This Saturday, October 12, Eugene’s Oakshire Brewing will celebrate 13 years in business. As it has on most of its anniversaries, a special beer release is planned at its Whiteaker neighborhood Public House. Thirteen is a blended ale from five barrels, and will be available on draught and in cork-and-cage bottles while supplies last. The New School caught up with Dan Russo, Director of Brewing Operations, to talk about the beer and Oakshire’s history.
“These barrels are from the time when I was pitching and open fermenting in barrels,” says Russo. “This is a blend of barrels between nine and 20 months old.” A portion of the blend is from barrels that were once used as a solera project, so a small portion of the beer is several years old. “The full intent of putting them into open oak fermenters was to go into the Fruit Farm series. But I love that the beer lives in oak and doesn’t touch metal.”
The individual brews were an act of improvisation. “There was a lot of experimentation; ‘what do we have in house today? Let’s make an oat/spelt saison and see how it plays out.’ None of them had a sole purpose; it’s really building a barrel stock and blending for complexity. [Thirteen] was meant to stand on its own without adding fruit that might hide other fermentation characteristics. We were trying to find the best way for each barrel to be amazing and see how they could play off each other and gel into one.”
The beer pours a pale golden color with a shining white head. Russo describes the beer as such: “It starts with a very intricate, classic Brett saison funkiness, but as it opens up it leans citrusy with lemon and lime, like a funky Sprite. A ton of citrus across the palate with a spritzy carbonation that helps it dance across the palate and coat the tongue.”
It’s clear that Russo is steering clear of overly acidic beer, opting for subtlety and intricacy. “The days of Cascade Brewing circa 2012 are well behind the industry,” he says. Instead, Thirteen tells a story of Brett and wood, and reflects the blender’s preference. It will likely be good to cellar for a little while, as it was blended in April or May, and bottled in July.
Oakshire has come a long way since its opening as a nano brewery called Willamette Brewing Company in 2006. At this anniversary, its major benchmarks occur roughly 6.5 years apart. After operating a tasting room at its Maduro St. brewery, the Oakshire Public House opened in May of 2013; it opened the Oakshire Beer Hall in NE Portland in July of this year. These locations give Oakshire the opportunity to define itself and create its own environment for people to enjoy its beer.
“It gives us a full time outlet to connect with customers and the community, from someone on the road just coming through to someone who came down and had a pint from [founder Jeff Althouse’s] personal kegerator on Maduro. The heart and soul of what we do is small batch brewing and connecting with the community. What many people don’t know is the breadth and depth of different beers that we make over the course of a year. People who come [to the Public House] or the Beer Hall for the first time know us as the espresso stout or “angry gnome” brewery. Now, people come in and see how much we actually make.”
Russo himself has been around for about half of Oakshire’s life. He helped open the Public House, and was the manager there for 18 months before he moved into the brewery after winning the Glen Hay Falconer scholarship.
On Saturday, October 12, Oakshire will tap some special beers, including past Anniversary beers, and will have a cake that is meant to be paired with Thirteen. The brewing crew should be around for some glass clinking, as well. Moving into its teenage years, Oakshire has earned its cake and can eat it, too.
Aaron Brussat is a complex living organism with an interest in all things fermented. He started writing about and working in the beer industry in 2010. His experience stems primarily from spending six years at The Bier Stein as a beer steward, homebrewing since 2005, and passing the BJCP and Certified Cicerone exams. Highlights along the way include numerous collaborations with local brewers, curating beer dinners at The Bier Stein, and traveling to Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Czech Republic, Peru, and New Zealand (as well as many parts of the U.S.) for a chance to drink beer at the source.