From butterfly pea flowers that turn beers purple to Carolina reaper chili peppers that turn beers spicy AF, Funky Fauna Artisan Ales technically is a brewery, but it's more like an idea factory. Funky Fauna is now celebrating one successful year of ideation. A full year into its existence it likely remains Central Oregon's smallest brewery, but the Sisters-based brewery from husband-and-wife duo Michael Frith and Danielle Burns has cultivated a small yet mighty fanbase of beer geeks who love Belgian and French style saisons—elegant and approachable farmhouse ales—that have been largely ignored or mothballed by other breweries.
The "funky" qualifies the fact that the brewery has made good on the goal of using an exclusive house yeast cultivated and propagated from native, ambient yeasts. The "fauna" part is a tad misleading (especially since the couple are vegans); while the beers feature no animals or animal products, they do frequently rely on local flora from a beer called Benny that incorporates spruce tips and Douglas fir tips to a beer called Above the Deepest Ocean made with tea from Sakari Farms in Tumalo that's comprised of red clover, chamomile and locally grown raspberries.
To date, Frith has brewed 56 batches (only six of which have been repeat beers) and maintains a release schedule of four beers per month on average. The beers tend to have the same naming convention as emo bands: In the Flowers, The Magic is Around Us, and Thought I'd Say Something More to Say.
The first week Frith's brewery opened, he'd declared, "We are tied to this land." Not only did the house yeast originate in the brewery's backyard, but Funky Fauna opened as the first Craft Malt Certified Brewery. He continues to exclusively use small, local maltsters, predominantly Mecca Grade from Madras. Several of the beers incorporate herbs and botanicals, and on the fruit side, moving forward Frith will eschew packaged, pureed fruit for hyperlocal growers. Look for wild and oaked peach, cherry and raspberry beers—plus wine-beer hybrids using pressed grapes or pomace from Bend's Lava Terrace Cellars—months after next year's harvests. As Frith says, "Our goal is really to connect with local farmers."
Now with a year of commercial brewery ownership under his belt, Frith reflects, "People have been receptive to the style and the yeast, but there's been a learning curve. Maybe 3% of people who come in are hesitant and won't budge," he adds, remarking that he's contemplated bringing in cans of Rainier, but ultimately is staying true to his vision. He estimates that roughly one-third of customers are locals in Sisters, another third are from Bend and the last third are beer pilgrims from Portland or parts beyond. "Some people come in and say, 'Thank you for not brewing an IPA.'"
That said, Funky Fauna's collaboration IPA with Bend Brewing Company will be released this week and available at the respective tasting rooms. It's not that hops and hop character have no place at the brewery. In the Flowers, one of the wild saisons currently on tap, is hopped with new industry darling varietal Sabro that gives beers a faint coconut flesh flavor, minus the bitterness associated with IPAs.
Moving into the second year of operation, Funky Fauna beers will be canned (always can-conditioned for better preservation of flavor and freshness) and should show up on shelves farther afield in Eugene and Portland. Bend retailers that already stock cans include Market of Choice, Newport Avenue Market, Broken Top Bottle Shop and 3rd Street Beverage. Visitors to the Sisters taproom can enjoy the wild saisons on draft and frequently in cans for take-away, but no longer in crowlers, as Frith determined there was too much quality sacrificed.
For ardent fans and supporters, Funky Fauna introduced a membership called the Funky Fellowship. Limited to 100 patrons, the $125 package includes a four-pack of members-only canned beers plus a 750-millilter bottle each season (saison translates to season in French) plus additional discounts. "It's an integral way for us to keep on keeping on," says Frith.