The Session #87: Local Brewery History

The SessionThese last few months of The Session have for me been less about the “first Friday” of the month and more the “first weekend” instead, so of course May continues that trend. (In case anyone is keeping count, I am up to roughly the years 2003-2005 in the draft of my book on Bend’s beer history.) This month’s Session is hosted by Reuben Gray of The Tale of the Ale, and for the topic he has chosen one entirely apropos with my writing project that has ironically delayed this post: Local Brewery History.

In Session 87, I want you to give your readers a history lesson about a local brewery. That’s a physical brewery and not brewing company by the way. The brewery doesn’t need to still exist today, perhaps you had a local brewery that closed down before you were even born. Or you could pick one that has been producing beer on the same site for centuries.

The only thing I ask is that the brewery existed for at least 20 years so don’t pick the local craft brewery that opened two or three years ago. This will exclude most small craft breweries but not all. The reason? There’s not much history in a brewery that has only existed for a few years.

Also, when I say local, I mean within about 8 hours’ drive from where you live. That should cover most bases for the average blogger and in many, allow you to pick one further away if you don’t want to talk about a closer one.

With those stipulations I had previously noted that an eight hour drive for me would encompass most of the Pacific Northwest as well as Northern California and Nevada! And the 20 year minimum requirement puts a bit of a further limiter on things, considering the craft brewing movement here in the United States is only slightly more than 30 years old—most breweries simply even haven’t been around 20 years yet.

Here in Central Oregon, only Deschutes Brewery and Cascade Lakes Brewing are at the 20-year mark, and Cascade Lakes only hit it this year. Bend Brewing Company will turn 20 next year. However those are all breweries whose histories are going into the book, so while it would be easy to grab some portion of what I’ve been writing to post here, I thought I’d go a bit more lateral and pick something perhaps a bit more low-key and unexpected: Oregon Trail Brewery in Corvallis, Oregon.

Oregon Trail BreweryI was fortunate to visit and get a short tour of the brewery a couple of years ago. Here’s a bit of what I wrote about it then:

Oregon Trail was established in 1987, and in many ways the brewery itself still looks like it: we entered the Old World Deli building (itself built in 1910 I believe and bearing much of that historic character) and found the brewery in the back, behind glass and adjacent to the Deli counter. The guy at the counter said someone was still there and we could poke our heads in—so we did.

…this is very much a DIY, working brewery that has eschewed expansion and has been brewing solid, quality beers for 25 years now. It’s well used and it looks well used, and to me that makes what they’re doing all the more impressive.

The mash tun and brew kettle, for instance: it’s a copper kettle, steel-jacketed, that was Full Sail Brewing’s original kettle. The fermenters and tanks look to be from other breweries as well, or possibly even converted dairy equipment. Everything is packed into a tri-level, tight space, not quite cramped but close; the top level is grain storage and milling (though with freshly painted floors we didn’t go up there), the second level is fermenters and bright tanks, and the first level is the mash tun/kettle and storage.

Do breweries have a steampunk aesthetic? If so then Oregon Trail has it, I think.

I loved the beer on that visit and loved the story. Oregon Trail was one of Oregon’s first breweries, located in a city whose brewing scene has exploded in the past few years (which is a common story around Oregon these days). Fortuitously, they have an expansive history page on their web site, from which I will crib.

One interesting fact is that the brewery is actually in its second incarnation; the first was when it was launched in 1987 and lasted until 1992, when personal and financial problems plagued owner Jerry Shadomy. Dave Wills and Jerry Bockmore took ownership and re-opened the brewery in 1993.

The original brewery was the idea of Jerry Shadomy, an award-winning home brewer from Corvallis, Oregon. Although he had no previous professional brewing experience, Shadomy was able to raise over $80,000 from investors and secure a $30,000 loan for operations. He arranged a five-year, rent-free lease with Ted Cox, the owner of a picturesque downtown Corvallis building. The Old World Deli, a popular restaurant and homebrew supply store (also owned by Cox), shares the same space as the brewery; the brewery operates in plain view of the patrons in the deli’s dining area. It’s no wonder the deli was the brewery’s first draft account.

Shadomy was lucky enough to purchase the original 7-bbl brewhouse from Hart Brewing, which had expanded into a new building with a new 20-bbl system.

