By Patty Mamula
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Funhouse Brews. The name sounds like a wacky carnival attraction — one of those colorful places where the mirrors and walls are distorted and everyone looks like a twisted version of themselves. That’s just the image brewer Jason Rizos wants for his North Portland home-based nanobrewery.
The veteran homebrewer has more than 20 years of experience cooking up award-winning beers, and he likes to be different. “I’m trying to stand out as one who will make wild, experimental, unusual out-there beers, like Triple Berry Snowcone,” said Rizos. His tap handles — towers of red, blue, yellow and white Lego blocks — advertise the fun funkiness of the brewery.
Rizos started making beer when he was a typical starving college student with limited funds, and homebrewing was cheaper than buying.
“Really,” I wondered, “even with all the ingredients and equipment required?”
“Yes,” he said. To prove it, he created an online tool called the Homebrew Break-Even Calculator to compare the price of making a batch of beer to buying a six-pack. The site links to Rizos’ book, “The Frugal Home Brewers Companion.”
A Portland transplant who arrived from St. Louis in 2008, Rizos teaches literature and writing at Portland Community College. “I haven’t met many brewers who aren’t engineers or software specialists,” he said.
As a member of Oregon Brew Crew, Oregon’s oldest homebrew club, he served as president in 2011 and has participated in numerous competitions — both as a brewer and as a judge, having completed the Beer Judge Certification Program in 2006. He has won several awards for his beers, receiving medals at the Best Florida Beer Homebrew Competition, the Oregon Fall Classic and the Oregon State Fair.
A few years ago Rizos and his wife decided to establish the commercial nanobrewery and in December 2016 they were officially licensed and open for business. They built the 2-barrel system in what had been their totally unusable wreck of a garage. “We built this space expressly as a brewery with gas, electric and water, drains, sinks and specific spaces for our 60-gallon kettles and fermenters.” Rizos currently has two large refrigerators for cold storage, but is already starting to think about how to add more. Like most brewers, he is always in need of additional fermenters.
“We actually started in earnest in early 2017, but then the ice storm hit and we couldn’t brew because all the lines were frozen,” Rizos said. By February he had produced a significant volume to begin self-distributing.
Rizos describes his beers as “handcrafted, unorthodox, chimerical crossbreeds of classic styles, with a focus on processes and ingredients impossible or impractical on a scale larger than two barrels.” This summer he started making kettle sours “that were meticulously blended.” Then he had a breakthrough by deciding to add fruit: blackberries, raspberries and cherries (that he’s since replaced with strawberries), creating the Triple Berry Snowcone. Quality is his top priority. “I urge people to try my beers, even when they don’t think they like that style of beer. My sour is just barely a sour,” he said.
For the Nano Pub Crawl last month along North Mississippi Avenue, 30 nanobrewers collaborated with larger producers and other nanos to make beer for the event. Rizos partnered with Ecliptic Brewing’s John Harris, who came over to Funhouse and the two created an oatmeal stout. “I’m thinking about splitting that and making half of it into a salted caramel brownie beer,” Rizos said.
Fridays from 5-7 p.m., his in-home brewery is open for growler fills and sales of 32-ounce crowlers. Check funhousebrews.com for area businesses that serve his beers. Rizos usually brews every two weeks and tries to have four different varieties available. Currently, his beers are regularly on tap at Chill N Fill on North Lombard Street and QuarterWorld Arcade on Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard.
7717 N. Emerald Ave., Portland
By Jim McLaren
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Seeing Tim Brinson standing in his Southeast Portland garage, his brewing system sparkling in the early winter sun, it’s hard to think Portland Brewing’s Ryan Pappe would be envious.
“I am,” he says, explaining he no longer has the freedom to do what Brinson, or any homebrewer does, “especially here where our brew system is a giant kettle. The smallest we can make, maybe, 80 barrels. That’s too much upfront cost to have that freedom.”
Which is why it’s hard to imagine head brewer Pappe doing what Brinson did to earn the third slot in Portland Brewing’s Home Brewer’s Series.
