Ted Sobel has sold Brewers Union Local 180, to Plank Town Brewing assistant brewer John Crane. Sobel created a cult favorite brewery and destination with his all British style traditional cask brewery in Oakridge, Oregon. Lucky for us that Brewers Union and its dedication to real cask-conditioned ales served via hand pump will live on under Crane.
Crane has experience with cask beer as he and Plank Town brewer Steve Van Rossum have always made their own, but Crane also worked at Brewers Union for a time. You can look forward to future collaborations between the two breweries. Plank Town posted the following as a chapter in its “Merry Planksters” series, which provides great profiles of Plank Town employees.
“I fell in love with the place the moment I walked in,” Crane recalls. “At the time, I had a loose idea of a cask ale, and here was something totally different that I identified with in every aspect. It’s an old-world style that no one in this country seemed to know about. It was a complete discovery and realization.”
Crane’s first tenure at the Brewers Union began in 2011. In 2013, he heard from his friend, homebrew partner and Plank Town investor Curtis Phillips, that Sam Bonds Garage owner Bart Caridio was opening a brewery in Springfield that would be helmed by renowned brewer Van Rossem.
Phillips and Crane journeyed to Corvallis for a visit to Block 15 Brewing, where Van Rossem was making beer at the time, and the rest, as they like to say, is history.
Since then, the duo of Van Rossem and Crane has helped establish a brewery, created world-class recipes and brewed countless batches of beer, all the while enjoying a relationship that’s got a lot in common with many of history’s great pairs (quite often, they’re compared to Abbott and Costello, and they acknowledge the resemblance.) It’s a partnership that’s not exactly typical in the brewing world.
“It’s all over the place,” Crane says. “We collaborate more than most people. Steve has always been very generous; he’s great at asking ‘What do you think?’ He doesn’t want to be the guy that just moseys over and tells you what’s going to happen, unless he’s got something set in his mind. One of his favorite things to say is, ‘unless you want to throw something extra in there.’”
While they’ve both fielded offers from other breweries, Crane says that Van Rossem is one of, if not THE, principal reason he’s found such a welcome home at Plank Town all this time.
“This place is home and family, and Steve has been awesome to work with,” he says.
Still, the lure of that wonderful pub in Oakridge kept calling, and the news that owner Ted Sobel wished to sell led Crane on a journey that’s only picked up steam. He’ll continue a process of brewing that’s earned the Brewers Union quite a bit of renown and offered an education to more than a few visitors.
“Ted was kind of a crackpot, and thank goodness he was, for putting six hand pumps in Oakridge,” Crane says. “Nobody had any idea that it would be the town center it’s become for residents and travelers. It’s pretty phenomenal. I don’t know of anybody on the West Coast who has six hand pulls.”
Crane is also looking forward to fine-tuning many of the systems at the Brewers Union, and he’ll have Van Rossem’s help to do it.
“I’ve got a world of knowledge sitting next to me, and I might as well use it,” he says. “I often call him my brew-ru.”
Meanwhile, Breann Goulette, who has worked under Van Rossem and Crane for some time, will assume assistant duties, and Crane will start a new chapter, secure in the knowledge and experience, not to mention the friendships, he’s gained here at Plank Town.
“It’s been an awesome ride,” he says, “and I’ve learned a ton. I couldn’t be more confident in my experience and education after working here.”
Founder of The New School and most frequent contributor Ezra Johnson-Greenough has worked in the craft beer industry for almost 10 years, doing everything from illustrating beer labels to bartending at renowned beer bars and breweries like Belmont Station, Apex, Laurelwood and Upright Brewing. He has also had a hand in creating events like the Portland Fruit Beer Festival, Portland Beer Week, and the Brewing up Cocktails series. He is available for freelance consultation in marketing, events, graphic design and branding.