Behind the Scenes at Arable Brewing

Eugene’s bustling beer scene will add another brewery to its ranks early this year. Arable Brewing, which endured a protracted search for a location, has landed at 510 Conger St. in inner-West Eugene. Owners Chris Archer and Cam and Amy Wells bring a wealth and diversity of knowledge and skill to the business. Brewing is expected to begin in February, and the tasting room should open in late March or early April of this year.

Cam Wells, Amy Wells, and Chris Archer, owners of Arable Brewing. Photo by Aaron Brussat

Beer = Time + Effort

Arable Brewing received a very rare honor: being written up twice in The New School’s Most Anticipated Breweries in both 2021 and 2023. This year, it’s real. In Fall of 2022, Arable signed a lease to take over the building from Yellow Emperor, a natural supplement manufacturer. That meant some of the infrastructure, such as floor drains, was already in place.

Though they were prepared for a decent amount of red tape, opening a new brewery requires a surprising amount of paperwork and permits. Getting a Tax & Trade Bureau (TTB) permit couldn’t be done before a lease agreement and brewery floor plan were in place, and also required financial disclosure. Though they submitted their application to the TTB a month ago, they haven’t heard anything regarding its status.

In addition, they’ve had to redo the FDA certification and must bring the building up to ADA code because it will be open to the public. Obviously, that’s not a bad thing; it’s just extra time and money. On the positive side, the OLCC and Eugene wastewater department have been easy to work with and very transparent.

Of course, no brewery opens in a vacuum. “We’ve had so much support from the brewing industry as a whole,” says Archer. “They say, ‘What do you need? How can we help?'” He cites the Hughes brothers at ColdFire and the generous folks at Ninkasi, where he brewed for over a decade, as key to navigating a lot of the business-side processes. Ninkasi is even letting them order ingredients through their system until Arable is able to begin that process. There isn’t the sense of competition one might expect in a small city with 16 breweries, and brewers have a good habit of paying it forward.

They give a special shout out to their friend, Eugene beer veteran Mike “Mad Dog” Denney, who has been a champion of the brewery through strategic consulting since the beginning and helped during the build out.

The brewery, and especially the tasting room, will progress in phases. “One thing we decided was to not halfass anything on the beer side,” says Cam. The context is that of finances, and how to use them in the most effective way possible. The beer has priority. That makes sense in today’s kinda crazy beer world. Arable isn’t emerging into the world as a perfect, fully-formed entity, and will be more flexible to respond to their own particular reality as a result. Nimble is the word.

Nuts & Bolts of the Brewery

“They’ve put it all together themselves. That’s something to note,” says Amy. Cam’s trade work as an electrician and his experience in all things facility related paid off for Arable. He and Archer installed the brewery’s electrical, plumbing, and glycol systems. They joked that when giving people brewery tours they’d point to the ceiling, where the insulated glycol lines run a visually satisfying course to control the temperature to the five 5-barrel fermenters (it can handle up to 20!).

The steam-powered, hard piped, three-vessel 5-barrel brewing system, sourced from a Connecticut company and manufactured in China, is well made and features a mash rake (ooh, fancy!) and a condenser on the kettle, which will allow them to reclaim water from the boil. The steam-jacketed mash tun will allow for step mashing.

Step mashing is a process wherein the mash (grains steeped in water) is raised to specific temperatures to activate different enzymes, which affects the finished beer’s body, clarity, and head retention. It’s not necessary for all styles, but comes in handy when brewing lagers and hefeweizens. Archer says he prefers a steam-powered kettle for its uniformity of heating and efficiency.

They’ll begin with five 5-barrel fermenters. The petite, cone-bottomed cylinders are equipped with an obscure mechanism called a Spunding valve. Its job is to retain a certain amount of pressure in the tank, as determined by the brewer. After the bulk of fermentation is done, the blowoff valve, which is what you see as bubbling tubs of foam in a brewery, is shut. The remainder of fermentation builds up pressure in the tank, which partially or completely carbonates the beer.

Spunding valve. Fancy, right?

Spunding is an old-world brewing technique not often utilized today, though it has several advantages. The first is efficiency; up to 25% of the carbon dioxide produced during fermentation is trapped in the tank and carbonates the beer. Most breweries let all of that CO2 escape, and then carbonate the beer afterwards. It’s an extra step, but does reduce one of the main waste products in a brewery.

On a sensory level, beer that has been carbonated by Spunding has a more refined and pleasing texture. It’s not necessarily appropriate for all styles, but can benefit most standard ales and lagers.

Beer & Tasting Room

As noted in the New School writeup, Arable won’t follow the tradition of flagship beers. “There’s so many new hops and malts out there,” says Archer. He says his favorite times at Ninkasi were during his shifts on the pilot brewery. “I learned so much there, but at the end it felt like just cranking it out.”

“My first ever recipe that I scaled up and brewed at Ninkasi was a saison,” he says. It will be the first brew at Arable, as well, followed by a lager and a series of IPAs. The brewery’s public debut will actually be a robust porter, brewed in collaboration with Claim 52 and Gratitude Brewing. You can find it first at the KLCC Brewfest.

“We also want to have a nice light American lager available for cheaper,” Archer says. It’s a nod to the neighborhood, which is mostly blue collar manufacturing and industry supply stores.

Back behind the brewery is a wall, and beyond that wall is a room full of dreams. It’s empty now, but will be the site of Arable’s barrel room. A long-term proposition, wild ales are part of the plan. The guys want to manufacture a coolship (a shallow metal vessel) they can wheel outside to inoculate fresh wort with Eugene’s airborne terroir (which, if my senses told me anything about the neighborhood, contains plenty of, ahem, terpenes). Sounds funky!

“One of the cool things about what we’re trying to do is that we have low overhead,” Cam says, citing the brewery’s small size. “It gives us a lot of room to explore the artistic side of brewing.”

Arable’s beer will mostly be available over the bar at the tasting room. “You have to have a niche, and we want ours to be that every time you come in, there’ll be something new on tap.” They plan on a small amount of self distribution to local beer bars like The Bier Stein. “We’ll never go over 2,000 barrels a year,” Cam says. “We don’t want to be at Costco or Safeway,” accounts that require large volumes and strict adherence to a specific brewing schedule.

The first phase of the tasting room will be fairly basic. Amy, who will manage the administrative and financial side of the business, plans for the brewery to host live music, game nights, and, eventually, private events in a separate room in the front of the building. There will be indoor and outdoor seating, and rotating food trucks. In short, another solid community gathering space.

Arable will be the fourth brewery to open in Eugene in as many years. Archer and the Wells’ are enthusiastic about finally getting to this point. Their original plan was to open a rural brewery; the first location was in Veneta, and then Lowell, but neither panned out for various reasons, the pandemic’s challenges not the least of them. “I’m glad this is where we’re at,” Amy says. “This is where we’re supposed to be. We are taking it slow, and we are making progress.”

The tasting room space and brewery in progress, January 2023. The beer cooler will be under the balcony; the taps will be on the side facing the brewery. Photo by Aaron Brussat

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s