New Kegs on the Block

An exclusive interview with Nick Arzner of Corvallis, Oregon’s Block 15 Brewing.

This Saturday, February 28th Block 15 Brewing out of Corvallis, OR will be hosting a one year anniversary party.

This young, ambitious brewery has been busy crafting many different beer styles since opening its doors-38 to be exact! Everything from Belgians, to fruit beers, to even a beer they call a “free-style” ale (Aboriginale) are just a few of their creations. In the small college town of Corvallis, OR (about 1.5 hours south of Portland), Block 15 has craved a niche for themselves. Close to farms, and therefore fresh produce, allows this brewery to keep a lot of the ingredients it uses local. On a recent trip to Corvallis, Brewpublic caught up with Nick Arzner to find out what Block 15’s first year of operation has entailed, and what the brewery has in store for its anniversary party.

To start things off, could you tell me what it is you do at Block 15?

Nick Arzen
Nick Arzen

Nick Arzner: I am the co-owner, one of the brewers, and head Janitor!

How many people work in the brewery?

NA: We have three people, myself, Steve van Rossem (brewer), and Tucker Selko (cellar man)

Who is your Head Brewer/other brewers?

Steve Van Rossem

NA: Steve and myself could be considered the head brewers but I like to run the brewery more as one cohesive team, the Block 15 Team. We put all of our heads together, working on projects and better brews.

How did you decide on your current space?

NA: We had been looking for a space in Corvallis with no luck. I had my eye on our building because it had been a string of failing pizza joints and the inside looked like a classic brewpub. Just when we thought we should start looking in other areas, the building became available and we jumped on it.

Who creates Block 15’s beer recipes and what inspiration(s) are involved in their inceptions?

NA: Both Steve and I do. Normally, I decide what style that would complement our line up, or something new we want to tackle. Then I research (a lot) that particular style, write a recipe and go through it with Steve. Steve will tweak the recipe and then we brew it. There are exceptions, sometimes I write a recipe and brew it, and sometimes Steve brews whatever he wants!

During your first year of brewing, what were your greatest obstacles to overcome?

NA: Keeping up! We have been busy since we opened. That put a lot of pressure on the brewery to keep up with making great beer. I naively thought that we would hit our stride around batch #20. In reality it was probably around batch #80 that we fully understood our system, and the beer quality and consistency has been exponentially better since.

Other than opening, what was your greatest accomplishment/highlights of your first year?

NA: Two things;
1) In the brewery we brewed 38 different styles in the first year! By rotating through different styles we keep our customers happy, and bring some education about the large scope of beer to the community.
2) Becoming a community establishment. We have been fortunate to receive the support of our town, and that in our minds is a huge accomplishment.

What do you have in store for your one year anniversary party?

NA: We are having free live music all day from some favorite acts, 3-5 Chuck Holst & Gary Rowles, 6-9 Ty Curtis & Hank Shreve, 10pm The Bon Ton Roulet. Releasing our Anniversary 2009 brew. Putting together a fresh Dungeness Crab Dinner, and giving free anniversary cake to all!

A special Anniversary beer has been brewed for the event. What can you tell me about it?

NA: I wanted to brew something special from our anniversary, something that combined some of the styles and techniques we are know for. What I came up with is a marriage between two styles, a Northwest hoppy Pale Ale, and a Belgian Strong Pale Ale. The base malt is Belgian Pilsner, with the specialty malts we use in our Print Masters Pale. For hops we use a good amount classic NW alpha hops, including a dry hop after conditioning. Instead of traditional Belgian Candi Sugar we brewed with locally gathered coriander honey, and for yeast we use a Belgian Bastonge strain. The resulting brew is 9%alc/.vol and 39 IBU’s. The aroma is intense with both the citrus Cascades, and classic Belgian clove and light banana coming through. A full flavored hop, honey, and Belgian experience with a balanced bitter finish. I like to describe it as a 70’s disco party in your mouth. We will serve this brew in our special logo Belgian glassware.

How do you feel the proposed beer tax would effect your brewery?

