By Andi Prewitt
Of the Oregon Beer Growler
When Scott McConnell was researching his business plan for a brewery in La Grande, he made a jarring discovery. The Eastern Oregon city was one of the largest in the state that didn’t also have a business that made beer. McConnell found that most towns with a population of more than 7,000 people — from the Coast to the Idaho border — are home to a brewpub.
“It was kind of an incredible statistic,” he said. “And so that was one of my big pitches to investors.”
While that swath of land represents some of Oregon’s most rugged and sparsely populated areas — free-range cattle can outnumber people at times — there are still plenty of breweries. La Grande just happened to sit along a dry, lonely stretch of Interstate 84 with Baker City and Barley Brown’s to the southeast and Prodigal Son in Pendleton to the northwest. Terminal Gravity is a winding, scenic drive on the way to Wallowa Lake. So it was about time to fill in the gap.
“You see holes in your community and you’re like, ‘Man, it would be really nice to have a brewpub here,’” described McConnell. “I recognized the need and how this would be successful if we pulled it off.”
Building Side A Brewing wasn’t a solo endeavor, though. The mission to bring brewing back to La Grande (Mt. Emily Ale House closed several years ago) actually reunited McConnell with his two childhood friends from Michigan and helped make a piece of the town’s history more accessible to the public.
It was probably no mistake that McConnell, an economics professor at Eastern Oregon University, ended up on the rural side of the state after an earlier stint in Portland. He and his business partners — Nick Fairbanks, head brewer, and Travis Hansen, head chef — were raised in Alpena, Mich. The town is nestled between a state forest and a bay on Lake Huron near the fingertips of the oven mitt-shaped state. The three all lived about five miles apart from each other on wide-open land where labor was an early part of their upbringing. Those ethics and a shared experience are what they believe led to a solid foundation for Side A.
“I think we all grew up working hard,” McConnell explained. “In a small, rural community, you work your whole life. That’s just the way it is. And we all grew up in blue-collar families watching our parents work hard and I think it just becomes a way of life.”
“We rarely don’t see things the same way and I think it’s helpful to come from the same background,” Fairbanks added.
They also bring considerable experience to the project. McConnell, who ran the population numbers early on to lure investors, brings business and front-of-the-house knowledge. If Hansen’s name and face aren’t familiar, that’s because he’s normally confined to a kitchen — sizzling, simmering or seasoning. But his food has undoubtedly landed on a plate in front of you at Widmer Brothers Brewing, where he spent a decade. And Fairbanks has been mashing in and overseeing maintenance at breweries across the country for years — most recently at Short’s Brewing Company in northwest Michigan. There he experienced massive growth. The business went from a production capacity of around 4,000 barrels per year to close to 70,000.
The sensibility of the Midwest is infused in Fairbanks’ brew at Side A. There’s also a certain spirited stubbornness — do not, for instance, ask Fairbanks if you can share your idea for an IPA. He’s probably already heard it. And dank hop bombs aren’t a personal favorite. Instead, Fairbanks prefers balance, which is why you’ll find that the Award Winning IPA tiptoes up to the 60 IBU mark, but won’t cross it.
“I’m adamant that IPAs are overdone, and it’s just not my particular philosophy to have six IPAs on tap because there’s so much else out there,” Fairbanks said.
And that includes an early lineup of classics: a hard-to-find-elsewhere altbier, a flavorful toasty oatmeal brown with a slight hop kick and a pale called Copper & Gold that honors his roots with Michigan Copper hops blended with Northwest-grown malts to recognize his home now. While the beers might sound a bit conservative compared to some breweries, Fairbanks is already anticipating the benefits of autonomy in the brewhouse. He’ll begin experimenting with traditional styles in the future.
A restrained approach might make sense in Eastern Oregon where the will to embrace change moves about as quickly as a herd of cows milling around one of the region’s isolated roads. In beer terms, that used to mean prying the Bud Light out of their cold, dead hands. But the Side A crew has found that the resistance to try something new is waning. McConnell credits the shift to those breweries that came before them — Terminal Gravity, Barley Brown’s and Prodigal Son — and the effort it took to get people to take a chance on something new.
“I would say we’re lucky because those breweries all did what they did over the last five to 10 years to 20 years, depending on which brewery you’re talking about,” said McConnell. “I always like to make sure that everyone knows that we are just following in the wake.”
Apart from bringing La Grande back into the brewing community, the Side A founders helped revitalize the Eastern Oregon Fire Museum while forming one of the more unique partnerships in the state when it comes to shared space. It’s actually easy to miss Side A if you’re not looking for the brewery because it’s housed in a building that looks like the fire department. In fact, the sign on the front says “La Grande Fire Dept.” in large red letters above two garage doors that appear as though fire trucks could come bursting out of at any moment, sirens wailing.