“I was actually brewing a Belgian dubbel — first time — and realized I could do a triple batch.”
Brinson, a professorial-looking fellow who works in IT is a rapid-fire talker when it comes to beer. He explains his three-way split:
“One, a Belgian dubbel. Then an English brown ale. And then the third one would be a brown IPA. I’d never done any of those before, using the same base malts and wort. From there, I split it out into different carboys and fermented it with different yeasts.”
The result is a joyous, complex, ale that tastes like a Christmas celebration in your mouth — light and fruity at the start, the flavors evolve into chocolate and coffee on the back end. Labeled “Tim’s Holiday Ale” Brinson’s masterpiece is the third collaboration in Portland Brewing’s inaugural Home Brewer’s Series, which has become a way for one of Portland’s oldest breweries to reconnect with the spirit, energy and creativity that put Oregon at the forefront of the craft beer revolution.
In 2015, the brewery set up a 2-barrel system and made some beers inspired by Portland neighborhoods. Pappe says the next step was to get in touch with the Oregon Brew Crew, a long-established and well-respected homebrewers club.
“We wanted to give them an opportunity to brew with us and have an exchange of information.”
The first beer chosen for the collaboration series was a witbier from Sander Hoekstra, which was not without its hurdles.
”I get his recipe and I try and convert it to our system and send it back to him, and he’s like, ‘Oh, yeah, except the water chemistry doesn’t look quite right. It looks like you added too much.’ So, it’s like, ‘OK, you’re on top of this.’ He did some stuff in his house to hit different temperature rests that we didn’t have the capability to do on our system. So then we had to get creative and figure out how to do that.”
Pappe got it worked out. But the second beer, a red rye ale from Alex Brehm, proved to be as big a challenge.
Pappe says, “He’s a passionate extract homebrewer, so he was excited that I wasn’t going to talk him into doing all grain. That beer was heavily based around every different kind of rye malt you could find.”
But that wasn’t the hard part of upscaling from garage brewer to the professional level.
“Rye is very hard to run off,” Pappe explains. “I didn’t really account for that in our mash — just scaled everything up to our system: more extract, more malt. Put it in our lauter tun. Well, Alex doesn’t run things through a lauter tun. He puts his specialty grain in a bag and steeps it, and then rings it out and makes up the rest with extract.”
So, Pappe says with a smile on his face, “Alex was bringing the spirit of homebrewing into what we are doing. We ended up having to do what he did: shoveling the malt out of the lauter tun into mesh bags and squeezing out what we could. It turns out a great beer.”
Back in Brinson’s garage, he admires how Pappe was able to upscale his beer. “They were very careful in matching, proportion-wise, to be true to the recipe.”
These are one-off projects for Portland Brewing. The beer is only available in its Northwest Portland taproom and, possibly, each brewers’ favorite tavern. But that doesn’t matter to Brinson. Like other homebrewers, including Pappe, the process is “something that makes my wheels turn.”
Proceeds from the sale of Tim’s Holiday Ale went to the Oregon Food Bank.
By Patty Mamula
For the Oregon Beer Growler
As the executive director of the Oregon Brewers Guild, one of Brian Butenschoen’s main responsibilities is publicizing and promoting the organization. Yet, he avoids publicity and promotion about himself. He prefers to stay out of the Oregon Brewers Guild picture and keep the member breweries front and center.
The Oregon Brewers Guild was established in 1992, originally named the Greater Oregon Brewers Association, and is the second-oldest nonprofit trade association for brewers in the U.S. Its mission is to protect and promote Oregon breweries.
With new craft breweries popping up daily in Oregon, the Guild continues to grow, both in size and influence. Membership includes 156 brewing companies, 125 associates that aren’t breweries but provide business services to the craft beer industry, and 3,500-plus enthusiasts called SNOBs — Supporters of Native Oregon Beer.
Brian always refers to Guild activities in the first person plural construction, as in “We print 75,000 copies of the Brew-Ha! map, showing all the member breweries.” Or, “We put on a 900-person dinner for all our supporters and friends every year.” However, since Brian is the only full-time employee, he surely deserves most of the credit for any and all Guild activities. He is the third executive director, a position he’s held since 2005.
