Another Central Oregon brewery is under construction, but this time the owners have chosen to open outside city limits, steering clear of sewer capacity problems in the region’s downtown areas.
Rat Hole Brewing will be housed in a small outbuilding on 10 acres of rural land southeast of Bend, a short walk from the brewery owners’ house.
Al Toepfer and his fiancee, Susan McIntosh, with whom he owns the business, are working on installing a walk-in cooler to store kegs and bottles of beer. Toepfer’s one-barrel brew system is sitting in the outbuilding waiting for commercial use.
But first, the couple needs to install a septic system and receive approval from the Oregon Liquor Control Commission before brewing beer for sale, which could be six months to a year away, Toepfer said.
Once the brewery is operational, the couple would like to open a tasting room and, eventually, a saloon in Bend or another city.
For Toepfer and McIntosh, Rat Hole is a bit of a passion project.
“We want to have fun from now on, so we want to do things that are fun that we enjoy,” McIntosh said.
Toepfer, 60, is an automotive technician; McIntosh, 64, is the corporate controller of Bellevue, Wash.-based WoodMark Retirement Corp., which runs assisted-living facilities in Washington, Arizona and New Mexico.
They moved from Snoqualmie, Wash., to the house in southeast of Bend in October, after Toepfer injured his back while working.
Neither Toepfer nor McIntosh has experience opening a brewery from scratch, Toepfer said.
But Toepfer has been brewing beer at home and sharing with friends and family for the past five years or so. Last year, his chocolate oatmeal stout, a hazelnut brown ale and other beers won awards at the annual Evergreen State Fair in Monroe, Wash., and the annual Puyallup Fair’s amateur beer contest. The victories cemented Toepfer and McIntosh’s determination to start a brewery, because the beer was getting a good reception.
But even with its location outside Bend, Rat Hole must find a way to succeed in a region with 12 breweries and six more under construction, including Rat Hole.
Nationwide, 725 breweries were in planning stages as of the end of June, according to data from the Brewers Association, a not-for-profit trade organization based in Boulder, Colo.
Assuming Rat Hole and the five other Central Oregon breweries in development all come to fruition, the brewery count in the region would go up to 18.
But McIntosh isn’t worried about competition.
“I think it’s the best place in the world to start (a brewery), because (Central Oregon is) very much like Sonoma or Napa Valley,” McIntosh said. “People come to taste beers.”
Toepfer thinks Rat Hole stands a chance of thriving, with less popular beers such as a lemon-wheat combination, a saison or farmhouse ale, and a vanilla porter.
“For us, I think there’s a big enough market,” he said.