You’ll actually find a much calmer scene inside: diners digging into oversized burgers and heaps of dirty fries next to pints and tasters. The open pub is just one half of the structure. An exhibit composed of firefighting equipment and memorabilia comprises the rest of the interior and inspired the name “Side A,” which is how firefighters refer to the front of a building. The museum wasn’t in danger of shuttering, but until the brewery launched its hours were extremely limited.
“They were at a point where they couldn’t afford to have somebody here permanently so that people couldn’t just show up. They had to make an appointment,” said McConnell. “It was kind of cumbersome to visit the museum. Us being open all the time now, people can go see it anytime they want.”
La Grande’s Urban Renewal Agency gave the brewery-museum merge an assist in the form of $40,000. That money went to improvements like adaptations to sewer lines and the installation of ADA-compliant bathrooms.
“We got it for the business, but also the city kind of got it back in the sense that the building is now more functional,” McConnell said.
“It’s a win-win,” said Fairbanks. “We got what we needed; they got a building updated.”
While waiting for dinner, you can take a tour of firefighting through the ages. On display are several fire engines, including a model from 1925 that’s believed to be the only one on the National Historic Registry, an array of old extinguishers and the station’s pole that’s worn in areas where countless hands held on for the slide down.
“It’s a way to keep the historical value of the community,” Fairbanks said. “And there’s a great amount of people that actually come to see the museum outside of coming to have a beer.”
“We get a lot of firemen who worked in this building to come in and be like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is incredible!’” said McConnell. “And to be able to show off a piece of La Grande history — every little town loves to be able to show off its history, so it’s neat to be able to partner with that.”
Side A Brewing
1219 Washington Ave., La Grande
By Andi Prewitt
Of the Oregon Beer Growler
“I always wanted a water tower.”
“You ever climb up there and hang out and drink some beers at the top?”
“Matter of fact that would be correct. Yes.”
That’s how my conversation with Craig Coleman began while touring the concrete remains of homes nearly swallowed by tall, yellow grass in an Eastern Oregon town that’s nearly gone but not quite forgotten. Ordnance, which is a mere 7 miles from a Walmart parking lot teeming with people in Hermiston, feels like its hundreds of miles away from civilization. But just several hundred feet from an exit off I-84 sits the ruins of a place that’s had several lives — first, as a home for men who worked at the Umatilla Army Depot and their families; second, as a farm where pigs were raised; and now, it’s become a ghost town where Coleman sometimes drinks beer from the prominent perch of a water tower that also serves as the logo for his brewery.
By now you’ve undoubtedly heard of Ordnance Brewing, which is named after the fallen down town just east of Boardman. And that’s an accomplishment on its own given that the business has only been open to the public for a year and the facility is located in a city most Oregonians never visit. Boardman is probably best known for the sprawling farm of perfectly aligned rows of poplar trees you whiz by on the freeway on your way to another destination. But as one of the managing partners who helped launch the brewery, Coleman has now given people a reason to stop.
In its first year of business, Ordnance has been defined by aggressive growth, despite its distance from the more populated side of the state. Already the brewery boasts a sales and marketing team of five people, a partnership with General Distributors and an upgrade from a 7-barrel to a 50-barrel system, which was scheduled to go into production in July. So how, exactly, has a modest onion shed on the edge of town become a major beer factory at such an accelerated pace? Turns out, it simply takes Coleman’s knowledge of cultivation that he’s applied to his farms for decades as well as the creativity and brewing experience of Logan Mayfield.
“Logan’s got a way with flavors that I don’t understand. I think it’s an intuitive thing. I’m not that guy. But he seems to make stuff that people don’t absolutely despise,” Coleman laughed.
And Mayfield certainly has to be mindful of the fact that he’s making beer for a variety of consumers based on region — a factor many Willamette Valley brewers don’t have to worry about. While Oregonians on the western side of the state might embrace hop bombs or funky sours, those types of beers aren’t necessarily what locals would immediately order when sitting at a table made of a repurposed wooden spool in the Ordnance taproom just feet away from where Mayfield works.
“We’re definitely a little behind compared to the Eugene-Portland area. But at the same time, not as behind as I expected when I got here,” Mayfield explained. “There’s probably the majority of people here are used to drinking Coors Light, Keystone Light, Bud. When I got here, I started making beers that would appeal to them.”
And that strategy has made his kolsch and honey golden ale best sellers in Boardman. The styles are so popular, he admits they’re hard to keep on tap. Easing reluctant drinkers into craft with lighter beers has proven effective. Customers take delight in sharing with Mayfield that the FMJ IPA is the first IPA they’ve ever tried and then finished. The head brewer believes it’s because he leans toward English styles, so his IPAs aren’t the IBU boundary-pushers that have dominated the taps in recent years.
