Weekend in review: Corvallis (again), Goses, and botanicals

This is a bit of a late writeup as the past weekend grows more distant, but it turns out we hit a lot of breweries and drank a lot of beer last weekend! On Saturday we visited Corvallis, my wife and I and our friends Paul and Sandi, and ended up stopping at six(!) places for the day before coming back home that evening. Sunday you’d think would be mellower but I ended up with a few more unusual beers and brewery stops. I have a good number of pictures as well, which I’ve dropped into the gallery at the bottom of this post.

Why Corvallis? Well, since we enjoyed our visit last year it seemed like a good day trip to check back in with the beer scene again, as well as check out one or both of the two new breweries that have opened since our first visit. Also, Flat Tail Brewing was celebrating their 3rd anniversary which was a nice bonus, and Paul and Sandi hadn’t been to Corvallis for years so it would make a good exploratory trip.

Leaving Bend around 10:15 in the morning, our first stop in Corvallis was at Block 15 Brewery at just after 1pm to wet our whistles and start out with lunch. I wrote up an extensive review last time so I won’t bother with the full treatment this time around; previously I had written:

The interior is colorful and straddling the line between “sports bar” and “brewpub”, leaning more towards “brewpub” (except for the soccer on the big screen TVs with the cheering patrons), and as you walk around you get the sense that the brewery has spread out into the building organically rather than being built or remodeled with a particular plan in mind. Big windows let in lots of natural light, old brick and wood adorn everything (with a big, old, central wooden beam bisecting the restaurant).

And this time around, I’ll add to that and say that Block 15 has a very “McMenamins feel” to it, and this is intended as a compliment: they’ve taken the historic newspaper building and done a great job of turning it into a cool brewing and restaurant space.

For lunch I had the Oyster Po’ Boy special, which was very good, and I ordered up the sampler paddle of five beers to drink. The ones I selected were: Golden Glo Lager, Illusions (Wild/Sour Black Ale), Imp (Belgian Enkel or Single), Aboriginale, and 7th Sun (American Farmhouse). All were pretty good, I think my favorites were probably the Golden Glo and Aboriginale.

After we finished up at Block 15 we headed over to Flat Tail Brewing to see how the anniversary celebration was faring. We’d missed the 1:00 toast by a few minutes (hence first visiting  Block 15) but arrived with plenty of time for the 3:00 brewery tour (tours were every hour).

I ordered up a glass of the 3rd Anniversary Ale (“A base of Belgian Golden Strong, blended with 25% year old Southern Oregon Syrah Lambic”) and soaked up the college sports bar ambiance that Flat Tail exudes while waiting for the 3:00 tour. The beer was good but didn’t have enough wild/sour character in it for my taste (my expectation was set with a quarter of it being a lambic)—but I’m definitely intrigued by the idea of a “Syrah Lambic.” Other beers sampled: the Old Bourbon 25 special release (aged one year in Blanton’s bourbon whiskey barrels), which was very sweet with vanilla and wood but not to me terribly boozy with bourbon; and Daywalker Gruit, a hopless beer brewed with ginger root and chrysanthemum flowers, which I felt was past its expire-by date and smelled (to me) like bathroom hand soap. (Gruits, having no hops to preserve them, are really only good for 5-10 days.)

The tour was enjoyable and we learned some interesting things illustrating that Flat Tail is definitely one of the most experimental/boundary-pushing breweries out there. For example, they are playing around with spontaneous fermentation relying solely on the local microfauna in the building (which used to be a creamery). No word on the results of those experiments but I’d be curious to try some. They also have a pair of open fermenters in active use, one of which was filled with something apricot—open fermenters always impresses me in American brewing! And, Flat Tail is planning an expansion for later this year, upgrading (if I remember correctly) to a 20-barrel brewing system.

Finishing up at Flat Tail, our next stop was Sky High Brewing, which just opened in the latter half of last year and was also located within walking distance—two blocks from Flat Tail (though I had to move the car), which puts the majority of Corvallis’ breweries within easy walking distance of each other in the downtown area. Sky High turned out to be my favorite stop this trip, largely because of their unique space, though the beer was good too.

As to that space, Ezra described it well:

The building Sky High resides in is a bit strange, part warehouse and part office loft space. A small entrance way with a door to the brewery and a couple of small tables before salvaged wood steps take you up to a small balcony pub space with the brewery’s taps. Even this main bar floor can only seat maybe a dozen people.

I really liked it, it has the air of a modern speakeasy with raw, open wood and a nook-and-cranny kind of space that isn’t immediately obvious. The taproom is intimate yet inviting and oozes with that secret-hole-in-the-wall charm that gives the impression that you’ve stumbled upon something that nobody else knows about. Simple, yet effective.

