Built Oregon -Oregon's Entrepreneurial Digital Magazine

Author - Sarah Kelber

Brewing the next great beer town

santiam-feature

For months, a group of guys in Salem, Oregon, would meet up on Thursday nights, jokingly calling it “choir practice,” but much of the time the talk turned to one topic: beer.

Most of them were brewing on their own and thought their beers were not only pretty good, but also better than a lot of the craft brews on the market.

“We were basically sitting around daring each other to do this,” says Matt Killikelly, now one of the owners of Santiam Brewing. “Eventually you run out of excuses.”

Santiam Brewing launched in July 2012 with nine locals as equal partners in the business, most of them also serving as employees.

The craft brewery, now one of six in Salem, makes many varieties of beer, as well as a number of cask ales and oak-barrel-aged beers.

Though the choir practice guys had drive and plenty of ideas, it was a quick process once they took the dare.

“It was about 18 months from when we decided to start a brewery to when we served our first glass,” says Killikelly.

As quickly as they started, they found success.

In 2013 and 2014, its Pirate Stout has won the Oregon Garden People’s Choice Award. Its the product of one of Santiam’s other specialties, barrel-aged beers. This one is aged in barrels that once contained Rogue Distillery Dark Rum and also has a “brief encounter” with some coconut before its placed in kegs.

Brew more beer

Santiam’s partners each have a role in the business, but basically each of them is an equal, whether they’re the head brewer, the manager of the tasting room, the legal adviser or, as Killikelly is, the sales manager.

eIMG_7906“There are some corporate titles, but only because running a corporation requires it,” Killikelly says. “They’re meaningless in a group of partners where all are equal and no one is anyone’s boss.”

The lack of titles may be seen as unusual, but it’s worked for them. Almost since its opening, Santiam Brewing has been in expansion mode.

“Once you start a brewery, it’s a neverending growth curve,” says Killikelly. “You make more beer, you get a bigger clientele, and bigger market share … so you make more beer.”

To that end, in October, the brewery converted to a ten-barrel system, and its three-and-a-half barrel system sits in its workspace off McGilchrist and 19th streets, waiting to be sold to a new owner. Meanwhile, the shiny new tanks reach toward the ceiling, dominating the space and serving as a symbol for the greater demand for Santiam’s brews.

“We started out as a brewpub that sold some beer on wholesale,” says Killikelly. “Now we’re turning into a production brewery with a tasting room.”

Their expanded space includes the tasting room, the physical plant containing the brewing equipment, and a grain room that’s walled off to keep the dust from the barley contained. There’s also a laboratory where samples are tested for yeast production, among other things. In another building across the way, Santiam has office space and product storage.

The art of the cask

But the real work is done in the tanks, and—for its most specialized brews—the casks and the barrels.

“The cask-conditioned ales and barrel-conditioned ales and sours are ‘beer geek treats,’ that is, things that make beer geeks happy,” Killikelly says. “We love beer, so we go the extra mile to make unusual beers.”

Santiam’s tasting room typically offers four cask-conditioned ales, and they’re the real deal.

“We create it the old way,” Killikelly says. “We put it in the cask with a little extra sugar and yeast and let it do its thing.”

eIMG_7899“Its thing” is a secondary fermentation that naturally carbonates the beer without having to force carbon dioxide into it and allows it to be served at 52 degrees instead of chilled down to numbing refrigerator temperatures.

Not everyone who claims to be selling such brews is telling the truth.

“It’s annoying to us that others are selling ‘cask-conditioned’ beers and then filling them with carbon dioxide in a bright tank,” Killikelly says. “If I just get clear bright beer, it’s not conditioned. You want to see sediment from secondary fermentation.”

Every bit of extra time and energy is worth it to create Santiam’s small, carefully attended batches.

“There is a differential, whether your taste buds appreciate it or not,” Killikelly says. “There is a lot of flavor for the same amount of product.”

Getting the chance to taste these flavors in all their many varieties is driving a change in the beer market — and not just the craft beer market, he adds.

Variety is the spice of life

“Craft beer drinkers want to try different beers, not drink the same thing over and over again,” Killikelly says. “Brand loyalty drinkers are going down.”

For proof, look no further than the supermarket shelves, where even Budweiser, Coors and Miller are starting to vary their products in response to this demand.

“They have the market share, for now, but not the future.”

Santiam’s own market looks to be continuing its growth curve.

“The next big thing is our Golden Sultan being accepted for the Portland Holiday Ale Festival,” Killikelly says of the event, which ran December 3-7, 2014, at Pioneer Courthouse Square. “It’s a very big deal to get a beer into that event.”

But on a larger scale, Santiam Brewing has a bigger dare in mind: to help build Salem’s reputation as a craft beer town.

“Portland has a great reputation, of course,” Killikelly says, “and then Eugene is growing and Bend, too. Salem didn’t, but now we’re getting the news out.”

One of the first steps is working with the other brewers in town to revive the Salem Brewery Association, which went quiet in the 1950s or so. The group started meeting again in early November.

Next is to create a Salem brew festival—to complement, not compete with the existing Cinco de Micro and Oregon Garden’s Brewfest—and to put the proceeds toward a “Drink Local” campaign.

“We’re trying to carve out that reputation here,” Killikelly says.

For more information visit, http://www.santiambrewing.com or like Santiam Brewing on Facebook.

A turn for the better

rolf-prima-feature

You could say the folks at Rolf Prima are reinventing the wheel, but undoubtedly, they’ve heard that one before.

That’s because it’s basically true.

