Jason Kahler of Solera Brewery interviews Paul Arney of The Ale Apothecary

Our 2019 guest interview series concludes with an article by Jasoh Kahler (brewmaster and co-owner at Hood River’s Solera Brewery) who interviewed Paul Arney of The Ale Apothecary in Bend, OR.

Paul Arney and The Ale Apothecary, photo by Joshua Langlais

By Jason Kahler, brewer/co-owner of Solera Brewery –

Paul Arney is someone who inspires me not only as a brewer, but also as human in general. We hadn’t actually met face to face until recently, but I had seen him speak at MBAA and have always enjoyed his beers. He has a way of turning the simple task of making beer into something much more meaningful, philosophical. Before opening Solera Brewery, I also dreamt of building a small, primitive brewery on my property in Mt Hood, so perhaps there’s a bit living vicariously through Paul and The Ale Apothecary. We’re both fans of the old Astro/Safari vans, in fact The Ale Apothecary van (The Silver Surfer), was almost the Solera Brewery Van. Though time prevented us from sitting down over beers for this Q&A, it was pleasure getting to know this unique brewer a little bit more.

Jason Kahler: One of the first images that comes to mind, for me, when I think of The Ale Apothecary, is the wood. From the various use of barrels for aging, mashing and inoculating, to the beautifully hand hewed lauter tun.  As someone who’s drawn to bushcrafting and primitive hand tools, this really speaks to me. Tell us a bit about your connection to the tools and equipment you use.

Paul Arney: Hi Jason!  I’d rather be sitting outside behind your brewery in the sun hoisting beers with you, but I suppose the internet will have to do for now.  It’s raining anyway. So, yeah, I quit my industry job in May of 2011 and immediately started spending my 401k building my fantasy brewery up in the woods outside of Bend.  As one might imagine, I had some financial limitations. Used barrels are inexpensive, and made of wood, just to state the obvious. I am a human (hopefully equally obvious) and I’m attracted to history and nature.  When contemplating what I wanted my brewery to be, the single biggest concept was that of an ‘oak barrel brewery’…it was up to me to define what that meant, so I used barrels for everything I could think of. We mash, ferment, age, dry hop, produce sour wort (with a heating coil) and lager (with a cooling coil) in barrels!  Beyond the agreeable conditions of living in Oregon, where wineries are plentiful (and hence an opportunity for a good supply of barrels), there is something intangible with regards to these vessels. We The People love barrels. I think it has something to do with our long history with them, storing all of our necessities and such.  One of my best pals is a blacksmith. I was always impressed by how visible the energy transfer from the human into the craft was, the glowing metal transformed directly from human muscle. I wanted to make beer this way, without the veil of technology. I really believe that Process is equal to the raw materials in terms of influencing the flavor through house character & for a wild brewery relying on microflora, wood is like the glowing hot iron in the forge.  It shapes my beer in ways that stainless just can’t.

JK: At a time when it’s never been easier to source raw brewing materials, you seem to keep the wort limited to a just a few ingredients, allowing the yeast and bacteria to take center stage. What are the qualities of the malted/raw grains you’ve chosen to use?

PA: Whatever Seth Klann grows and malts at Mecca Grade!  Honestly, I couldn’t have been more fortunate that he and I started our ventures at a similar time.   My goal has been to brew beer like the brewers that existed before globalization, before industrialization…with ingredients sourced nearby, with a unique brewing process and Mother Nature adding her pixie dust.  Oregon is a pretty good spot to pull this off…we’ve got all the necessary components and then some. The fact that I can bring them up to the special spot we call Shady Acres, where the trees tower overhead, the water is melted snow and the air is full of wild saccharomyces, well, it’s like a brewers’ dream!  I’ve begun small experiments with Tiller malt from grain grown on Goschie Farms in Silverton, where we also source hops and honey. I’m going to make a beer where all the raw materials originate from just one farm, the esteemed Goschie farms, who just had their 115th harvest!  Congrats, Gayle & family!

The Ale Apothecary, photo by Joshua Langlais

JK: You’ve made the decision to exclusively use one hop variety in all you beers, Cascade. What was the thinking that brought this about?

PA: In my quest to make our beer as Oregon as possible, I chose Cascade because of its history in the craft brewing movement and because of the fact it was first developed in Oregon.  Just like some classic beers use a low-to-mid alpha hop for bittering and aroma, I wanted to do the same thing with my beer. This married well with my idea to only produce a single brand.  My brewery originally was only going to brew our Sahalie beer.  I was copying Orval! It had worked for them & it seemed a reasonable approach to the business model I was designing for myself at the time.  Thankfully, creativity won over and the idea died with The Beer Formerly Known as La Tache later in 2012. At our members’ release party in November, we debuted 27 new beers, so I’m not going back to that concept anytime soon.  Currently we use 95% Goschie Farms Cascade hops, but some beers get aged versions and other beers get the most recent crop, depending on what we are looking for in the final product.  

