Burns, Oregon’s first brewery: Steens Mountain Brewing

Steens Mountain BrewingCompared to the rest of the state, Eastern Oregon is a vast, mostly empty land dotted with small towns, agricultural communities and the wide open space of open range, and accordingly the brewery situation is similarly few and far between. And once you get east of Bend and Klamath Falls on the Highway 97 corridor, and south of Ontario (on the border) and John Day along Highway 26, there was not a single brewery to be found in all of the southeastern part of the state—until now.

Steens Mountain Brewing Company is setting up shop in the city of Burns, the largest town in Harney County with a population of about 2800. Burns sits at the junction of Highway 20 and Highway 395, and with its neighboring town of Hines (right next door) their total combined population of about 4300 comprises about 60 percent of the entire population of Harney County.

The new Steens Mountain Brewing was the subject of an article in the Burns Times-Herald earlier this month, and has the details:

[Rick] Roy realized there were no local “brews” available, and an idea was born.

Roy began putting his plan of having a brewery in Burns into action. He built his own equipment, gathered ingredients, and started the brewing process.

“It’s all-grain brewing, and only whole-leaf hops, from scratch,” Roy said. “We don’t use any extracts, pellets or hop oil.”

And with that, Steens Mountain Brewing Co. was born.

Roy stated that he hopes to have the brewery, at 150 W. Washington, open sometime in April or May, and it will be operated as a nano-brewery, meaning they would be brewing about 1,000 gallons a year.

The “anchor beer” will be the Migration Pale Ale, with other seasonal beers available throughout the year, in 12- and 22-ounce bottles.

In keeping with a local theme, all beers will feature a Harney County landmark or event in their name, such as “Stinkingwater Stout,” “Lone Pine Lager,” “Alvord Amber,” “Steens Summer Ale,” “Carp Drool Nut Brown Ale,” and “Whorehouse Meadows Wheat.”

The family grows their own hops in a half-acre garden next to the building, and the kids will help to tend the garden, as well as harvest and dry the hops.

So, it will be a production nanobrewery focusing on bottling is what it sounds like. I’m not sure about the article’s quote of “1,000 gallons” — that would only be about 32 actual barrels per year, but I suppose (as a “nano” operation) that would be 32 one-barrel or 64 half-barrel batches, which seems reasonable. They are already brewing test batches; if you look at their Facebook page updates you’ll see notes about beers and the labels being created. So assuming all goes well with red tape and paperwork, if they’re open by spring as they intend there should be beers about ready to go.

They will strictly be bottling for now, and expansion is too early to call and would be some time down the road, but it’s already on their minds:

Kegs and a growler station are possibilities, as well.

Roy said, at some point, his idea includes opening a traditional pub on North Broadway.

The pub would feature the local beers, several other micro-brews, Oregon-made wine and spirits and traditional Irish pub fare. It would be family-friendly, and a nice place for friends to gather for a drink and visit.

The pub would also be a draw for the people who like to participate in the beer tours, traveling from town-to-town to experience the local brews.

“That’s a ways down the road, and the location would have to be right here,” Roy said, pointing to North Broadway. “There are vacant buildings that can be used to do this type of venture.”

Burns is only about a two-hour drive east of Bend, so perhaps a roadtrip is in store for this summer. I’m looking forward to trying their beers!

Incidentally, while Steens Mountain will be the first brewery in the modern era for Burns, it’s not historically the first: according to the Meier’s Brewed in the Pacific Northwest, there were two.

The Locher Brewery was founded by German immigrant Paul Locher in 1888, and remained in operation until 1905. Locher became one of Burns’ leading businessmen, establishing not only his brewery but also a social hall (aptly named Locher’s Hall) which was the “only large facility in town” as well as a mention of underground warehouses.

The second brewery was established in 1898 by Louis Woldenberg, the Harney Valley Brewery. Woldenberg sold the brewery to Tom and John Jenkins in 1905 who ran it until 1912.