By Patty Mamula
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Rivertap started out as a small pub in The Dalles and was more of an afterthought — a way to make use of a narrow space between a restaurant and a computer store. Today, it’s a lively gathering place for the community and out-of-towners alike, growing to five times its original size while also now contracting with a neighboring brewery to create its own custom beers.
The story begins in 2009 when Tom Wood, an experienced restaurateur, took a chance on a space that stayed vacant in what was the first new building in the downtown area of The Dalles in 23 years. That was the height of the recession, so it wasn’t uncommon to find empty storefronts throughout the state. But Wood saw an opportunity to give locals something they were lacking.
“People in town said we needed a pub,” Wood explained. The downtown was sleepy with little traffic. “No one wanted to risk it back then, so I decided to open one.”
From the beginning, Rivertap featured a strong, regional beer selection.
“This town wasn’t engaged at the time with craft brews,” said Wood. “But they’ve come to love our IPAs and our diverse selection of unique microbrews and ciders.”
Manager Angela Carter is passionate about craft beer. She’s been at Rivertap for the past five years after moving with her husband from Indiana in search of a small mountain town with plenty of sunshine and natural beauty. In her role, she’s passionate about researching new brews to add to the lineup.
“You never know what you’ll get here,” she said. Since they only have 12 taps, they cycle through product regularly.
Those handles now pour Rivertap’s signature beers. While there’s no brewhouse on premises, the business has gotten assistance from one of its neighbors. Last January, Freebridge Brewing opened across the street in a historic U.S. Mint building. Rivertap contracts with them for a few custom creations.
Carter said, “We have two of our own beers now: Rivertap IPA and Rivertap Blonde Ale. We also have a fresh hop on now made with Cascade hops called Fresh Cascade.”
Rivertap also likes to engage its customers with everything from meet-the-brewer sessions to tap takeovers. About three years ago, Carter launched Battle of the Brews, a blind tasting pitting similarly styled beers against one another in a bracket-like system that can last for months.
The facility also received a makeover in 2012 when Wood closed his franchise restaurant that was sharing the same building in order to focus on the bustling Rivertap. “In the evenings we would get to the pub and it was packed in way too tight,” he said.
The restaurant space wraps around the corner of the building and both exterior glass walls are garage doors that open on sunny days. A patio seats approximately 50 and often is the stage for live music.
This fall, Wood and his staff completely revamped the menu, refining and streamlining dishes to facilitate kitchen preparation. “We kept all the products our customers love,” he said. “But with these changes, our chefs have more time to focus on fresh sheets.” A few of the house favorites are bacon-wrapped jalapeno Yukon golds, fish tacos and fish and chips made with halibut cloaked in the Rivertap Blonde Ale batter.
“We constantly source local foods,” said Wood. They get fresh Klickitat salmon from the other side of the Columbia. “It comes from a glacial-fed river that’s always cold. We buy it from a local native and get it in the morning, right after it’s been caught.” Salmon bisque, one of their regular house-made soups, makes use of their abundant salmon supply.
There are now more signs of life in what was a sleepy downtown. Just up the street from Rivertap stands the Sunshine Mill Winery, which opened its doors the same year as the pub. And in addition to Freebridge, Sedition Brewing brought beer making back to The Dalles in 2016. Together, the businesses seem to be strengthening tourism, and the community, in this section of the Columbia River Gorge.
703 E. Second Ave., The Dalles
By Alethea Smartt LaRowe
Big Horse Brew Pub
115 W. State St., Hood River
This small brewery is one of the oldest in the Gorge. Owners Randy and Susan Orzeck opened the business as a fine dining destination under the name Horsefeathers but have gradually evolved over the years, with Randy, a self-taught brewer, acting as the original brewmaster.
Current brewmaster Darrek Smith has been working at Big Horse for almost three years. He took over when Jason Kahler left to start up Solera. The 4-barrel brewery is a one-man show, producing five regular beers, including a rotating series of IPAs called Strictly Rude, and a variety of seasonals that are served at the pub on the upper level of the three-story building with great views over downtown Hood River and the Columbia River. Smith jokes that one of the unique things about the brewery is that “every keg is hauled up three flights of stairs.”
