The original brewery was the idea of Jerry Shadomy, an award-winning home brewer from Corvallis, Oregon. Although he had no previous professional brewing experience, Shadomy was able to raise over $80,000 from investors and secure a $30,000 loan for operations. He arranged a five-year, rent-free lease with Ted Cox, the owner of a picturesque downtown Corvallis building. The Old World Deli, a popular restaurant and homebrew supply store (also owned by Cox), shares the same space as the brewery; the brewery operates in plain view of the patrons in the deli’s dining area. It’s no wonder the deli was the brewery’s first draft account.
Shadomy was lucky enough to purchase the original 7-bbl brewhouse from Hart Brewing, which had expanded into a new building with a new 20-bbl system.
After finishing the remodeling, which included moving bathrooms and reinforcing the second floor to support the new fermentors, Shadomy started brewing in early 1987. Wills helped Shadomy remodel the brewery space and, through Freshops, supplied the hops for the brewery. In exchange, Wills received a 1% share in the brewery, but had little effect on its operation.
The only other microbreweries in Oregon at the time were Widmer, Full Sail, and Bridgeport; the general public’s education inm specialty beers had just begun, and selling microbrewed beer was a struggle. Distributors weren’t very excited about micros, and battles had to be fought over every new tap handle.
Initially, Oregon Trail beers were consistently good, and the company’s growth was also consistent, if a bit slow. Shadomy got good exposure at various festivals, including the then-fledgling Oregon Brewers Festival. Oregon Trail’s brown ale was awarded a Beer of the Year award in 1989 by Fred Eckhardt, who at that time was the beer columnist for The Oregonian newspaper (Portland). Things looked good, and the brewery seemed poised to make the jump from 300-400 bbl/year to 1000-1200 bbl/year.
Then disaster struck. Shadomy was hit by personal problems, and the beer quality started to slide. Worse yet, a recurring bacterial infection made its souring presence known. Hard-won tap handles began to disappear. Eventually, the brewery’s only account was the Old World Deli, an ironic and unfortunate full circle in the brewery’s development.
Finally, cash flow dried up, and the bank loan and many other bills went unpaid for months. By mid-1992, the bank was ready to foreclose and had locked the brewery doors.