By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Oregon’s craft beer boom isn’t limited to larger urban areas. An hour south of Eugene, the approximately 22,000 people of Roseburg have taken notice of the beer world beyond standard American lagers. One of their own, K.C. Mckillip, has been behind the bar and hovering over the brew kettle since 2012 as founder of Backside Brewing Co. Just as the community shows its growing support for craft beers such as Backside’s, Mckillip has also got the community’s back.
“We could’ve gone to Portland or Bend where there’s more support. But being from here, I love it,” says Mckillip, 27. “Any brewer that’s born and raised in the place where they open their brewery, what gets that small business off the ground is that support.”
Growing up southwest of Roseburg in Tenmile, Mckillip is newer to brewing but no stranger to business. After graduating Douglas High School, Mckillip moved to Arizona to pursue a dream of motocross racing. Spending part of the year in Oregon, he also started pest control and asphalt businesses.
The businesses were doing well, but “I was not passionate about what I was doing,” he explains. “I enjoy business, but it was getting stale. I wanted to do something different.” At 22, Mckillip had begun homebrewing and at 24 realized he wanted to go pro. He sold the pest control business and has used the proceeds to help fund startup costs. “My business background helped me a lot, especially with networking,” says Mckillip. “I had a good support team of business owners that I could fall back on. From there it took off and I focused, and I’m still passionate about it. Working behind the bar, brewing, being at the events — it’s fun. It’s long days and a lot of hours, but it’s worth it.”
As for the name, Backside is about anything but butts. “I was originally going to run something out from my parents’ property outside of Roseburg,” says Mckillip. “‘Backside’ came from backside of the mountain, backside of town.” But he realizes that if he has the name, then someday he might as well do something cheeky. “We haven’t done a play on it yet, but eventually we’re going to with logos or something."
Acting on advice to start in a larger space, however, Mckillip was able to set up shop in the former home of Gerretsen Building Supply, an 18,000-square-foot property on a full acre. A bike shop occupies 3,300 square feet. Backside takes up the remainder with the brewery, a public bar and restaurant space, a wood-fired brick oven (for pizzas and toasted sandwiches) and a 10,000 square-foot warehouse that gives Backside ample room to grow.
Inside the brewery, Mckillip has help from a business partner and various family and friends. Backside currently has seven employees, with plans to increase staff to 10–12 for the restaurant and brewery, as well as for a full-time bottling line employee and a full-time salesperson to grow distribution beyond the Roseburg area.
In addition to a recent bottling line purchase, Mckillip has been upgrading equipment for the 7-barrel system. In 2015, Backside produced 200 barrels, and Mckillip estimates that 2016 production will be 350–400 barrels.
With 12 house beers pouring — such as Axeman Red Ale, The Bitter Truth Imperial IPA, and OSP (a nod to the Oregon State Police) — Mckillip wants to increase that to 20 by fall. A house root beer provides an option for kids and customers who don’t drink alcohol. Mckillip also realizes that he is a craft brewer in an area where standard American lagers are the mainstay. In addition to having some of those available, Backside produces a German-style “middle of the road, basic lager” that Mckillip sees as a good introductory beer. “It gets them into the craft beer world with something light, and then they realize they’re having a great time.”
Inside the brewpub, a stage accommodates a regular schedule of live music. People enjoy beer and wood-fired pizzas under the glow of bare light bulbs suspended from the ceiling in angled mason jars. Outside, a large parking lot and covered area provides space for the events that have been Backside’s way of showing it has the community’s back. “What goes around comes around. When you focus more on getting people in for their event, as opposed to getting people into your place, people appreciate that a lot.”
Backside supports local causes through various events, such as the recent Hops for K9 Cops open house. Officers with the Roseburg Police Department and deputies with the Douglas County Sheriff’s Department brought in their K9 partners to the brewery so the public could meet and better understand the law enforcement, investigative and search-and-rescue functions that the dogs perform.
Backside has also done fundraisers for local schools, such as Douglas High School, and the Taylor/Hatfield Memorial Fund, which helps disabled children and adults in Douglas County. In the aftermath of the October 2015 shooting at Umpqua Community College, Backside held raffles and auctions. To raise funds for the UCC Relief Fund, Backside brewed Umpqua Strong Ale with four other Roseburg breweries and Eugene’s Hop Valley Brewing, raising approximately $30,000 to aid victims and loved ones.
Breweries have a unique way to appeal to the public. “We can easily market to a broader demographic, and that helps them even more. It brings more awareness of their cause.”
For Mckillip, giving back to the community is both good business and the right thing to do. “The biggest hurdle is getting people to realize how much breweries support the local area,” says Mckillip, who talks with people every week who seek Backside’s support. “We are trying to shift people’s mindsets. We try to educate and influence people and get them to come back. We want to maintain what we’ve got going, keep the momentum going and make sure that things continue to be fun and enjoyable for everyone who works here and who comes in for a beer.”
Backside Brewing Co.
[a] 1640 NE Odell Ave., Roseburg
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.