By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
In 2016, there was pizza. In 2013, there was a deli. But before all of that in 2012, there was just a brewpub called Falling Sky located in a downtown alley in Eugene. Throughout five years of change, there has been a constant:
“We want to be the most Eugene brewery in Eugene, the most representative of Eugene’s culture,” says co-founder Jason Carriere.
Instead of zigging before they zagged by focusing on territory, tap handles and shelf space, Falling Sky worked to grow a devoted local following. The business came together thanks to Carriere, owner of a homebrew store now named Falling Sky Fermentation Supply Shop, and Rob Cohen, who brought his experience with the restaurant industry. Ultimately, the two wanted a family-friendly neighborhood place.
But they did not expect what would happen next. The Falling Sky path has been different from other breweries, in part, because of the food. After barely a year in operation, Falling Sky had an opportunity to open a second location near other Whiteaker-area breweries. Expanding that quickly would be challenging, but the site was too good to pass up. It also gave them a chance to develop their food operation — the brewpub kitchen was cramped and constricted Cohen’s vision for the menu. The Falling Sky Delicatessen, which opened in 2013, elevated their fare: house charcuterie (the pastrami alone is worth a trip), pickles and fresh-baked breads.
In 2015, Falling Sky changed again. In addition to the popularity of the two locations, plus a few taps in the Portland area, the owners were in discussions with the University of Oregon about opening a space in what would be a newly renovated student union. Before that third location, a pizzeria, opened in 2016, Falling Sky expanded the brewery to meet demand.
“Both the deli and the pizzeria were surprises,” says Carriere. “The response we got from the community was great, and both of those were just opportunities that came along — maybe a little bit before we were ready for them — but we decided we had to take them anyway.”
After five years of massive — and sometimes not-entirely-expected — change, the Falling Sky team is looking forward to getting back to the basics of the day-to-day. The brewpub started with 25 employees and today has 75 across all three locations. With no more expansions or construction projects on the horizon, Carriere says he and everyone else is ready to focus on “investing time and energy into being one of the premier breweries in Oregon.”
Part of that is now dialing in the brewery expansion. “Because of the constraints of the building we’re in, as we planned we realized that if we wanted to put in additional tanks in the future, it’d be this huge ordeal,” explains Carriere. “We’d have to shut down the brewery and restaurant, because it’s challenging to get big equipment into the brewery.”
Falling Sky kept its current system but installed electrical and plumbing upgrades, along with other big equipment, such as a cold liquor tank, another whirlpool tank, four lagering tanks and two open fermenters. “Now we can do three turns in a day,” says Carriere, “where previously just trying to do two would have been a 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. ordeal.”
In 2012, Falling Sky produced 800 barrels and made an all-time brewery high of 1,111 barrels in 2016. Carriere estimates that the brewery could be on track to produce 2,000 barrels in 2017.
Not that they’re done adding new gear. An Energy Trust grant will help upgrade the brewery’s boiler. Automated grain handling is on the horizon along with installing a bigger pump for the brew system and adding an external grain silo. “We always hunted around for used brewing equipment that is interesting and cool, such as the Austrian-manufactured open fermenters,” says Carriere. “It’s part of our international theme to cobble together a little brewery museum back here.”
The upgraded brewery has also given Falling Sky the freedom to compete for more beer awards and take on new opportunities. As part of the grand opening for a new Whole Foods in downtown Eugene, the store approached Falling Sky about doing a beer. The final product, Retrograde Red, was available in 22-ounce bottles — a first for Falling Sky. “It was a good opportunity to test the waters more in a low-risk situation,” says Carriere. “It’s one of those things that we’d been meaning to look into, but didn’t have a reason — and then a reason came along.”
Now Falling Sky is pursuing limited bottle and can releases as part of a “presence of mind campaign,” instead of trying to compete for broader distribution and shelf space. “This gets our name out there so that when people see a different beer in a bar, maybe they’ve had our beer in a bottle, so maybe they try that other Falling Sky beer,” says Carriere. “We want to communicate to the state of Oregon that we are makers of quality beer, and that if you get one of our beers, any of our beers, it will be clean, drinkable and well-made.”
It’s about more than brewing beer and cooking food, though — it’s also about creating a strong culture. “What we’re building here is bigger than any one of us,” says Carriere. “People have worked for us, then left for other opportunities, and then came back. That speaks volumes about our family in the Falling Sky team.”
