Oregon State University Libraries and Press

Dave Wills Oral History Interview, April 24, 2017

Oregon State University
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00:00:22 - Early life/opening up Freshops

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Partial Transcript: So lets start out, tells us a little bit about your childhood and where you grew up?

Segment Synopsis: Wills shares that he was born in Mankato, Minnesota, but when he was two him and his family moved to Santa Paula, California. He stayed there all through grade school, and then studied at Ventura College, for a little bit but then left to Europe to go after his girlfriend. In Europe he says was where he discovered good beer for the first time. When he returned to the states, he moved to Oregon for a year to establish residency, and then started attending OSU in Corvallis, where he graduated in 1982. Following graduation he tells that he opened up his brewing supply store Freshops. He shares that he started home brewing because their was no good beer in the area. When he found out that there were local hop growers in the area, he quickly became interested and wanted to sell fresh hops, because the hops you could buy at stores were already years old.

Subjects: American Home Brewers Associations; Brew Supplies; California; Corvallis; Europe; European Beer Expereinces; Freshops; Homebrewing; Hops; Mankato; Minnesota; Oregon; Oregon State University; Santa Paula; Ventura College

00:06:12 - Agricultural influences/early jobs

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Partial Transcript: Have you always been interested in Agricultural?

Segment Synopsis: Wills shares that he has always been surrounded by agriculture in his life. He tells that the town he grew up in was the citrus capital of the United States. Willis shares some of the jobs that he did in his late high school years, and during college. He shares how him and his friends ran their own painting business which helped pay for his college. He briefly touches on some other jobs that he had, and then shares that his first Job in Corvallis was on a Christmas tree farm. He shares that even to this day, he stills brings a trailer of Christmas trees down to California almost every year.

Keywords: Avocados; Christmas Tree; Farming; Lemons; Miscellaneous Jobs; Painting

00:09:31 - Memories of California

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Partial Transcript: So, you studied Ag when you came to OSU, what did you study when you were down at Ventura College in California?

Segment Synopsis: Wills discusses how at Ventura College he just studied general ed type things. Wills shares some of his favorite memories of growing up in Southern California. He shares that he misses the sun and the ocean. Wills discusses how it was a great place to grow up, and still a great place to go back too. He shares that he really was the only member of his family that left the area. Wills discusses why he decided to move to Oregon. He shares that he did not get into Cal Poly, but in High School, his band took a trip to Canada and went through Oregon. He also knew that OSU was an agricultural college, and applied and got in.

Keywords: Band; Cal Poly; California Cities; Canada; Christmas; Family; General Education; Los Angles; Ocean; Oregon; Sun; Trombone; Ventura College

00:14:37 - Travels in Europe/Interests in home brewing

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Partial Transcript: So, did you go to Europe before or after you moved to Oregon?

Segment Synopsis: Wills shares that he traveled all around Europe before he moved to Oregon. He followed his girlfriend over to London, but then ended up traveling by train pretty much all over the continent and got to try all the different beer cultures that were available. He discusses that this was how he became so interested in beer, and the main inspiration he had to began home brewing. Wills shares his philosophy that beer has to be drank fresh, imported beers just don't have that fresh quality to them, and because there was no good beer in the States, and the imported beer was to old, so he had to start home brewing. He shares how he took a class with Ruby Moon, a local in Corvallis, and after learning how to home brew it became a passion for him.

Subjects: Anchor Steam; Beer; Europe; Hitchhiking; Homebrewing; London; Ruby Moon; Train; Travling

00:19:48 - Hop Business

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Partial Transcript: So you made your first home brew, and then Freshops came about?

Segment Synopsis: Wills discusses what he did following college, and elaborated on his mail hops business. He shares that some of his more famous big customers were breweries like Sierra Nevada, but his niche had always been for home brewers or home brew stores. He shares that at the time of the business everything was relatively new, because home brewing had only very recently become legal. Wills discusses how he developed relationship with hops farmers, he says that most of the relationships developed from just directly reaching out to the local growers. Wills also discusses the importance of keeping beer and hops local, and how that is a major value of his.

