Meet the Brewer: John Donehower

Meet John. John likes beer. John likes to make beer. We like John.

We’re thrilled to have John as our head brewer, and while our brewing equipment won’t be ready for a few more months, he’s been busy making homebrew recipes at the brewpub and at home (for R&D purposes). He’s also donned his beat-up denim jeans and old t-shirts everyday to come help build the brewery from the ground up. You’ll often find John wearing safety goggles, either for making a small batch of beer or chiseling away at some construction project.

John 1995

John’s first batch (stout) in 1995

Here’s a bit about Mr. Donehower, his brewing history, and what he sees brewing in the future for Common Block.

John, you beer-making machine, tell us about your personal and professional brewing history. 

I brewed my first beer in 1995 on a stovetop. It was a 5-gallon partial mash batch of stout. A lot went wrong. The kettle boiled over. I over-filled the carboy. The fermentation blew the airlock off spraying beer all over the coats in the closet. However, I got the beer successfully bottle-conditioned and it turned out all right. I drank every bottle!

Gauge Tap

Eight years later I was brewing 10-gallon all-grain batches on a three-vessel
system with propane burners and a pump and hoses, hacking air-conditioners for controlling my fermentation temperatures, and pouring the finished beer from a three-faucet home-made kegerator. There was nowhere to go but pro.


Making the Rough Draft Ale at Common Block

My first brewing job was at Pyramid Breweries in Berkeley, CA, working in the fermentation cellar and in the brewhouse. I couldn’t wait to learn how to do everything. The sheer size of the equipment was amazing. Mashing six or seven thousand pounds of grain and hopping four thousand gallons of boiling wort is a mighty thing. While working there, I studied brewing at UC-Davis.

In 2011, I went to Arizona with two other former Pyramid folks to build and to open the Phoenix Ale Brewery. I enjoyed building a brewery from the ground up and designing all of the recipes, but when it’s 110 degrees outside you can guess how hot it is inside standing next to a 20-bbl brewhouse.

And so here I am, finally, in beer heaven swinging a hammer, turning a shovel, and snapping chalk lines again on a brand new brewery. The old homebrew rig is back out and busy turning out fresh ideas. It’s going to be so much cooler this time.

We’ve spotted you with beer in hand after running the Wild Rogue Relay
 and Mt. Ashland Hillclimb this year. Be honest, is it part of your motivation when you’re out there running?

If you have to run 13.2 miles uphill for a beer then you’re probably
doing something wrong! The beer is more like step 1 of recovery. And
steps 2 and 3.

John at permit party

Showing onlookers his homebrew set-up at our Permit Party in August

Can you give us a sneak peek of the beer styles you have in mind for brewing at Common Block?

Common Block will have a multi-tap format where we’ll pour our beers alongside beers from other craft brewers. This allows us to offer a wide choice of styles without limiting our brewing capacity to the usual pale ale, IPA, stout, and amber line up. I see us doing things like single-hop pale ales and IPAs alongside one another for the sheer joy of comparing ingredients, or bringing in authentic yeasts to brew flights of Belgian ales and German lagers, or taking advantage of the Rogue Valley to brew with seasonal ingredients like grapes, peaches, pears, apples, and of course, fresh hops. I’ve also got my eye on an out-of-the-way spot in the brewery where I think a few oak barrels will fit nicely.

Thanks John! You can read about more folks on our Common Block team here:

Meet Common Blocker Nick Blakeslee

Meet Common Blocker Ashley Nunes

Meet Common Blocker Rachel Koning