By Andi Prewitt
Of the Oregon Beer Growler
Nobody knows for sure just how many people will flood into Lincoln City for the upcoming eclipse. Estimates range from 50,000-100,000, and that’s a lot of extra bodies for a town with a population of less than 9,000. Expectations about the impact of this onslaught also vary from “hunker-down-for-the-weekend-to-avoid-the-crush-of-tourists” to “build-a-backyard-bunker-and-stock-up-on-canned-food-like-Y2K-is-coming.” Whatever may happen on Monday, Aug. 21 when this coastal destination is the first to experience the darkness cast by the moon’s shadow, the city’s only brewery is prepared to keep its beer flowing.
Despite the months of preparation for this once-in-a-lifetime experience, Rusty Truck’s head brewer probably won’t be around to witness it. Like many residents on the central Coast, Jon Anderson plans to get out of Dodge before Highway 101 is choked with more angry drivers than a mall parking lot on Christmas Eve. But his commemorative eclipse beer will be available for anyone who can make it to the brewery on the southern end of town. While you might expect to find a Cascadian dark ale on tap to mark the two-minutes (or less, depending on location) of dimmed sky that will cross a 60-mile wide swath of the state, Anderson wanted to create something unique. Moon Shadow is a schwarzbier developed on Rusty Truck’s pilot system — a nod to both Anderson’s time spent in Germany as well as the blackness that will shroud the sky that Monday morning. The inky lager is also infused with a slice of sun in the form of blood orange puree. You should be able to order the beer earlier in the month as part of Rusty Truck’s lineup of pre-eclipse festivities.
City and state officials have warned that towns in the path of totality may be so overwhelmed with visitors, grocery store shelves will be emptied — a scenario that almost immediately evokes the image of Thunderdome-style battles over the last six-pack. But Anderson said Rusty Truck is organizing itself to become a one-stop-shop for people to get food and beer as efficiently as possible.
“They’re going to have stations set up. It’ll be a place where people can come and get stuff to go because everything is going to be pretty much on the beach because there will be so many people here,” he described.
Bag lunches and crowler fills are one way the business will work to keep lines moving. Live music in the parking lot should help entertain the idle.
The boom-and-bust of tourist season — eclipse or no — is nothing new to any brewery on the Oregon Coast, including Rusty Truck. That’s what prompted its recent expansion, both in distribution and space. Behind the restaurant originally known as Roadhouse 101 sits most of the pieces for a brand-new 20-barrel system. Next to that are the bones of what will become a tasting room with windows offering a glimpse behind the scenes and into the brewery. During a visit in mid-June, bare panels of wood awaited their layer of drywall, exposing a network of wiring like nerve fibers without skin. By the end of the summer, construction should be complete, the clutter of jockey boxes and kegerators removed in order to make way for 35 taps in a rustic space defined by copper and wood.
“It will romance you out there,” Anderson said of the tasting room, which is going to offer an intimate, beer-centric distinction from the separate bar and restaurant bedecked with hubcaps, neon and license plates. The addition underscores that Rusty Truck is a brewery that’s finally getting top billing. “This was the Roadhouse before us, so we don’t really have our own identity in a place like that,” Anderson explained.
But now the sign towering above passing cars out front proudly announces the home of “Rusty Truck Brewery” instead of Roadhouse. What looks like an open-air attic above the bar will display barrels of aging beer (rather than the brewery, which was the original plan years ago, and one Anderson is undoubtedly grateful was scrapped for a separate outbuilding). Joining the tasting room will be a Portland-area facility where Anderson can make one-offs every few weeks once the owner secures a location and hauls the old 10-barrel system out of the Lincoln City production site. Not only will that help shore up sales when coastal tourism drops off in winter; the move also gives the Rusty Truck brand more exposure. Anderson wants more people to know that the brewery has grown in scope and capability since he took over three years ago. But it was a bit of a blow to learn his perception of the business didn’t always match the public’s during a recent discussion with an industry friend.
“And he’s like, ‘Honestly man, the image you give off is that you’re not really about the beer.’ And I was like, ‘Oh, that’s horrible, because that’s what I’m about and that’s what I want us to be seen as,’” Anderson recounted. “But because this restaurant has so many things going on, I think that the locals see us as not necessarily being about the beer. We really want the tasting room out there to show them that’s what we’re about.”
It’s a unique role breweries along the Coast fulfill that may, at times, hinder their reputation in the beer community. Rusty Truck has to balance the needs of not just knowledgeable craft drinkers, but also those of tourists and locals. Sand-covered families are just as likely to stop in for a meal after an afternoon at the beach as a local who comes later in the evening to socialize, smoke on the patio and plug the video lottery machines in the bar. Neither of those customers may be particularly interested in hop varieties or the process of aging sours.
“I don’t know if all breweries have to look at themselves as being the place in town at night time where people have to come. But here we kind of do because there’s no other places in town,” Anderson said. “The coast is a hard place to live, and a hard place to work and definitely a hard place to sell beer.”
But it’ll likely get a lot easier — at least that last part — now that Rusty Truck has signed with Point Blank Distributing. After schlepping kegs to accounts on its own for six years, the brewery is ready to go statewide with sales, which prompted the purchase of the larger system. Together with the tasting room and second metro location, Anderson hopes to increase the visibility of all breweries on the central Coast that sit between the well-known Rogue and Pelican.
“You know, we’re actually putting down some really top-notch beer. And I think that people from the valley don’t necessarily come here thinking that,” Anderson said. “And so I think that’s going to change here coming up.”
The one thing that won’t change, though, is the brewery’s namesake that’s taken up residence alongside Highway 101. The faded brick red cab with a flatbed is basically the brewery’s mascot, but its fate was in question after the city tried to force the owner to get rid of it.
“And he’s just like, ‘I don’t want to move it. We have our label on it now,” Anderson said.
But the city persisted, so while the owner was cleaning up the parking lot, he discovered the beat-up Chevy that had been sitting on a patch of dirt was exactly where it belonged.
“It was a legitimate space that [the city] said was real, so now it can stay out there,” Anderson said. “It’s a real parking spot, so they can’t make him move it now.”
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.