By Ezra Johnson-Greenough
For the Oregon Beer Growler
In an industry full of fresh-faced brewers with their shiny kettles and polished mash tuns, the breweries that make into the double digits become the hard-nosed veterans. That means Lompoc Brewing’s 20th anniversary is nothing to shake a mash paddle at.
After 20 years in Portland, you’re practically an original. And that leaves some of Lompoc’s older pubs as icons in this city. Take, for instance, the Hedge House on the always-busy and trendy Southeast Division Street in a 1912 craftsman-style bungalow, the yard intact doing double duty as a patio. The spot feels like a throwback to a Portland of rough-edged comfort before gleaming condos and concrete storefronts began replacing all of the buildings with character.
The New Old Lompoc was one such Portland institution, a vestige of the old Northwest Portland 23rd Avenue before it became a destination for boutiques and cafes. The Lompoc story began there. Jerry Fechter was fresh out of college and returned from a post-graduation trip to Europe where he discovered beer. He decided to move to Portland.
“I had a real job for a year and I didn’t like it, so I started working for these two guys (Bob Rice and Pete Goforth) that owned a whole bunch of restaurants.” Fechter ended up at the Old Lompoc Tavern — then just a pub serving cheap drinks. “I started bartending for these guys, counting the money, being the errand boy and stuff and homebrewing at the same time” said Fechter.
At some point, Goforth and Rice decided they wanted to start a brewery at Old Lompoc Tavern, and Fechter knew a little about the business through friends who worked for McMenamins as well as his background in homebrewing. The year was 1994 and the brewing scene was in its infancy.
“BridgePort was around. McMenamins was around. The hot beer was Full Sail Amber and Golden.” After laying out plans to start a brewery, Fechter took the short course at Siebel Institute in Chicago and brewed the first Old Lompoc beer in 1996. It was a bitter Marzen.
“The theory was, let’s make an over-the-top malty beer and just bitter the shit out of it because we didn’t really know where the additions would be from the kettle. If it was too thin, we could call it something different. If it were too bitter ... we had options was the point.”
Fast forward to 2000. It’s a new millennium and the Old Lompoc is struggling as a tavern. They were brewing 300-350 barrels a year, but the place just wasn’t very busy. During a game of golf, Fechter offered to purchase the Old Lompoc from Goforth and Rice, even though there was only three years left on the lease. A few potential business partners fell through, but Fechter eventually connected with the late, great Don Younger, owner of Horse Brass Pub. They upgraded the menu and made the beers a little hoppier, eventually reopening the pub as “New Old Lompoc Tavern” in 2001. The addition of a patio to the space also proved to be a success.
Jerry opened the second outlet, Lompoc Hedge House, in 2003. Fifth Quadrant came in 2005 and the Oaks Bottom Public House a year later. “Opening each pub seemed like milestones. We wanted them to be ‘Lompoc,’ but also different.”
Lompoc’s current head brewer Bryan Keilty joined the brewery in 2006, which is when the production brewery on North Williams Avenue opened. A 10-year veteran, he has overseen the expansion of brands and the changing landscape in beer styles and diversity. He’s also experienced Lompoc’s growth from brewpub to distributing brewery.
“I inform every potential hire that you will see every aspect of the industry in a small craft brewery,” Keilty said. “We wear so many different hats! At Lompoc, we rotate brewing and cellaring duties — but we also work on the bottling line, perform tastings in the grocery store, deliver kegs, plan release parties, help with label design and social media. The list goes on.”
Keilty’s culinary background shows in his more balanced approached to beers. During his tenure, Lompoc has excelled at producing fruit beers, barrel-aged brews and farmhouse ales. He counts the year-round best seller Proletariat Red as a favorite, “I love the balance between the malt and the hops! Balance is an overlooked aspect in beer, especially in the Northwest.”
Sadly in 2012, the original Lompoc was razed for new condos and retail. Luckily, Fechter secured a spot in the same building to open what is now called simply the “Lompoc Tavern.” The building doesn’t have the same history. The beloved patio is gone. And modern cold, slick feel (an update forced by developer) is a marked departure from Old Lompoc. But there is a wide selection of Lompoc beers, top-of-the-line pub grub and big front windows that open to sidewalk seating.
“It's been 20 years of brewing and evolving and always trying make things better, not be complacent,” Fechter said. “I think our beer and food are the best they have ever been.”
