One of the goals I’d had for quite awhile was to visit the Brewers Union Local 180 brewpub in the mountain town of Oakridge (Oregon), which is only about 100 miles from Bend. Despite the allure of this most unique Oregon brewpub—the only Real Ale, English-style public house in the entire state, cozied up in an out-of-the-way small town (population about 3300) in the middle of the National Forest—Oakridge is a little more out-of-the-way for the routes we normally travel.
However this summer I was finally able to attend the Local, as it were, twice even! Our first stop was in June, coming back from the coast, on a beautifully hot summer day, and then again a few scant months later with our friends Paul and Sandi.
After the first visit I decided that Brewers Union was a brewpub I wish I could visit more often: yes, it’s located on an out-of-the-way street (from the main highway through town, at any rate) surrounded by variously run-down buildings, but in the larger picture you’re on a quiet street that promotes an enjoyable outdoor seating experience and you’re absolutely surrounded on all sides by gorgeous scenery: Oakridge is located in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains and is (as I mentioned) entirely surrounded by the Willamette National Forest. The town has played up that fact and is quite a destination for outdoor recreation and bills itself as the Mountain Biking Capital of the Northwest.
For being a small town, Oakridge is bigger than I had expected—my pre-visit impressions had built up a typical bump-in-the-road mountain town in my mind so when we first hit town I was rather amazed at how (relatively) large it in fact actually is.
Even so, it is a small town and you frankly don’t expect to find a place like the Brewers Union there. When I wrote above “English-style public house” I wasn’t kidding: this isn’t the typical Northwest brewpub/restaurant, this is in fact what can perhaps best be described as a diverse collection of rooms variously furnished to degrees of casual comfort and laissez-faire homeyness reminiscent of the second-hand coffeeshops of the late-80s through mid-90s (which I happened to love).
Books line the walls, there are numerous card and board games about, there are two pool tables (one full sized, one child sized which my kids loved), there’s a dartboard (of course), and seating is a collection of tables and chairs, couches, loungers, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a beanbag at some point. It’s exactly what I imagine an English-style public house should be, and if I had to describe it in “Oregonian terms” I’d probably have to say… “British hipster.”
And of course, the other big draw is the beer: all Real Ale, properly cask conditioned ales served in the proper English style: the beer is naturally carbonated in the cask (no artificially forced carbonation) and served up on handpump at cellar temperature of 55 degrees or so. Take a look at the board (what was on tap during our first visit) and you’ll notice another feature as well:
All the beers are low-to-moderate alcohol (at least by current Oregon/American standards), hewing to the English session pub ethos: session beers, flavorful and amazingly drinkable, particularly as served on cask—these beers have a soft, velvety mouthfeel and low carbonation that highlight the flavors and aromas. They are amazingly drinkable.
Of this tray (from the first visit), I have several notes:
- Jaws of Barrowdale – 3.7% abv Dark Mild – roasty, very tasty, super-easy drinking.
- Cumbrian Moor – 5% Porter – deliciously roasty and fruity, hints of licorice, really tasty and appetizing.
- Batch 100 Stock Ale – 5.2% – a bit woody, mellow, nutty, malty, a nice drinker. Really liking the nutty character.
- Above Average IPA – 5.2% – nice hop note, with a touch of nettles; a nice bit of fresh greens and mildly floral.
- Union Dew – 6.2% IPA – mustard greens in the nose; sweeter than the Above Average IPA, but I like it, as the greens are coming through prominently. Tasty and smooth.
On our subsequent visit we also had lunch though I didn’t take any pictures. The food was good and we all enjoyed our meals: brewpub fare with an English bent, and don’t expect many concessions to the overly health-conscious crowd. They make allowances, of course, but take a look at the menu to see what I mean.
Ordering food is entirely casual, as well: you order at the counter and they will bring it out to your table. In other words, don’t expect anyone to come to your table to take orders.
I had the fish and chips, two nice slabs of white fish, flaky and just a bit oily from the frying on top of hand-cut chips (fries), served piping hot. Other had sandwiches of various types—the toasted cheese ones is what I remember which went over well—and beer cheese soup (the soup du jour). Everyone agreed that it was a good lunch.
In case I wasn’t clear before: I love Brewers Union, from the location to the ambiance to the casual aspect to the beer. It’s the type of brewpub/public house I wish we had here in Bend (in my mind, Silver Moon Brewing comes close), and the icing on the cake is of course the beer—as it should be. (It’s not about the beer, it’s about the beer, you know.) I’ll visit every change I get.
Brewers Union Local 180
48329 E. 1st St.
Oakridge, OR 97463