“We’re trying to bridge the wine/beer divide and bring them together,” says Stephen Sheehan, owner of Eugene’s popular Delacata food cart and of the forthcoming Elk Horn Brewing Company, expected to open in early 2014. With a focus on barrel-aged beers, the 7-barrel system behind one of Duck Town’s newest breweries has a surprising past: it comes to Eugene from Flat Tail Brewing in Corvallis.
You know, where those Beavers come from.
Just as Ducks and Beavers revel in the competition between their respective teams, brewers work in a fiercely competitive industry. Yet beneath that spirit of competition, an intense focus on collaboration may just run even deeper.
Elk Horn’s inaugural system comes to them with hundreds of barrel mileage on it already. The system was first used by Rogue Brewery, says Sheehan, then went to Calapooia Brewing Company and Flat Tail. Its new home will be Elk Horn’s brewery and restaurant at 686 E. Broadway, a former Carls Jr. near the University of Oregon campus.
The system isn’t the only thing that’s done some roving between Corvallis and Eugene. Brewer Matt Silva comes to Elk Horn after intensive training at various breweries, including Flat Tail. “We sent him to work at different breweries to gain experience on bigger systems,” says Sheehan. As a happy accident, Silva’s time at Flat Tail also helped Elk Horn source its long-sought brewing system. “We couldn’t find used gear on the market,” Sheehan explains. “While Matt was working at Flat Tail, it turned out that they were selling the system.” After Silva’s three-month training stint at Flat Tail, the brewers in Beaver Town were sending their old system off to Duck Town, along with a trained-up Silva.
A devotee of wild ales and of brewing beyond traditional styles, Silva “arrived armed with his personal library of wild strains of Brettanomyces, Saccharomyces and Lactobacillus,” Sheehan says, adding that Silva’s wife—a scientist who works for UO—has been helping them propagate yeast strains.
Elk Horn’s vision brings together not just Ducks and Beavers, but also beer and wine. The end result, Sheehan and Silva expect, will be beers that explore new territory, with characteristics that appeal to wine drinkers and beer drinkers alike. Elk Horn’s flagship production beers are being designed to fit the local and campus markets, with two to three IPAs on tap, plus a stout and a “cheap beer,” details of which are currently being kept under wraps.
But the the barrel beers are where Elk Horn really expects to find its niche in Eugene’s ever-more-crowded craft beer market.
Co-owned by one of the owners of Sweet Cheeks Winery, Elk Horn will be aging its signature barrel beers in pinor noir and other barrels from Sweet Cheeks and King Estate. In addition to the Eugene brewery, Elk Horn beers will pour at both wineries, offering familiar flavors and new experiences for wine and beer fans alike. “We cross over by having some vineyard owners,” says Sheehan, “and it opens up new opportunities. That’s why we brought in vineyard owners, to help us cross into the wine market with our barrel-aged program.”
Sheehan also expects Elk Horn to find its feet by offering far more than just beer. “Our brewer will make beer, wine, cider and mead,” he says. Elk Horn plans to make wine at Sweet Cheeks, with beer, cider and mead created and aged at Elk Horn. Barrel-aged beer production is expected to begin with 100 wine barrels for aging, and 800 barrels a year for total inaugural production of wild ales, single-barrel beers, sour ales, blended beers, krieks, and flagship beers. “Eighteen months of aging will be typical” for barrel-aged beers, says Sheehan, but some beers may be aged three to five years before being judged ready for release.
And as for the Delacata food cart that helped springboard Sheehan and his team into tackling their own brewery? Delacata will continue serving its Southern-style fare in downtown Eugene, but Sheehan says he plans to be in the cart himself far less. “Someone else will run the cart,” he says. “We’ll do fewer festivals, and I will work in the front of house at the restaurant and brewery.”
The restaurant will have a New Orleans theme, Sheehan explains, as he and his team hustle with construction, installation and remodeling. “We’re trying to open by Mardi Gras,” he says, one eye on February 2014, the other on a bright future brought about by bridging Ducks, Beavers, beer and wine.
The Ducks in the Beer
Duck spirit in Eugene’s craft beer industry runs deep in many other ways too.
At both Ninkasi Brewing and Falling Sky Brewing, many of the owners and personnel are Duck alumni, explains Ninkasi founder Jamie Floyd and Falling Sky founder Jason Carriere. “I would say we shout it from the rooftop,” says Carriere, “but we are definitely a bunch of Ducks!”
Oakshire Brewing bridges the Ducks/Beavers rivalry with their second annual Civil War beer, brewed in collaboration with Flat Tail Brewing of Corvallis. Matt Van Wyk, Oakshire Brewmaster, describes Bitter Rye-Valry as a Dark Rye Ale, a combination of rye malt, caramel malt and “special dark malts” to give a rich roasted color, but with minimal astringency. “It’s crisp and light for a long tailgater,” says Van Wyk, “yet also hearty, dark, and warming.”
“I usually brew at least one Duck-related beer a year,” says Hanns Anderson, brewer at McMenamins High Street. Released in mid-October, Turf Burner is a Northwest Amber, hopped for big hop flavor but balanced bitterness with Chinook hops for bittering and aroma, and Sterling hops for flavor and aroma. “I’m trying to keep it available throughout football season,” adds Anderson, noting that depending how the bowl games shape up, there could always be another batch at the ready.