This month’s issue of BeerAdvocate Magazine (#112, May 2016) contains an article on Burns, Oregon’s Steens Mountain Brewing Company in their “From the Source” column—written by yours truly. The article is now online here, and I thought I share a few extra “behind the scenes” details that didn’t make it into print.
Tasting room bar
Much of the story had changed from when I first interviewed owner/brewer Richard Roy for the article back in August; it was the militia takeover of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge (located 30 miles southeast of Burns) in January that grabbed national attention and threw things into disarray. In fact, the militia had been in Harney County for months already by that point, stirring up chaos in the region with harassment and intimidation of residents (particularly federal employees and law enforcement personnel).
During the occupation, the threat against the federal employees was enough that Roy (himself a long-time employee of the Bureau of Land Management) packed up his family and left Burns for a time, staying at an undisclosed location well out of town. I talked to him a few times during that time, article still in progress, and even met up a couple of times to drink some of his beers, but since they were still in hiding and the occupation was still going on, I didn’t add any details into the article.
Sales and production slowed down during that period (naturally), and Roy’s original plan of launching a Kickstarter type campaign to raise funds for his brewery upgrade had to be put off from late January until sometime later. On the other hand, his oldest sons had stayed behind and continued to brew so it wasn’t a total wash.
Original label, back in August; they have since been redoing their branding
For me the most fascinating aspect of the Steens Mountain Brewing story is the history and wild hops. I managed to get a fair bit about each (I think) in the BeerAdvocate article, but here are some extras that I’d cut before submitting:
How the history and sense of place infuses the beers, both in the hops and in the names. Take the beer with the eyebrow-raising name of Whorehouse Meadows Wheat, for example: the name refers to an actual meadow on the western slope of nearby Steens Mountain where enterprising women would set up tents during the summer to provide services to the sheepherders and cowboys. (“Services” being what you think, yes.) In the 1960s the BLM changed the name to “Naughty Girl Meadows” only to have to change it back several years later in the face of public outcry. “Everything we have is about something here,” said Roy, “and this is about the history here.”
The brewery is located in the historic Grandma Haskell house, originally built in 1890 by “Grandma” Sarah Ann Haskell, a widow who supported herself with her garden (where the hops are planted now) and cooking—she would bake and sell homemade goods to the homesteaders who were passing through Burns. The front room of the light blue-gray house serves as the tasting room, while the brewing system itself occupies the kitchen.
The hop yard is the eye-catching feature, in its first year at the time of our August visit, and is full of both the feral, heirloom hops that Roy has transplanted, and “regular” varieties like Cascade and Goldings. It’s interesting and telling that the wild transplants are thriving, while the domestic hops exhibit stunted, delayed growth one would expect from poor soil and watering. Hops are hardy and can grow in surprising conditions, but it is clearly the ones that have adapted to Eastern Oregon over the past century that thrive.
They even grow up the side of the house/brewery
Next up: expansion, and the County and town are still dealing with the aftermath of the Malheur Refuge occupation. Roy recently brewed and Gruit (unhopped, spiced beer) named “LEO” (for Law Enforcement Officers) to show support and solidarity with the various law enforcement and federal agents who assisted Burns during the occupation. In fact he just sent me a picture of the beer yesterday:
And posted a beer availability update two days ago:
We should have some of our LEO ready to go tomorrow at the brewery. We have: Harney Strong Ale at the Pine Room; Harney Valley Ale for growler fills at Reid’s; we will have Whorehouse Meadows Wheat at Figaro’s on Sunday; Big Indian Bitter at Bella Java. We have bottles at: Reid’s; Rhojo’s, Frenchglen Hotel; Fields Station; and Broadway Deli.
If you’re anywhere near Eastern Oregon, be sure to pick up some bottles or growlers for Memorial Day.
Happy Memorial Day weekend! I have Monday off so I very well may skip that day for beer news—but in the meantime, here’s the news in Oregon beer for this final weekend in May. As usual, I’ll be periodically updating this post throughout the day with the latest news, so check back often. If you have news to share, please contact me and I can get that posted as well.
