By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Sometimes when people retire they are ready to just kick back with a cold one. But Mark Nunnelee decided that instead of merely drinking the beer, he should be making it.
While working with NASA, Nunnelee and his wife transferred from Southern California to Oregon in 2008, but took early retirement in 2010. “I wasn’t quite ready to retire, but I did. I had to do something though,” explains Nunnelee. “I love beer, and since moving here had discovered craft beer.” In 2011 he also discovered homebrewing. “Friends, family, even strangers were telling me, ‘You gotta sell this stuff!’ I got a lot of encouragement from a lot of people, even business owners who would tell me they’d sell it.”
The Nunnelees were living in the unincorporated community of Lookingglass of Douglas County. With a population of 855, the area is considered a suburb of Roseburg, which is 9 miles to the northwest. Nunnelee figured the peace and quiet made their property a nice spot for a small brewery. In 2010 they had constructed a shop near the house, and in 2014 the Nunnelees began converting the shop into a brewery while applying for an Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) permit.
After getting TTB approval in 2015, Lookingglass Brewery was licensed to sell beer on July 1, 2015, but Nunnelee was still setting up the brewery and equipment (today Nunnelee and his wife are the only people working at the brewery, though friends occasionally volunteer). Nunnelee wanted to set things up right — just the way he used to at NASA.
“The government harps on safety and quality. That’s the part that I think I brought with me from that job: quality and quality assurance,” he explains. “My goal is to have the highest-quality beer around. I’ll never cut corners as far as quality of the beer goes.”
On Nov. 2, 2015, the Nunnelees sold their first beers through Lookingglass.
“I wanted to test the market, so when we opened I only had two for sale: AnyTime Pale Ale and HappyTime Raspberry Red,” says Nunnelee. “They both did pretty well.”
Nunnelee added OverTime IPA, but kept the lineup at three beers until April 2016 when the Lookingglass Tasting/Tap Room opened with seven beers.
The tap room was a natural next step for the business. “Lots of people were asking where they could find our beers,” says Nunnelee. “We felt like we had to have a place where they could come and try them all.”
However, that somewhere didn’t work out to be the closest large city — Roseburg. “We looked all over the place — looked at locations in Roseburg, and things didn’t pan out for one reason or another,” says Nunnelee. But he kept eyeballing a place in nearby Winston (also home of the Wildlife Safari, which partners with Lookingglass sometimes for events), and his wife said they needed to check it out.
“It was perfect,” says Nunnelee. “Location. Space. It was just by chance. We’re the only brewery out there, so that’s nice.”
The 1,000-square-foot facility uses about 500 square feet for the 25 seats in the public area. In advance of football season, a new 65-inch TV hangs on the main wall, and a smaller 50-inch screen is above the bar. Nunnelee plans to open the tasting room on Sundays for pro games.
Lookingglass now has eight beers available, along with third-party cider and various local wines at the tap room. While the area’s newest brewery has some accounts in the Douglas County area (and occasionally as far afield as Albany), most sales are through the tasting room. In addition to the three inaugural beers, Nunnelee is working his half-barrel system hard to keep up with demand for SummerTime Blonde Ale, HopTime IPA, BreakTime Brown, SpringTime IPA, OverTime IPA, and PrimeTime Porter.
You might have noticed a commonality with the names there. “The time theme just came to me,” says Nunnelee. It started with the AnyTime Pale Ale. “It’s really just any time of day, any time of year. Some beers you want at a certain time of year, some you want anytime.”
Upcoming releases include a fresh-hop pale ale (with hops from a local friend) for the 2016 Umpqua Brewfest on Oct. 8. A stout will also be available during fall and winter, along with a “special, festive-type beer.”
Demand for Loogkingglass beers does have Nunnelee thinking hard about upgrading his current system: a 30-gallon kettle, 30-gallon mash tun and 20-gallon hot liquor tank. “I can get about 20 gallons per batch, depending on the style. We brew triple batches a couple of times a week. We’ll yield 60 gallons each time we brew,” says Nunnelee. “I’m looking to upgrade the system soon. Those small systems are labor-intensive. I want to expand, have a brewpub in town, get the brewery and tap room under one roof.”
Nunnelee also believes in giving back to the community. Ever since opening the brewery, he’s donated 10 percent of revenue to local causes, such as the benevolence fund through the church he and his wife attend in Roseburg. He’s also helped support local Fourth of July fireworks, and is currently looking for additional organizations and events to support in Winston.
The small-town feel is also part of what Nunnelee likes about basing his brewery in a tucked-away valley and having his tap room in a town of 5,379. “We’re small in a small area. We can do just about anything,” he explains. “If someone asks us to make a special beer, we can work with people and do it.”
After working in Southern California, Nunnelee figures brewing is a good reason to come out of retirement. The commute also can’t be beat.
“It’s a 20-foot walk to work.”
Lookingglass Brewery Tasting/Tap Room
[a] 192 SE Main St., Winston
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.