Keywords: Australia; Bridegport; Christmas trees; Freshops; Germany; Hombrewers; Local; New Zealand; Niche market; Oregon Hop Growers Association; Sierra Nevda; Varieties; farmers; hop flower; hop pellets; hops; local sources; medicinal; painting houses; prices

00:27:07 - Expansion of Beer Culture in Corvallis

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Partial Transcript: You were here in Corvallis, not long after cascades were released?

Segment Synopsis: Wills discusses early craft beer and its entrance into Corvallis markets. He shares how he was one of the first people to push for more beer choices at local bars in town. He talks about how his friend started sampling his home brew and because it was popular opened up a brewery, and Wills shares that he became part owner and supplied him with the hops. He shares how the original founder of the business left after three years, and he became the primary owner. He jokes and says that he is open to someone buying the brewery from him. Wills shares some of their early popular beers and discusses his inspiration for different brews. Willis discusses how even though he has always been a hop seller, he was late to the program of putting tons of hops into his brews, and only recently started participating in the heavy hop brews trend. Willis discusses some friends that he has in the business and a silly hop oil product that he makes, in which you can add extra hop flavor to any drink.

Keywords: 1987; Belgian Beers; Breweries; Clubs; Hop Oil; Opening Business; Oregon Trail Ale; Popular beers; Sierra Nevada; Specialty beers; Squirrels Tavern; Stout; Washington; Widmers; Yakima; hop content; hops

00:35:56 - Differences in Beer Culture/Rise in breweries in Corvallis

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Partial Transcript: What was the difference between beer culture in Washington and beer culture here?

Segment Synopsis: Wills discusses the differences between beer culture in Washington and in Corvallis area. He says that depending on which sides of the cascades you are on, basically determines what kinda of beer culture you are exposed to. He says that Eastern Oregonians and Washingtonians stick to their lighter beers, while the I-5 Corridor has a lot more choices. He shares that California is becoming a lot of like Oregon now too, but the Midwest and the South remain very light beer drinkers. Willis discusses the food scene in Corvallis when breweries started to pop up around the area. He shares that his beer was on top a lot of places in the city, but a lot of beer was coming in from Portland too. Wills shares that there are now 6 breweries in Corvallis, and as result business is down, because beer consumption levels stay relatively the same. He also calls out all the other breweries that are prevalent around the state, which also cause more competition. Wills shares that he has ironically trained a lot of the competition that he now has in the area. He shares that it was great to train them and loves that, but it makes sales a struggle. He says that he wishes that one of the brewers would have stayed behind, to take over the business, but he shares that most of them moved on.

Keywords: Beer Culture; Cascade; Corvallis; East West Differnces; Flat Tail Brewery; Gilgamesh Brewing; I-5; Regional Differneces; Sky High Brewery; Yakima; beer consumpion; fermentation school; food scene; light beer

00:40:56 - OSU impact on beer in Corvallis/evolution of home brewing

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Partial Transcript: Did you have an influx of consumers because of the brew science program at OSU?

Segment Synopsis: Wills shares that it does not seem like there is an influx of beer consumers as result of OSU having such a large brewing program. Wills shares about the home brewing community in Corvallis, and the different little shops that stocked home brewing supplies in their stores. Wills shares that brewing supply stores used to pretty bare bones, however, today there are so many different things and ways you can customize your home brews. For an example he shares that there are tons of different types of yeast and malt that you can used to completely change the beer, thus home brewing stores are very important and have a lot of different products. Wills shares some of his memories of Fred Eckhart, and tells that Eckhart encouraged him to always look around and try new beers. He also shares that he taught him to always been innovative and create new things. Wills shares about a new beer that he is creating that has beneficial health effects.

Keywords: Corvallis Brewing Supply; Fred Eckhart; Home brewing Community; Joel Rea; Oregon State University; Seaweed Beer; Yeast; access to supplies; internet; medicinal beers

00:47:20 - Brewing Styles

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Partial Transcript: Where people talking about styles when you started?

