Caldera Brewing at 20 years; a visit to the pub and 20th anniversary beer

Caldera Brewing - production brewing garden sign

Today, Caldera Brewing of Ashland, Oregon celebrated their official 20th anniversary—I noted in my Oregon beer news post that Jay Brooks (who keeps a calendar of such things) marked today as their opening, and they noted the event on Facebook as well:

Caldera Brewing 20th anniversary (Facebook post)

I’ve been a fan of Caldera for a long time. They were the first Oregon brewer to put their beer into cans (for that matter, among the first craft brewers in the country to do so), and their Pale, Amber, and IPA (all in cans of course) are great examples of their respective styles. On visits to Ashland, I’ve always enjoyed stopping in at their downtown Tap House which is located in a cool, funky spot under the freeway and boasts 20 taps of their beer.

I have to admit, however, that while I knew they brewed in a 30-barrel production facility, it wasn’t until I’d read their entry in Brian Yaeger’s Oregon Breweries that they also had a full pub and restaurant at that location. That one is located at the south end of Ashland and offers up 45(!) of their beers on tap. (Yes, it’s an embarrassment of riches.) Here’s their story behind that production facility:

In 2010, due to the huge increase in demand for Caldera’s internationally award winning craft beers, we broke ground at our new 28,000 sq ft facility, a 30 bbl capacity brew house and restaurant. Here, Caldera’s new canning line was installed, streamlining the packaging process with a capacity of 1,200 cans per minute. This allows for full time production of Caldera’s flagship beers, while also allowing for the continued creation of experimental beers using Caldera’s old 10 bbl system, which was moved from our old location just down the street. This arrangement allows Caldera to continue producing its line of well known beers, as well as to continue to experiment, a vital process necessary for an innovative craft brewery, as well as for the brewers themselves.

This July we were visiting Medford and had the opportunity to have lunch in Ashland, so we stopped in at Caldera’s production facility restaurant for the first time.

Caldera Brewing production brewery and restaurant

Caldera Brewing front counter check-in

Curiously enough, on display at the restaurant is “Oregon’s largest beer bottle and can collection” (which Yaeger cites at over 4,000 bottles and cans).

Caldera bottle collection

Caldera bottle collection

Caldera bottle collection

With so many beers on tap, I couldn’t choose any one, so I went with the taster selection of course:

Caldera Brewing beer samples

I opted for the Belgian-Style Wit, Vanilla Wheat, Helles Lager, South Side Strong Ale, and Kihei Snow, a sweet coconut stout. I didn’t keep track of any particular tasting notes, but I quite liked them all, with the stout being my favorite. Once I’d finished with those, I opted for a snifter pour of the Big Island Red Sea: an imperial red ale brewed with Himalayan pink sea salt, pink peppercorns, molasses and chocolate. Quite a complex beer that was handed very well.

Caldera Big Island Red Sea

This was originally a collaboration brew with Big Island Brewhaus of Hawaii, and is wood-aged, though I don’t believe this current version was the collaboration but a recreation by Caldera. Regardless, this is a beer I would recommend drinking if you visit.

It was a good stop and a good lunch, beyond just the pub grub served at the Tap Room at their downtown location.

Caldera Brewing bar mosaic

Caldera Brewing bar merchandise

As it happens, we were in Medford the following weekend as well, and I happened to stumble upon Caldera’s special 20th anniversary beer, a triple IPA they named Cousin Rick. It comes in a foil embossed box, highlights the number of medals they’ve won over the years (5 platinum, 40 gold, 38 silver, and 32 bronze, according to the box), and weighs in at a nice big 11% alcohol by volume.

Naturally I picked it up, and being the brewery’s 20th anniversary (and presumably fresh!) I had to review it.

Caldera Brewing Cousin Rick Triple IPA

Appearance: Clear, brown-orange color, bright, with ample dense off-white head that’s creamy and looks like whipped egg whites in texture.

Smell: Smells like a hop bale. Intensely hoppy with a melange of herbs, peppery spice, bitter citrus peel (pithy), earthiness, all so much so that it takes on a sweet “hop candy” impression. There’s a bit of a sweet and sharp alcohol note but it’s not “hot” or really boozy at all.

Taste: It tastes as promised for a “triple IPA.” Big malty sweet body with an alcohol kiss, a big load of hops that come through with a sticky coating of sweet resin to balance it out. Those hops pack an impact, and if not for the lingering kick of hops, this would be a good example of an American barleywine. Malt is caramelly and clean and is a good base for the layers of hops built upon it. Hops are the showcase, but it’s also beefy in malt and body.

Mouthfeel: Full bodied with a lasting coating of hop resin on the tongue. Smooth finish with no astringency.

Overall: This is really good and a great showcase for a 20th anniversary beer. Imagine taking the brewery’s Hop Hash (their crazy IPA blend of the leftover chunks of lupulin and hop solids post-processing) and amping it up to 11.

Big congratulations to Caldera Brewing on celebrating 20 years of brewing this month! I’m looking forward to visiting the restaurant again next time I’m in Ashland, and I hope if you’re passing through you take the time to stop as well.

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