One of the Guild’s primary vehicles for promotion is special events and festivals. Probably the best-known and certainly the most popular is Zwickelmania. The one-day open house held on the Saturday of President’s Day weekend began in 2009 and attracted 6,000 visitors to 20-30 breweries that year. Compare that to 2016 when 45,000 people visited 120 participating beer makers who provide brewery tours and special tastings.
Brian said, “It started with six of us sitting around a table and someone came up with the idea of an open house. When would be a good time? We agreed that it should be on a holiday weekend when breweries were NOT busy, when they wanted to see more people visiting them. That’s how we came up with the Saturday of President’s Day weekend.”
Now most participating breweries are so busy on Zwickelmania, they schedule extra staff and often have to control the number of people allowed through the door at one time. The event takes its name from the zwickel sample valve on beer conditioning tanks that allows brewers to take samples during the fermentation process.
What does it take, behind the scenes, to put on this event? The Guild — as in Brian — does all the promotion, signs up the breweries, handles the public relations and marketing, lists the participating breweries on the Guild website and creates maps for the six regions of Oregon. Suggested itineraries are also posted, grouping participating breweries by location.
The Guild sponsors two other main events in Portland. Cheers to Belgian Beers started 10 years ago and was held in May in 2016. Then there’s the Portland Fresh Hop Beer Fest, which has happened every fall. Now in its 13th year, the harvest celebration is slated to take place Friday, Sept. 30 and Saturday, Oct. 1 at Oaks Park.
In addition to a few other collaboration events with The Portland Mercury newspaper, like the Malt Ball, Brian tries to make sure the Guild is represented at many of the other festivals around the state. “We have tables and booths at the Spring Beer and Wine Fest, at the KLCC Microbrew Fest in Eugene, at the Oregon Brewers Festival, the North American Organic Brewers Festival and the Great American Beer Festival in Denver,” said Brian.
Events, large and small, mean planning, planning and more planning. Each one starts with a budget. Next, participating breweries are lined up. A venue is selected. People are informed about the event through public relations campaigns and marketing sales and website updates. Food vendors are arranged along with infrastructure providers who set up tents, tables, chairs and the ever-essential porta-potties.
Again, Brian is the main person responsible for coordinating and arranging these events.
Brian’s interest in beer stems, in part, from his family’s background in homebrewing. Following his great-grandfather and uncle, Brian took up the hobby in 1999 and decided to enroll in the Beer Judge Certification Program that same year. Brian also served as vice president and president of the Oregon Brew Crew, Oregon’s oldest homebrew club. Around that time he also started working at Belmont Station. He was fortunate enough to snag shifts on Fridays — free beer tasting days — which meant face time with the brewers who attended these events. He stayed on there until 2006, overlapping with his start at the Guild.
Events and promotions, important in their own right, are only part of the Guild’s duties. The other responsibility is protecting the industry.
“The Guild participates in decision making at the local, state and federal level. We stay out of lobbying and leave that to our individual members,” said Brian. “But we alert members and our board, by email and meetings, to legislative issues and other concerns.”
Oregon is one of the few states where the entire legislative congressional delegation is part of the Small Brewers Caucus, he said. “They all support the lower excise tax for U.S. brewers. Last June, Sen. Wyden sponsored a bill to give all alcohol manufacturers some excise tax relief. It has 24 co-sponsors in the Senate and more than 100 in the House.”
Every June, right before Oregon Craft Beer Month in July, Brian holds a press conference about the economic impact of craft beer in Oregon, including information about the number of direct and indirect jobs created, number of barrels produced and sold here, the amount of charitable contributions and other economic indicators. For more information about the industry, upcoming Guild events or to learn how to become a SNOB, go to oregoncraftbeer.org.