Even so, Fechter went back to the well for Lompoc’s 20th anniversary beer “Zwanzig,” which means “twenty” in German. It’s a re-creation of his very first brew, a bitter Marzen. While Fechter doesn’t have the original recipe, Zwanzig was brewed like he remembers it — with a pale orange color and full malty body. The modern update included eight hop additions and it was tapped during anniversary celebrations in December.
Twenty years in, breweries like Lompoc cannot rest on their accomplishments. It’s more of a struggle than ever to stay relevant and keep pace in a crowded market of new and expanding breweries and experimental brewing styles. Consumers are always looking for something new, which means breweries must constantly get drinkers to return.
“You have to spend more time, money and effort just to remind people that you exist.” said Keilty.
When asked what it is they do differently than others to stand out and stay relevant, Fechter said he didn’t know. But the question sparked something.
“I was trying to figure out about what the next big thing would be. I think about it all the time. I thought it used to be IPAs, and in my mind, in Oregon it dwindled down about eight or nine years ago,” Fechter explained. “Then I thought it was Belgian beers. Sours have really been blowing it up.”
After pausing for a moment, he wondered, “Maybe the next style might be no style.”
The good news is that however saturated Portland becomes, there’s always the draw of a neighborhood pub. And that is where Lompoc excels.
By Jim McLaren
For the Oregon Beer Growler
The pilgrimage was long and winding, but the pastor of pilsner has found his church. It’s in a former hummus factory on the backside of an old neighborhood, down a hill butted up against the railroad tracks in Northeast Portland.
Inside the brewery, Mike Weksler wants to get to the work of cleaning barrels, but takes time to sermonize about what he is making at Royale Brewing Co. “There are not a lot of people who make a year-round pilsner here. Upright makes one, Heater Allen makes an amazing Pilsner and pFriem makes one.” He continues, “It is my favorite style. I like a crisp, clean beer.”
That is all well and good, but — and this may seem sacrilege — Royale does not make an IPA (gasp). “I think by not doing an IPA you set yourself apart,” Weksler says. “We’ve done two IPAs, but we’ve done them as one and done. Don’t look for us to do it again.” In fact, he says he’ll fire his salesman if the heathen breaks that commandment.
But, tempting fate, I push back — No IPA???
“Think about this,” Weksler says patiently, “you throw a handful of tacks over there and they’re all IPAs. Can you find my tack real fast? But throw a handful of tacks with all the pilsner makers here and there’s only five or six of us. So I’m easier to find.” He elaborates, “I think you need to find the style you like best, and I really like Belgian ales and I really like pilsners, I like European beers. The Northwest style is amazing — I mean we’re fortunate to live up here, but the best way to differentiate yourself is to not do what everyone else in your neighborhood does.”
It’s not likely Weksler’s done much the way others have. Start with his college job. He was 19 and working as a busboy in a Louisiana bar. The owner required all employees to be ordained ministers. So, Weksler became a mail-order minister and has done three weddings. (There’s more on the weddings later.)
Before finishing college, Weksler left the Bayou State for Oregon and did not immediately fall in love. He thought the place was too gray and too damp. But he was too stubborn to tell his family he wanted to come home.
Eventually, Weksler turned to the bottle; not to drink from it, but to put beer in it. He is part owner of Green Bottling of Portland. The company has mobile bottling lines that can be trucked to small breweries that can’t afford their own.
The job gave Weksler a look inside a lot of breweries. “I’ve seen some really good breweries. I knew I could take the best of everything I’ve seen and make a very awesome brewery.” The pastor of pilsner began his crusade to be the best by contracting with Portland’s Alameda Brewing Co. The deal lasted a couple of years. All the while, Weksler had, as he still does, an eye on growing. “I would like to see myself be a regional brewery” he says without hubris, before adding, “I think the world is hungry for what comes from here. There’s a couple of epicenters in the universe for beer; fortunately we live in one of them.”
Royale Brewing is in an ancient brick building under a yoga studio. The old freight car parked on the tracks outside, with blue-and-white graffiti spelling out “Boosy” looks newer and in better shape than the dusty Royale delivery van tattooed with the brewery’s pig logo. Inside, the Royale (pronounced Roy-al) office is cluttered with barrels, posters and mismatched desks, chairs and tables.
The brewery has a 15-barrel system and six tanks with room for six more. There are three cold rooms, a new barrel washer and wooden barrels. Some of those are used bourbon barrels. One is a tequila barrel that has to be primed before it will hold an experimental batch of beer.