JK: Recently you opened up a lovely little tasting room in Bend. How has this affected your day to day, not only as a business, but as a father and husband.

Recently?  Like 2 ½ years ago!  You need to get down here more often, my friend.  My personal day-to-day has morphed from the ‘old days’ when I was doing all of the brewing to today where I have Hans and Connor helping out with production.  The brewery is at my house and I routinely mash in, but honestly, I’m not terribly involved in the day-to-day much anymore except to cover shifts. This has both advantages and disadvantages, to be sure.  With the tasting room, we now have 4 full-time and 4 part-time employees. Because I’m incredibly blessed with good people, I fill my days with a tremendous amount of variable tasks to keep our business moving instead of growing.  I deliver beer, organize the warehouse, work on labels, the brewing and bottling schedules, and help out wherever I’m needed. I’m committed to my people, and that means that I need to be on top of our relationships in the industry as well as how we are communicating with our audience.  Being in this type of role has been great for my ability to adjust my schedule for spending time with my family. My wife, Staci, joined the business about the same time we opened the tasting room and, after a bit of a rocky start, we’ve clarified our roles and the brewery is in the best position it’s ever been in financially.  It’s been good for us as well, our relationship is rooted in travel and experience, so we can take advantage of the possibilities this industry offers. Last year we went to Italy, this year China and possibly Spain.

JK: What have you got squirrelled away that you’re most excited about at the moment, and why?

PA: Our farm lager that is still bottle-conditioning…fermented cold in an oak puncheon outfitted with cooling coils on the inside and bottle-conditioned with our wild yeast, warm.  It actually went through a ropy phase! How odd. I’m excited because it is an opportunity to learn as it’s like nothing else we’ve ever made. We are bottling a barley wine this week, one of our experiments to brew a high-gravity wild beer and keep the acidity to a minimum.  Lastly, we have a spontaneous beer that was coolshipped with cascara, the outer dried flesh of the coffee fruit that surrounds the bean. I suppose this might be the proper place to let Oregon know that we are going to be releasing Farmhäze soon…it’s about as close to an IPA we’ve ever made.  Pronounced ‘Farmhaas’ but it’s a tongue-in-cheek dig on the haze craze. Our beer gets hazy when chilled because it’s unfiltered and unfined (and has a secret high protein ingredient). Maybe we should have gone with Natty Haze? It’s totally natural, haze-bro.

JK: Some breweries will build out more as the demand for their product grows, as we’ve seen, this hasn’t always worked out. Are you content with your production volume, or are we going to someday see an Ale Apothecary airport pub?

PA: Only if it’s in Vegas.  Or Barcelona! Well, I suppose if someone wanted to float this project, I’d come up with a few other options.  Honestly, I’ve been working to keep our production relatively flat for over a year. I like the size we’re at and we can focus on doing more business in our tasting room (as opposed to distribution) to grow the bottom line instead of simply making more beer.  Because it’s not really that simple! It’s quite difficult to keep things fairly level, it would be easier to grow as weird as that sounds. I’m doing things to make what we do easier and more comfortable; we’ve built a space for our brewhouse to separate it from our fermentation area and we’re working on building a kuurna/koelship that’s much larger than our original.  To answer your question, I’ve been counseled by some small business friends on the power of saying ‘no’.  I like what we have going on and feel that certain types of growth choose profits over quality and culture.  I feel fortunate that I don’t answer to a board or investors so I can use my brewers’ brain to really focus on our beer and how to do it better.  I feel that if I was focused on growth, I’d lose focus on the beer, and truthfully, I’m chasing something that I haven’t grasped yet, in terms of beer.  I feel like we’re getting closer, but since we’re attempting to learn all this stuff we forgot, it just takes longer. I’m committed to the way we make beer; totally natural, unforced, free of catalog ingredients.  Time was an enemy when I started, but now it’s an ally because our cellar is full. It’s important to me to allow the beer as much time as it needs, as cliché as that sounds. My reputation is built upon it, and now my brewery is as well.  It’s much easier for us to make a 2 year beer than it is to make a 2 week beer, if you can believe that!

JK: I understand you’ve been doing some international sales of late, what are some of the challenges you’ve faced with this?

PA: Yes, for a product as niche as ours, distribution (some of it quite far away) is a necessity.  My biggest issue recently was in China, where we have a really solid partner, but he was getting undercut by a company that was buying our beer in the US and importing it illegally into China.  Without paying the import fees, he was able to bring our beer in at a lower price and cause headaches for my partner. We seemed to have addressed this issue but I’ll be over there in May for Arrogant Sour Fest and will be able to assess for myself.  I’ve only been stiffed once, but that was by Scott in New Jersey. Don’t send any of your beer to Thunderbolt Distributing in NJ. Just saying. In 2019, our beer was brought into Europe, Canada, Australia, Japan, & China. We had to say no to South Korea and Russia!  

JK: When traveling I’m always looking out for breweries and taquerias. In Bend, The Ale Apothecary is definitely the beer destination for me. Where does one go for the best taco?