By Andi Prewitt
Of the Oregon Beer Growler
One word can sometimes sum up the character of a city. While Flint, Mich. has a long and complex history, the story of that particular place can begin and end with “tenacity.” Turns out, it’s not just a fitting term for a city that’s struggled with unemployment, violence and now tainted water. The only craft brewery in town has adopted the name to not only describe Flint’s determination; but also the resolve it took to open the business. More than 2,000 miles away in Portland, tenacity is what it will take for one homebrewer to rally the city, the state and perhaps even the rest of the nation to do more than feel sorry for Flint’s latest crisis. He’s created a call to action for anyone who’s connected to the craft beer community: use your passion for this beverage to raise money for Flint.
Tenacity Brewing sits just several hundred feet from the source of the city’s contaminated drinking water. In a cost-saving move in 2014, Flint stopped buying water from Detroit’s system and tapped its eponymous river, which bends and curves through the heart of downtown right past Tenacity. Although the source was meant to be temporary, complaints about the taste and appearance of the water begin rolling in almost immediately. Then-Mayor Dayne Walling repeatedly brushed off safety concerns despite mounting evidence that the chemistry of the Flint River was causing pipe contaminants, including lead, to leach into the water supply. Children developed rashes from bathing in the water and test results showed higher levels of lead in their blood, which can lead to significant developmental delays.
Additionally, two outbreaks of Legionnaires’ disease sickened at least 88 people, nine of whom died. There’s no proven link between the spate of illnesses and the river water because not a single government agency has tested Flint’s water for legionella. However, these bacteria thrive in water with iron that flakes off of old pipes. Conditions worsen when water temperatures increase during summer months. A Free Press analysis of data collected by the state also discovered that 62 of the 88 people with confirmed cases were exposed to Flint’s water. For two years, residents of the city grew sicker simply by completing life’s daily tasks: showering, brushing teeth and lifting a plain old glass of water to their lips. But a Flint General Motors plant managed to switch to a different water supply a mere six months after river water came online because it was corroding car parts.
As Flint suffered, Dylan VanDetta got mad. He learned about what had essentially become a public betrayal by tuning into MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show,” as he often does.
“And when I heard what was actually happening and the lack of motivation from the local politicians, I was outraged. Absolutely outraged. And I thought that this is something that we really need to do something about. And we can,” he explained. “And we have a large number of brewers and homebrewers and people that care that would be willing to help out.”
That’s the thing, though, about these large-scale crises — we want to help, but don’t know how. But instead of throwing his hands up and saying ‘Oh well,’ VanDetta, who is treasurer of the Oregon Brew Crew, resolved to reach out in the best way he knew how — by turning to the oldest and largest homebrew club in the state.
“It was unanimous. Nobody even questioned it. They’re like, ‘For sure. Let’s send some money. Let’s do something and help these people.’ I think that helped spur me along and everyone I’ve talked to has similar feelings about it, is they’re outraged,” VanDetta said.
And of all the emotions, anger is one of the most powerful motivators. The Oregon Brew Crew voted to approve a $500 donation, which is being used to recruit additional contributors and volunteers. The effort is still in its infancy, but during the next several months VanDetta is looking for individuals to give their time and ask breweries, as well as beer- and water-related businesses, to get involved. Any and all forms of support are welcome — cash, free kegs and donated space where VanDetta wants to help organize events that would be used as fundraisers. Art Larrance has already promised the use of the Raccoon Lodge & Brew Pub patio in Southwest Portland. The Peninsula Odd Fellows has also pledged its location to the cause. Additionally, a GoFundMe page is now accepting gifts.
VanDetta and those assisting him at this point have already made connections with entities in Michigan, such as the Genesee Brewers Club (named after the county where Flint is located), to ensure the funds raised will eventually be directed by the people who need it. And he has a specific goal: $20,000.
“The reason I came up with that number is it costs — I read an article where it costs about $10,000 to replace the pipes in a single home. That would be about two homes,” he said, “or one home and $10,000 worth of fresh water that we can distribute to the neighborhood.”
He’s also exploring the possibility of distributing water in 5-gallon jugs or borrowed beer kegs, which would be a more sustainable option than the 12-ounce plastic bottles currently employed. The average family in Flint uses about 151 of those containers a day.
