2011. All of a sudden, everyone was looking for those beers and cases would fly out to door.”
Portland being what it is, another big change is that consumers have gotten more sophisticated.
“Especially as it relates to freshness,” Ormand says. “I see more people checking bottled-on dates than I used to a couple of years ago. People have figured out that freshness matters. They won’t buy old beer, unless it’s something that’s going to be cellared.”
Belmont Station will carry on. With Ormand’s help, it has established itself as a world-class bottleshop and beer bar. Replacing him won’t be easy.
“There’s no way to fill Chris' shoes,” said Lisa Morrison, majority owner. “We aren’t just losing our purchasing manager. We’re losing our institutional memory, our historian, graphic designer, web designer and IT guy. He also has one of the best palates I've known. Fortunately, we have a great staff and we’ll get through this. But we’ll never be quite the same.”
Ormand looks forward to the excitement and challenges of his new role. He’ll be working with fewer products in higher volumes, shaping Portland’s craft beer landscape.
“Being able to choose what goes on the floor at Belmont Station has been awesome,” he says. “Being able to choose what potentially ends up in stores and on tap around the city is a step up. I’m looking forward to the challenge.”
By Alethea Smartt LaRowe
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Vasilios Gletsos has been brewmaster at Portland’s Laurelwood Brewery since 2011. He recently announced that he is moving back to the East Coast and onto a new job as production manager at the highly-acclaimed Hill Farmstead Brewery in Greensboro Bend, Vt. Shane Watterson, who has worked at Laurelwood for the past four years, has been tapped to replace Gletsos.
This is not the first time that Gletsos has passed the torch to Watterson. That was in 2008, when Watterson became education chair of the Oregon Brew Crew, the state’s oldest and largest homebrewing club, after Gletsos vacated the position. By all accounts it was a successful transition, as Watterson embraced the challenge and started the popular Build-a-Beer project, which taught members recipe design ingredient by ingredient.
Gletsos, who previously worked at the Jantzen Beach location of BJ’s Brewhouse, Rock Bottom Brewery in Portland, and Portland Brewing Company (formerly MacTarnahan’s), came to Laurelwood during a tough period of transition. Besides the challenge of continuously running the 15-barrel brewery at capacity, he had to deal with a hop contract issue that caused the brewery to remove its flagship Workhorse IPA from distribution for almost a year.
Gletsos not only weathered the storm, but has also managed to introduce many popular new beers and initiatives over the past few years. Among his long list of accomplishments are the award-winning Megafauna Imperial IPA, his work on Laurelwood’s fresh hop beer offerings, and the implementation of a sour ale and barrel aging program. One such beer, named Golden Weapons, is an American sour ale that is currently bottle conditioning and, when ready, will be available at the restaurant and bottle shops. Gletsos says the satisfaction he feels from “designing, executing, promoting and distributing beers we are proud of” is the best reward for his efforts.
Shane Watterson, who started out homebrewing, has been at Laurelwood since 2010. He previously worked at Deschutes Brewery in Portland and has completed the American Brewers Guild’s Intensive Brewing Science and Engineering program. Referring to his decision to accept the promotion to brewmaster, Watterson said, “I like being on the floor and making beer - that’s where I shine the most, but I like learning new stuff more than anything.” Never one to shy away from a challenge, Watterson felt that this was the right time to take advantage of this opportunity.
Watterson has already accomplished many things in his time at Laurelwood. Specifically, he mentions his efforts to make the brewery as efficient as it is right now. In his first few months on the job there was a lot of turnover. “While dealing with the chaos from losing experienced crew members, we went piece by piece through the brewery and determined how to make it more efficient, which resulted in cutting time out of our work week, making beers more consistently, and using less ingredients.”
The role of brewmaster is quite different from working as the lead brewer, as Watterson has done for the past two years. Now his days will be filled with meetings, handling logistics, planning for the future, and developing his team. When I asked Gletsos what advice he would give to Watterson, he first made it clear that he thinks Shane is more than capable of doing the job even better than he has. Upon further reflection, he said, “It is very disorienting to move off the floor and out of the flow of the brew day. Shane has an opportunity, now more than ever, to do things the way he wants and mostly on his own terms. He needs to keep asking himself, ‘What do I want to create?’ and not get bogged down with the procedural aspects of the job.”
One advantage Watterson has is his four years of experience with the Laurelwood setup. “I have a practical idea of how a recipe is going to turn out and can put that on paper so the guys on the floor understand the process.” While the current crew has been working together for several years, there are still new things to learn as they take on new responsibilities. As he takes over the role of brewmaster, Watterson says, “I’m going to be very team-oriented. I want their feedback and respect their opinions. This crew drinks a wide variety of beers and has different palates. That’s true of our customer base as well. I think we have a good idea of what Laurelwood customers want and can make beers they are going to like.”
As for future plans, Watterson reminds me that “people don’t realize how far out stuff is planned. We have hop contracts for the next several years, so Vasili has already planned out a lot in terms of beer production.” Besides making some new experimental beers, Watterson, who married his longtime girlfriend over the summer, plans to recreate the XPA he shared with his wedding guests. He also recently made a dry-hopped pilsner and is planning to make a bretted saison akin to The Commons Brewery’s Flemish Kiss.
A chance meeting at the 2014 Great American Beer Festival also created the possibility of a collaboration beer with Brasserie Saint James out of Reno, Nev. The brewery won Mid-Size Brewpub and Mid-Size Brewpub Brewers of the Year for Head Brewer Josh Watterson and Assistant Brewer Matt Watterson. Previously unknown to each other, Shane Watterson ultimately discovered that the brothers are his second cousins.
When asked how he spends his time when he’s not brewing, Watterson mentions that he has many ever-changing hobbies, including playing the ukulele. He loves experimenting with fermentation and makes cheese, sausage, pickles and other tasty treats. He also likes to camp and spend time outdoors, taking advantage of all this state has to offer.
As Gletsos once again hands over the reins to Watterson, he fondly recalls his time at Laurelwood, occasionally working on the floor with the crew, tasting some really amazing beers, and communicating his experience and love of beer to the public. He tells me that he hopes to spend his last days on the job sharing beers and memories with his friends and colleagues.
The Oregon Beer Growler raises a collective pint to Vasili Gletsos, with much appreciation for his hard work and the excellent beers that have resulted from his time at Laurelwood; and to Shane Watterson, as we look forward to enjoying the fruits of his labor in the months and years to come. Cheers!
Laurelwood Public House & Brewery
[a] 5115 NE Sandy Blvd., Portland
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.