If native son Tyler Hays has his way, a new microbrewery in Joseph may help boost Wallowa County’s employment statistics.
Hays is the owner of BDDW, a very successful East Coast arts and design company, as well as the M. Crow & Co. store in Lostine. He maintains his Wallowa County roots by frequently visiting the home he owns here.
Hays says he’s very concerned about the long-term economic disruption caused by the closure of the area’s sawmills. He purchased the M. Crow & Co. store in Lostine that was in imminent danger of permanent closure. Now, he hopes to bolster the Wallowa County economy by building a microbrewery and has already purchased a 22-acre Joseph property with plans of eventually adding a commercial woodworking/ceramic workshop.
Hays said the project was about three years in the making. The working title of the beer is simply “M. Crow”. Hays plans to start off brewing and possibly selling the boutique beer out of the shop as well as the M. Crow and Co. store and his online site.
He said the building is not a multi-million dollar enterprise, but a small operation — at least at the outset.
“We have a lot of good contacts and a lot of good people behind it. We want to keep our growth slow and stable.
“It’s going to be more than just beer. I’m working with (local rancher) Alan Klages, who is growing Heritage Barley, a strain invented by his great uncle.”
Hays said a two-year search led him to a farmer growing the seed in southern Oregon. Hays purchased 500 pounds for Klages to sow. Half of the total is slated for the brewery and the other half for more sowing.
The idea of being a big-shot employer in the county doesn’t appeal to Hays, but he is aware of the scarcity of family-wage jobs in the area.
“It’s more about trying to repair what’s happened to our resources in this county.”
While starting small, Hays sees significant but steady growth to the business over the next five to 10 years.
“The whole focus is making beer to ship out of the county. ... This is awesome because it’s a pure Wallowa County brew. The Klages barley is engineered locally, grown locally, malted locally and fermented locally with local wild yeast and bottled in ceramic bottles from local clay. It’ll probably be the most local beer happening in the world today.”
Hays said he’s not trying to compete with Terminal Gravity Brewing in Enterprise as he is seeking a different clientele. He added it would be a highly experimental brewery with the possibility of hosting visiting brewers and perhaps brewing several dozen different kinds of beer.
The initial brewing will be about 50 handmade bottles.
“We’ll probably never drink it because it will be collectible,” Hays said. He added that he hopes to eventually increase production to brew several thousand gallons at a time but stressed that it will never be a large-scale beer operation with truck loads of beer leaving the operation daily.
Hays said he plans to have five employees brewing beer, manufacturing furniture and crafting ceramics by the end of the year. The project already is well underway in Joseph.
“We’ve got the building going, we’ve ordered the wells drilled, we’re sampling water and building the system.”
He has already retained the services of local contractor Louis Perry for building construction.
Although Hays plans to hire locals in the main, he will also import people to train employees.
“For the woodworking, one of my guys is going to move up there to train. My intention is build a solid local industry there. Whether that’s exclusively local, or I have to ship people in with the expertise for training.”
Hays already has a couple of brewers he’s talking to oversee the brewery operations once the project gets off the ground.
“I design a lot of the brews myself. We’re not going to center the brewery around one brewer. It’s going to be working different brewers and probably guest brewers whether local or abroad. I believe in the alchemy of brewing more than having a master formula.”
While Hays is passionate about the project and hopes to eventually be the county’s largest employer, he knows it won’t happen overnight.
“It’s not about hiring a lot of people soon, it’s about building a stable thing that has traction and grows like a redwood tree rather than a berry bush.”
In the meantime, he is building community support for the project.
“We’re hoping to get local people behind it if we can, because it’s not something I can do alone.”
Wallowa County is never far from Hays’ mind, and he is intent on leaving a positive Wallowa County legacy for the future.
“When I die, I’ll have given something to my heritage there.”