The number of requests for assistance these days can already feel overwhelming, particularly with the rise of crowdfunding sites that allow pretty much anyone to ask for help. What would prompt Oregonians, then, to pay special attention to a city more than halfway across the country? Well, if you’re talking to beer lovers, it all begins with the precious nature of water.
“The fact that we have such access, readily access to clean water, and beer is such — it’s such a big component of beer I thought that this would be a great opportunity for us to give back to the community as Oregon Brew Crew, as well as the brewing community across the country — not just Oregon,” VanDetta described. “The fact that we couldn’t make beer without water is disheartening — let alone, you know, drink or bathe in it or wash your clothes or anything like that in that stuff. So whatever we can do to help them is really what we’re trying to do.”
For VanDetta, the cause is also personal. Most people, particularly those fortunate enough to access water from the Bull Run Watershed, don’t think twice when they turn on the faucet. But VanDetta grew up in a poor town in northern New York where they tapped into city water of neighboring Poultney, Vt. The liquid used to be treated in a chlorinating plant until the source changed and the processing ended. Ultimately, VanDetta said officials had to drill a well for the family. While he was only about 6 or 7 years old when his water became unreliable, he never forgot it. The experience allows him to empathize with Flint’s population, but even he can’t imagine going without easy access to water at home for as long as they have.
“It’s something that you just don’t normally think about. And the hassle! Oh, I’ve got to brush my teeth, so I’m going to do down to the store and get water with money that I really have already spent on water. These folks are still paying their water bills for water they can’t drink, so it’s crazy,” VanDetta said. “Most of these folks are poor and they don’t have vehicles. They can’t drive, so they’re carrying the water or they’re not getting the water — they’re using water out of their taps and that’s even worse.”
Family brought VanDetta to the West Coast and the beer is what rooted him in community. He considers joining the Oregon Brew Crew the best $35 he’s ever spent. Membership provided artistic and creative balance to his life that’s occupied, in part, by a 20-year career in IT. While his first meeting in 2012 was intimidating since he says he “knew nothing” about beer other than the fact he loved it, he’s learned a lot from watching others and taking in their feedback on his own brews. He was also drawn to the open, supportive nature of brewers, which he believes will translate into backing for the Flint project.
“I consider it a blue-collar kind of business. They’re really in tune with the work that they do and their hands,” explained VanDetta. “And they make a product that people put in their bodies, and you really kind of have to be careful with that.”
If you’d like to volunteer or donate, email VanDetta at firstname.lastname@example.org. The fundraiser is starting on a modest scale, but plans are big.
“My dream is that it would be nationwide. We would have the brewing community — homebrewers, commercial brewers and water companies across the country helping with this effort. Because, you know, it takes a village to raise a child, right?”
And it’s now becoming abundantly clear that the children of Flint who’ve been affected by tainted water will need an army of support for decades to come.
By Andi Prewitt
Of the Oregon Beer Growler
“I’m just trying to keep the past alive as best I can,” Dave Wills said while hovering over a blender inside his brewery.
That was one of the more monumental tasks on his list in what shaped up to be a busy day. While tending to business at Oregon Trail in downtown Corvallis one Saturday afternoon, Wills also had a scheduled tour leading the Oregon Brew Crew through the uniquely configured three-story facility. Like an enthusiastic professor, he peppered his lecture with vivid anecdotes and quizzed the listeners on the style of each beer they were served from his taps. When the lesson ended, there were only momentary lulls in activity as friends and neighbors popped in through the always-open back door. Wills had a greeting for everyone, pausing while answering interview questions to make a little time for each individual. But there was still salsa to be made. Rising above the hum of the blender stuffed with tomato, diced jalapeno and bunches of cilantro was his laughter sparked by decades-old memories. It was then it became evident that every day Wills is at Oregon Trail, he’s fulfilling his stated goal — keeping the past alive.
