All nanobreweries have their challenges cut out for them, but none so unusually as Claim 52 Brewing had until now. The brewery has undergone many changes over the past six months, beginning with the exit of founder Trevor Ross, then signing a distribution contract with Bigfoot Beverages, and finishing out the year with the installation of a new 10-barrel brew house from Practical Fusion. Nonetheless, it’s looking up and up for the small Eugene-based brewery that celebrated its 4th anniversary this past weekend.
Claim 52’s original brewery was actually three one-barrel, two-tiered systems made by Synergy Metalworking in Eugene. Working with a couple of 7-barrel fermentors and brite tanks, and an array of keg fermentors, barrels, and even an open-topped wine tank, Ross, along with Joe Buppert, now a brewer at Cellarmaker Brewing in San Francisco, honed a popular Kölsch recipe, experimented with Belgian yeasts, and cultivated relationships with restaurants and beer bars throughout Eugene.
The search for a larger system was already underway when Ross extricated himself from the company. The reasons for this constitute both sides of a coin, though the two sides converge on a difference of vision. Ross (a friend of mine) is an artisan, a creative food-hound as much as he is a brewer. His vision for Claim 52 wound up not matching that of its majority owner, Mercy McDonald; that seems to me to be the fault of neither party. On one hand was the Belgian-esque romantic with a wonderful sense for recipes, collaboration, and food pairing; on the other, a business set to grow. Ross’s exit came as Claim 52 was signing with Bigoot Beverages; he is still pursuing creative beer endeavors.
Now, with Bryce Fisher and assistant brewer Jonathan Fryer at the helm, Claim 52 is veering into a more popular realm of experimentation. With beers named Fluffy, Michael JorDank, Patrick SwHazy, and a forthcoming collaboration with Portland’s Great Notion Brewing (known for New England-style IPAs) called Super Humongous, the latest greatest trend of hazy, super hop juice IPA is Claim’s new wheelhouse.
Super Humongous is a Triple IPA at 11.5% ABV that was tapped this last weekend and available in crowlers at both Great Notion Brewing in Portland and Claim 52 in Eugene. The Bier Stein in Eugene will also feature a special tapping of Super Humoungous on Friday, Dec. 23rd.
Fisher joined the brewery September of 2015 when he moved to Eugene from a bottom-up job at Joseph James Brewing Company in Henderson, Nevada, outside of Las Vegas. He started in sales for Claim 52, and moved into cellaring and assistant brewing before Ross’s departure.
The new brewhouse makes way for a new era in Claim 52’s releases. With an updated contract with Yakima Chief – Hopunion (a rare opportunity), Fisher can turn out the three current flagship beers–Kölsch, Admiral Red, and West Side (formerly Insta) IPA–as well as a rotating cast of turbid, hoppy numbers. All is not lost for those who enjoy the flavor of malt, however. Fisher and Fryer smoked 110 lbs. of malt over Oregon white oak as a portion of the grist for their contribution to Eugene’s latest Beers Made By Walking event, a smoked imperial stout. Just days off the fermentor, the beer was clean and layered with coffee, cocoa, and smoke character. A porter was also blooping away at the time of this writing.
Fisher acknowledges the modern beer geek with his current brewing obsession. (Author’s note: this new beer geek often refuses to drink the same beer twice, despite having agonized over its release date for weeks. It’s an extreme version of the type and should not determine the subjective quality of the beer involved.) The brewery will be packaging its beer in 16 oz. cans in the next few months. The first will be Kölsch and will follow with a rotation of IPAs featuring the latest hot hops like Calypso, El Dorado, Hallertau Blanc, Mosaic, and Hüll Melon. He cites Cellarmaker, Fieldwork, Great Notion, Tired Hands, and Trillium as sources of inspiration, not just for the IPAs but also for their pioneering work within a variety of beer styles.
The new trend, as far as we can see, is defined in part by its OJ-like opacity, and in part by its injudicious use of late-addition, whirlpool, and dry hopping (which may occur both during and after fermentation) along with less flocculant yeast strains and protein-rich grains like wheat and oats. Many label the result, in a successful example, “juicy.” There are detractors and acolytes alike for this type of beer, and debates rage about its production methods and stylistic integrity. Claim 52’s approach is relatively simple, though it sometimes results in a somewhat clear beer. They do not use finings (obviously), or flour as some have done, but use a particular strain of yeast and resist cold-crashing the beer in the brite tank before kegging, thus retaining the maximum amount of aromatic hop material and the desired amount of yeast cells suspended in solution for our appreciation.
With Claim 52’s expansion and distribution opportunities, they will grow to meet demand while improving quality and consistency. They have installed a modest laboratory for analyzing yeast with help from Dana Garves at BrewLab, which gives Fisher a clear sense of relief. The extra tank space will triple the brewery’s production from about 50 barrels per month to roughly 150. Look for the beers on tap at craft-centric beer spots throughout the Willamette Valley, and eventually on the shelves at places that sell good beer.