As the brewery doesn’t package or distribute, Smith has more flexibility in choosing what beers to make. His favorite styles are traditional German lagers, funky sour beers, and really hoppy beers. Smith usually partners with the restaurant’s chef to create a few special menu items to pair with any new beers he releases. New beers in the works are a nut brown ale, a chocolate stout, and a Munich dunkel as well as a Berliner Weisse-style beer made with sour mash.
Next spring, the brewery will double in size as the building’s footprint expands farther north toward State Street. Smith will still be brewing on the 4-barrel system, but will gain a malt room and a barrel room. He plans to start a barrel-aging project and will focus on making some stronger beers next year.
Double Mountain Brewery
8 4th St., Hood River
Business is booming at Double Mountain. In 2013, the brewery doubled in production and pub space and now employs 75 people. They also have an offsite warehouse which includes space for keg storage, malt storage, an 8,000-square-foot cooler, and a cask room. Double Mountain makes four year-round beers and seven annual ales, all packaged in reusable glass bottles.
Matt Swihart, owner of the 20-barrel brewery, takes great pride in sourcing the best ingredients from all over the world in order to make the best beer possible. These include two-row pilsner malts from British Columbia, Belgian yeast strains, and Northwest hops. “Our brewmasters thrive in creating robust, yet drinkable beers by focusing on the end product rather than being wedded to stylistic guidelines,” Swihart says.
Swihart found another way to showcase the brewery this summer when he purchased a 1950 Chevy panel truck he found in Los Angeles. Other than replacing the engine, transmission and brakes, modifying the paint job, and adding four taps on one side, little has been done to modernize the vehicle.
Double Mountain beers will be featured at Mt. Hood Meadows ski resort for several events throughout the winter. The brewery will also be releasing two new beers early next year. In January, look for Pale Death, a Belgian-style Imperial IPA. Later in the spring they will release Gypsy Stumper, an IPA.
According to Swihart, the brewery’s future plans will focus on “organic growth at our own pace. We’ll continue to make delicious beer, serve up quality food, and enjoy the ride for as long as we can.”
Pfriem Family Brewers
707 Portway Ave., Suite 101, Hood River
Along with friends and business partners Ken Whiteman and Rudy Kellner, Josh and Annie Pfriem opened this family-run 15-barrel brewery two years ago with the primary focus of producing artisanal, high quality beers. Housed in a silver LEED-certified building, the brewery has already doubled their space from 6,000 to 12,500 square feet. Forthcoming additions of four 90-barrel fermenters, two 90-barrel brite tanks, a dedicated mash tun, a second grain silo and plenty of other equipment will all serve to boost quality and increase capacity from 5,000 to 10,000 barrels per year.
Even on the current system, Pfriem has been able to release approximately one new beer every week, and will brew more than 50 different beers this year. In addition to six year-round offerings, the brewery makes a wide variety of seasonal beers, and has recently released a Winter Ale, a Cascadian Dark Ale, and a Belgian Christmas Ale for the holidays.
Other forthcoming beers are a Flanders blonde and red that have been aging for the past year and a half in French oak barrels. Further barrel aging plans incorporate two newly-acquired 40-hectoliter foeders from Bordeaux, France as well as some bourbon and gin barrels. Three wine tanks will be used for fruit aging beers next summer.
Pfriem plans to start bottling in March 2015. Their six year-round beers will be at the forefront of packaged options, although they are generally going to avoid the traditional model and will put hop-forward beers and lagers in 500-milliliter capped bottles while Belgian-style and barrel-aged beers will undergo secondary fermentation in 375-milliliter bottles.
Full Sail Brewery
506 Columbia St., Hood River
Full Sail is an employee-owned company (since 1999) whose CEO and Founder Irene Firmat is not only a pioneer of the craft beer industry; she also blazed the trail uniquely as a woman from Cuba. Her husband, Jamie Emmerson, is executive brewmaster.
Full Sail laid the foundation for most of the Gorge breweries in business today. The majority of the other brewers mentioned in this article have worked at Full Sail at some point in their careers, gaining valuable knowledge and experience along with the business connections and confidence to take a leap of faith and strike out on their own.
The brewery continues to win awards for its beers and sustainable business model. One of the many accolades they have received was being named Beverage World Magazine’s Craft Brewer of the Year 2014. At this year’s U.S. Beer Open they won gold medals for Session Premium Lager and Session Black Lager.