Wills never set out to be leading a brewery, but to those who know him it’s no surprise he’s ended up in that role. They describe him as someone who can motivate others and his energy level is like a brew kettle boiling over. It may seem a bit incongruous that the man who’s served as mentor to many now-established brewers once tossed a batch of homebrew for fear of something akin to food poisoning if he actually drank his own concoction. But Wills’ start in making beer came at a time when President Jimmy Carter had just legalized the activity and ingredients were often of questionable quality.
Wills’ first exposure to good beer actually all began with a woman. When he was 20 years old, his girlfriend surprised him by announcing she was going to London. That motivated Wills to go, too, a couple of months later. It was the late 1970s, so the variety of any beer that might have been considered craft was limited to Anchor and Henry Weinhard's. So seven weeks abroad and a Eurail pass provided Wills with a much-needed crash course in the world of beer. Following the whirlwind trip, Wills transferred to Oregon State University for the agriculture program. He’d already done two years of study in the field at a junior college in his home state of California. The move north exposed him not only to his first live hop plant, it’s also where he stumbled across a sign outside of a natural food store reading “Homebrewing Class.” Wills said to himself, ‘Now I think I’m gonna take that,’ and he did. Two women ran the instructional session, which was unique for the era. It was held in one of their homes and that’s where Wills realized how good a do-it-yourself brew could taste.
Around the same time, Wills took his own field trip to a nearby U.S. Department of Agriculture hop research farm because he wanted to grow his own. The difference between what was coming from the dirt and what was offered by many supply shops was striking. “And they broke out these beautiful green hops that were just — beautiful! Bright green,” Wills described. “And the hops I was buying from the grocery store, which just had the hops on the — you know, hops should really be kept refrigerated or frozen to keep ‘em nice. But what was being huckstered off on the homebrewer back then was just these old, stale hops.”
Experience with hops the color and consistency of yellowing, aged newspaper led to a business idea. As a recent graduate of OSU at this point, Wills began thinking about homebrewers across the country, most of whom were not living in hop-growing states like Oregon. He figured there must be an opportunity to sell fresher cones to these markets. A local hop breeder suggested that Wills get things started by talking to the Colemans, a hop farm family that still operates out of the Woodburn area. They put Wills to work on the property during harvest season. “And after that month, I drove off with my little Datsun pickup full of hops and put a little $14 classified ad in the Zymurgy magazine,” Wills said.
With one little ad, the orders started pouring in. Wills had himself a business. To keep the hops chilled, he bought a mini walk-in cooler for the basement of his rental home. Fulfilling customer requests simply meant packing the hops in plastic, resealable bags and then mailing them off. That was in 1982. And Freshops is still going strong with Wills at the helm.
Some of Wills’ product was sold in the Old World Deli, which in addition to soups, salads and sandwiches, was one of a few outlets that provided the town with homebrew ingredients. It also served as the site that brought together Wills; Ted Cox, owner of the deli; and Jerry Shadomy, who founded Oregon Trail in a corner of the building. All three were members of the Heart of the Valley Homebrewers club. The first meeting took place at Cox’s house before they put an ad in the paper advertising the next event at the deli. Shadomy, who had been winning a lot of awards for his homebrew, ended up gathering enough people who wanted to invest in a local brewery and started Oregon Trail after acquiring a 7-barrel system from Hart Brewing (later known as Pyramid). Wills describes himself as a hired hand back then who helped scrap parts together since there were no major equipment manufacturers, particularly for a smaller-scale brewery at that time. He characterized Shadomy as extraordinarily intelligent and somewhat eccentric person. But brewing the same beer over and over became dull to someone who needed new stimuli. Ultimately, Shadomy wasn’t able to maintain the business. That’s when Wills stepped in.
“I just kept it alive because I wasn’t going to just let this place go to auction after all of that love and sweat and everything that went into it,” he explained. “The space is awesome. It’s very well engineered and designed — and gravity flow — and it’s just a cool thing.”
His bookkeeper Rita Whitted added, “Dave is the reason it’s still here and not a past-tense thing.”
