By Michael Kew
“We’re a small brewery with a big heart. His heart is larger than yours or mine.”
Mark Camarillo is seated aside me and his wife, Hanna, on the back deck of their home, sipping pints of pale ale made by their 26-year-old son Matt, to my left.
“Matt’s heart enlarged because it had to work so hard,” Mark continues while admiring Peavine Ridge, facing his 1-acre slice of paradise here on the Winchuck River, 3 miles east of the Pacific and a stone’s throw from rare, non-Californian redwoods. It’s this green, serene view that spawned the name for Misty Mountain, Oregon’s southernmost brewery, just 2 miles above the Golden State.
At the opposite end of their property, inside Matt’s garage-size brewhouse, is a digital, single-tier, 20-gallon MoreBeer! BrewSculpture system.
“I love brewing on it,” Matt said. “It’s easy, but very effective. I like the control and smallness of it. After about six months, my recipes were dialed in. I feel comfortable with where we are.”
Pouring legally since February, Misty Mountain has gotten great feedback at 2015 beer festivals, including those in Seaside, Gold Beach, and Lakeside. (Next is the Wild Rivers Music Festival at Brookings’ Azalea Park, August 15-16.)
Matt drew the Misty Mountain logo and devised beer names inspired by his love for Warhammer, a fantasy tabletop wargame of heroic miniatures. Not fantastical, however, was his congenital bicuspid aortic valve disease (BAVD)—his aortic valve leaked.
A normal aortic valve has three leaflets that open and close, regulating flow from the heart to the aorta, preventing blood from flowing backward into the heart. With BAVD, the valve has just two leaflets, causing reverse leakage, though the defective valve can function for decades with no symptoms.
“You wouldn’t have known there was anything wrong with him,” said Mark, a retired police officer who served 28 years in Los Angeles and Orange counties.
Matt had a normal Southern California childhood, engaged in football, volleyball, skateboarding, wakeboarding, and racing motorcycles. Later, he homebrewed beer with his dad and cousin while employed as a bottler at Bayhawk Ales in Irvine and Hangar 24 in Redlands. At both breweries, he said, “I wanted to be pulled away from the bottling line as much as possible so I could learn about the whole art of commercial brewing. It was mind-blowing and intriguing and I wanted to know more about everything, how much I could learn each day.”
But, inevitably, his fatigue levels spiked. The symptoms came.
“It felt like something inside was stabbing me,” Matt says. “It was intense but would go away quickly. At first, it wasn’t debilitating, and it didn’t happen often until after I visited my parents here.”
Coincidentally, their Winchuck neighbor is a retired surgeon who referred them to a Portland cardiologist.
“The stars aligned,” Hanna said. “It was meant to be.”
“Matt went to the cardiologist, who took one look at his heart and said, ‘The time is now,’” Mark said. “I didn’t have any gray hair until that.” (laughs)
Matt’s aortic valve was to be replaced with a prosthesis. On March 4, 2014, he endured open-heart surgery at Portland’s Providence St. Vincent Medical Center. His four-month recovery period “felt like an eternity,” tainted by minor bleeding and an arrhythmia that required cardioversion, an electric shock to his heart to restore its normal beat.
“They had to jump-start him,” Mark said. “That was stress on top of stress.”
Afterward, Hanna said, “we were talking beer right away. Matt’s brewing is very much a labor of love, part of his recovery and our new lives here.”
Twenty-five years ago, when Matt was 1, the Camarillos hit Oregon and put a down payment on a ranch in Deadwood (Lane County). Mark applied to and got accepted at the local police department, but the couple couldn’t sell their Southern California home. Everything fell through.
“Still,” Mark said, “we told ourselves we’d someday be back in Oregon, because it’s just too beautiful. This is the way the environment is supposed to look—not full of houses and concrete and freeways. You’re supposed to hear birds chirping instead of cars roaring by and music thumping. This is how you’re supposed to live.”
Twenty years later, after retiring from the Orange police force, Mark was working at a BMW motorcycle dealer when the Oregon bug again bit. “Hanna and I said to each other: ‘If not now, when?’”
Within a week of its listing, their home sold. While Mark stayed in Orange with their daughter, who was in high school, Hanna parked the family RV in Honey Bear Campground, near Ophir, and house-hunted.
“I had this thing with the Rogue River,” Mark said. “I wanted to live where I could see it.”
Eventually their search broadened to include Chetco and Winchuck rivers; 3.5 miles up the latter, they found home.
“For years, we had wanted to start a brewery,” Hanna said. “We didn’t know when or how or if we could, but this property seemed perfect because we could grow hops and pretty much whatever else and be self-sufficient. Also, our water is superb.”
“We want to keep our beer local and use as many ingredients as we can produce here,” Mark said. “We’re not rushing anything—staying true to one barrel at a time and caressing every process in the whole brewing spectrum.”
“One barrel at a time,” Matt said, grinning. “I feel like we’ve found our niche here.”
Misty Mountain recently gained a lease for a taproom in Harbor, near the Chetco Valley Historical Society Museum. Directly off Highway 101, the location boasts convenience and an ocean view, and will offer seven year-round Misty Mountain beers—Black Gate IPA, King Under the Pumpkin Russian Imperial Stout, Buckland Brown, Grey Pilgrim Pale Ale, Sea of Ruin Imperial Red, Long Bottom Lager, Rivendale Saison—plus fruity seasonals and specialty brews, including cider made from Hanna’s homegrown apples.
As for brewmaster Matt, he’ll be on meds for the rest of his life— Coumadin, a blood-thinner, and metoprolol, a beta blocker—but he’s found a fresh, post-surgery verve.
“I’m super lucky to be here—probably as lucky as I can get. It’s a magical place. I feel immersed in the wilderness out here. I want that to reflect everything about our beer. I want it to be a magical experience, because brewing is what changed my life.”