NA: I have done that math and we would have to raise our prices $.30/pint to cover that tax. The bills sponsors claim $.15/12 oz serving, but they naively forget that there is a good amount of product loss from production to actual $ brought in by sales. So the gamble is, if I raise my prices will the customer still buy my craft beer at the same frequency? In this economy, it is a gamble I don’t want to take. Also, I should point out that the brewpub structure is built best for absorbing the cost. If a brewery distributes, the margin increase between brewery/distributor/retailer could be dramatic, which is why some people think a six pack could increase $2. The reality is that a 1900% increase on ANY industry is inappropriate.
Block 15 has started coming out with a variety of Belgian style ales. How did you get inspired to start brewing Belgian ales?

NA: I became a big Belgian fan about 7 years ago. I love that the yeast plays such a strong role in flavor, feel and aroma of the brew. These are flavors that you cant produce any other way. I also admire the Belgian philosophy that you can put many different ingredients into your brew, much different than the German style of brewing (which we do also). When we opened Block 15 the idea was to have a Belgian inspired brew on tap at all times. I wasn’t really sure of the response they would get here in Corvallis since the Belgian style is not well know, and the flavor profiles are so different than most NW styles. I was quite surprised how fast we went through our first batch (Fat Monk, Dubbel)! I now realize that this style of brewing has a distinct small following, and is a style that about 40-50% of people who try it, enjoy a full glass, which is much higher than I thought originally. Since we opened we have brewed the Fat Monk (Dubbel), Trubbled Monk (strong), Trippel Crown (Trippel), Belgian Brown, Dominus (specialty), and our Anniversary. We will be at the Cheers to Belgian Beers festival in May with a Belgian style, and I’m excited to tackle a Golden for the summer.

Block 15 and Corvallis Brewing Supplies is pairing up for a Belgian Ale tasting. What details can you provide about the event?

NA: Joel from Corvallis Brewing Supply has put together 12 special Belgian beers for a tasting. These are very special, hard to find brews. He also puts a notebook together with info on each brewery, beer, tasting notes, and room for each persons notes. Through the tasting, we served Belgian food to accompany the brews, not full meals that fill you up, but hearty snacks to keep you going. We will have steamed muscles, pomme fritees, soup, fruits, chesse, and chocolate.
We have limited the group to 20 people so that we can converse with each other.The tasting is Sunday March 8th 1pm. You can call Corvallis Brewing Supply for tickets 541-758-1674

Block 15 also appears to makes a variety of fruit beers. Where do you get the fruit for the beers you brew and what got you into make this style of beer?

NA: We have 14 taps, and one always is a rotating fruit. Fruit ales have a good following, and they are one style that rounds out our list. We receive most of our fruit from Stahlbush Island Farms, which is about 3 miles away. They are a sustainable company that grows amazing fruit. In season, I time the brews to hit within a couple days of harvest. We did an “Oregon Strawberry Ale” last spring that was an amazing taste of Oregon, and a brew that can only be accomplished with very flavorful strawberries found in Oregon. When we are not able to get fruit from them we buy from Oregon Fruit Products.

Would you say that there is a style of beer that Block 15 is known for making?

NA: We are known for brewing all sorts of styles, like I mentioned earlier, we have brewed 38 styles in year one. We do tend to favor the hoppy side of things, and this time of year, the bigger brews. But our formula includes always having on what I would consider NW brewpub staples in combination with other styles, Golden, Pale, Red, IPA, Naked Oat Stout and Aboriginale, rotating fruit, rotating wheat, rotating Belgian, and then 4 taps to play with for seasonal etc, and a gravity flow cask.

What is Block 15’s flagship beer?

NA: “Aboriginale”, free-style ale. Before we were open, I wanted to create a one time brew that was unique and didn’t fall under any style. Our grain room was full, and we had our full hop inventory. Instead of drafting a recipe ahead of time, Steve and I created it the morning of our brew day. The result was a hoppy chestnut ale with a very unique malt,hop, and flavor profile. Some people describe is as an old ale, or ESB on steroids, or and IPA with a different malt character, I describe it as a damn good brew. When the original batch was dried up I had an out roar from our customers, so Aboriginale is now a permanent tap.

Does Corvallis and the surrounding area have a specific vibe or attitude to its beer community? What’s it like?

NA: I would describe the beer scene in Corvallis as pretty strong. We have a homebrew club, fermentation science program at OSU, two good bottle shops, taverns with good taps, two McMenamins, Oregon Trail Brewing, and Block 15. A very strong, positive vibe.

Any final comments?

NA: Thanks for dropping by the other day and putting together you site. The more craft beer info around the better!!