Public House – 207 Madison St, Eugene, OR 97402
Oakshire is a classic craft brewery success story. Brothers Jeff and Chris Althouse started as homebrewers, and in October of 2006 started producing beer commercially in a warehouse lot in the Bethel neighborhood (where the brewery still operates). The original name was Willamette Brewery, but Willamette Valley Vineyards took it a bit too personally. In hindsight, the original name sounds classic but quaint; Oakshire still ties the business to the land, but with more panache.
The brewery is tucked away in West Eugene. It used to have a small tasting room and dock sales and occasional educational events (which were a huge inspiration for me). When the brewery outgrew its walls, they opened the Public House in the Whiteaker neighborhood in 2013 to immediate and lasting fandom.
For more history: Chris Althouse left the brewery after a couple years, and is now an essential part of Block 15’s success. Dana Robles, an early employee of The Bier Stein, brewed at Oakshire for a few years. She moved to Ninkasi for a spell, and is now brewing at Boneyard. Joe Giammatteo brewed at Oakshire after his internship at Russian River, and was gone for a few years to open Cerveceria del Valle Sagrado in Pachar, Peru. He’s back on deck after a stint at WildCraft Cider Works.
Matt Van Wyk is the most well known Oakshire alum. He came from the eastern Iowa and Chicagoland brew scenes, having begun his foray into barrel-aging with Todd Ashman (former brewmaster at 50/50 Brewing) and gathering a medal or so at Flossmoor Station. He built Oakshire’s barrel program and refined many of the recipes during his 7-ish years there. Formerly an educator, he brought up the knowledge of everyone he worked with.
Dan Russo, the current head brewer, was one of the benefactors of Van Wyk’s tutelage; Russo also won the Glen Hay Falconer Foundation Scholarship to the American Brewers Guild program at Siebel in Chicago a few years ago. Russo started brewing informally at Rogue Tracktown while he was working in the restaurant and Christina Canto (who also brewed at Oakshire) was brewer there. Since Rogue would not let her have an assistant, he essentially volunteered his time.
When Van Wyk left Oakshire to start Alesong, Tyler West took over as head brewer. When West left for GoodLife in Bend, Russo stepped to the job with aplomb. While there was a transitional period as he adapted to the new role, Russo’s choices have become more confident and successful and reflect his deep-thought approach to new beers. From the new standard Lagerbier, a Czech-style pale lager, to the perennial Hellshire release and all the hazy IPAs in between, Oakshire’s beer is, as it has been, approachable and adventurous.
Although the wild ale program has abbreviated since Van Wyk’s departure, the quality has not. Fruit Farm, for example, is a fantastic annual release that’s open fermented in open-topped barrels with Pinot Noir grapes.
Oakshire hosts the annual Hellshire Fest, a day-long debacle of barrel-aged beer from around the country. My only complaint is that the date was moved from February to reduce the risk of rain and increase attendance. While I understand, I will miss stomping around in my rain boots, heating myself up from the inside. Do yourself a favor and put Hellshire fest, and a visit to the Public House, on your bucket list.