Initially, Oregon Trail beers were consistently good, and the company’s growth was also consistent, if a bit slow. Shadomy got good exposure at various festivals, including the then-fledgling Oregon Brewers Festival. Oregon Trail’s brown ale was awarded a Beer of the Year award in 1989 by Fred Eckhardt, who at that time was the beer columnist for The Oregonian newspaper (Portland). Things looked good, and the brewery seemed poised to make the jump from 300-400 bbl/year to 1000-1200 bbl/year.

In ’93 when it was re-opened, Bockmore was the brewer.

When Bockmore and Wills first unlocked the doors to the brewery, they saw a fairly well-designed system, one taking up very little floor space. The layout of the brewery was very similar to a traditional vertical design; three levels, taking up a total of 1800 square feet. The brewery’s greatest strength is that it was set up to take full advantage of gravity at almost every stage. Malt starts on the third floor, delivered there by hose from the grain truck (two-row malt) or manually, bag by bag (specialty grains). From there, though, it’s all downhill, except for the transfer of wort to the fermentors.

Bockmore’s first act was to get rid of the two poorly located open fermentors, thus eliminating the brewery’s biggest infection risk. Other equipment changes included the addition of glycol temperature control for all the fermentation tanks and the purchase of Zahm & Nagel (Buffalo, New York) CO2 and air testing equipment. Kegs were changed over from Golden Gate to Sankey to better match what the rest of the industry was using. A thorough cleaning of the entire brewery was all that was left before serious brewing could begin.

They launched with a Witbier as the flagship style, and followed that up with a brown ale:

Surprisingly, in a market dominated by fruits and wheats, the brown really caught on. In fact, it became so popular that demand for it soon equaled that of the white. Evidently the tasting panel at the GABF agreed, awarding Oregon Trail Brown Ale a silver medal in the American Brown Ale category in both 1994 and 1995. In 1995, the bronze medal went to Pete’s Wicked Ale, a beer that most consider the archetypal American brown (Golden Gate, by Golden Pacific Brewing, Emeryville California, took the gold in 1995). Needless to say, Wills and Bockmore were thrilled. Now they just had to figure out how to get the word out to their customers.

They package in kegs and 22-ounce bottles and have remained fairly under-the-radar since those GABF wins. The space they are in, behind and above the Old World Deli, offers no room for expansion so unless they ever decide to move it seems likely they will continue to be one of the oldest and possibly least-known Oregon breweries. Yet they continue to quietly produce some 700-1200 barrels per year of some interesting beers, including a Ginseng Porter, Smoke Signal Rauchbier, and Bourbon Barrel Porter (not to mention their flagship Wit which is really a nice beer).

Pretty good for a brewery that, at 27 years old, is still embracing that DIY ethic.

Portland Brewing ZigZag River Lager

Portland Brewing Zigzag River LagerI’ve had lagers on my mind lately; perhaps as warm weather and summer approaches, perhaps as the pendulum is swinging back from the high-gravity, extreme-flavor end of things, I’m craving more and more a clean, crisp lager to knock back. (Don’t get me wrong, I’m still all about the floral and fruity IPAs and such!)

Portland Brewing’s ZigZag River Lager fits that bill pretty well. Recently promoted to a year-round beer, they sent me samples a couple weeks ago and I’m finding it a nice drinker. At 5.1% abv, it’s a “German-styled lager” that the head brewer Ryan Pappe describes here:

This smooth amber lager is heavily influenced by the malty lagers of southern Germany. Featuring a blend of pale, wheat and Munich malts, ZigZag comes down on the malty side of the equation. It pours with a fluffy white head and a bright bronze hue. The aroma reveals the sweet caramel and toast notes from the heavy use of Munich malt that provide the majority of the flavor and color.

Appearance: Bright, light copper, very clear with white head that broke quickly, though there’s a steady bead of tiny bubbles that last throughout.

Smell: Sweet corn and a very light touch of sulfur, crusty bread, light and floral spiciness from the hops. Clean and mellow lager nose, nothing flashy (but then there shouldn’t be).

Taste: Bread crust, a touch of mineral/hard water character, sweet malts with a toasty presence and clean, easy drinking. It’s a nice amber lager. It develops a soft creamy character as it warms.

Mouthfeel: Clean, medium-light body, slightly malty-sweet finish.