As local beer culture changes and the industry continues to grow, one thing surprises, humbles and motivates Carriere. “I’m amazed by the number of people locally who still, five years on, haven’t heard of Falling Sky. There’s still room for growth even in our own community, and that’s cool.”
Falling Sky Five Year Anniversary, March 1–31
Daily growler fill specials, brewery tours and tastings, special anniversary gear and apparel, brewer’s dinner, special-release and cellar beers, and more.
Falling Sky Brewing House
1334 Oak Alley, Eugene
Falling Sky Delicatessen
790 Blair Blvd., Eugene
Falling Sky Pizzeria
University of Oregon Erb Memorial Union
1395 University St., Room #46, Eugene
By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
From a free bike share program to special brews for community causes, Eugene brewpub Falling Sky is always involved.
“We’re really receptive to any partnership with the community, especially if it’s something that we align interests with,” says co-founder Jason Carriere. “We’re very open and connected to the community. We don’t turn people away.”
Falling Sky supports many causes that are rooted in sustainability and environmentalism. It’s part of what Carriere sees as the cyclical nature of brewing, which is a business that depends on healthy natural resources and agricultural products. “We depend on the ecosystem to provide what we need to make good beer.”
Falling Sky’s commitment to the environment is visible as soon as you walk up to their Pour House & Delicatessen at West Eighth Avenue and Blair Boulevard. Seven bikes are available free of charge (with a $150 deposit on a credit card) for anyone to borrow for up to 24 hours. Falling Sky supplies locks and helmets, and the bikes have built-in lights. Local shop Arriving By Bike keeps the cycles in good repair.
“We have a lot of people who come to Eugene from out of town,” says Carriere. “This has been a good way for them to get around town without too much trouble.” Sometimes people just ride along the nearby riverside bike paths or use the bikes to check out different neighborhoods while looking for housing.
Other Falling Sky programs tend to focus on special days where portions of certain beer sales go to a particular cause. Sometimes Falling Sky also works with nonprofits or other organizations to brew a beer around a specific cause. From initial conversation to rollout, it usually takes four to five weeks to develop a promotion. However, it might take up to two months if there is a beer release involved. “We typically just get together and have a meeting, talking about what they’re interested in,” explains Carriere. “We try to pick (a beer style) that appeals to a broad base of people, so that we can really pump up the beer and the connection with the charity.”
Recent examples have included Tree Line Pale Ale, brewed in support of Friends of Trees, a Northwest nonprofit that plants and cares for urban trees. Falling Sky donated $1 for each Tree Line pint sold, as well as $5 (enough to buy a tree) from sales of a special Friends of Trees T-shirt. In a similar vein, $1 of each pint of Floodplain ESB went to support the McKenzie River Trust, which helps protect area watersheds and critical habitat lands.
After winning an award for best medium-sized transit district in the U.S., Lane Transit District (LTD) reached out to Falling Sky. They collaborated to brew Mash Transit Ale, an English-style pale ale, to publicize and celebrate LTD’s achievement. Purchasing a pint came with a bonus: a free bus ride. Falling Sky also donated $1 of each pint of Mash Transit to Lane Coalition for Healthy Active Youth.
“We consider mass transit an environmental cause, in terms of keeping cars off the roadway,” explains Carriere. “It encouraged people to ride the bus who don’t often ride the bus.”
Falling Sky community support efforts can also be as simple as a flyer and a one-day deal. By bringing in an organization’s printed flyer or graphic on a smartphone or tablet, a customer can have 25 percent of their purchase donated to the cause.
For larger promotions and support, Falling Sky leverages in-house resources for brewing a special beer, promoting the cause in its locations and across social media, and developing a custom T-shirt. “We’ll do a beer release event where they can come in, set up a table, share information and talk with people,” explains Carriere. “It gives them a platform to get their message out. And when we go out to sell the beer, we also try to bring out promotional materials for the cause too.”
Coming up, Falling Sky is brewing a kolsch to support The Oregon Brewshed® Alliance. It will be released during the week of Earth Day (April 17–23).
“We’re a really small brewery,” says Carriere. “We don’t have a community outreach director or anything like that that some of the larger places have, so we rely on the community to come to us and work with people. Typically (co-founder) Rob Cohen, lead brewer Scott and I sit down with you and figure out what we can do to help.”
Falling Sky Locations
[a] 1334 Oak Alley, Eugene
Pour House and Delicatessen
[a] 790 Blair Boulevard, Eugene
Fermentation Supply Shop
[a] 1331 Willamette St., Eugene
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.