Family operation to feature local themes
by Randy Parks
Last September, Cycle Oregon rolled into town, and quickly transformed downtown Burns into its own little hamlet. A tent-city went up, a stage was erected to provide entertainment, and vendors were stationed at every corner offering their wares.
Local resident Rick Roy watched the throngs of folks moving around and having a good time, and noticed that a great number of the Cycle Oregon participants, as well as local residents, were enjoying the refreshments being offered by Widmer Brewery. It was at that moment that Roy realized there were no local “brews” available, and an idea was born.
Roy began putting his plan of having a brewery in Burns into action. He built his own equipment, gathered ingredients, and started the brewing process.
“It’s all-grain brewing, and only whole-leaf hops, from scratch,” Roy said. “We don’t use any extracts, pellets or hop oil.”
And with that, Steens Mountain Brewing Co. was born.
Brewing beer is nothing new for Roy, who said he and a friend used to brew a variety of beers when he lived in Colorado in the late 1990s. But Roy and his wife, Cammie, moved around a bit because of work, had children, and being a brewmaster was no longer a priority.
However, when they moved to Harney County, the topic of creating craft beers resurfaced.
“Cammie and I, and my in-laws, talked about having a brewery here, and we talked about it for five or six years because we didn’t think this place was ready for it yet. Then when I saw the block party during Cycle Oregon, I knew it was time,” Roy said.
Roy stated that he hopes to have the brewery, at 150 W. Washington, open sometime in April or May, and it will be operated as a nano-brewery, meaning they would be brewing about 1,000 gallons a year.
The “anchor beer” will be the Migration Pale Ale, with other seasonal beers available throughout the year, in 12- and 22-ounce bottles. In keeping with a local theme, all beers will feature a Harney County landmark or event in their name, such as “Stinkingwater Stout,” “Lone Pine Lager,” “Alvord Amber,” “Steens Summer Ale,” “Carp Drool Nut Brown Ale,” and “Whorehouse Meadows Wheat.” The artwork on the beer labels is done by Roy’s 19-year-old daughter, Carley, and the labels also include a brief description or story about the beers’ names.
The brewery will be a family operation, with Cammie acting as the chief executive officer, Roy as the brewmaster, Carley and her brother, Kinnon, 17, apprentice brewers. To get the younger children involved, Steens Mountain Brewing Co. will also be brewing root beer and sarsaparilla.
“Our son, Andrew, 22, is good with his hands, and will help out with the fabrication and other aspects of the operation,” Roy said.
The family grows their own hops in a half-acre garden next to the building, and the kids will help to tend the garden, as well as harvest and dry the hops.
“We’d like to use all local ingredients. The hops we grow, and then get local grains, like barley and wheat, if available,” Roy said. “And the water here is really good for brewing beer.”
Roy stressed the fact that the brewery would focus on the traditional beer styles.
“We’re not going to do anything crazy, like a dead chicken in there,” he said. “I had a good teacher, and we’re going to brew good, tasty beer.”
At the present time, Roy is working on perfecting the recipes, and is busy getting all the required licensing and paperwork in order.
Roy said he will start by brewing small batches of different beers to make sure everything is going as planned, and go on the assumption that the beers will go over well in the community.
“The keys to brewing good beer are sanitation, organization and patience,” Roy said. “And we want to get it right.”
The brewery will have a rotating stock, with another batch always fermenting for the next round of bottling. The amount of beer brewed at one time will depend on the amount sold, and if needed, Roy can always brew a bigger batch.
“That would be a good problem to have,” he laughed.
The brewery will sell on-site, no consumption on the premises, and there’s a possibility of having a testing room.
Roy said they will have self-distribution of the beer, and they would do “custom” brewing for special events, such as weddings, reunions, etc.
“If we get enough lead time, we can make a special batch for a special occasion, including a custom label for the event, if that’s what they want,” he said.
While starting small, Roy does have an eye on the possibility of expansion. He noted that Alaskan Brewing Company is based in Juneau, and they distribute to 13 Western states.
“If they can get it to 13 states from Juneau, we can do the same from Burns,” he said.
Another inspiration for expansion came from two recent trips made by Roy. He first toured the Rogue Brewery in Newport, and commented that the brewery is not a fancy building, by any means. Then, a week later, he traveled to Canterbury, N. H., a small village about the size of a city block. While in Canterbury, Roy stopped into a store, and spotted a bottle of brew from the local nano-brewery, Canterbury AleWorks, sitting right next to a bottle of Rogue beer. That spurred him on to seeking out the small brewery and taking a tour.
“Rogue beer goes to 38 countries and all 50 states,” Roy said. “I’d like to go regional, because the best place for beer is closest to where it’s bottled, but if a brewery in Newport can do it, get their beer out to places like Canterbury, we can do it here.”
Steens Mountain Brewery Co. has its own Facebook page, and will also use Twitter to get the word out about its products. Kegs and a growler station are possibilities, as well.
Roy said, at some point, his idea includes opening a traditional pub on North Broadway. The pub would feature the local beers, several other micro-brews, Oregon-made wine and spirits and traditional Irish pub fare. It would be family-friendly, and a nice place for friends to gather for a drink and visit. The pub would also be a draw for the people who like to participate in the beer tours, traveling from town-to-town to experience the local brews.
“That’s a ways down the road, and the location would have to be right here,” Roy said, pointing to North Broadway. “There are vacant buildings that can be used to do this type of venture.”
While the brewery is a family venture for the Roys, it can also have an economic impact on the community as a whole.
“Some people are just waiting for some company to come in and create jobs. That’s one way to improve the economy. But they can also take the initiative and create their own opportunities,” Roy said. “A brewery, can draw people to the area, and lead to other local job opportunities, if all goes well.”
For now, the beer is brewing, and adults should be getting ready for a taste of a cold brew from Steens Mountain Brewing Co. this spring.