Overall: Pleasant amber lager that’s easy to drink and will be a good warm weather beer (or anytime, since it’s year-round now). Also kind of has a “steam beer” quality to it to my tastes, which is enjoyable as well.

So, ZigZag is a nice addition to the (local) lager market, particularly now that it’s year-round. At 5.1% it’s not quite a session beer, but I would call it “sessionable.”

Untappd. BeerAdvocate: 79/100. RateBeer: 3.22/5, 68th percentile overall (though 95 for the style).

Received: This year’s batch of Twilight Ale

Even though it’s been only a month or so of spring, I received three bottles of Deschutes Brewery‘s Twilight Summer Ale yesterday.

Deschutes Twilight Summer Ale

The “best by” date is July 25, which makes me think it must have only been bottled a few days ago (i.e., April 25), so it really doesn’t get much fresher than this. Although it makes me think of something Tony Lawrence of Boneyard Beer said when I interviewed him for the book; he was talking about being unable to keep up with demand for Boneyard’s RPM IPA, with kegs being on tap almost as soon as they are kegged. While there’s no disputing that “fresh” is best when it comes to hoppy beers, Tony opined that he actually thought RPM was best with about three weeks age on it (and wished they had the luxury of aging it to its peak before shipping out). Of course I have to wonder now about optimal tasting times for beers, and perhaps these three Twilights will present a good way to experiment with that.

OGBF ’14 Weekend (part 2)

Being the second in a short series of posts about this year’s Oregon Garden Brewfest.

Following the Brewer’s Tasting Dinner, the Oregon Garden Brewfest itself kicked off the next day, starting Friday at noon. The weather this year was overcast and drizzly, but with most of the time spent inside the pavilion or the tent it really wasn’t a problem. We got there as it was opening (the best way to attend any brewfest), a few minutes early actually though beer couldn’t pour until noon, and scoped out the layout.

As I wrote the other day:

They changed up the layout a bit this year, particularly in the tent, and I think it works better: the beers being poured are wrapped around the inside of one end, the stage is on the middle wall, and the other end is the “porch” with propane heaters and picnic table seating and just seems to flow better than previous years.

Like last year, the commemorative logo’d glasses were shaker pints, with tastes costing one ticket ($1) and a full pour costing four tickets. And in looking over the brewery and beer list to select which beers to fill those glasses with, a couple of things were apparent: first, there was a nice ratio of new, untried breweries to established ones; and second, there were a lot of IPA, 39 that I counted in the guide (out of 130 total—that’s 30%), all arrayed out in a somewhat boggling number of subcategories. In addition to straight IPA, categories included American IPA, Black IPA, Double IPA, English IPA, Imperial IPA (what’s the difference between Double and Imperial?), Imperial Red IPA (???), Rye IPA, and Session IPA.

At any rate, my own strategy was simple: sample the new breweries and beers and start light if possible. To that end, I ended up sampling the following:

  1. Fort George Suicide Squeeze IPA (one of the better “session IPAs” I’ve had)
  2. Vagabond Brewing Wild Ride IPA
  3. Deluxe Brewing Resurrection Pre-Prohibition Pilsner (a nice representation of the style, brewed with corn which I liked)
  4. Falling Sky Oregon Logger (another Pre-Prohibition Lager, this one brewed with wild rice)
  5. Salem Ale Works Hootenanny Honey Basil (this ended up being my favorite pick, the fresh basil character really worked well here)
  6. Santiam Brewing Spitfire ESB (a bit disappointing considering how good their Pirate Stout is; I think it may have been suffering some off-flavors)
  7. Pelican Brewing The Governor Maibock
  8. GoodLife Evil Sister Imperial IPA (one I’d had before but was chatting with brewery rep Steve Denio and wanted to re-calibrate with it)
  9. Deluxe Pure Sin Schwarzbier (very good, I liked this one better than their Resurrection)
  10. 7 Devils Lighthouse Session Ale
  11. Sasquatch Oregon Session Ale
  12. Oakshire Smokin Hell (a smoked Helles bock, very subtle but nice)
  13. Gigantic Firebird Smoked Hefeweizen (less smoky than I would have expected, a little odd paired with the clovey weizen yeast)
  14. Falling Sky Dreadnut Foreign Extra Stout
  15. Feckin Stoned (apparently an English-style IPA recreated from an old recipe and “dry-hopped” with stones à la Steinbier…)
  16. Boring Brewing Big Yawn IPA
  17. 7 Devils Blacklock Oat Porter
  18. Kells Brewpub Miley Citrus India Session Lager (disappointing, I was expecting much more citrus from this)
  19. Coronado Brewing Islander IPA
  20. Sierra Nevada Ovila Saison with Mandarins & Peppercorns
  21. Vagabond NW Passage American Stout
  22. Uptown Market Oatis Reddin (some kind of Imperial Oat Red ale or something I think, it was pretty good and drinkable)
  23. Rusty Truck Brewing Cherry Chocoholic