Central Oregon Beer Week concludes this weekend, with the signature event, the SMaSH Fest, taking place at McMenamins Old St. Francis School on Saturday. “SMaSH” stands for Single Malt and Single Hop, and the fest naturally features only such beers, most specially-brewed for this event. 21 breweries will be participating, including several from outside of Central Oregon, and the fest costs $25, which gets you the commemorative glass plus 12 tasters (four ounces each). It runs from 11 to 9; be there!
Deschutes Brewery (Bend) is releasing the latest beers in their pub-exclusive Pub Reserve Series today at the Bend pub: Pilsner Pie and Old ‘Schutes Stock Ale. “Join us Friday, May 27th, as we celebrate not one but two pub reserve series beers! Whether you have an affinity of love for pilsners or deep cravings for old school brewing nuances, these beers are sure to get your weekend started right! We will have a tasting bar with samples of these unique beers available and bottle sales!” I’ve heard the Pilsner Pie tastes like key lime pie… might have to check that out!
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My latest beer column for the Bend Bulletin newspaper came out yesterday, about the SMaSH Fest taking place at McMenamins this Saturday. With quotes from Curtis Endicott of Juniper Brewing and Mike White of McMenamins and a bit of a deep dive into SMaSH beers. Enjoy!
It’s the final Thursday of May, I hope you’re ready for June just around the corner! Here’s the news in Oregon beer for this May 26. As usual, I’ll be periodically updating this post throughout the day, so check back often. And if you have news to share, please contact me and I can get that updated as well.
Bend’s newest brewery, Immersion Brewing, officially opens today at 4pm! From the press release: “Immersion Brewing, Bend’s first and only Brew-It-Yourself (BIY) pub and craft brewery, is excited to announce their grand opening Thursday, May 26 4-10pm. Immersion Brewing will open the 7,300 square-foot BIY pub and craft brewery with a selection of four beers hand-crafted by head brewer Josh Cosci on the brewery’s 10-barrel system: Big Chilla, a Belgian-style NW Pale Ale; Little Fawn, a Saison; Bender, a Belgian-style NW IPA; and IRA (Immersion Red Ale), a red ale. Guests can also choose from a full bar, which includes a cocktail menu, hand-selected wines, and Nitro Cold Brewed Coffee.”
Central Oregon Beer Week rolls on today, with the full slate of ongoing events listed below, and today’s feature event is featuring The Ale Apothecary and poet Emily Carr once again for a special release and tasting party of Minotaur and a reading of Carr’s poetry, taking place at Crow’s Feet Commons from 4 to 7pm. “Experience a unique and seriously whimsical collaboration through beer tastings, pop-up poetry, private readings and Music. Join The Ale Apothecary, Crow’s Feet Commons and local poet, Emily Carr for an evening of inspiration through taste and poetry. During this event, you can meet a love poet and a metaphysical brewing team and learn about their happy coincidence of fate and opportunity.” You’ll be able to taste samples of Minotaur—for $7.50 per tasting, and bottles will be available for sale along with the book of poetry.
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Happy Hump Day, we’re getting closer to the weekend! Here’s the Oregon beer news for this Wednesday, May 25. As usual, I’ll be periodically updating this post throughout the day with the latest news, so check back often for updates. If you have news to share, please contact me and I can get that updated as well.
The ten-day Central Oregon Beer Week continues today with a laundry list of goings-on (most of which listed below the fold), with today’s feature event taking place at Crux Fermentation Project: the COBW Tap Takeover going on all day, featuring 14 Central Oregon breweries on tap at Crux! Proceeds will benefit the Central Oregon Brewers Guild. From 4 to 7pm, brewers from each brewery will be on hand to talk about their beers, and there’s live music from 5:30 to 7:30. Don’t miss a chance to taste a wide variety of local beers in one place!
The Bier Stein (Eugene) has their Tapping Into Community fundraising/charity night tonight starting at 5pm for Pro-Bone-O: “Please join us for this benefit tapping event for Pro-Bone-O, a local nonprofit that offers veterinary care to pets of people without homes. We will have a donated keg from Viking Braggot Company, and 100% of the proceeds will go to the cause.”
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