The company, based in Eugene, Oregon, makes some of the most respected specialty bike wheels out there.

In 1997, original founder Rolf Dietrich patented his wheel ideas, including a new paired-spoke technology, which, according to rolfprima.com, “neutralizes the left and right outward pulling forces,” allowing for lighter rims and fewer spokes in total.

eIMG_7940“It started a revolutions in wheels,” says current owner Brian Roddy. “You might say, ‘Oh, wow, it’s rounder,’ but it’s about the weight, the strength, the aerodynamics, the materials … You can save weight to make it faster.”

Dietrich licensed his wheels through Trek in 1997, and the company made them for several years, during which Rolf wheels made their debut in the Tour de France in 1999.

Changing lanes

In 2001, Dietrich’s license with Trek expired, and he decided he wanted to start his own business, possibly in Ohio. He got in contact with three engineers he’d worked with at Trek, who by then had moved to Eugene to work at Burley. Roddy was one of the trio.

“In 2002, when Rolf wanted to start a separate company, the three of us were already here, and we said no to Toledo,” Roddy says.

Eugene it was. That began the era of Rolf wheels being built in Oregon.

Dietrich’s team added some new technologies over the years and began winning notice for them, but not widely.

“In mid-2005, we were best in class, but we were terrible at telling that story,” Roddy says. “We expected people would come find us. We weren’t aggressive. We didn’t introduce new things, and the market changed without us.”

By 2009, Dietrich was ready to retire, and Roddy’s fellow partners wanted to move on, so he bought them out and became the sole owner of Rolf Prima and reconfigured the business.

“In 2009, we refocused on product development as a company,” he says. “But we also spent more energy on making a concerted effort to tell our story.

“Making the best thing in a vacuum turns out to not be a great business practice.”

The company expanded its product lines, adding in 2010 single-speed and CX models and in 2012 all-Carbon Clincher road models, an alloy mountain model and more.

Crafting new wheels

But the keyword in the company’s story turns out to be “handmade.”

“We’re built in the United States, hand-built in Eugene,” says Brooke Stahley, marketing manager. “We’ve been manufacturing in the U.S. since the start.”

As such, they’re not competing with most of the wheels available in the U.S., which are largely made by machine.

eIMG_7920“It’s not just wheel assembly,” Roddy says. “It’s very much a science of getting the tension of the spokes just right. You can just put the parts together and it looks just like a wheel, but try to ride on it, and it’s going to come unglued.”

The people making those minute adjustments couldn’t be more invested in the product.

“Cyclists build our wheels,” Roddy says. “Our builders actually race, and they know, in a group race, you never want to hear, ‘There’s a problem with my wheel.’ ”

The main reason they’ve kept all their production local is to maintain that level of control over their product and its quality.

“In the bike industry, it seemed like all companies went overseas by the mid-2000s,” Roddy says. “We could join the race to the bottom and have the sales get higher, but …”

“We stayed true to ourselves,” Stahley says.

Build local

Forget outsourcing. Instead, the Rolf Prima team has been making strides toward bringing even more of its production processes in-house.

For a long time, they could not find a U.S. source for rims.

“We had a subcontractor in Taiwan, and one vendor was totally messing with it and delaying again and again, and then introduced almost the exact same rim themselves,” Roddy says.

They scrapped it 100 percent and moved on, and then in 2013, they learned of a company that had once made rims in the U.S. that was selling all of its equipment.

eIMG_7915Rolf Prima bought the equipment and moved it to Eugene, and earlier this year, in-house rims went into full production.

“We’d have gladly always made the rims here,” Roddy says, “but we couldn’t before.”

Now, an aluminum extrusion of 15 feet long goes into a roller, and out comes a double circle of metal that will be cut to create two rims.

Another machine is programmed to drill the holes for the spokes, in whatever configuration this particular wheel might need.

“For an all-silver rim, we can do the whole thing in-house,” Roddy says. “Working flat-out, we could make a whole wheel by the afternoon.”

That’s not how it’s done, firstly for efficiency reasons. But also because most of the rims are anodized, a process that takes place outside of their workshop, but nearby at Quality Metal Finishing Inc., another Eugene business.

Nearly every part of a Rolf Prima wheel but the spokes, which hail from Belgium, is U.S.-made.

Bringing another aspect of production under their roof means space is at a premium.

“Our limiting factor now is the ability to store,” Roddy says.

Becoming a bigger wheel in the community

They’re looking for new digs, but staying local of course, while they continue to build their place in the community.

“We’ve been here for twelve years now, and we’ve been the best-kept secret in the bike industry for seven of them,” Roddy says.

But that is changing.

Everyone at the company is an avid cyclist, and they participate in many of Eugene and beyond’s cycling events.

“Engineer Joel is at all the races,” Stahley adds.

Rolf Prima also sponsors a local “factory team,” a training group that wears the company’s gear at events and races under its name, in turn receiving special pricing on wheels.

The company’s story is certainly spreading, as its number of local fans has grown.

“It used to be, we’d see someone in town on our wheels, and we knew who it was,” Stahley says. “Now, we don’t always know.”

But whoever that cyclist might be, they should know they’re invited to come to Rolf and get a look at how their wheels were crafted.

“We’ve gotten lots of support from Oregon bike shops, especially in Eugene,” Roddy says. “We’ve made people understand: This was made here, right down the street. Now we can show them around, and they love that.”

For more information, visit http://www.rolfprima.com, follow Rolf Prima on Twitter, like Rolf Prima on Facebook, or follow Rolf Prima on Instagram.