I wrote in my previous post about meeting the owners of Deluxe Brewing, which just opened up this past September in Albany. They are focusing exclusively on brewing lagers, which is impressive for Oregon and matched only by Heater Allen Brewing in McMinnville I believe.

And then there’s Feckin Irish Brewing Company; they are new and based out of Oregon City, and both beers they brought (Feckin Stoned and Irish Oatmeal Porter) both claimed to be based on historic recipes. For their Stoned, and English IPA recipe, the description read (corrected for spelling):

India pale ale recipe from Findlater’s Brewery in Dublin. The brewery closed down in 1949, we’ve taken their original IPA recipe and hopped it up with NW hops, we dry hop with a river rock to submerge the whole leaf hops in the fermenter hence the name Stoned.

I don’t really get that—dry hop with a river rock. At first I thought it was a Steinbier-styled beer but upon closer examination it’s… not. It was a decent beer though, more English in profile that “hopped it up with NW hops” would imply.

There was an additional benefit to hitting the Brewfest early on the first day: a large number of brewery reps were there, many pouring their beer for the first shift. As such, it’s a good chance for fans, media, and others (such as myself on all counts!) to chat them up for first-hand knowledge of the beer and brewery.

Food options were decent; we only split a slice of pepperoni pizza but there were the usual suspects as well: pizza and flatbread, barbecue, sandwiches, corn dogs, kettle corn, gyros, and so on. Ultimately though, aside from the pizza, we took a break from the fest around 4pm to recharge and look at dinner options in town. We ended up hitting Seven Brides Brewing where I ordered a snifter of their Monki Love Imperial Stout and we had an appetizer of bacon-wrapped dates, which were very good (and nicely dusted just a bit with some heat—cajun spice or perhaps even cayenee pepper). Afterward we went to dinner at City Thai in downtown Silverton, which we enjoyed.

(Oddly, you’ll find two Thai restaurants about a block apart in Silverton, and I say “oddly” because the town itself only has just over 9,000 people in it. But apparently that’s big enough for two!)

After dinner we hit the Brewfest again to sample a few more beers and finish the night. Live music was playing on the two stages (Dead Wood Standing on the main pavilion stage, and The Great Hiatum on the tent’s Garden stage, we preferred the Garden stage overall) and with the propane heaters running in the tent it made for a nice evening. It was definitely a busier crowd but still manageable (not something you can say about a lot of fests).

All told, this was another great year for this brewfest—its 10th! I’ve definitely seen the growth even only over the past several years (we first attended in 2012) and they’ve done a good job of handling it and you still cannot beat the setting. I’m looking forward to next year.

Oregon Beer News, Week of 4/28/2014

Oregon BeerWelcome to another week of Oregon beer news, wrapping up April and kicking off May! I will be periodically updating this post with the latest news in Oregon beer throughout the week, organized by general news first and then by day. If you have news to share please contact me and I can get that updated as well.

Standing Stone Brewing (Ashland) has a new specialty beer on tap now: Dear Abbey. “This Belgian Trappist-style ale is reddish-brown in color and has an enticing bubblegum aroma. A mildly dry finish follows the light mouthfeel and up-front fruitiness. 6.3% abv, 15 IBU”

Over in Salem this weekend, starting Friday, the third annual Cinco de Micro Brewfest is taking place at the Salem Convention Center! It takes place from 4 to 10pm on Friday the 2nd and from noon to 10pm on Saturday the 3rd, with $10 entry fee which gets you 2 tasting tokens and the mug. They have some 52 breweries, with what looks like at least two beers per brewery, not to mention cider, mead, and spirits. This looks like it could be a fun fest and it’s nice to see Salem representing!

Continue reading “Oregon Beer News, Week of 4/28/2014” »