The man leading the experiments will be Paul Rey. The Siebel Institute-educated brewer moved to Portland just this year after spending time at Telegraph Brewery and Libertine Brewing Company in California. He immediately fell under Weksler’s pilsner spell. “It’s a glorious beer. Operations-wise, it is a nightmare because it takes so long because lager yeast ferments at a lower temperature and very slowly and typically creates a lot of sulfur compounds that take a long time to clean up. It’s just much slower in secondary fermentation, but the end product is a much more delicate, clean-tasting beer.”
There is integrity in the traditionalist approach Rey takes toward pilsners. He points out that American IPAs have moved a long way from what the British originally did. But, he insists with pilsners “you can’t stray from what the Germans and Czechs came up with. People do, but it ceases to be a pilsner once it’s a super bitter pilsner or a sweet pilsner. Once you start adding things to it, it’s not really a pilsner anymore.”
The Royale Pilsner — they also make ales, a porter and a wonderful coffee saison — is a clear golden color and has a floral aroma followed by a crisp, clean taste that makes you wonder what you ever saw in hoppy IPAs.
I’m converted to the church of pils. Amen.
One of the weddings Pastor Weksler officiated was that of Carston Haney, owner of Ross Island Brewing and former brewmaster at Alameda Brewing who was featured in the April issue of Oregon Beer Growler.
Royale Brewing recently opened a taproom, “The Garrison” at 8773 N. Lombard in Portland.
By Patty Mamula
For the Oregon Beer Growler
GoodLife Brewing in Bend has been on a roll ever since it opened five years ago this June. “We’re five years ahead of our business plan and 800 percent ahead of production goals,” said sales and promotions coordinator Chris Nelson.
To celebrate and give back to the community, GoodLife started a Sustainable Session Series in February with a portion of sales going to a Northwest nonprofit. The first beer is the Brewshed Session Ale, available through the end of May, with proceeds going to The Oregon Brewshed® Alliance, created to protect Northwest watersheds.
Nelson said, “All the session beers will be different styles. The new one coming in June is called Wildland Session Ale and we are donating 1 percent of the sales to the Deschutes Collaborative Forest Project. The one for October will be Mountain Rescue, GoodLife’s first beer. The proceeds from that will go to Deschutes County Search and Rescue.”
Native son Curt Plants started the brewery along with Ty Barnett, who’s originally from Joseph. The two managed to secure the business’s enviable west side location through a combination of incredible timing and luck. They were one day away from signing a lease on a facility in northeast Bend and planned to focus on production.
But they happened to drive by an indoor tennis center for lease in the Century Center Events venue. Immediately they were hooked. The building had high ceilings, good light and plenty of space: 22,000 square feet inside and 9,000 square feet outside. They jumped at the chance to lease it and took the financial hit for the buildout. At the time, people wondered what in the world they would do with all that space.
It turns out, plenty. When you drive into the GoodLife parking lot, you’re right in front of their beer garden. The fenced area features a few tables, a firepit, a bocce ball court and a food cart. There’s room for kids and dogs to run or to spread out a picnic and hang out. In the summer, it’s constantly full and often the scene of charity events.
The brewery is directly to the left of the garden. With all the new tanks GoodLife keeps adding, the brewhouse is close to needing an expansion. But before they opened and installed a 30-barrel system, the empty space was cavernous and obviously so. There was so much room initially, the touring company Cycle Pub moved in. It was a beneficial partnership for a while, but GoodLife eventually needed to grow and the bike company found a new home. Curt’s older brother Mark has now taken over a section of the building for BackDrop Distilling. This is another win-win arrangement, as Mark uses the brewery’s wort and GoodLife gets his barrels. Plus, the copper still is an eye-catching addition.
Growing up, Curt was interested in learning about different beers. Curt and his father, a music teacher in the Bend school district, often vacationed at Odell Lake, which is about 65 miles southwest of Bend. That’s when father and son would sample beers to educate their palates. One day, Curt’s dad suggested he continue his studies at the Siebel Institute because he knew his son was passionate about beer and didn’t like traditional schooling. Curt went on to complete coursework there, got a job at Rogue, but eventually turned his focus to opening a brewery with co-founder Ty.
GoodLife got going with a 30-barrel, four-vessel system and produced 3,100 barrels during the first year. Growth continued from there, including the addition of two 240-barrel fermenters and a 130-barrel lagering tank. Last year, production hit 20,000 barrels. Nelson said, “The 30-barrel system will max out at 55,000 barrels a year.” Right now, they brew four batches a day, six days a week from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.