Perhaps the person you’d least expect to be knocking back domestic, light lagers — the Saltine of beers — would be Ordnance’s co-founder. But even after Coleman helped open the Hermiston taphouse Neighbor Dudes in 2013, he said he and his friend/business partner Mark McLeod would order Keystone Light and Coors Light even though an array of other beers sat just a tap handle away. He’s not sure how his tastes eventually shifted, but figured “it was just time for something new.”
Change is certainly part of Coleman’s professional life. While a farmer by trade, he’s started a variety of different businesses, including the small chain of Neighbor Dudes taphouses. The conversation about opening the first shop began when the two actual neighbors, Coleman and McLeod, “had just enough beer to think this is a good idea,” which is a phrase that ended up on one of the business’s T-shirts. After starting the Hermiston Neighbor Dudes in the building with the cheapest rent they could find, the party expanded to Silverton and Wilsonville. And while Coleman never set out with the goal of founding a brewery, it eventually seemed like a natural next step.
“And it’s one of those things where we figured, ‘Well, heck. If we can sell beer, why don’t we just make beer?’ And it just kind of went from there. You know, you try something new and we just kind of followed the path of least resistance and ended up with a brewery,” Coleman said. After seeing what they could do with a 7-barrel system he “decided, ‘Heck, if we can do a little bit, let’s do a whole bunch.’ And that’s kind of right now, we’re in the ramp-up stage of that.”
Ordnance also got off the ground thanks to a unique partnership with the Port of Morrow. Coleman knew general manager Gary Neal through his agriculture operations and when the brewery planning was underway, the Port offered assistance. A partnership formed and that’s where some of the brewery’s financing came from. Coleman said the Port continues to support Ordnance by encouraging visitors to stop by.
Once Coleman decided he wanted to make beer, he needed to find someone who could actually do that, so he turned to an online forum that’s sort of a digital classifieds space for brewers. Perhaps it was lucky for Mayfield that Coleman found the process of sifting through applicants rather dull because he decided to stop his search primarily out of fatigue once he got to the brewer who was located in Denver at the time.
“I got resumes and I phone interviewed probably four of ‘em and kinda got really bored with that,” Coleman described. “Logan just might’ve been the last guy on the list. I said, ‘Hey dude, come on out. If you’re not an absolute POS, you got a job.”
Mayfield sputtered into town in a beat-up Toyota on four different tires, as Coleman remembers it, along with a little U-Haul in tow. “And I don’t know how in the hell it got from Denver to here, but he made it. I figured, well I think he’s stuck here now because I don’t know if that thing would make it back,” said Coleman.
The move for Mayfield meant two things: he’s closer to family in his hometown of Ashland (“but far enough that I don’t have to go home for every holiday,” he laughed) and this is the most creative freedom he’s ever had in a brew house.
“You know, it’s actually kind of funny,” Mayfield said “because before I came here, I mean, I’d only brewed two of my own batches on other systems ever.”
“I’m not sure if you told me that or not…” Coleman responded.
“I don’t think I did!” Mayfield laughed.
Despite that little omission on the resume, experience at a number of Colorado breweries like Great Divide Brewing Company and Bull & Bush, which Mayfield said had the greatest influence on him because of its focus on English styles, prepared him for the role of head brewer at the new operation in Boardman. He found the experience a bit lonely at first since he was making beer solo in a cavernous building that wasn’t yet ready for customers. “But once we opened our doors I started to meet people and the community was pretty accepting,” Mayfield said. And you can see it in the taproom when he emerges from his shop in the back — customers are eager to shake his hand and praise his work. The brewery has also given the community a place to gather, celebrate and build an identity that isn’t just defined by the poplar farm, the Port or the bigger city next door.
As Mayfield prepared to transition to the 50-barrel system that came from Rogue in Newport, he was looking forward to improving his efficiencies as well as producing more beer. In early July, Ordnance was on track to surpass 630 barrels, which was the total amount that came out of the brewery last year. Mayfield wouldn’t be surprised if they brew 2,000 barrels in 2016 — possibly even more. Meanwhile, there are still plans for the 7-barrel equipment. Mayfield will use it to make sours and other specialty brews that will begin to fill a barrel-aging room that’s the size of an industrial kitchen. He’s working on his own version of a Flemish brown by brewing a batch every three months. The aged concoctions will then be blended together and released once or twice a year, if successful. Mayfield also acquired freshly dumped cabernet sauvignon barrels, which are currently filled with an imperial blonde ale infused with lemongrass. These collaborations will debut in bottles that are co-branded with the wineries.
