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 Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Nicholas Hill just wanted his beer to taste good.
“I couldn’t find a growler available on the market that could keep your beer cold and fresh,” says Hill. “I found my growlers going flat faster than I could drink them, which was very frustrating.”
He began to wonder: What would it take to have a growler that kept beer cold, fresh and carbonated?
At the time, Hill and his father Timothy co-owned a water bottle company. That experience gave them an idea for a new type of growler, which was developed by founding Bend-based DrinkTanks in 2013. Now with two successful Kickstarter campaigns and four products, DrinkTanks has brought to fruition two insulated, stainless-steel growlers that can keep beverages hot for up to 12 hours, cold for up to 24 hours and fresh for up to a week.
DrinkTanks products are powder-coated, engraved, designed and assembled in Bend by a staff of 18 humans and one canine, Paisley, “The Shop Guardian.” Timothy Hill passed away in 2011, but Nicholas Hill knows “he’d be proud of what DrinkTanks is today.”
“We’re committed to supporting our local economy, and with the help of previous Kickstarter backers, we were able to create 10 new jobs in 2014,” says Hill. “Bringing most of our production work in-house, we are also able to ensure that our products adhere to the highest quality control standards. Our goal is to create a product worthy of your beer.”
The Growler That’s a Keg
Flagship BPA-free growlers are available in 64-ounce (classic) and 128-ounce (The Juggernaut) sizes. The double-walled, vacuum-insulated, dishwasher-safe growlers are secured by a leak-proof, dual-bail cap system, and are designed not to pick up or impart flavors from materials or from whatever was last in the growler. Keg Caps are the company’s secret weapon to keep beer fresh, carbonated and unspoiled by oxidation. “It can usually stretch out a growler for three to five days after it has been opened,” says Hill. “We’ve even had some of our customers write in to tell us it lasted seven days or more.”
New for 2016, Kegulator Auto-Regulating Keg Caps also turn any DrinkTanks Growler into “personal, portable kegs,” a feature that’s been enjoyed by early adopters in the homebrewing community for force-carbonating up to a gallon of homebrew. Kegulator caps are compatible with 16 gram and 74 gram CO2 cartridges, and an adjustable dial and pounds per square inch (PSI) gauge lets you control carbonation from 0-40 PSI. A purge valve keeps oxygen out, and a hose dispenses from the bottom of the growler.
While built primarily with craft beer in mind, DrinkTanks growlers can also carry hot drinks such as coffee, cocoa and tea, along with other chilled or cellar-temperature beverages such as wine, spirits, sodas and kombucha.
DrinkTanks are available in brushed stainless steel or 15 stock colors, with custom colors, laser engraving and screen printing also available.
Kickstarted Into Gear
DrinkTanks found social proof for its products and mission early on. On March 13, 2013, the company launched a campaign on crowdfunding platform Kickstarter to raise capital for production of its classic 64-ounce growler. Seeking $30,000, the project closed on Apr. 15, 2013 with 1,959 backers pledging $236,772.
“Every Kickstarter campaign brings the challenge of bringing a new product or service to market,” says Hill. “I would guess most Kickstarter creators don’t take into account what happens in the aftermath. It’s often hard to tell whether you’ve created a company or a nightmare.”
The successful campaign did bring in more money — but it also brought in new challenges and higher expectations.
The aftermath of the first campaign saw the young company facing manufacturing and supply issues. “I made the decision right away that we wouldn’t compromise on the quality or integrity of our product, and because of that, we delivered late on the first Kickstarter campaign,” says Hill. “We did our best to keep our backers informed during this process by implementing a weekly update. I believe managing the supply chain is key. We have been very fortunate to have a team of talented individuals as well as a community that has been very supportive of what we’re doing.”
In 2015, DrinkTanks was ready to bring their 128-ounce Juggernaut to market, and they decided to turn to Kickstarter again. This time they sought $75,000, and launched the campaign on March 2. Three days later, they posted this:
“We’ve hit our funding goal on our third day of being live!”
By the time the campaign closed on April 9, 2,076 backers had pledged $304,142. Now DrinkTanks is fulfilling supporter orders as well as orders from the general public. Word is even actor Tom Hanks has one, and in 2015 DrinkTanks was also named the Official Beer Growler of Central Oregon Beer Week.
“The joy of being a Kickstarter-launched company,” says Hill, “is that it’s gained us a worldwide group of supporters who’ve helped get us where we are today.
To date, DrinkTanks has shipped more than 45,000 64-ounce growlers and more than 28,000 Keg Caps. Juggernauts began shipping in September. The Kegulator will be available to backers and the public in January, but other DrinkTanks products are in stock for the holidays.
In the Wild
DrinkTanks customers have run a wide gamut, says Hill, from the weekend beer drinkers taking beer to a friend’s house to watch the game, to homebrewers force-carbonating small batches of brew. “We’ve also heard really good feedback from people who like to take their beer into the outdoors,” says Hill.
“The homebrewing community is very passionate about beer and has supported us from day one,” he adds. “They tend to really zero in on the technology and quality of our products — not that the average consumer wouldn’t — but they tend to be first adopters of new craft beer technology.” Customers point to the guaranteed no-leak lid, a threshold of 70-pounds of pressure and a lifetime warranty on manufacturer defects as positives.
Hill also carries his favorite beers in DrinkTanks growlers. “This time of year you’ll usually find my growler filled with Snake Bite Porter from Silver Moon, Black Butte Porter from Deschutes Brewery or Lights Out Stout from Worthy Brewing.”
Currently, DrinkTanks products are available to order from its website, on Amazon.com, in more than 250 growler refilling stations and breweries throughout the region and at more than 100 outdoor retail stores and websites nationally, such as Sportsman’s Warehouse and Backcountry.com.
For Hill, he is focused on continuing to grow the company and pursue the perfection of their perfect growler. “I love that my beer will stay fresh all week,” says Hill. “When I fill my growler on Monday and get caught up with work until Thursday, my beer is still fresh.”
[a] 1375 SW Commerce Ave. #160, Bend
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Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.