Homebrew Sweet Homebrew: An Interview with Tetherow Members Tim and Lisa O’Brian
By Jesslyn Gillespie
Whether it’s scented soaps or monogrammed hand towels, a guest bathroom can say a lot about a household.
In the bathroom of Tim and Lisa O’Brian, there is a large jug swaddled in a towel like a newborn, containing five gallons of New England Hazy IPA on its second dry hopping.
“This one’s going to do a little extra time,” Tim says, unwrapping the jug. “It’s in time-out.”
Supervising a percolating IPA is just part of the business. Fun-loving and generous, the O’Brians are Tetherow Members and proud homebrewers. This means they make from scratch a variety of custom beers from the comfort of their own home and garage. Their unofficial business—Slug Bait Brewing Company—began in Kirkland, Washington in 1995, caters to family and friends, and profits from good spirits.
Beer has always been an important part of Tim’s life.
“My dad and I tried to make beer when I was a kid,” says the retired marine engineer. “[Then] I moved out west and my brother and I talked about making beer.” Twenty-five years ago, Tim bought his brother a homebrew setup. “It was fantastic. A year later he got me my own set so I wouldn’t drink his beer,” he adds with a laugh.
Hardly one step into Tim and Lisa’s garage and I could tell this was no small hobby. They have a Heat Exchange Re-circulating Mash System, or HERMS, in the second car stall. It looks like something straight out of Star Trek: a machine with pumps, gauges, and three stainless steel tanks.
The process starts with heating malted barely to the right temperature for starches to become sugars. For Tim, that’s 150-154 degrees Fahrenheit. Then hops are added, keeping in mind the longer they brew, the more bitter the product, and the shorter they brew, the more aromatic. Next comes the oxygenation and yeast, a living organism that converts the wort into alcohol and carbon dioxide. The last step is carbonization and bottling. Overall, the brew-to-keg cycle takes about two weeks, producing 5-10 gallons of beer.
And it’s good. For me, there was no discernable difference between the O’Brians’ homebrew and a fresh corporate-brew. I would go one step farther and say I found it smoother and more flavorful—not to mention having the inherent pleasantness that comes with enjoying a neighbor’s home cooking.
Authenticity and passion are present everywhere at Slug Bait. There is not an ounce of beer snobbery to be seen. Tim neither obeys trends, nor goes against the grain. He brews and drinks what he wants, when he wants, and encourages others to do the same—even if it’s lukewarm Coors Light.
“If you like it,” says Tim, “it’s okay.”
That being said, there are a few staples you will commonly find in the O’Brians’ garage: Northwest-style IPA, Light American-style wheat beer, and an oatmeal stout on nitrogen.
Where Tim works with the product and equipment, Lisa handles the marketing. Moving to Bend last year meant not only house-hunting, but garage-hunting for the space needed for the kit. Their Tetherow home had the right ingredients. The community is also a plus.
“We have found so many great people though the Member’s Lounge and golf,” says Lisa, a retired Microsoft project manager and participant in the 2018 Girls Just Wanna Have Fun Tournament. “The Ladies’ Golf Group has been a big plus for me.”
Slug Bait has its own customized wooden and neon signs, bar pull handles, pint glasses, and more. There is also a quaint, comfortable bar in the garage, whose shelves are a testament to the heart of the business, displaying everything from cherished empty bottles, a slug sculpture wearing a Viking hat, and personal photographs of family, friends, and cats.
Even the name—Slug Bait Brewing—is close to home, based on a private family joke. Although no details are given, Tim hints at another explanation: “People put beer in trays in the gardens to attract slugs.”
The O’Brians’ beer may not be used for slugs, but it certainly draws people’s attention. When Lisa and Tim first met in a skiing group in Whistler, BC, Tim mentioned he had a brewing kit and quickly garnered the friendship of the others. And when they started dating, Lisa found a jug of percolating beer in his bathroom.
“I was like, what else am I going to find here?” jokes Lisa.
To this day, homebrewing has proven to be a creative way for the O’Brians to meet new folks, and it’s no wonder why: Beer is as cherished in Bend as cream pie is in Boston with its twenty-two breweries and numerous organizations and clubs. Tim is a founding member of the Cascade Brewers Guild and a member of the Central Oregon Homebrewers Organization.
When I asked about whether there is a plan for Slug Bait Brewing Company to become an official business in the future, both shook their heads. They’re happy being retired.
In the meantime, they have a new adventure coming up.
“We’re going to Africa,” Tim says. Tetherow Members Dylan and Liz Brant have arranged a special trip through their company Brandt Safaris. “I want to stand by the watering hole at dusk with a gin and tonic and watch the hippos frolic.”