By Sam Wheeler
For the Oregon Beer Growler
The secret is out.
Some of Southern Oregon’s best craft beer flows from the side panel of a 1930 Ford Tudor Sedan.
Medford-based nano Rusty Bucket Brewing is embarking on its sophomore year in the Rogue Valley’s flourishing craft brew scene, and owner Paul Woolley is working on plans to open a brewery and taproom for the public within 18 months.
It’s not that Woolley’s garage, where he used to build custom hot rods, is a bad place to brew beer or drink it, it’s just that Rusty Bucket has been flooring it since the flag dropped go.
Rusty Bucket’s Sniper, a dead-on imperial IPA, is what everyone is after, Woolley says.
“It’s a pretty awesome beer ... a home-run hitter,” he says.
“You have to be careful with it because it’s really easy to drink and it’s about 8.9 to 9 percent. But it doesn’t slap you in the face and make your eyes water, so you’ll keep drinking them. Then you’ll get up and you can’t walk,” he laughs, stirring hops into another boiling batch of brew just inside the open door of his garage.
Woolley says Rusty Bucket will most likely never sign a distribution agreement on his watch. While his dreams for Rusty Bucket may be small, they are of magnificent quality.
Tap to glass, that’s how beer is meant to go down. And that’s how Rusty Bucket’s fine brew exclusively will, he says.
Rusty Bucket’s brewery and taproom will likely be located in Central Point, Medford or Talent. Until then, Rusty Bucket beer can be found on tap at four locations in Southern Oregon: Growler King, 1211 E. Jackson St., Medford; Oregon Pour Authority, 208 NW Sixth St., Grants Pass; Frank N Stene's Monster Growlers, 950 SW Sixth St., Grants Pass; and Old 99 Road Beer & Wine — where you can also drink a pint — at 18 W. Stewart Ave., Medford.
Woolley says he has to turn down a few new accounts each month because he wouldn’t be able to brew enough beer on his 1-barrel system to satisfy that many customers. Currently, he is brewing between two and four barrels a week.
Once he finds a building for Rusty Bucket’s taproom and brewery, he plans to upgrade to a 5-barrel system and will probably stay that size until it’s time to call it quits or pass the torch.
“Going for it big is for the young guys. I am getting too old for that,” says Woolley, 55. “I am just passionate about beer.”
In addition to Rusty Bucket’s Sniper Imperial IPA, there is Bunkhouse Brown Ale that tastes like the usual straightforward malt before balancing out with a modest burst to hops; 5 Speed IPA is a smooth drinker with citrus tones and comes in at a comfortable 6.5 percent and 70 IBUs; Rusty Red is at its roots just a hopped-up amber — and one of Woolley’s first brews — but its malty edge and hoppy clean finish makes it a winner; and Wide Open Throttle Stout ... well you get the idea. It packs the punch and grace of a race car weaving through the pack and making it across the finish line first.
With plenty in the tank, Woolley thinks Rusty Bucket will be able to hang — quality-wise — with any brewery in Oregon for years to come. And what better place than right where he is at, he says.
“I think we’re just getting started down here. I think we’re going to see this place become a little bit like Bend ... we have the demographic here,” says Woolley.
The only problem any beer maker in Southern Oregon has, Woolley insists, is not being able to make enough beer.
And there are certainly worse problems to have.
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.