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 Alethea Smartt LaRowe
Darin and Meghann Butschy have big plans.
The husband-and-wife team behind Oblivion Brewing Co. shared their first beers during a release party at Broken Top Bottle Shop last summer, where they poured Polar Star Pale Ale (a classic NW pale, light-bodied and moderately hopped), Backside IPA (with four varieties of whole flower hops, named after the backside of Mt. Bachelor) and Knockout Stout (rich coffee & chocolate notes, with 14 different barley malts). After the warm reception in the Bend community, the Butschys are now busy making more beer together.
In early June, they brewed their 100th batch of beer called the Quintessential Centennial Ale, an ISA.
“My dream was to be a brewer and retire at age 50,” Darin says. “Obviously since I’m already 45 I’ve still got work to do, but at least I’m living my dream!”
Darin attended high school in Walnut Creek, Calif., and traded science experiments for homebrewing. While the first beer he made was not drinkable (he screwed up the mash), he has come a long way since. At 17 years old, he was washing kegs at Devil Mountain Brewing Company, which opened in 1987 in California.
Under the guidance of brewmaster Jim DeBoer, who now works for Samuel Adams, Darin quickly honed his brewing skills. He became head brewer at SLO Brew in San Luis Obispo, Calif., working there from 1989-1994 for Dr. Michael Hoffman. During that time, Darin also attended California Polytechnic State University to study chemistry with the intent of gaining even more brewing knowledge; he graduated in 1994.
After moving to Bend, Darin had several cooking jobs, then later worked in construction installing rain gutters, always with the dream of owning his own brewery. When he met Meghann in 2000, she brought the computer and business skills needed to help start their own business. It took some time for all of the pieces to come together, but Darin’s dream was finally realized last year. Operating out of an 1,100 square-foot warehouse in northeast Bend, and brewing on a half-barrel system, they typically brew five to six times each week. When the beer is ready, they personally deliver kegs to a handful of select accounts.
The demand for their beer continues to grow, so the Butschys decided to lease the adjacent warehouse at their current location. Once they knock down a wall, they will essentially double the square footage of the brewery. They have already started brewing on a new 10-barrel system which has a 40-barrel capacity. There will be space for a small tasting room, scheduled to open by October.
And they’re brainstorming ideas for serving food, including the possibility of having an onsite food cart. Grilled cheese, anyone? Future plans call for canning but for now they will continue to self-distribute to wholesale customers.
While the brewery is not open to the public, you can find Oblivion Brewing Co. beers on tap at several locations around Bend, including Broken Top Bottle Shop, Growler Guys East & West, Barrio, and Drake. Fulfilling one of Darin’s goals, their beer was on tap in Portland for the first time at Growler Guys, which opened early last month. A website is in the works; check their Facebook page for frequent updates.
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.