The Albany, Oregon-based Calapooia Brewing has been sold to area distillery Vivacity Spirits; makers of vodka, gin and brandy. Vivacity will move its operations to Calapooia Brewing and open a tasting room, but keep everything that made Calapooia Brewing special, including the beers.
Calapooia Brewing was founded as Oregon Trader Brewing in 1993, but was rechristened as Calapooia in 2006. Calapooia merged with the now defunct Siletz Brewing in 2008. Calapooia is a true Oregon classic; its beers were once found in taprooms and bottleshops in the Portland-area, and its Chili Beer, Riverdog ESB, and Paddle Me IPA were favorites. Calapooia faced tough competition after 2011 with dozens of new breweries opening every year. The brewery production retracted but the beer is still popular with locals; the beer is no longer bottled or distributed to Portland.
Vivacity is a small craft distiller founded in Corvallis, Oregon in 2011 by husband and wife team Caitlin Prueitt and Chris Neumann. Prueitt and Neumann had been looking for a new space in Albany for a few years before Calapooia owners Mark Martin and Laura Bryngelson offered to sell the brewery to them. The purchase of Calapooia is for the entire brewery, pub and property, where Vivacity plans to relocate the distillery and tasting room into the same building.
“Mark and Laura built up a great spot, developed great beers, and have a great team in place,” says Prueitt, who says they have approached the purchase as a merger between the two companies. “[Mark and Laura have] created a great local hang out and we want to keep that vibe. 2 of the greatest concerns that have been brought up to us is the darts and the Sunday jam session. YES, we are keeping both!”
The purchase of Calapooia gives Vivacity more production space and room for barrels, so that they can finally begin making whiskey. The distillery will be walled off from the 15bbl brewery and a spirits tasting room will be added in the southeast corner of the building. The additions call for light, gradual improvements and construction that will mostly leave the current brewpub intact. Adding a sprinkler system, ADA bathrooms, and building a two-story structure in the back for storage and offices are in planning.
“We’re keeping all the same staff from the brewer to the managers to the floor sweeper,” says Prueitt. “Vivacity’s current employees will join the team and since they’re all about sales and marketing there really isn’t any overlap. It should be a smooth transition.”
While the Calapooia staples will largely remain intact, Prueitt and Neumann are considering a brand refresh and plan to hire a sales associate and a new head brewer. How the Vivacity and Calapooia brands converge, and if the company/brewery will be renamed, is still to be determined.
“We are still trying to figure out where Vivacity starts and where Calapooia meet,” says Prueitt, who realizes the two brands are quite different from each other. A possibility is keeping both brands names, but having a unique title for the on-premise venues.
The combination of brewery and distillery is still rare, thanks to difficult regulations involving the co-production under the same roof. (Oddly, Albany is also the home of the only other Oregon combo distillery/brewery: Deluxe Brewing/Sinister Distilling Co..) Over the past few months, Prueitt and Neumann have navigated those regulations, and the pairing of distillery and brewery opens up opportunity for new explorations; aging beer in their own spirits barrels and vice versa for one. Making their own whiskey washes in-house will be another huge benefit. Making more of Vivacity’s intriguing, wild “dunder pit” Rum will also be much easier.
Dunder pits are the nickname for a Jamaican rum making technique that has been largely shrouded in myth. This historical method of distillation involves natural bacteria, not unlike spontaneous fermentation mixed culture beers. Dunder pits are holes in the ground where distillers toss their waste, including everything from spent grain and fruit to actual goat heads. After some time, the stew of rotting spent garbage would ferment and the distillers would pull some of the sludge out and pitch it into a fresh batch of fermenting rum, pre-distillation.
Vivacity Spirits has repurposed this technique, only much much more palatably, by letting rum wash ferment inside of an oak barrel. The sugar cane wash and molasses pick up natural bacteria and ferment into alcohol. This raises the pH and makes it a bit funky. Vivacity uses a 4 cut rum blend that includes 10% of this wild dunder pit inspired liquid before it undergoes distillation. The final distilled Rum retains just a little of that funk and tartness for a very complex final product.
It will be interesting to see if Vivacity can revive the Calapooia Brewing brand, if not to its previous glory, but to becoming a more well known operation. It’s always a challenge to turn an old company like this back into a hot commodity, but there are real opportunities for both Calapooia and Vivacity.
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.