To sum up Odd Man Rush (OMR) owner/operator Brian “Swanny” Swanson’s reaction to the time between opening the brewery the very first day and the five year anniversary on September 25, it’s been a very heartfelt and humbling experience for him and the two other owner/operators, Reid McDonald and Ross Johnson.
I wasn’t the brewery’s first customer but got out there early enough to chase the place down and scoop it before it opened. It took me more than one visit to get an audience.
The first time, although the brewery bay door was open in the back and the entrance door unlocked in the front, and a boom box was going full blast amidst sawdust, construction debris and the rough out of what would become one of south central’s most prolific breweries, there wasn’t a soul around. I wasn’t surprised; I was outside of the confines of Los Anchorage and Eagle River has an entirely different vibe.
Even the industrial units on the lesser-known west side of the highway connected to the brewery were vacant, but it didn’t matter. Eagle River was about to get its first introduction to the power of craft brewing and the positive impact it has on a community.
The biggest challenge since opening day and the five year mark has been COVID, just like it has been for every other small business depending on community support in challenging times to make it through.
“There are days you lose sleep over what could happen, but the people that come in here that are very vocal about their support for small businesses like Odd Man Rush and are amazing. It’s humbling when you have a chance to slow down and breathe and think about it,” he says.
I’ve heard this from other breweries too, but this seemed to really mean a lot to Swanny who could have burned interview time by heaping accolades on the quality of the brewery’s beer, the overwhelming success and positive contribution of a recent expansion, or the fact that a cult following kept cash flowing and the brewery alive despite some very restrictive and daunting challenges. Instead, he acknowledges the incredible support from the brewery’s devotees and others that just want to support small businesses in trying times.
Looking back, he recalled the same feelings that resonate today. “Aside from COVID, getting this place up and running was a challenge from the permitting, paperwork, business detail and every other non-brewing part of opening a brewery that seems insurmountable, but every brewery goes through that.”
A brewer’s true epiphany comes when the beer, the place and the vibe all come together and transforms someone. “When you’re making it through the first six months, you watch every single customer in the tap room. You watch for that moment when they take that very first taste of your beer that you love so much and hope that others do too. When it’s positive and there’s that telltale smile and look on their faces, it’s really rewarding and makes all the hard work worth it,” says Swanny.
That’s an apt description for what Swanny calls the honeymoon phase. “After that, they seem to come back and are coming in because the want to be here and want to feel part of it. That’s what it’s all about and why we started this.” I could really feel the passion in our conversation.
From a personal standpoint, OMR is one of our state’s breweries that I can’t wait to show off to my outside guests and others that have never been there just because the magic of the beer, the place and the vibe are so comfortably alluring to me, and I want my friends to feel the same way. “Isn’t this fucking COOL?” I ask them as I watch their first reaction to the beer and where they’re drinking it.
OMR isn’t about global beer dominance, and the guys are happy just filling the space it’s in and where it’s at. Still, as part of the brewery’s original plan, Swanny and his team knew they would get bigger, but not huge. The people that support them demand it by voting with their dollars and their presence, even when it’s tough to do because of COVID.
“We had some goals in mind,” says Swanny of when the trio started out to launch the brewery. “We started out small, but growing and expanding where part of the five year plan. We wanted to produce more beer, expand the tap room and we did that by year three.”
A recent expansion into the next bay in the industrial complex enlarged by brewery by 2,100 square feet. “About one third of that, or 700 square feet went to additional taproom space in the front,” says Swanny.
Additional brewing equipment in the form of fermenters and conditioning tanks, a cold room and more area to work filled the new space, but the additional taproom space up front expanded the occupancy capacity from 87 to 139, although that’s cut in half by COVID restrictions right now.
“To be honest, I think our next step will be a canning line and a packaging side. We don’t do that right now and people are asking for it. We’ll get a canning line and go into some production brewing on a limited scale. We talked about the food side and it’s in the back of our minds as well, but the canning line comes first,” says Swanny.
OMR continues to focus on its core beers, but with the additional fermentation capacity they can breathe a little bit. “Our core beers are really Mile Hi Hefeweizen, Enforcer IPA, Wes Goldie Bonde and our Pararescue 212 Vanilla Porter. Those are the beers that are on all the time,” says Swanny. “With the extra fermenters we can add more beers and get a little more creative.”
How does the trio determine what to design and try out? “We brew what we like. That’s how this all got started. We make the beer we like rather than trying to hit some category. We don’t necessarily stick with what we know, but brew what we’re interested in. We added some barrel aged stuff, for example,” he says.
We talked about variety. “People that love beer always love what’s coming out next. When you release a new beer, people really dig it.
They always want to try the next thing from their local brewery. The way we see our brewery, if we can make good solid beers that we like and people enjoy, and play around a little bit but not get too far off into left field, it always works. As for new beers, we figure if we like to drink it, other people will too,” says Swanny.
I never see much of the back of the brewery and the production side; I’ve seen a lot of that stuff and won’t say it’s always the same, but it’s similar enough that unless there’s something unique or that I haven’t seen before, my focus is always on what’s made OMR so successful, which is the front of the house, the tap room, the beer and the ambiance.
The new addition and especially the beautiful addition to the tap room are testimony that despite COVID and despite the challenges OMR’s first five years have just postured it for decades to come.