Strange Brew: Oakshire

The Pacific Northwest has an incredible reputation for its breweries, and has pulled attention from all corners of the country. The water is unbelievable. The hops grow plentifully—and with intense flavors, and with the drive in microbrew culture, artisan beer is thriving. In general, people can appreciate the art of brewing, and the amazing flavors that are derived from native ingredients. Along with this appreciation are numerous events that bring beer people alike together. “Beer tends to be the ultimate social lubricator—brings people together from different cultures—different backgrounds,” expresses Oakshire’s Brewmaster, Matt Van Wyk. Oregon is more specifically known for its natural resources, whether it’s lumber, fish, or the lush agriculture that thrives there. But if there is one thing that draws taste buds closer to the northwest region, it’s craft beer, and the numerous microbreweries that surround it. A somewhat new face in the crowd is Oakshire Brewing Co., created by brothers, Chris and Jeff Althouse in October of 2006.

The brothers, each with their own set of skills necessary to construct a successful new business, plunged at the opportunity to open up a new brewery in the Eugene area, and have not slowed down since. “The brewery is more than just a place where beer is made,” says Van Wyk. Even though starting on a very small scale, Oakshire is finding itself expanding with every waking hour. Construction has been a constant space sharing activity for the brewers and employees as they continue to upgrade, and create more incentive for people to visit the emerging neighborhood of Trainsong. The west Eugene brewery finds itself improving little by little, and quickly adding new equipment to keep up with the demands. Oakshire is tucked back in the Trainsong neighborhood of Eugene, and is not immediately noticeable from the road, however the fresh smells of hops and wheat pouring from the building at all times are more than enough to ring in a thirsty mouth.

Traingsong is a neighborhood built of steel, brick, and a whole lot of dead ends. The reasons for visiting this neighborhood as an outsider seem few and far between, in most part because there is no driving force for attraction. A perimeter of train yards surround 75 percent of the town, and busy Highway 99 takes up the remaining space. Scattered throughout the area are an incredible number of car lots, RV sales, and hole in the wall restaurants and bars. Van Wyk feels that although there are not a lot of businesses starting up around the area, there is always room to improve, and opportunities for new business owners to get started.  In addition to the commercial strip on the south side of the neighborhood, are a handful of residential cul-de-sacs, with reputation for violence, drugs, and theft. Fortunately, in the recent years, Trainsong has been working on its image, as well as housing one of Eugene’s up and coming microbreweries.

For so many years Trainsong has fought to keep its head above the water, and bring a safe accommodating place for its residents and people looking to explore Eugene’s surrounding neighborhoods. Although further away from the central Eugene’s hotspots, every neighborhood has the ability to attract people through the variety of the unique inhabitants, and their hobbies. With such a large number of industrial businesses occupying the neighborhood, it becomes more of an ominous place to visit, but the train yards at sunset juxtapose the cold feeling of concrete and steel. The calm movement in the yards as the sun sets behind the hills create a beautiful venue for residence and workers to slowly end their days.

Another local Eugene brewery, established by Jamie Floyd and Nikos Ridge in 2006 is Ninkasi Brewing Company. Ninkasi is currently located in Eugene’s Whiteaker area, which much like Trainsong, has had its share of hardships in the past. Conversely, the Whiteaker neighborhood is one of Eugene’s most popular neighborhoods. Flooded with an assortment of restaurants, popular bars, and some local retail the neighborhood has successfully given itself a positive facelift. The Ninkasi Brewery has been growing rapidly in the past couple years to fulfill its demands. The brewery has played a large role in the transformation of the Whiteaker neighborhood by encouraging local business to move in, and give people another reason to build a positive neighborhood.

Brewmaster Van Wyk has been lending his hands and mind to the Oakshire Brewing Company for the past two years, and has enjoyed every passing moment of his involvement. Brewing is an art, and a craft that only a few have the ability to create on a large scale, and starting up in such a reclusive neighborhood has proved to be nothing short of a dream come true for the Oakshire gang. Although neighbors are few and far between, Van Wyk feels that the Trainsong “neighborhood has a unique set of people that live [there], and that’s what makes it interesting and fun. Because it is so close to the handful of houses that are there, the brewery does its best to keep good relationships with the residence, knowing that it is a business that has the ability to create a lot of noise throughout the day.

Additional noises that have been stirring around the brewery for the past couple weeks, are the constructions of both a new Oakshire tasting room, as well as a home brew room where people can come take classes on how to brew batches of beer themselves. Right below the fairly new grain silo is Oakshire’s very own urban garden. Put in for brewery employees to enjoy, and get their hands dirty and their busy minds away from the enjoyable, but intense work of brewing. The back lot is occupied with a chicken coop that is maintained by the employees as well, and produce that is enjoyed by all. The close-knit brew community invites Eugene residence to take a chance on Trainsong and spend their weekend or evenings experiencing all of the new creations within their brewery. The brewery is a great innovation to involve the rest of Eugene with a neighborhood looking to find itself in the crowd, and bring in the wonderful people that live in the area.

The neighborhood’s facelift is not entirely credited to Oakshire, but the brewery has been incredibly active in involving spirited locals with the endless possibilities for the area. Oakshire hopes to keep expanding their brewery slowly, while maintaining the local feel within the small neighborhood. Although Oakshire is a little bit off the beaten path, it is becoming more of a social attractor for people looking to check out the brewery, and get to know the gang. Beer—and craft beer at that has always been a popular enjoyment for people in and around the Northwest. It has its own niche group of people that enjoy it, but beer on a whole has always been something that people can enjoy together. Whether it’s microbrew or domestic, foreign or local, “even through history, it’s one of the things that people centered around. As people became less hunter and gatherers, and became an agrarian society, people stayed put because there was grain to be planted and beer to be made—and then drank. So it brought those cultures together as well,” describes Van Wyk.

Oakshire is establishing its hub with the Trainsong neighborhood, and as time goes on has hopes that the neighborhood will keep improving, and the community will keep progressing. Local businesses keep cities from turning into the all so familiar cut outs, and what better way than to keep business local than brewing up local ingredients, and keeping people thirsty for more.

Video Interview with Matt Van Wyk

By Tucker Leverton

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