When Sunriver Brewing Company opened its first pub in the summer of 2012, the community welcomed its arrival. A steady stream of hungry and beer-thirsty customers have been coming through the doors ever since. The popular resort town was ripe for a gathering place with good food, good beer and good service. Marc and Karol Cameron, Sunriver residents, recognized the opportunity and jumped in head first.
Ryan Duley, director of sales and marketing, said they see an average of 1,400 people at the pub in the summer months and 700 or so in the winter, with extreme fluctuations depending on ski traffic.
But the pub was just the start.
The original plan was to brew beer onsite, but space and other restrictions stood in the way, so, the business began with a contract brewing agreement. Ultimately, the Camerons weren’t happy with the product and opted to serve guest beer while they quickly shifted gears and prepared to open the Sunriver brewing facility. The family purchased a 13,000-square-foot storage building in a nearby business park and renovated it, releasing their first beer from the 15-barrel brewhouse Jan. 1, 2014.
Head brewer Brett Thomas said, “Our overall growth has been continually up. We were at 100-percent growth in 2014, 2015 and 2016. We’ve slowed down some recently.”
Still, in February 2016, they opened another pub in Bend on Galveston Avenue. Duly said, “We weren’t really looking for a second pub, but took the opportunity when it became available. We opened in less than 60 days.”
The Galveston location appeals to locals looking for the craft beer experience, while the Sunriver one draws tourists. Although both locations have different chefs, the food is similar, with smoked meats a perennial favorite.
“We’ve positioned ourselves for growth. We always knew we were going to do things outside of our pubs and planned on going to distribution.” Their sales footprint now extends past Oregon to the Vancouver, Wash. area and southern Idaho. Overall production increased from 926 barrels in 2014 to 7,100 barrels this year. That’s a more than 600 percent increase in three years.
Sunriver Brewing took another giant step forward this year at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver, winning two gold medals as well as Small Brewing Company and Small Brewing Company Brewer of the Year. Thomas was rightfully proud of his brewing team’s accomplishments. The Fuzztail Hefeweizen was awarded a gold in the category of American-Style Wheat Beer With Yeast. Although it had won a gold in the 2016 World Beer Cup, this was its first gold at GABF where there were close to 8,000 entries from all over the country. The second gold came later in the competition with Cinder Beast Imperial Red Ale in the Imperial Red Ale category.
Thomas, who is originally from Colorado, had been making beer at Silver Moon Brewing in Bend for four years before opening the Sunriver location. “Fuzztail was an original recipe of mine that stemmed from Silver Moon. It went through a maturation process,” said Thomas. It was introduced at the Sunriver pub as a summer seasonal in 2014, but they decided to keep it on year round. “We were toying around with lagers and decided to have one light beer on tap,” said Duley.
Thomas explained the growing pains, “In late 2015 we tore it apart and put it back together based on feedback from our brewers and others along with a detailed water profile.” It hit the taps after additional tweaks in 2015 and is one of Sunriver Brewing’s three standards that became available in cans in 2016.
Thomas joined Sunriver Brewing the summer before the brewery opened and designed the layout of the facility and specced out the original equipment built by Portland Kettle Works. “For the first couple months, I was the only brewer. That didn’t last long,” he said. Today there are seven aside from Thomas. They brew four days a week with three or four brews a day. “We do a fair amount of experimentation. My strong suit is recipe formulation,” Thomas said.
The brewhouse was updated last July with a “Cadillac” JV Northwest system, and the brewery was only out of commission for 14 days to minimize the impact on production. One of the biggest issues for Thomas and his team is working with the region’s water, which has a higher pH than other areas. “It’s more alkaline with a great deal of variability,” said Thomas. “Our water quality changes often. Since we’re serviced from three different wells, it varies depending on how many people there are in Sunriver. It’s one of our trickiest ingredients.”
Plans for the future are anything but stagnant. “We have room for four more tanks in this building,” said Duley. “We plan to grow deeper in Oregon, Idaho and Washington. We’re becoming more strategic in our growth and looking at how best to manage it.” He noted there may be more pubs in the future.
Sunriver Brewing is equal parts beer, food and experience. The company had a clear vision of what they wanted to offer patrons. “They saw what worked and what didn’t,” said Duley. •