Sisters-based Three Creeks Brewing Company recently crossed the 10-year mark, celebrating the July 21 anniversary with a party at its production facility. The company has enjoyed a successful decade, with the 30-barrel production brewery supplementing the original 10-barrel brewpub, which remains a popular destination in the small Central Oregon town.
In 2008 however, even with only six breweries in Central Oregon (contrast with 26 open today), that success was not ensured. Sisters was and still is heavily reliant on seasonal tourism. Owner Wade Underwood was nervous about that fluctuation and had doubts about the number of breweries already open.
“I thought we were late to the game,” he said in a 2014 interview. “That was one of my concerns before we opened. ‘Man there’s already a lot of them, I’m glad I’m not going into Bend. I don’t want to go into Redmond. We’ll be the only ones here.’ And boy was I proven wrong.”
In addition, the Great Recession hit in late 2007, and combined with the collapse of the housing market, it settled hard into the region by mid-2008. Three Creeks launched just in time. “My banker laughed at me after we’re open for six months,” said Underwood. “I’m talking to [him], I’m like, ‘So, if I came to you today, what would you say?’ ‘You would never get through the door with that business plan! We wouldn’t finance it, there’s no way we would finance it!’”
In the beginning there were three beers on tap designed by legendary Oregon brewer Dave Fleming: Knotty Blonde, Old Prospector Ale and 8 Second India Black Ale. Since Three Creeks didn’t yet have brewing equipment, Fleming relied on the system at Wildfire Brewing, which would later become 10 Barrel. Knotty Blonde is still in production as a year-round flagship. The other two beers returned this year as part of the 10th Anniversary Throwback Series.
Fleming brewed at Three Creeks for a year and a half, developing the core recipes. He was followed by David Lederfine as head brewer, who held the role for approximately six months. Veteran Central Oregon brewer Pat Shea ran operations for two years, and in 2012 Zach Beckwith stepped in, fresh off a stint at PINTS Brewing in Portland.
During Beckwith’s tenure, Three Creeks introduced several notable series of beers, including the Outlaw Taps at the pub and the Desperado line of specialty bottled ales. There have been several big wins in recent years at the Great American Beer Festival and World Beer Cup, particularly for FivePine Chocolate Porter, which earned a GABF gold in 2016 and WBC silver in 2018.
Three Creeks outgrew its original 10-barrel brewhouse and opened the 30-barrel production brewery in 2015. The facility includes a small tasting room open on summer weekends, and serves as an occasional event space. Recently, the brewery installed two new unitank fermenters, which are projected to increase production capacity by 40 percent.
Currently, Jeff Cornett serves as production manager and head brewer at the larger facility while Pat Shea runs the 10-barrel system at the brewpub.
Part of Three Creeks’ legacy is tied up with hop harvest — the brewery launched the Sisters Fresh Hop Festival in 2010, the first of its kind in Central Oregon. “Nobody was doing it at the time, a fresh hop festival. Nobody was running with it,” said Underwood in 2014. The brewery partners with the Sisters Chamber of Commerce to host the event each September, with proceeds benefiting the American Cancer Society.
What do the next 10 years look like for Three Creeks? More beer and more awards, to start. The company recently earned three medals at the Can Can Awards in Georgia for FivePine, Knotty Blonde and Hoodoo Voodoo IPA. And with the new fermenter capacity, beers will soon be distributed in California (presently they are available throughout the Pacific Northwest).
Beyond that, additional growth is likely. The production brewery property lot is large enough to easily handle expansion, and what that might look like is anyone’s guess, Three Creeks will continue to support the community and brew award-winning beer.
Underwood summed up the experience simply: “It’s as much fun as I’ve had working, ever.” •