The expansion was driven by their purchase of a canning line. They had been using a mobile unit that filled 30 containers a minute. But the new line can handle 122 cans in that same amount of time. The line from Palmer Canning out of Chicago was, at the time, the largest the business had shipped west of the Mississippi. The equipment will allow GoodLife to keep up with demand in their distribution markets, including Oregon, Idaho, Hawaii, Washington and Vermont.
For GoodLife and so many other local enterprises, sustainability is simply a part of life in Central Oregon. Spent grain recycling started with a phone call from Curt to longtime family friend Dave Holmberg, his former teacher and principal. Holmberg, who worked with Curt’s father at the same school, also owns Anchor Heart Ranch and raises cattle. Holmberg described that, “Curt asked if I still had cattle and said he was starting a brewery. Would I be interested in taking that stuff?”
Holmberg started with one small trailer to haul off GoodLife’s spent grain, but he now owns four large trailers and two 1-ton diesel trucks to handle all of the byproduct. He arrives in the morning, depending on the brew schedule, with an empty trailer to replace the full one, which contains 10,000-12,000 pounds of spent grain. Not only do Holmberg’s cattle benefit from the process; hogs at High Hope Acres in Culver also get some of the load. Holmberg additionally picks up the trub (yeast mixed with beer, the stuff left at the bottom of the fermenters) in 300 gallon containers — five or six a week.
“With the trucks and trailers I have now, and with GoodLife’s 30-barrel operating system, I can keep up with them for the foreseeable future,” said Holmberg. “Between me and my other driver, even with increased production, we will just be busier recycling spent grain.”
Future plans for GoodLife? “We have the option of building on the lot adjacent to our parking lot. If we were to do that, we would be going big — comparable to Deschutes with a 100-120 barrel system. Or we will stay put — maybe put in a 60-barrel system and continue as a regional brewery,” said Nelson.
By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
After six years as brewmaster for Eugene-based Oakshire Brewing, Matt Van Wyk (left) has resigned and joined forces with two brothers, Brian and Doug Coombs, to begin a new venture. AleSong Brewing and Blending will focus on barrel-aged and farmhouse beers, with plans to begin selling product in 2016.
“We are looking for property where we can build our destination tasting room,” says Van Wyk, a Siebel Institute graduate. “Our ideal location would be somewhere south to southwest of Eugene in proximity to the great wineries that are out there.”
AleSong is also securing a warehouse space “where we can age and blend beer and begin to get some beer in the hands of eager fans,” says Van Wyk. “We’ll operate out of whatever warehouse space we can find until we get our property developed.”
Instead of installing a brewhouse, AleSong plans to work with other breweries to produce wort, which AleSong will then ferment.
“The beers we make will primarily be aged on oak,” explains Van Wyk, who began and managed a renowned barrel, sour and wild beer program during his tenure at Oakshire. “Many will be ‘farmhouse-inspired’ and utilize much of the great Oregon bounty that we are so fortunate to have access to: fruits, vegetables, spice and, of course, hops.”
In addition to Van Wyk’s background at Oakshire along with Illinois’ Glen Ellyn Brewing and Flossmoor Station, he was awarded 2006 Small Brewpub Company Brewer of the Year at the Great American Beer Festival and led Oakshire to a 2013 gold medal in the GABF Wood- and Barrel-Aged Beer category.
With a chemistry degree from the University of Oregon, Brian Coombs worked with Van Wyk for two years at Oakshire, launching a quality assurance/quality control lab, and has also been employed at King Estate Winery near Eugene. Managing the business side of AleSong, Doug Coombs has a degree in economics from Princeton and was the founder and CEO of Columbian event ticket agency biciq.com.
AleSong is operated under Lane County Brewing, LLC. Van Wyk and the Coombs filed articles of organization LLC paperwork with the State of Oregon in July 2015. Van Wyk’s last day at Oakshire was Oct. 23.
AleSong plans to sell primarily at their tasting room, with some local/regional distribution. Plans also include a beer club. Similar to wine clubs, members will receive special club-only beers.
“I’m very excited to start this new venture and also very excited to work with Brian and Doug, two people who share a similar vision for this type of specialty brewing,” says Van Wyk. “The three of us are like-minded and singularly focused on making the highest-quality, barrel-aged beer."
By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
No beer was flowing, but more people were getting in line.
The culprit at Eugene’s 13th Sasquatch Brew Fest? A jockey box had run out of gas. “It took me a long time to find a CO2 wrench,” says Doug Fuchs. “Then I found another CO2 bottle. I swapped out the dead bottle for the new one and the beer flowed. It took about a half an hour, but every single person in line was still there, waiting patiently in good humor. Beer nerds are good folk.”