Besides the two Session beers, Full Sail makes their flagship Amber Ale and IPA as year-round offerings in six-packs and on draft. The company has also now added its pilsner to this year-round lineup. There are also rotating seasonal varieties in the Pub Series, the LTD Lager Series and the Brewer’s Share Series. The brewery recently released a special beer as part of their Brewmaster Reserve series: 27 Wheatwine Ale, brewed with 100% wheat malt to celebrate their 27th anniversary. For this holiday season, they have already released Wassail, Wreck the Halls and Session Fest.
Full Sail offers informative, enjoyable, and complimentary brewery tours at 1 p.m., 2 p.m., 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. daily. The tour takes about 30 minutes and is a great introduction to the art and science of crafting beer.
Logsdon Farmhouse Ales
4785 Booth Hill Rd., Hood River
Located on David Logsdon and Judith Logsdon-Bams’ picturesque 10-acre estate off Highway 35, complete with assorted animals and 400 cherry trees, this brewery is unique in that it’s a cooperative owned by six partners who can make their own beers. The Farmhouse Brewer, Charles Porter, has already released his first beer in his own “Bergschrund Signature Series.” Aberrant, an Organic Farmhouse Golden Ale, debuted in June 2013.
Logsdon currently brews four regular beers plus a range of seasonals. Their Peche ‘n Brett recently won Silver at GABF while Cerasus won Gold at the 2014 World Beer Cup. Look for the release of 2014 Cerasus at Volcanic Bottle Shoppe in Hood River this month. It was expected to debut Thanksgiving weekend.
The brewery has recently installed two new 40-hectoliter Hungarian oak casks in the cave, an arched structure installed in a hillside and covered with soil. The larger casks take the place of the original 55-gallon ones, which will be used for a new sour beer program. In early November, they took delivery of a coolship which will be used for traditional wild fermentations.
The brewery will celebrate its four-year anniversary in February and is planning to open an offsite tap room and barrel house sometime in the spring. Note that the current tasting room is closed for the winter months.
4945 Baseline Dr., Mount Hood Parkdale
Co-owners John Hitt and Jason Kahler are always happy to welcome you to their cozy brewpub, which will celebrate its three-year anniversary in April. Just off Highway 35 in Parkdale, Solera is the perfect pre- or post-skiing watering hole. The vibe is always laid-back and you’ll probably meet several of the locals if you hang out at the bar for a while. With spectacular views of orchards and Mt Hood, the brewery is a wonderful place to grab a picnic table and soak up the sunshine on a clear day. This winter, look for themed events like an ugly sweater party in December and an ‘80s ski party in January.
Hitt handles the front-of-house responsibilities while Kahler, previously of Full Sail and Big Horse, operates the 7-barrel system he inherited from Elliot Glacier Public House, the building’s previous occupant. The name of the brewery comes from the unique process, called “solera,” in which beers of varying ages are stored in barrels. Portions of the contents of the oldest barrels are removed and added to contents of newer barrels, creating a blend.
While Kahler doesn’t make all of his beers using the solera method, he has been barrel aging since the end of 2012 and will soon be ready to release the brewery’s first solera-style beers in 750-milliliter bottles. These will be limited editions of approximately 250 bottles per batch that will only be available at the brewery. In the meantime, you can usually find their Hedonist IPA on tap in the pub, along with a variety of rotating seasonal beers.
Thunder Island Brewing
515 S.W. Portage Rd., Cascade Locks
This new brewery just celebrated its first anniversary in October. Started by business partners Dave Lipps and Dan Hynes, it is uniquely located alongside the Columbia River near the Bridge of the Gods and the Pacific Crest Trail. With views of namesake Thunder Island from the large outdoor patio, the brewery is a year-round destination for adventure lovers of all types and serves as a gathering spot for the local community.
Thunder Island started operations on a 2-barrel system and is now transitioning to 7-barrel system. Hynes, the brewmaster, is already anticipating making the first beer, a double chocolate stout, on the new system. As they expand production, the brewery will start limited distribution. They also hope to expand their current food offerings.
In addition to their standby beer, a Scotch Porter, Thunder Island features a rotating selection of brews that appeal to their broad customer base. These include a Mosaic-hopped pale ale, an easy drinking cream ale, and a Northwest-style IPA. They have a small barrel-aging program and have already released a few “dinosour” beers. They have also collaborated with Beers Made by Walking on a number of beers featuring wild harvested ingredients from their backyard.
Oregon breweries in October claimed a total of 22 medals at the Great American Beer Festival, according to reports from the Brewers Association, which organizes the event in Denver each year.