The space is certainly something special. Not all of it is pretty. The brewery is cramped. Three stories means lugging bags of grain up a lot of steep stairs. Some of the walls are just suggestions — beams with wiring that lays bare instead of normally being covered by Sheetrock. But after more than a century of wear and tear on the building, these signs of aging are like a historical record — proof that hard work was done here and people found purpose in this structure. In fact, that section of real estate has now been home to three breweries, according to deli owner Cox. He spoke breathlessly and passionately about the history, as if he couldn’t get the words out fast enough. The two earlier brewhouses operated in the 1870s and 1880s. One went out of business during a rough economic patch and the other burned down, as described by Cox. Oregon Trail, then, continues a legacy, a tradition, in downtown Corvallis.
Oregon Trail’s influence also extends to breweries across the state. Because of its proximity to OSU, plenty of fermentation science students have practiced making beer in that location. That application and Wills’ guidance have proved invaluable for many who’ve either opened their own breweries or gotten jobs at larger operations. John Marliave, co-owner of Corvallis’ Flat Tail Brewing, was one of those who benefitted from the hands-on involvement at Oregon Trail. “Yeah, I owe Dave a lot of where I am today because that experience isn’t something you get,” he noted.
Wills, whose father was a teacher, said he has some of that same urge to guide others in his genes. Bookkeeper Whitted agreed. “And the best teacher. Not the easiest teacher.” Wills was mentoring long before Oregon Trail, according to Mary Shannon O’Boyle, a former president of Heart of the Valley Homebrewers. She recounted that after meeting him in the 1980s, shortly after he helped start the club, he was very encouraging. “He convinced me to do my first beer and it was a pale ale. And we entered it in the county fair, the first county fair that allowed beer to be entered — 1984. And he helped me with it and it won a blue ribbon!”
Additionally, Wills recalled that he wished he’d gotten more time in the field while he was in college and that inspired him to take on students at the brewery. “We hardly went outside, so I wanted to see OSU fermentation science kids get the opportunity to do this. And I was hoping maybe one of them would stick around,” Wills said. “But that hasn’t happened yet.”
And that’s where the reward of teaching conflicts with the realities of running a business. Wills guesses he’s had 20 or so brewers come and go. “So having them turnover like that, that has made it impossible for us to grow,” he said. “You can’t have a new brewer every 12 to 18 months.” Wills continues to search for somebody who wants to help be an owner and invest in the brewery. Ultimately, he doesn’t want to sell it. In the meantime, he’s got a new brewer who has been on board since March. Whitted praised his beer making and attention to detail.
When asked why he sticks with the brewery despite the ups and downs, Wills’ friends are quick to answer: He doesn’t give up. He’s hardworking. He’s determined. He always looks for the next challenge. The liveliness in Wills’ eyes reveals another reason: he is a man who is constantly in motion and thoroughly enjoys connecting with others through his work. “He knows what he’s doing and he established a group of people throughout the entire region,” O’Boyle said, “and I know that sounds like I’m a fan. But as a friend, I’ve watched him bail people out who’ve needed help and also be respected for the fact that he knows what he’s doing.”
Beyond stabilizing the brewery, Wills wants to intensify his commitment to sustainability. He currently sells beer out of the adorably shaped party pig dispensers because they’re reusable and fit within the brewery’s footprint better than a bottling line. Of course, growlers are also welcome. Wills would like to see an overall consumption shift — less focus on obtaining beer bottles from across the country or world and more commitment to drinking local beer much in the way we would source milk from area farms. And in staying with the spirit of the brewery’s name, he has another wish: “I hope I see our beer getting delivered by covered wagon in my lifetime in the local community.”
In 2043, the original Oregon Trail will mark its 200th anniversary. Wills says he’ll be here. “Not sure what I’ll be doing. I’ll be drinking beer, I think, I hope, if my liver will make it that far,” he laughs. “I’d love to be there for the 200th anniversary and seeing this whole Oregon Trail thing will be an awesome visit to the past. I think it’d be awesome to see that kind of history all tied in. A lot’s going to change in the next 28 years.”
But rest assured, he’ll continue to keep the past alive — and kicking.
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.