PA: El Sancho, look no further!  I call Joel the unofficial mayor of Bend, he’s got a successful brick and mortar just off of 3rd street plus another one on the way on Galveston.  He also has a couple food trucks. His latest is Runaround Sue (Austin-style BBQ) that sits right next to Boss Rambler.  Hit ‘em up. The local hookup at El Sancho is to order any taco ‘blacksmith style’. It’s named for our forging hero I mentioned above, Hunter Dahlberg, who would always order his taco with Oaxacan cheese.  I usually get the chorizo blacksmith style and the beef barbacoa straight up. Anyway.

JK: At the last Master Brewers Association of the Americas meeting you had a screening of your documentary on Kviek in Norway.  I found this film to be both beautifully shot and full of fascinating information. This was clearly quite the undertaking. What were some of the highlights for you while working on this project, and when will the rest of the world get to enjoy it?

PA: Traveling with my brothers to Norway for this adventure was a life moment, to be sure.  One highlight was meeting Norwegian brewers that had the same ethos and challenges as myself on the other side of the planet!  Seeing beer get made from baked mash. Hanging with Inge and Eivin at Lindheim on their 300-year old farm where they built a small family brewery.  Beer is so global right now it’s crazy. To see a brewing culture fighting for its identity in the face of hazy IPA’s was a bit disconcerting. It’s scary how much we’ve already lost to history (see Larsblog for more info on this) but it’s also heartening to see people doing something about it.  The Kornølfestival, which we attended, is specifically intended to celebrate the homebrewing culture that is hundreds of years old and, over that time, literally domesticated kveik (yeast) to do their bidding.  Brewing with these guys in a building built 400 years ago was pretty cool.  Understanding how their culture is steeped in beer and community was fascinating!  Spending time with Amund and Byørn who own and operate the brewery Eik o Tid (Oak and Time) was fantastic as we hold similar views on beer and life in general.  My brothers and I slept in their brewery a few nights next to their huge oak foeders…good dreams on those nights! I would love to screen the film. I’ve been a bit too busy to take on that job, but I’m working with Joel Rea to screen it at the Whitewater in Corvallis in the spring.  If anyone reading this has any thoughts or ideas, please get in touch. Much like my brewery business, I’m great at the creating but kind of lackluster on the path to market, truth be told.

JK: Lastly, no brewer Q&A would be complete without the proverbial trend question. What are the good, the bad and the ugly of 2019 beer trends for Paul Arney?

PA: The good: my business is solid and I’ve stopped stressing out about it.  We’re able to increase business in our tasting room and introduce online sales here in Oregon.  I’m going to China! Our Ale Club is amazing and if they are happy I feel like I’m doing my job.  We sabered 27 bottles at our bottle share in November, so I think they are happy… I have my dream team at work, I couldn’t imagine it any better.

The bad: Getting stiffed by the distributor in NJ.  We routinely have to trust the people we work with and it was a wake-up call to pay better attention before sending beer off to an excited new market.

The ugly: all those colors on those cans!!  I’ve determined that the haze beers are basically the comic book of the brewing world.  Nothing wrong with a comic book, but the craft is somewhat different than intentional literature that has the potential to change ones perspective or perhaps move something larger.  Our craft, which dates to prehistory and has helped change the course of humanity countless times, is overrun with bright colors with no substance. And, with that, I’ll drop this stick I was using to impersonate a microphone.

Arney stands beside the defining rollup door outside of his Cellar Joint

Paul Arney began brewing beer with his Dad when he was 18 years old. After getting a degree in Geology, he chose to instead work in a coffee shop where he met a brewer that changed his life by inviting him into his brewery. In 1996 he attended the Master Brewers Program at UC Davis and landed a job as production brewer at Deschutes Brewery later that year where he worked two stints (1996-2002 & 2004- 2011). After leaving Deschutes Brewery as an Assistant Brewmaster, he started The Ale Apothecary in his garage up in the woods outside of Bend and hasn’t looked back. Currently, when not driving kids around or barrels to town, he is playing guitar in his rock band Via Forreal or playing footsy with his wife of 23 years, Staci.

Jason Kahler of Solera Brewery
Jason Kahler

Follow Jason Kahler on instagram as @bless_off.

Follow Paul Arney on instagram as @drugstorebrewer.

Jason Kahler
Jason Kahler

Jason Kahler’s brewing career began in the mid 90’s at Fitger’s Brewhouse in Duluth, MN. After attending the Seibel Institute in Chicago he and his wife moved to Portland where he was briefly distracted by wine, before moving to Hood River to brew for Full Sail, then Walking Man and Big Horse. In 2011 he co-founded Solera Brewery in the sleepy community of Parkdale, Oregon where he’s been quietly brewing whatever the heck he wants ever since. When not wrestling with the challenges of brewing in an old historic movie theatre, Jason can be found tinkering with his beloved van, playing with sharp and pointy things or sacrificing what little remaining hearing he has left at a metal show.

Discussion