558 N. Main St., Prineville, OR 97754 | (541) 447-6205
Joe Barker of Solstice, pauses for a photo at the brewery recently.
July marks two years for Prineville’s Solstice Brewing Company, an occasion in which owner Joe Barker takes special delight.
“I had people tell me to my face that we would be here 90 days, and then we would close,” Barker recalled of some of the less-than-supportive encouragement he received when Solstice opened in July 2011. “I grew up in a small town, and I saw that happen. So we’re looking forward to get to that two year anniversary. That’s a huge success for us.”
He’s always wanted to brew beer on site — that is what a brewery does, after all — but funding and other challenges kept this out of reach for more than a year, during which time the brew pub served only guest beer.
A big challenge was finding the right equipment – at a price he could afford.
“Used equipment in the size that we have here has gotten really hard to come by,” he said. “We were very fortunate to find it when we did, and when you find it, you’ve got to snap it up.”
The brewery produced some small, test batches for a summer solstice party last June, Barker said, but it wasn’t until December that it turned out its first production batch, and finally became a brewery in more than name only.
“We actually got our first beer on tap December 5,” he reported.
A batch, according to Barker, is the equivalent of 10 kegs, or 10 half-barrels. The standard barrel is 31 gallons, and so a half barrel, or batch, is 15 ½ gallons.
“Right now we’re trying to sell the equivalent of a batch a week,” he said. “We’ve got one local handle (beer on tap) over at Dillon’s Bar and Grill, so they buy one keg a week. We have a couple of handles in Bend. Some people are thinking about putting them on regularly, so we’ll see how that goes. We’d like to get to that point to where we’re doing two batches a week.”
Another milestone was reached at the end of March.
“Our goal,” Barker said, “is to always keep our pub stocked, of course, and then last week was the first week we got six of our very own beers on tap.”
Including two India Pale Ales (IPAs), Solstice now brews seven beers — “everything in the major ranges,” he said.
“Our wheat beer’s called Show Me the Honey Wheat (a wheat beer spiced with crushed coriander),” said Barker. “That’s been a great one. Our copper ale as well. And then any of the dark beers we’ve done (a chocolate porter and a stout), people have really enjoyed.
“The other one that’s gone over pretty well is the Prinetucky Pale Ale. That’s the lightest beer that we brew here. It’s a little less than five percent alcohol. It’s good with food or you can finish up the day with it. We actually have not made it from one batch to the next with it, because we usually run out before the next batch is done.
“Our goal was, by the end of April,” he continued, “to have four brandable beers that were recognizable, that the recipes we feel are dialed in or they’re what we want. We feel like we’ve done that. We’re always going to have them available for people who want to buy our beer.”
Barker acknowledged that the learning curve has been incredible.
“Let’s just say the learning curve looks like a 90-degree angle,” he said, his eyes glazing over as he recalled the last year-and-a-half. “Every time you feel that you’ve got something managed, there’s a new element to take on. A lot of people have told me that I should feel really good that we haven’t had to throw any batches out, because they didn’t turn out good.”
He digs into the science of brewing when he has problems, or if he needs help in whatever he’s doing at the moment, he said, but he also understands that sometimes he just needs to put things in perspective.
“If I start getting too detailed,” he said, “I usually have one of my guys kick me in the head and say, ‘Hey. We’re just making beer.’ OK. You’re right.’”
Barker said he still considers himself to be nothing more than a home brewer on a “ginormous scale,” — even though it’s now his vocation — and because home brewing is fun, he welcomes the input and interaction with local hobby brewers.
“It’s neat to see people enjoy a passion, and me being able to say, ‘If you want to come, help out, let me know.’ I’ve had people that I’ve sent them a text message, ‘Hey, we’re brewing beer tomorrow. If you want to swing by, check it out.’”
The support he’s received from Prineville has been “delightfully surprising,” he said, and for that, he’s thankful.
“We definitely feel like we have built a clientele and we’ve been very well supported by people and families in the community. No doubt about it.”
Solstice Brewing Company is located at 234 N. Main St., and can be reached at 541-233-0883.
Hours are 11:30 a.m. – 9 p.m., every day, except for Friday, when Solstice closes at 10 p.m.
Solstice has seven beers (six in-house and one guest) and hard cider on tap, and offers a full bar. Growlers are also sold and filled.
The complete food menu (soups, salads, sandwiches, tacos, seafood, etc.) highlights hamburgers made of fresh, local Breese Beef – beef, that if asked, they will even cook rare. “It’s nice to have a beef that you can have that kind of faith in,” said owner Joe Barker.