In a continuing effort to get to know brewers (or anyone who makes our lives tastier) more holistically, I sit down with them and get to know them better. Over a pint. To do this, I invite someone out for beers — but just not the ones he or she makes, because this isn't about plugs. This time, let's meet GoodLife Brewing's production manager, Tyler West.
I met up with West at Crosscut Warming Hut #5, a pint of Fieldwork Brewing's Waimea Juice, the Bay Area brewery's latest hazy IPA for him, a pint of 10 Barrel's Money Cat for me (because I love rice lagers), though it was hardly the first time I'd met him. That took place the year he began working at Oakshire Brewing in Eugene — but why am I starting in the middle.
West moved to Bend from his native Boise in 2001, along with his brother. The duo attended Central Oregon Community College, where West would earn his degree in business and economics. He also got a job at the brew shop — back when Bend had a brew shop — having gotten into homebrewing after a high school buddy handed him a home brew and young West had two epiphanies: 1) You could make your own beer! 2) He knew he could make beer better than his friends. In fact, when his group of friends all declared what they'd grow up to be some day, he's the only one who stayed true to his calling. And I'm just guessing here, but I'd wager that kid who'd introduced him to home brewing doesn't have eight Great American Beer Fest medals to his credit. But again, I'm jumping ahead.
So impressed with his brew shop employee's dedication and talent for brewing was shop owner Tyler Reichert, that he hired West at his upstart brewery, Silver Moon, circa 2003. The brewery had officially opened in 2001, adjacent to the brew shop and, separately, a head shop. This was back when Bend only had three breweries and dispensaries were years away from going legal.
One of West's favorite memories of those early days, when many people were still on the fence whether microbrew was any good (or safe) to drink, was when he'd meet up with other brewers. There was Tonya Cornett (then of Bend Brewing Co, now of 10 Barrel), Jimmy Seifrit (then of Deschutes, now also of 10 Barrel), as well as his coworker at Silver Moon, Brett Thomas (now of Sunriver Brewing) and Mike "Curly" White (then of Bend's fourth brewery, McMenamins Old St. Francis, now of Wild Ride Brewing). They'd get together for beers at the Reed Market Pub as the Rubber Boots Club.
"That was what I considered my version of a formal education in making beer," he said. When GoodLife opened in 2011, West approached his friend-through-homebrewing, Curt Plants, who'd co-founded the brewery with Ty Barnett, but those guys weren't in a position to hire an experienced brewer, so that's when West moved to Oakshire in Eugene. By 2017 he'd worked his way up to director of brewing operations (because he didn't feel like he deserved the title, brewmaster, which is a title that far too many brewers use, who have not truly earned). But as we know, the lure of Bend is too strong. An encounter with Plants at a brewers' conference in Philadelphia kickstarted the conversation that would bring West to GoodLife in early 2017, just before Plants tragically passed away.
One of Plants' finest legacies is Bend favorite, Sweet As Pacific Ale. The beer has always been a pale ale with a healthy portion of the grist coming from wheat. One of the adjustments West made was the simple decision to stop submitting Sweet As as an American Pale Ale at GABF, and start entering it in the American wheat beer category. And voila, it immediately earned its first gold medal, an honor the beer repeated in 2018. Last year it settled for silver. It's even listed as an exemplar of the style by the Beer Judge Certification Program.
It also happens to be a killer accompaniment to pizza, which West makes at home. A lot. He's definitely a maker. Just like we've got a lot more brewers in town than back in those Rubber Boots days, there are more pizza makers, too. And I suspect if someone's starting a Cheesy Boots club, West wants in.