Weekend in review: Southern Oregon drive-by

Okay perhaps “drive-by” is a little misleading, but we were visiting Medford and Ashland for a three-day weekend to kick off spring break, and while it wasn’t a “beer trip” we managed to slip a few things in.

The weekend kicked off Friday afternoon with Bend’s Whole Foods Market holding a “Silent Auction Brewfest” featuring a bunch of local breweries pouring beer and donating a number of great prizes that were auctioned off, with all the proceeds benefiting the Whole Planet Foundation. They had a fantastic turnout and all of the breweries represented were pouring some terrific beers—well worth the $5 admission fee (which was a steal, really).

Saturday morning found us on the road to Medford, and on our way to visit the Oregon Vortex (which isn’t beer themed but really should have a beer made for it! Oregon Vortex Ale?) we decided to stop for lunch at the Medford outpost of the Wild River Brewing & Pizza empire.

Wild River Brewing, Medford

I’ll have more to write about Wild River in a separate post, but we were very pleased with what we found: since they’re known for pizza we all ordered our own mini-size personal pizza and they were really good—excellent dough, good combination of toppings, and flavorful. And of course I ordered up the sampler tray of six beers to accompany the meal.

Wild River sampler tray

On our trip back into Medford after the delightful and kitschy Oregon Vortex, we stopped in at the Rogue Creamery and picked up a few cheese treats, including a cheese made in-house with Dogfish Head’s Palo Santo Marron beer, which was tasty and unique.

Sunday our plan was to hit Ashland for the day, and on a whim we decided—since Ashland is a mere 16 miles from the California border—to first drive down to the border, stop at the first exit and turn around just to say, “We went to California for spring break!” And as luck (or lush) would have it, what turns out to be off the first (or last, depending on which way you’re going!) interstate exit in California but All Star Liquors?

So we stopped in and sadly there wasn’t much of a beer selection to be found, but I did find (and buy) a bottle of the Rogue/Voodoo Doughnut Chocolate Peanut Butter Banana Ale, and a bottle of North Coast Barrel-Aged Old Rasputin, both of which I haven’t seen available to me at home.

Ashland was fantastic, as always, and was the beer day of the trip: we had lunch at Standing Stone Brewing, where I tried a glass each of their two seasonals: “A Surprise Ale” which was a low-IBU, dry-hopped version of the base of the other beer, a “Chocolate Ale.” Both pleasant, I’d probably label them as amber-type ales for convenience, with the Chocolate having sat on cocoa nibs whereas the Surprise omitted the chocolate and opted for the dry hopping.

Standing Stone specials

And later, on a whim, we popped into the Caldera Tap House (run by Caldera Brewing, of course) which had all of Caldera’s current line-up on tap as well as a few others. I had a small pour of the Toasted Coconut Chocolate Porter and a couple of tasters and surveyed the surroundings: I have to say I think the Tap House was the “find” of the day as it’s a funky, intimate spot with a fireplace and couch, terrific bar, and is located in a bit of an out-of-the-way location that helps give it an air of discovering something on the down low.

Caldera Tap House

Caldera taps

The kids were understandably bored so we didn’t stay long. And, as a general hint: yes, minors are allowed until 9pm and the Tap House has a full menu. (One internet source my wife had looked at beforehand had indicated no kids allowed.)

Much of the rest of the afternoon was spent with a brand-new brewery that hasn’t opened yet: Swing Tree Brewing, which I’ve written a bit about before here on the blog. I have a lot more to say about Swing Tree which will be making it into a subsequent post, but suffice to say owners Tanya and Brandon Overstreet invited us to check out the brewery in progress and were even kind enough to invite the entire family over to their house so I could sample some beers and check out the current brew system.

Swing Tree Brewing door

Swing Tree’s current brewing system is essentially a 15-gallon homebrewing setup which is what will be launched with the brewery in May; however shortly after they will be installing a 7-barrel system to ramp up to their plan of a neighborhood brewpub with one regular ale and a series of rotating specials and seasonals.

Honestly, I was super impressed with the Overstreets’ plans, and a large part of that lies in the fact that Brandon Overstreet has spent a good number of years in the professional brewing world already, which I always take to be a good sign for such a startup. And sampling the Porch Swing Ale which was a really nice Kolsch (and their flagship) didn’t hurt either! Look for my full writeup.

On Monday, before heading out of town we went on the Harry and David factory tour (Harry and David being headquartered in Medford, in case you didn’t know) and shopped at their country store—which among all the other things H&D sells, includes a nice beer selection. Naturally I grabbed a few bottles to add to the overall haul I ended up bringing back from the trip:

Southern Oregon beer haul

From left to right: Porter flavored(?) “Beer Flats” crackers, Timmermans Pumpkin Lambicus, North Coast Barrel-Aged Old Rasputin XV, Rogue Voodoo Chocolate Peanut Butter Banana Ale, Porch Swing Ale, Sudwerks Imperial Pilsner, Alameda Bad Bunny Imperial Cream Ale, Southern Oregon Big Rack Imperial IPA, Southern Oregon Black Heart Imperial Stout, and 21st Amendment Lower De Boom.

It was a good weekend!