The bartender-waitress was friendly and accommodating, and the beers were good. However I broke my usual pattern and didn’t order a sampler tray on my first visit to a new brewery: this time around, I knew they had just put their new beer on tap, Gose Terra Fluvia—and I’m all about the Goses lately! They have a surprisingly expansive taplist for such a new brewery, and Paul and Sandi enjoyed their beers as well (the Big Kahuna Red Ale and the other I forget). The Gose was good, cloudy, lightly tart, nicely and subtly salty. Kudos to Sky High for brewing one up.

Oh—and Sky High is already planning out their expansion with a second phase! The full pub with an outdoor patio overlooking the river and a rooftop garden!

Our last stops of the trip were on the way out of town: Nectar Creek Honeywine, 2 Towns Ciderhouse, and Mazama Brewing, all located in the same industrial-mall area on Highway 34. Nectar Creek is a meadery that has been doing some interesting things lately, so we stopped there first for tasters of their four “house” meads: Wildflower, Raspberry, Ginger, and Peach. The Peach sample he poured from us was actually drawn off the fermenter and was crisp and bright and really nice; the other three were also good, and I ended up buying a bottle of the Raspberry and Ginger to take home.

Interestingly, they are also barrel aging a mead! I wish I’d remembered more of the details but I believe it’s a strong mead aging in a bourbon barrel, and they were planning on bottling that up soon—I sure hope I get a chance to try some.

2 Towns Ciderhouse was our next stop, they are right next door to Mazama. I got the sampler flight where I got to pick five from among a wide variety of the ciders they offer—both from their main lineup of sweeter and more “modern” ciders and from their “traditions” line of dry and tart ciders made with proper cider apples (smaller, tart, heirloom-type apples rather than commercial varieties).

Very impressive—the “mainstream” ciders were tasty and the “traditional” ones are very interesting, offering up dry, tannic, somewhat tart ciders full of character. Also impressive is that all of their traditional cider apples are sourced locally, within 60 miles of Corvallis! 2 Towns is doing some really good things with cider and they are going to be ones to keep a close eye on.

Finally we hit Mazama Brewing—the newest brewery in Corvallis if not all of Oregon, having only opened as recently as the end of May. Mark Lindner (the Bend Beer Librarian) just wrote up a review of Mazama, which I will point you to—he has good coverage of the taproom experience and the beers. I only got the Saison d’Etre rather than the full sampler (we had a drive ahead of us), which I enjoyed, and we all had a good time finishing our trip there.

The bonus, of course, was getting an impromptu tour of the brewery itself: one of the brewers was there and walked us through their system, which is very impressive for a start-up brewery. It’s a custom-built 20-barrel system, fully automated, with room to grow—they’ve hit the ground running, and for a brewery barely two months old I’m impressed with the quality of beer they are already putting out. In a lot of ways it reminds me of Bend’s GoodLife Brewing, which started out similarly with the full system and solid brews.

Thus concluded our Saturday and Corvallis trip. I figured I’d be taking Sunday easy, but I still ended finding my way to several breweries and drinking some unusual brews.

One of those highlights was Worthy Brewing and their own Gose: Duck Duck Gose, a small-batch (five gallon!) beer brewed on their “experiemental system” (AKA Chad Kennedy’s homebrew setup) that looked like unfiltered fresh-pressed apple cider and was herbal and salty and quite refreshing. Apparently it was a soured-mash brewing technique they employed too: they let the mash sit overnight to develop its sour character (presumably lactic) which is a bit different from the traditional lacto fermentation but it seemed to work.

Two Goses in one weekend! Makes me think the future bodes well for the style.

Finally my wife and I stopped in at Deschutes Brewery to see what was on tap and I was pleased to discover an unusual beer inspired by the Finnish style of Sahti, Botanica Ale, and described as:

This beer was inspired by the traditional Finnish Sahti, as well as the good ole fashioned gin and tonic. Brewed with juniper, Persian lime, oak, rye, sumac, citrus and spicy hops this beer is a botanists’ dream.

It was a nice beer, herbal and clean and definitely one I need to go and try again if it’s still on tap. I don’t know that it was particularly “juniper” to me but that could have been palate fatigue at that point.

So, a Corvallis trip with six stops (and drinking at each one), two Goses, and a handful of botanically-inspired and infused beers/drinks tasted (Daywalker Gruit, Ginger and Wildflower Meads, and Deschutes’ ale full of botanicals—not to mention Goses have chamomile in them). It was a good—and unusual—weekend!

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