Magic Owl Brewing, like its namesake animal, is a little difficult to find in the craft beer forest. The story is familiar. Four friends who had been homebrewing for years decided to turn their passion into a commercial endeavor. They applied for and received a license, secured a cold storage facility to store their brews for distribution, experimented with their favorite German recipes and found another brewery willing to co-brew.
Casey Flesch, the leader of the group, started making beer more than 20 years ago in high school in Salem. That’s a pretty creative way to circumvent the legal drinking age! Flesch started his career as a chef after attending culinary school in Portland and worked at Jake’s as well as McCormick & Schmick’s Seafood & Steaks in Denver before moving to Bend to become the executive chef at Broken Top Club. He grew tired of the erratic hours and pay, and obtained an accounting degree.
“A few years ago, I started to think about what I really wanted to do,” said Flesch. “I realized I wanted to brew full time.”
After expanding their home brewery and experimenting with mostly German recipes, Flesch and his partners started producing beer at Unicorn Brewing Company, adjacent to Portland U-Brew in Southeast Portland, on a 1 1/2-barrel system. The team began self-distributing and are regularly on tap at Coasters Brew Pub in Milwaukie. “We usually have our hefeweizen, stout and IPA available there,” said Flesch.
Until Magic Owl is settled in its own brick-and-mortar location somewhere in Oregon City, Flesch and friends are brewing with other businesses. The original partner didn’t work out, but they have established a relationship with Feckin Brewery, which makes Irish ales and is close to downtown Oregon City.
They brewed their first big batch of hefeweizen on Feckin’s 7-barrel system in October and picked up 15 kegs in November. “We’ve won several homebrew contests with our hef. We use a lot of clove and banana, and it pops,” said Flesch, who predicted it would be available for sale in January.
Feckin provided the grain, but the recipe was exclusively Magic Owl’s.
“We provided the hops and our own yeast. We culture it ourselves,” Flesch said. During the last five minutes of the boil, they added freshly ground coriander seed.
Why focus on German styles? Flesch’s family hails from the country and he recently traveled there to visit his ancestors’ hometown. Magic Owl’s next German batch will likely be a radler. The story behind this style goes back to the early 1900s. A large group of bikers came to a brewery in Bavaria and the owner decided to cut his beer to make it go further, so he added a lemon-lime soda to it.
Flesch said they made a batch of Radler on their homebrew system at Coasters last summer, then invited people to test it and offer suggestions or ask questions. “We add fresh lemon juice at the end with no sugar,” he said. “The basic recipe is a wheat pale. It went fast.”
The brewery’s name is certainly unique. When asked where it came from, Flesch said it began with an offhand remark he made to his partners, who are all into board games. Since he’s not, he casually mentioned something about “that old magic owl stuff.” And the name stuck. •