In March the Brewers Association released its annual growth figures for the craft brewing industry for 2017, revealing that there were a total of 6,372 breweries operating in the U.S. Last year, 997 new breweries opened — and 165 closed. While that number seems small compared to the total, it represents the largest number of brewery closures in this craft era.
Bend’s North Rim Brewing became one such statistic at the beginning of this year. The business, incorporated in 2013, sold its first beer in May 2014 and since that time had gone through a number of ownership and personnel changes.
The brewery was founded by partners Bruce Stevens and Shane Neilsen, construction contractors with ambitious plans that included a 10-barrel brewhouse with three 30-barrel fermenters. By mid-2015, Neilsen, the brewer, left the company; at the time, Bend’s newspaper “The Bulletin” wrote, “Stevens said he knows now how complex beer and business are together, and why his business partner went back to painting and drywall.”
Several other brewers followed, but ultimately North Rim failed to gain much traction despite a big effort to capitalize on the 2017 solar eclipse. The brewery was still selling discounted beer up through the end of the year, but ultimately several financial missteps led to its closure in January.
However, the brewery’s demise has helped pave the way for two other Bend breweries to expand: Kobold Brewing and Bend Brewing Company.
Since purchasing Bend Brewing in 2016, owner Packy Deenihan has had his eye on expansion and was interested in the possibility of a production brewery in addition to the original brewpub in downtown Bend. Deenihan had been contracting with Silver Moon Brewing to supplement the output from the brewpub to keep up with demand for the company’s beer.
The former North Rim space provided the location Deenihan had been looking for; he purchased the three existing fermenters and is now leasing the location. He also bought Sunriver Brewing’s original 15-barrel brewhouse, and picked up a new 30-barrel hot liquor tank and two 30-barrel brite tanks.
“We hope to have the entire facility operational by May 1,” Deenihan said. Additionally, he revealed that the company had phased out of the agreement with Silver Moon and were no longer brewing there as of April 1.
As for North Rim’s original 10-barrel system, it was purchased by Steve Anderson of Kobold Brewing, who has plans to install it in Redmond. The current brewery, located in Bend, is a 2-barrel system that Anderson built in his garage.
Anderson opened The Vault Taphouse in downtown Redmond last summer, which became the primary outlet for Kobold’s beers. Located in a former gift shop not far from Wild Ride Brewing, The Vault has become a popular destination with 20 taps featuring a solid rotation of Kobold brews along with guest beers.
“Our goal with this expansion was to provide all of the establishments that used to carry our beer with beer and to add new accounts not only in central Oregon but in Portland and Eugene,” said Anderson. “And of course we will still supply The Vault Taphouse with six-to-10 handles of Kobold Brew.”
Anderson acquired the industrial space in Redmond for the new brewery from Smith Rock Brewing, a small-batch brewpub that produces approximately one barrel at a time. Its own plans to expand operations into that space never materialized, and Smith Rock continues to brew on site at its pub location.
“The industrial condo we acquired off of Northeast Hemlock Avenue is in excellent condition and has been built out as a nanobrewery,” Anderson said. “It has a three-compartment sink, hand sink, floor drains, pH balancing tank, solids interceptor and walk-in cooler. We will have to do additional work to build it out as a production facility. Meaning, we will have to do additional plumbing, add floor drains, gas piping and do electrical work.”
He plans to purchase three or four 20-barrel fermenters and at least one 20-barrel brite tank, with a stated goal of brewing 40 barrels per week when the brewery goes live.
Anderson plans to keep his 2-barrel system for small batches, though he has not yet decided if that will remain in Bend or move to Redmond. In the meantime, he plans to be brewing beer on the new system by July 1.
While North Rim’s closure is unfortunate, among the first of what will certainly be more around the country for 2018, the equipment and assets have been put to good use. •