Tom Hammond developed a passion for microbrewed beer during his medical school days in Seattle.

Tom Hammond developed a passion for microbrewed beer during his medical school days in Seattle.

In recent years, the Medford anesthesiologist even fashioned a reasonable home brew and a desire to produce a commercial microbrew.

"It's a pretty successful industry on the whole," Hammond says. "My beer was decent, but there was no way to translate my home brew on the stove into a commercial beer."

When a friend died before launching a long-planned enterprise two years ago, Hammond decided to go for it and set the wheels in motion for Southern Oregon Brewing Co. — the latest local entry in the microbrew industry.

"I decided to chase my dream when he could no longer pursue his," Hammond says. "I've made a few beers that were pretty tasty, but I'm not going to kid myself."

Testing the theory that it's not what you know but who you know, Hammond, 43, set out to find the right person to handle his brew. That happened to be Anders Johansen, 48, whose resume includes both stints with Pyramid and Deschutes breweries as well as a couple of start-ups.

"I surround myself with people smarter than me," Hammond says. "I hired someone with experience and ability who knew exactly what equipment we needed."

Although Hammond hoped to build the brewery in a downtown location, a site two blocks away from Lava Lanes suited him fine. "I must have looked at 15 or 20 buildings and ironically this was the very first one I looked at in June of 2006," he says.

Rather than piece together a new brewery from discarded and used parts, Hammond bit the bullet and invested $1 million into equipment.

"We could've started with a lot less and basically pulled ourselves up by the bootstraps," he says. "But we wanted mostly new stuff that's reliable and we wouldn't have to fix. We're starting small, but I bought enough equipment to where we can grow without more capital expense in the early years."

Southern Oregon Brewing Co., located at 1922 United Way in Medford, will debut with a 20-barrel brewhouse, capable of producing 620 gallons in an eight-hour period. Hammond anticipates brewing once per week in the beginning.

When the price of steel skyrocketed, breweries around the country began seeing kegs disappear and turned into scrap metal.

"That's a huge loss when you consider a new keg costs $150," Hammond says. To deter theft, Southern Oregon Brewing Co. will use 360 polycoated kegs where the steel is plastic coated.

"It's got a couple of nice advantages," Hammond says. "It tends to be more durable and protects the stainless steel innards."

To be sure, neither Hammond nor Johansen disdain brewpubs, but mixing food with brewing can have its drawbacks.

"A brewpub is a temptation when you go down this path," Johansen says. "Most people like to go into a well-run brewpub with a nice atmosphere. But a brewpub is a food establishment and there is a lot of work and stress running a food establishment. A lot of people have started brewpubs and then it hasn't worked out. It's not because of the beer, but because of the front of the house where there are complications presenting food in a consistent way."

Tasting room hours will initially run from 4 to 10 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Occupants at the 24-foot bar and tables can view brewery activity through two large plate-glass windows.

"We'll see how business is going and then probably expand," Hammond says. "Our primary focus is going to be on manufacturing and wholesale distribution."

Although only a handful of people are involved in the operation now, Hammond anticipates having 10 to 20 employees within five years. He expects to craft three beers at the start: golden ale, an India pale ale and a porter style.

Hammond says chasing his new dream has meant working virtually two full-time jobs.

"To a certain extent it mixes chemistry and microbiology," he says. "I had to educate myself with the business world. Getting things off the ground has been fascinating and rewarding. Now that it's very close to reality, I pinch myself and say, 'Am I really doing this?' "

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 776-4463