Segment Synopsis: Wills talks about how beer consumers are becoming more and more educated about what they are drinking. People can recognized differences styles of beer just by taste and no description. Wills discusses working at a booth at beer festivals in Portland, there main goal was to educate people about whats hops were and what there purposes were. Wills shares more about early brewing festivals, and shares information about who were some of the big name people that were there. Wills shares that a lot of home brewers would turn into professional brewers, but he thinks that is slowing down and there will be less and less breweries popping up because there are so many. He discusses how a lot of the large corporate breweries are buying up more and more small craft beers.

Keywords: Blind testing; Corporate breweries; Fred Eckhart; North West; Oregon Brewers Festival; Oregon Trail Brewing; Styles of beer; beer festivals; new breweries

00:55:49 - Long term goal of business

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Partial Transcript: So you've been doing this for a long time, how do those buyouts effect you?

Segment Synopsis: Wills shares that despite the fact that large brewing companies are buying out a lot of the smaller more local ones, he still try to push for staying local, and supplying his hops to local breweries and home brewers, he says that its a challenge for small breweries to keep up with the amount of marketing and distributing barriers that large corporations can put up around small breweries. Wills shares that he thought about expanding and growing his business, but says that he could never keep other brewers around long enough to help him really expand. Wills shares that his business never grew large enough that he really could expand into the bottling business, because it was hard to meet all the quality control standards that bottling requires. He shares how it was hard to get good relationships with distributors. He discusses how he got shut down by the OLCC for five years for a technical error but was eventually allowed to come back into the brewery.

Keywords: Bottling; Heineken; Lagunitas; OLCC; Oregon Trail; corporate buyouts; expansion; local; marketing; shelf space

01:04:45 - Changes in Corvallis/Changes in Hops

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Partial Transcript: So, how have things changed in the last five years?

Segment Synopsis: Wills discusses how great it is that there are so many local great breweries right here in Corvallis. He shares that its tough on business to have all the different breweries. Wills shares about the changes in the hop business over the years. He tells how its has changed so drastically and that there are tons of varieties and selection. He discusses all the new technologies that are out there now to improve hop quality and flavor.

Keywords: Block 15; Competition; Flat tail; Freezing; Hops; Mazama; Preservation; Sky High; Sustainbility; Variety

01:12:18 - Continued Learning/Complexity of Hops

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Partial Transcript: How did you continue to learn? Did you go visit with farmers? Read on your own?

Segment Synopsis: Wills shares that he has learned a lot from attending conventions and also from magazines that have articles and research in them. He shares that he also learns a lot from community members and is happy to be in a community were everyone is so helpful. He says that a lot of people ask him for hop seeds, but he explains the complexity of hop seeds and hop growing. He shares a story of someone calling him to try and cross-breed marijuana and hops to have the THC be inside the hops.

Keywords: Conventions; Cross-Breeding; Help; High Times; Hops; Learning; Seeds; THC

01:20:39 - Spiked Interest in Hops

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Partial Transcript: So, have you seen an uptick in people wanting to grow rhizomes in their back yard?

Segment Synopsis: Wills shares that a lot of people really want to grow their own hops in their backyards. He shares that lots of people have interest in growing hops, and its not even necessarily to make beer, its just to have it. He says he frequently consults with people about what varieties to grow, and what the varieties mean. He says he also has seen a spike in interest from small commercial growers, however, it still is really really expensive to grow hops commercially if your not doing it at a large scale. He says he always consults with people before they buy, because of how complex the hops are. Wills shares that he doesn't see a lot of people that are too interested in touring hop farms, unless their dedicated beer makers. Wills discusses about some of the more exotic hop products, like hop gum, cheese, and candy.

Keywords: 2008; Agro-Tourism; Backyards; Education; Experimentation; Hop Products; Hops; Rhizomes; Rouge Brewery

01:33:35 - Concluding thoughts

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Partial Transcript: How did you match up with Bob?

Segment Synopsis: Wills shares his relationships with other hop growers and connoisseurs. He discuses how people are crazy about hop candy, and getting their hands on any type of hop products that they can. Will shares what he is particularity proud of his impact on the greater beer/hop community. He says he is happy to be one of the first people in the area to bring really good quality hops to the region.

Keywords: Freshops; Hop Candy; Ohio; Oregon Brewer's Festival; Quality Hops; Twitter