For Fuchs and the rest of the team behind Eugene’s annual one-day festival, that’s what it comes down to: meticulous planning, hauling heavy kegs, on-the-spot problem solving, and above all, trusting in the best of the industry and the public.
Bringing together breweries and cideries, finding a location, arranging food and entertainment, organizing dozens of volunteers, setting a beer dinner, collaborating on a homebrew competition, complying with Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) regulations and drawing in the public is no easy feat. “Beers festivals are back-breaking work,” Fuchs says. But every year the Northwest Legends Foundation (NLF) -- the 501(c)(3) nonprofit that organizes Sasquatch — makes it happen.
It Takes Four Months to Make One Day
Four months of planning culminated in 2015 Sasquatch, held on Saturday, June 6 during Eugene Beer Week. More than 100 kegs — 1,550 gallons — from 50 breweries and cideries poured for more than 3,000 people who braved temperatures rising above 90 degrees to celebrate craft beer at the Hop Valley Tasting Room. For Fuchs, of Eugene-based publicity and marketing firm Flying Ink Media, it was not only a celebration of the craft beer industry; it was another year commemorating a renowned figure in the local brewing community.
“Glen Falconer was a dear friend,” says Fuchs. “I met him during the first employee meeting just before Steelhead Brewery opened in 1991. Glen was the first assistant brewer. I was the first head bartender. Glen and I became friends quick and stayed that way.”
The two also worked together at the now-closed Wild Duck Brewery, Fuchs as an assistant brewer and bartender, and Falconer as the head brewer. When Falconer died suddenly in 2002, Fuchs was one of the first to realize something was needed to honor his memory, and Sasquatch was born. Fuchs has served as the publicist and marketing director for the festival since its inception in 2002. In 2014 Fuchs also joined the Northwest Legends Foundation board of directors, and this year became the festival’s brewery and beer coordinator.
Three people are in charge of organizing Sasquatch: Fuchs, John “Chewie” Burgess (operations manager) and Steve Ditmar (NLF president). They coordinate with an event operations board, which manages both big picture and minutiae.
“We start planning in early February of each year,” explains Fuchs. “Working together, we put the festival together in about four months, from February to the first week of June. February through March is mostly planning. April and May are fulfillment.”
Early festivals were held at the now-closed Wild Duck Music Hall, then outside in Kesey Square, moved inside the Hilton Eugene, and then switched venues back outside, first at Ninkasi in 2014, then at Hop Valley this year. “We plan on keeping the festival outside from now on,” says Fuchs. “When the festival is outside, we have a larger footprint, and then can pour more beer and entertain and educate more folks about beer culture and craft-brewed beer. These past two festivals, 2014, 2015, may very well be the largest ever.”
Different venues pose different challenges. “Every year is a learning experience,” Fuchs says, “Since we are pouring an alcoholic beverage outside in public, we have to have permits, oversight, fencing, security, all of which have to come together to make the festival a success.”
The Lifeblood of a Beer Fest
The lifeblood of Sasquatch comes down to two things: breweries and volunteers. All kegs are selected by head brewers and donated to Sasquatch (all proceeds from the festival go to area charitable organizations and to brewing scholarships for institutes such as Siebel and the American Brewers Guild).
Brewery support doesn’t end with the keg delivery though. “Brewers and their employees, representatives, and friends show up early, set up their own jockey boxes, haul their own kegs, ice down the beer, and inform and educate folks that show up to taste their brews,” says Fuchs. “The breweries are the real force behind the festival, and we give each brewery an opportunity to show off their craft.”
Beer fans show up initially to support their favorite breweries, but quickly turn to exploration of other breweries and styles. By providing so many different beer styles to try from so many different breweries, Sasquatch’s broad range provides something for everyone.
Alongside the brewers are 100 volunteers who handle all the big and small tasks on the day of the event. They set up the festival, work front of house, haul ice to keep the beer cold, pour beer, tidy up after the festival closes and show up the next day to clean the venue and break down all remaining equipment. “Volunteers make the festival happen,” says Fuchs. “I am amazed each year at the sweat and work put in by people — sometimes I don’t even know their names — who just make it work.”
As Fuchs and the Sasquatch team come off another year, they are icing their backs and glad to be out of the heat for a while, but the pain has been worthwhile. “Beer culture is an exceptional place with a lot of heart,” Fuchs says. “Eugene is a wonderful place. And the best way to reveal the heart of the community is to ask for help. Eugene jumps right in every time.”
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.