Business Spotlight: Side A Brewing

Scott McConnell, Travis Hansen, and Nicholas Fairbanks

Tucked between the ruggedly scenic Blue and Wallowa mountains, La Grande, Oregon is now home to a popular new watering hole: Side A Brewing. In a historic firehouse converted to brewpub three friends (Scott, Travis, and Nicholas) turned on the taps in 2017. With an array of expertly crafted beer options, top quality, locally-sourced food, and a lively, welcoming atmosphere their venture has naturally made a big splash in town. Thank you to Brittany Lind of Side A for sharing more details about this thriving business – and for teaching us the meaning of “drut”, as in The Drut Irish Red Ale.

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What motivated you to start a brewing company and what do you enjoy most about it?
All three owners (Scott McConnell, Nick Fairbanks and Travis Hansen) have a history in the food and beverage business and one of the owners, Nick, has spent most of his career in the brewing industry, so we were excited to bring some of what we learned to this project. Scott began this project by recognizing the lack of a brewery and high-quality pub food experience in the La Grande, Oregon market. We enjoy creating the brewpub atmosphere because it is a place that people can get away from the onslaught of media. We intentionally designed Side A Brewing to be without televisions and to embrace the realness of wood, metal and concrete. This enables one to just enjoy great food, great beer and a conversation, in a real environment, free from distractions.

How did you decide on the “Side A” name and iconic A flame-shaped logo?
Side A is a term that firefighters use to describe their point of entrance, or approach side, of a building. Since we are located in a historic firehouse we decided to play with that term a bit and apply it to the brewery. The logo was designed by Cold Coffee Media, in consultation with the Side A team.

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What inspires your beer offerings? Are there some you keep on tap all year or are they always changing?
We do have a number of beers we keep on tap year round. Our Copper and Gold Pale Ale and Oregon Frog Hazy IPA being some of the most popular beers year round or close to it. Our others rotate seasonally. For example, for summer we have a couple lighter and refreshing beers that you can drink all day (responsibly of course) in the long summer heat. The Walter Weiß Wheat Beer as well as one of our newest beer addition the Wojtek Polish Blonde Lager. In the winter the Fifth Horsemann Black Lager meets the needs of any dark beer drinker with its coffee and chocolatey smooth undertones.

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What’s your current favorite and which ones have been most popular with pub-goers?
Well, as you can imagine, we all have different favorites as everyone’s palates are quite different. Travis Hansen, owner and head chef, enjoys the In the Yard American Pilsner the best. Scott McConnell, owner, likes to kick back with The Drut Irish Red Ale. Nicholas Fairbanks, owner and yeast lord, gets down with the Wojtek.

Not only do your beer descriptions make us long for a pint or two, they’re also a fun read. We can’t help wondering about Beautiful Kenny, whose name comes up several times. Is it an ode to Kenny Rogers, or… ?
This question definitely makes the brewers and owners chuckle. Some back story may be important here. All three owners grew up together in Michigan and found their way to Eastern Oregon and eventually this all led to the start of Side A Brewing. That being said, they have a lot of jokes and shared experiences that result in some of these common themes among descriptions, names, and imagery. What I do know is Beautiful Kenny is a reference to the one and only Scott McConnell. Will any of us ever know how this name for Scott originated? Maybe not. Do we love it anyway? Absolutely. (Scott adds: Kenny Rogers, circa 1977, is definitely NOT a part of the story.)

We’re also curious about The Drut Irish Red Ale? What exactly is a drut?
A Drut is actually a term used by seasoned firefighters for the newbies. In fact, the retired firefighter, Emmit, who runs the museum side of the building, was the one pushed for this name.

We like that you’re keeping it local when it comes to procuring beer and food ingredients. Has that been challenging at times or do you find it more beneficial to your business?
It has been beneficial. Much of the grain we use has been harvested in Wallowa County (1 hr away) and malted in Baker City, Oregon (45 min to the south) and many hops we use come from the Yakima Valley, Washington. This is some of the most local beer anyone in Eastern Oregon is making today.

We’ve been admiring the big rustic metal A mounted on your wall. Was it made locally too?
Thank you, we love it as well! It was made locally by Eric Carlson out of Wallowa County. He took the A design in our logo and laser-cut ¼ inch steel, carbon arced the surface to give it that look of old steel, wove red LED lights throughout and mounted it to 130 dairy barn floorboards that have been “seasoned” by the various cattle that stood on them. Eric is pretty awesome, he does amazing work, including the bar in Side A as well, which is made out of a huge butterflied Larch.

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What drew you to La Grande, Oregon as a place to build your business? Were you just researching towns in need of a good brew pub or was there a local connection?
Scott is an Associate Professor of Economics at Eastern Oregon University and was already living in La Grande and noticed the need for this type of business.

Side A Brewing is getting glowing reviews and your beer is flowing at 20 other locations too. Congratulations! How did you get so successful so quickly? You just opened in 2017, right?
I think there are a few contributing factors here. One being a brewpub was something La Grande, Oregon was in desperate need of. The local community has been super supportive, and we are so thankful to have such a wonderful community to serve. The second is that we really do pride ourselves in not only taking care of our customers but also, equally as important, our employees. We do all that to make sure the people who work here truly enjoy being a part the brewery. Ensuring the employees also have a voice at the brewery and are involved in many aspects of the process helps them take pride in the product they are selling. And finally, our beer and food are top notch. Like you mentioned before we try to get as many locally sourced ingredients as possible. This not only supports our community but makes a huge difference in quality. Our kitchen makes everything from scratch – from salad dressings to veggie patties. Our beers generally use malt and hops that are all grown within 100 miles of La Grande.

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We hope that your custom keg labels and 22oz bottle labels from Evermine are working out well. Are you enjoying the A-shaped logo labels?
We LOVE our Evermine stickers! Our keg labels are practically indestructible. They hold up against anything we throw at them. And let’s be real. It’s not like kegs are generally “handled with care.” They have the tendency to get thrown around, banged up and stacked and our stickers hold up famously! The A stickers are holding up just as well. We love that we are now able to send out our most prominent logo on it’s own. It prompts conversation about what it means and is becoming more and more recognizable across the state. And because Evermine was able to custom cut the shape for a sticker that has been a huge part to spreading the word of Side A Brewing. Thanks again for all your fantastic work!

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Bobbi (41 Posts)

Bobbi works as a designer and blog contributor at Evermine Labels. When she’s not working on new designs or styling customer orders Bobbi enjoys hiking, yoga, making pizza and all kinds of crafty things.

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