By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Longtime friends AJ Tuter, Matt Hill and Bryan Ireland had been homebrewing together in Roseburg for years, and members of their informal beer club kept telling them they should go pro. When they decided to make the leap, their search for a brewery name turned out to be down the street. Tuter’s home — and site of their garage homebrewery — was near Main Street, or “Old 99,” a north-south highway that runs the length of the West Coast. After getting licensed in 2013, Old 99 Brewing Co. has been at the vanguard of Roseburg’s growing craft beer scene, and a receptive public leaves Yelp reviews such as “hidden gem” and “small, friendly and has a whole bunch of passion and character.”
“We’re not on Old 99, but it’s perpendicular to it,” explains Tuter. “We thought Old 99 would be a good way to associate the Northwest for us. It’s been fun, it’s been a good brand to build. People like our shirts, our logo, that story.”
Today Old 99 is keeping a focus on slow growth, good beer and fun times. All three owners share brewery duties while holding other full-time positions: Tuter as a firefighter and paramedic who works in Eugene but lives in Roseburg; Hill as a network engineer in Roseburg; and Ireland, who works in Portland as a replenishment specialist and commutes to Roseburg.
Tuter describes Old 99 as being about “community, gathering, connections and above all, dedication to craft beer.” That focus is paying off. Starting with a 1-barrel system, Old 99 quickly moved to a 3.5-barrel system, on which they would double-batch into 7-barrel fermenters. “We did that for a while. It was hard duty,” says Tuter. “Every time you brewed you had to double-batch, and it made for a long brew day.” Since late 2014, Old 99 has brewed on a 7-barrel system from Portland Kettle Works. Along with a 15-barrel tank, the brewers have made other improvements to streamline the brewing process. While still double-batching, now Old 99 has been doubling capacity during the last seven months and is on pace to increase annual production from 300 barrels a year to, for 2016, an estimated 600-700 barrels.
While the partners share tasks, they also specialize in particular areas while also making sure everyone is communicating about what’s happening in different parts of the business. “It’s all collaborative,” says Tuter. “We all have different jobs, and everybody comes together and gets it done.”
Along with the partners, their wives help with different parts of the business. Old 99 also has four other employees, two in the tasting room and two doing cellar work in the 6,800-square-foot space. Currently Old 99 is sticking to its limited hours, but the partners are looking at expanding hours and adding staff in the future.
Sunday is typically a brew day, with additional brew days during the week as needed. By Thursday, all hands are on deck to prep for Friday and Saturday. Old 99 also recently started opening to the public on Thursdays. “It’s a challenge to balance working in the brewery, getting those tasks done and then doing the tasting room thing,” says Tuter. “But we like being in the brewery, with the equipment, where people can ask questions. The person who served the beer is more than likely the person who made it. That’s what I like about how we did it.”
The beers pouring today are similar to the beers that first poured when Old 99 opened three years ago. For The Win IPA, usually just referred to as FTW, came out of a 10-beer experiment to become their most popular beer. Another flagship, Billy Bad Ass Double IPA, has such a local following that “people refer to that beer almost like a person that they know,” says Tuter, prompting the partners to work up a graphic of what Billy might look like.
Infrared Northwest Red Ale can also be found on a few other taps in Douglas County. Old 99’s Pale Ale has undergone some changes over the years though. The inaugural Yard Sale Pale Ale has since been replaced by Tioga Pale Ale. Named after a section of the North Umpqua Trail, Tioga uses piney hops to make it “feel like a walk in the woods.” Keeping it simple on the dark side of things, year-round Fogline Stout got its start in the homebrew kettle and today remains a four-ingredient stout. “It’s just a Northwest stout, super smooth, a fan favorite.”
Lastly, Infidel Cascadian Dark Ale/Black IPA is a “beer geek beer,” says Tuter, but one that also won Best of Show at a brew fest in Klamath Falls last year. “A lot of people think they don’t like dark beer, but when they try this they’re impressed. They almost think they’re drinking a Guinness-type beer, but the hops are in your face with tropical and citrus notes, and it’s unexpected to have those coming out of a dark beer.”
Earlier this year Old 99 began limited distribution through Bigfoot Beverage, but Old 99’s focus remains “making sure Douglas County is taken care of first.” Tuter expects distribution to continue gradually expanding. In advance of that, Old 99 is starting to appear at more Oregon beer events, such as Lane County brew festivals and the Bend Brewfest in August. Old 99 also has added a crowler machine for filling and sealing 32-oz cans in the tasting room, similar to filling growlers. In August the brewery will celebrate its anniversary.
“We plan on growing, but we want to grow healthy,” says Tuter. “We’re going to do well with what we have, and not have to sacrifice beer quality. It’s beer first, grow later.”
Old 99 Brewing Co.
(a) 3750 Hooker Road, Suite A, Roseburg
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.