Oregon Breweries brought home seven gold medals, eight silver medals and seven bronzes. As was the case last year, rural Oregon breweries won more medals than Portland metro brewers, who won seven medals. Breweries from Central Oregon won five medals, Eastern Oregon won four, coastal breweries won four, Columbia Gorge area breweries won one, as did Southern Oregon. About half of Oregon’s breweries are in the Portland area.
Winners were selected by an international panel of 222 beer experts from a field of 5,507 entries received from 1,309 U.S. breweries. For complete information, visit http://www.greatamericanbeerfestival.com/the-competition/winners.
Of interest, Brian Butenschoen of the Oregon Brewers Guild noted:
· Four breweries tied for most medals at the GABF, with three medals each. Two of these breweries were from Oregon: 10 Barrel Brewing Company and Barley Brown's Brew Pub.
· The gold medal winner in the most-entered category for the second year in a row in the American-Style India Pale Ale category with 279 entries went to Breakside Brewery.
· It was the second year for the Fresh or Wet Hop Ale category and for the second year in a row the gold medal went to an Oregon brewery. This year it went to Barley Brown's Brewpub for Fresh Hop Pallet Jack IPA, which won the bronze medal in this category in 2013.
Also of note:
Carrying the south coast brewing banner was Arch Rock of Gold Beach, which celebrated its one-year anniversary this year with a prized GABF gold medal. James Smith is Arch Rock’s brewer. Earlier this year, tiny Chetco Brewery, a few miles south of Arch Rock in Brookings, earned a World Beer Cup gold medal as it celebrated its first-year anniversary. Apparently, south coast breweries know how to hit the ground running.
And the north coast is no slouch: Open less than a year, Astoria’s Buoy Beer Co. won silver for its Dunkel.
After name-changing trials at the beginning of the year, Ground Breaker Brewing of Portland took home the gold medal for gluten-free beer.
“Dark Ale was the first beer to feature a new recipe including roasted lentils in place of oats,” said James Neumeister of Ground Breaker.
Following, in order of gold, silver and bronze, are Oregon’s 2014 medal winners at this year’s GABF.
2014 GABF Medal Winners Made by Oregon Breweries:
Field Beer - Cucumber Crush, 10 Barrel Brewing Co., Bend
Fresh or Wet Hop Ale - Fresh Hop Pallet Jack IPA, Barley Brown’s Brew Pub, Baker City
Indigenous/Regional Beer - Salmonberry Sour, Bend Brewing Co., Bend
Gluten-Free Beer - Dark Ale, Ground Breaker Brewing, Portland
Kellerbier or Zwickelbier - Gold Beach Lager, Arch Rock Brewing Co., Gold Beach
International-Style Pale Ale - Hand Truck Pale Ale, Barley Brown’s Brew Pub, Baker City
American-Style India Pale Ale - Breakside IPA, Breakside Brewery, Milwaukie
American-Style Wheat Beer With Yeast - Hefeweizen, Widmer Brothers Brewing Co., Portland
German-Style Wheat Ale - Weizenbock, 13 Virtues Brewing Co., Portland
American-Style Sour Ale - Myrtle, The Commons Brewery, Portland
American-Style Brett Beer - Peche ‘n Brett, Logsdon Organic Farm Brewery, Hood River
European-Style Dunkel -- Buoy Dunkel, Buoy Beer Co., Astoria
German-Style Kölsch - I’d Like to Buy the World a Kolsch, Old Town Brewing Co., Portland
Classic English-Style Pale Ale -- Caldera Ashland Amber, Caldera Brewing Co., Ashland
American-Style Stout -- Disorder, Barley Brown’s Brew Pub, Baker City
American-Style Strong Pale Ale -- Breakside Wanderlust IPA, Breakside Brewery, Milwaukie
American-Style Wheat Beer - Amber Waves, 10 Barrel Brewing Co., Bend
Belgian-Style Fruit Beer -- Poire du Pélican, Pelican Pub & Brewery, Pacific City
Indigenous/Regional Beer - Sage Fight IPA, Deschutes Brewery, Bend
English-Style Summer Ale - Surfer’s Summer Ale, Pelican Brewing Co., Tillamook
American-Style Black Ale - Turmoil, Barley Brown’s Brew Pub, Baker City
American-Style Stout - P2P, 10 Barrel Brewing Co., Bend
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