Brewmaster’s Corner–Episode #12: Catching Up With Oakshire Brewing
By Matt Van Wyk, Brewmaster of Oakshire Brewing
Ah, the year in review. It’s always fun to look back at what we’ve accomplished since we are always so focused on what lies ahead. And, boy, do we have a lot lying ahead of us here at Oakshire, but more on that in a bit. For now, let’s see what we’ve done on this last trip around the sun.
Just like everyone in the craft beer industry, we continue to grow and manage all the changes that come with it. For perspective, we made roughly 6,500 barrels of beer in 2012 and have typically been on a 40-60% per year growth pattern. This year is no exception as we are aiming to close out the year around 9,100 barrels. As we started the year, we knew that our ever-increasing tasting room business was going to need to be dealt with. If you’ve visited our brewery, you know the old tasting room was right in the forklift lane. That’s not good for inviting more thirsty folks to our brewery. Because of that, we really only did public sales on Friday afternoon and Saturday. In an effort to be open every day and to make more beer at our facility, we moved our tasting room to 207 Madison St in the Whiteaker neighborhood. The Oakshire Public House, as we call it, is just a stones throw from Ninkasi, Hop Valley’s new brewery and Falling Sky’s new Deli pub. It allows us to serve the public with 12 drafts, plus nitro and cask beer every day of the week from 11AM to 10PM. Rotating mobile food carts provide sustenance. We also moved our administrative office there, as well as warehousing and keg washing. We do all sales (pints, growler, merchandise, and dock sales) at the Public House. Tours of the brewery still happen, but on the first Saturday of each month and by appointment only at www.oakbrew.com.
Planning for the April opening of the Public House really occupied most of the first quarter of 2013. The other highlight was releasing Hellshire III in February. We had a long delay after the “Flawsome” situation with Hellshire II, but soon decided that we would always release our Hellshire series beers (spirits barrel aged) in conjunction with Zwickelmania, which is Presidents Day weekend in February. Luckily for us, I think we got back on track. This beer is my favorite of the fledgling series, and the national beer judges agreed. We removed 5 gallons of the beer in November of 2012 for the 2012 Festival of Wood and Barrel Aged Beer in Chicago where it took a Gold Medal. Then, we blended it and released it in February of 2013. It also won a gold medal at the 2013 North American Brewing Awards. We were thrilled and satisfied until we entered it in the 2013 Great American Beer Festival in Denver and it nailed the trifecta! We won Gold in the Barrel Aged Beer Category, and while we know awards don’t always equate to increased sales, my brew team was thrilled since we were on a three-year cold streak at GABF. Also, I was able to later talk to 3 different judges on the panels for these three national competitions and they said hands down it was the best beer on the table. We are truly flattered and are happy to get the Hellshire program back on it’s feet. We are currently getting ready to blend Hellshire IV and bottle it up for the February 2014 release. Stay tuned for that, but also note that we are having a huge barrel aged beer festival on the same day and you won’t want to miss it.
A new package was the final thing on our plate during the first quarter of 2013. We began by dipping our toe in the water by packaging Watershed IPA in 12-ounce cans on a Wild Goose Canning line. Once we were up and running and selling cans, we were amazed by the response. Our sales folks predicted about a semi load of cans for the whole year (I don’t know how many that is, but let’s just say it’s a lot.), and within 3 or four months we were ordering again. I think we’ve taken about 3 semi loads in the 10 months we’ve been canning and it also led to adding two brands to the mix. Now you can find all of our year round beers in 12 ounce cans, Overcast Espresso Stout and Oakshire Original Amber. Look for seasonals to perhaps be included in that in the near future.
Throughout the summer, we fell into the festival groove and continued to introduce folks to the new Public House. A couple of highlights from the summer included sponsoring our local minor league baseball team, the Eugene Emeralds and drinking Oakshire and Ninkasi beer at the old ballpark. Oakshire also appeared in the annual Oregon Brewers Fest. After making “25” in 2012, a beer with 25 ingredients mostly sourced from Oregon, I vowed to NOT try and tackle 26. Well, sure enough, we released “26” and people seemed to dig it. Let’s hope I wise up for next July. Another highlight from the summer was making our Portland Fruit Beer Fest entry Gose the Elder. It was our first try at a Gose, and admittedly it needed more tartness, we were pleased with the salinity. However, as you might guess, a certain Santa Rosa brewery did not care for the name. A very pleasant call later and we won’t be making a beer by that name again!
As summer turned to fall, we turned our eyes to Wet Hopped beers (yes that’s right Hop Fuhrer, Wet hops. they are wet. dripping wet.) and getting pumpkin beers out before fickle fans pooh-pooh the delightful fall seasonal beers. Two Wet hopped beers and three pumpkin beers were plenty for one season. In September, we transitioned the usual Eugene Fresh Hop (what’s that?) Tasteval to a big Saturday fest at our Public House that featured single batch beers, one-offs and rarities. There were still lots of Wet Hop beers, but also Oktoberfests, Pumpkin Beers, and some barrel aged beers thrown in. It was a huge success and we’ll do it again in 2014. Continuing through the fall, we had the great trip to GABF as previously mentioned, a trip to the 2013 Barrel aged fest in Chicago (FOBAB), and a little side trip with the Breakside boys to Kentucky for some barrel sourcing. I think that road trip may have turned into a collaboration beer targeted for May of 2014. We finished out the year with a release of our 7th Anniversary beer “7”, a barrel aged Baltic Porter with tart cherries, and the ever popular Holiday Ale Festival and our Swiss Mrs. Alpine Alt.
Finally, looking ahead to next year, we have some exciting news. We miraculously found space for three 160 barrel tanks (note: we make 20 barrel batches on a 15 barrel system!) and the installation of those in April will allow us to aim for 15, 000 barrels or more. Yes, that is the Brewers Association’s definition of a regional craft brewery, and a scary thought indeed. We’re building a lab and have already hired someone to run our QA/QC program, and that is Brian Coombs. Look for the great quality beer from Oakshire only to get better as we focus on consistency through a new sensory program and lab work.
We’re also sending a ‘man on the ground” to live and work in Seattle, so if you are reading this in the great state of Washington, I bet you see more of great Oakshire beer there. We also just started distributing the entire state of Idaho, so look for a larger presence there in 2014. But back at home is truly where we want to focus. Installing new taps at the Public House is a goal to keep the variety going. We’re demolishing two offices to create more barrel space, so hopefully more barrel aged beers can flow. I’m working on a beer/wine hybrid that I hope to release this year. We may even be able to release it at a beer/winemaker’s dinner along with Anne Amie Vineyards at Wildwood in Portland if I have my way. So, please come visit us and try all the great beers that don’t always find their way to your town. We’d love to show you around and tip a pint. We’re racing around about a thousand miles per hour here, but with your help, we’d like to be reminded to sit down and smell the beers once in a while. Thanks for a great 2013, Brewpublic. Here’s to a prosperous 2014!