All systems are go for Mark Nunnelee, who turned to brewing after retiring from careers with NASA and the BLM.
Story by Brandon Johns Photos by Thomas Boyd
All things begin with an idea, but how does an idea begin?
In Mark Nunnelee’s case, years ago he was gazing at a beer he was drinking when he turned to his wife, Lydia, held up his glass and told her, “I can make this.”
That was the beginning of Lookingglass Brewery, which has been slaking local thirsts since 2016. But it’s not the beginning of Nunnelee’s beer journey.
That began when the Nunnelees moved to Douglas County after Mark had spent more than two decades working for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
“My wife and I wanted a change of pace, so we moved to Oregon and I took a job with the BLM,” Nunnelee says. “It was the perfect choice, and we love living here.”
Nunnelee worked the Bureau of Land Management job until he retired. That was when he got the idea to become a brewer.
Using retirement money from his NASA career, Nunnelee bought brewing equipment, then immersed himself in learning all he could about making beer.
His early efforts — small batches to serve family and friends — were well-received and motivated him to continue researching new formulas to brew a better beer.
“That may be my favorite part about this, creating good beer to share with great people and watching them really enjoy it,” he says.
In July 2015, Nunnelee felt confident enough to open Lookingglass Brewery. At first, the operation consisted of Nunnelee persuading a few local bars and restaurants to put his brew on their beer lists. But when response was again strong, he started thinking about starting his own retail beer operation. He and Lydia started scouting locations and found what they were looking for at 192 S.E. Main St. in Winston.
“OUR BEER IS AS NATURAL AS CAN BE. NO ADDITIVES, NO PRESERVATIVES AND NO PELLET HOPS. WE DON’T FILTER EITHER. I THINK THAT JUST TAKES THE SOUL OUT OF THE BEER.” –Mark Nunnelee
In April 2016, the Lookingglass Brewery Taproom opened. Business was brisk and Nunnelee found himself busier than ever.
“On brewing days, we get up around 3 or 4 a.m. to get things started and then work all day,” he says. “We try to keep anywhere from seven to 11 types of beer on tap.”
Even so, it’s sometimes tough to keep up with demand, and Nunnelee occasionally sells out a particular brew.
“Yeah, I do get some funny calls and texts from customers wondering where a favorite beer is,” he says.
Nunnelee speaks reverently about the brewing process.
“Our beer is as natural as can be,” he says. “No additives, no preservatives and no pellet hops. We don’t filter either. I think that just takes the soul out of the beer.
“We screen out the hops and it’s ready to go” he says. “I believe it’s about the care and love you put into your craft that makes the difference in the beer.”
Customers aren’t the only people who have noticed. Nunnelee’s Double IPA won an award at the Umpqua Brewfest.
Lookingglass is looking to get bigger, too.
“Currently we are considered a nano brewery, but not for long, as we are still growing,” Nunnelee says. “The upcoming seven (or possibly 10) barrel system will place us in the microbrewery category (fewer than 15,000 barrels produced annually).”
Nunnelee’s NASA experience might have taught him to aim high with his brewing business. With the new brewing gear installed and other modifications, Lookingglass aims to become an Umpqua Valley institution. All systems are go.