By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
In 2016, there was pizza. In 2013, there was a deli. But before all of that in 2012, there was just a brewpub called Falling Sky located in a downtown alley in Eugene. Throughout five years of change, there has been a constant:
“We want to be the most Eugene brewery in Eugene, the most representative of Eugene’s culture,” says co-founder Jason Carriere.
Instead of zigging before they zagged by focusing on territory, tap handles and shelf space, Falling Sky worked to grow a devoted local following. The business came together thanks to Carriere, owner of a homebrew store now named Falling Sky Fermentation Supply Shop, and Rob Cohen, who brought his experience with the restaurant industry. Ultimately, the two wanted a family-friendly neighborhood place.
But they did not expect what would happen next. The Falling Sky path has been different from other breweries, in part, because of the food. After barely a year in operation, Falling Sky had an opportunity to open a second location near other Whiteaker-area breweries. Expanding that quickly would be challenging, but the site was too good to pass up. It also gave them a chance to develop their food operation — the brewpub kitchen was cramped and constricted Cohen’s vision for the menu. The Falling Sky Delicatessen, which opened in 2013, elevated their fare: house charcuterie (the pastrami alone is worth a trip), pickles and fresh-baked breads.
In 2015, Falling Sky changed again. In addition to the popularity of the two locations, plus a few taps in the Portland area, the owners were in discussions with the University of Oregon about opening a space in what would be a newly renovated student union. Before that third location, a pizzeria, opened in 2016, Falling Sky expanded the brewery to meet demand.
“Both the deli and the pizzeria were surprises,” says Carriere. “The response we got from the community was great, and both of those were just opportunities that came along — maybe a little bit before we were ready for them — but we decided we had to take them anyway.”
After five years of massive — and sometimes not-entirely-expected — change, the Falling Sky team is looking forward to getting back to the basics of the day-to-day. The brewpub started with 25 employees and today has 75 across all three locations. With no more expansions or construction projects on the horizon, Carriere says he and everyone else is ready to focus on “investing time and energy into being one of the premier breweries in Oregon.”
Part of that is now dialing in the brewery expansion. “Because of the constraints of the building we’re in, as we planned we realized that if we wanted to put in additional tanks in the future, it’d be this huge ordeal,” explains Carriere. “We’d have to shut down the brewery and restaurant, because it’s challenging to get big equipment into the brewery.”
Falling Sky kept its current system but installed electrical and plumbing upgrades, along with other big equipment, such as a cold liquor tank, another whirlpool tank, four lagering tanks and two open fermenters. “Now we can do three turns in a day,” says Carriere, “where previously just trying to do two would have been a 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. ordeal.”
In 2012, Falling Sky produced 800 barrels and made an all-time brewery high of 1,111 barrels in 2016. Carriere estimates that the brewery could be on track to produce 2,000 barrels in 2017.
Not that they’re done adding new gear. An Energy Trust grant will help upgrade the brewery’s boiler. Automated grain handling is on the horizon along with installing a bigger pump for the brew system and adding an external grain silo. “We always hunted around for used brewing equipment that is interesting and cool, such as the Austrian-manufactured open fermenters,” says Carriere. “It’s part of our international theme to cobble together a little brewery museum back here.”
The upgraded brewery has also given Falling Sky the freedom to compete for more beer awards and take on new opportunities. As part of the grand opening for a new Whole Foods in downtown Eugene, the store approached Falling Sky about doing a beer. The final product, Retrograde Red, was available in 22-ounce bottles — a first for Falling Sky. “It was a good opportunity to test the waters more in a low-risk situation,” says Carriere. “It’s one of those things that we’d been meaning to look into, but didn’t have a reason — and then a reason came along.”
Now Falling Sky is pursuing limited bottle and can releases as part of a “presence of mind campaign,” instead of trying to compete for broader distribution and shelf space. “This gets our name out there so that when people see a different beer in a bar, maybe they’ve had our beer in a bottle, so maybe they try that other Falling Sky beer,” says Carriere. “We want to communicate to the state of Oregon that we are makers of quality beer, and that if you get one of our beers, any of our beers, it will be clean, drinkable and well-made.”
It’s about more than brewing beer and cooking food, though — it’s also about creating a strong culture. “What we’re building here is bigger than any one of us,” says Carriere. “People have worked for us, then left for other opportunities, and then came back. That speaks volumes about our family in the Falling Sky team.”
As local beer culture changes and the industry continues to grow, one thing surprises, humbles and motivates Carriere. “I’m amazed by the number of people locally who still, five years on, haven’t heard of Falling Sky. There’s still room for growth even in our own community, and that’s cool.”
Falling Sky Five Year Anniversary, March 1–31
Daily growler fill specials, brewery tours and tastings, special anniversary gear and apparel, brewer’s dinner, special-release and cellar beers, and more.
Falling Sky Brewing House
1334 Oak Alley, Eugene
Falling Sky Delicatessen
790 Blair Blvd., Eugene
Falling Sky Pizzeria
University of Oregon Erb Memorial Union
1395 University St., Room #46, Eugene
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.