While Ordnance has given its building in the Port of Morrow a new purpose, history is not scrubbed away. The walls inside actually serve as a historical record of the area. Colorfully labeled onion bags line a beam in the back, a reminder of the industry that used to occupy the space. In the taproom hang photos of the city of Ordnance that inspired the brewery’s name. One picture is simply of a patch of dirt covered with empty beer bottles. It’s a shot of the aftermath of workers at the Umatilla Army Depot celebrating a work milestone. A taproom server explained that the men were told they could have the drinks for free if they completed 100 storage mounds in one day. Turns out, the promise of beer was a powerful motivator.
I was lucky to get a tour of where these men would’ve lived during World War II by Ordnance’s only dignitary and mayor, Coleman. He knows where the old mercantile used to be and pointed out the building that was the schoolhouse. We walked through the gymnasium that also doubled as a movie theater, the doors long gone and windows broken out, and Coleman described how he once found an ancient reel of “The Wizard of Oz” there. Streets that used to be named after explosives and artillery are lined with slumping, skinny houses — many just foundations at this point — but one survived and actually has a renter. Deer, owls and too many pigeons to count have taken up residence in what’s left of the other structures. Coleman explained that after the war, Ordnance emptied out as people moved to other cities. Eventually, two brothers bought the whole place and turned it into a pig farm around 1960, removing some of the buildings’ walls to allow the animals to move around more freely. And those living near Ordnance were highly aware of the town’s new purpose. “If I say ‘hog farm,’ everybody knows what that was because it was not the most pleasant thing to drive by,” Coleman said.
Ordnance was largely abandoned again when the closest livestock slaughtering facility moved to a state that was inefficient and costly to ship to. About a decade after the brothers stopped raising pigs, Coleman made his dream of owning a water tower come true and bought the property for $1. Sometimes he’ll get visitors— people who grew up there looking for any sign of their past, searching for whatever might be left. That might not be much these days, but just down the road there is a brewery that’s keeping the ghost town’s history alive while reinvigorating another city you might not otherwise have bothered to visit.
[a] 405 N. Olson Road, Boardman
By Andi Prewitt
Following a day spent pedaling up grueling inclines, tearing around hairpin turns, and hurtling downhill on a two-person bike, few things sound better than a frosty craft beer. That’s exactly how Carl Crume and Todd Heinz would end their rides near the Oregon-Idaho border—sampling different brews at a favorite pizza place in Boise. Now the two can find that liquid relief a lot closer to home. Crume started making his own beer, which has gone from a hobby that he’d share with friends and family to one of the state’s newer nano-nano operations named Tandem Brewing after his love of the outdoor sport. The move has also given the Eastern Oregon city of Ontario another much-needed option when it comes to local beer.
Tandem is likely one of the most unique brewery spaces that you’ve never visited. Ontario is a town some folks only notice on road signs or spot as they whiz by on I-84. But the charming setting and interesting array of beers is a good reason to pull off the freeway. Tandem actually shares a space with Jolts and Juice Co., a coffee house and bistro owned by cycling partner and friend Heinz. The former bank building, erected in 1899, is nestled along a street dotted with other historic structures and small businesses.
Inside, you could spend at least an hour marveling at all of the fun details and décor. Old bike parts are given new life as door handles. An Army field phone near the register isn’t just there for show and can actually be used to communicate with the event space on the second floor. And a functional stoplight lets customers know when the toilet is available or in-use. Even the bathroom is a playful work of art. The centerpiece there is a Ford fender-turned-sink.
The brewing area isn’t glamorous, but it gets the job done. Crume’s 20-gallon system fights for space with a baking station, freezer, and storage for the coffee shop. Crume brews there once or twice a week and is reluctant to grow at this point.
“Some people, when you start getting bigger you lose that quality of your beer. And I don’t want to lose that,” explains Crume. “You stick to small batch and you have more control, and I think it makes a better beer.”
Heinz, who is also a brewer—just of coffee -- started selling guest beers out of his bistro initially. Crume ended up moving his brewing equipment out of his home and into the back of the shop in 2010. The two friends encouraged each other during that expansion, with Crume pushing Heinz to start offering beer at the bistro and Heinz nudging Crume into becoming the in-house brewer.
Both agree the addition of craft beer has addressed a need in the area. Crume enjoys introducing the Keystone-loving crowd to his beers. Often consumers are reluctant because they’re worried the brews will be too bold. But Crume has found that his Crankentater is a great introduction to craft. The brew is light-bodied, lightly hopped and 20 percent of the mash contains grated Yukon Gold potatoes for an interesting twist. Others who get confused or intimidated by different styles of beer are walked through the samples. Heinz says those customers are encouraged to forget about the names and simply focus on what tastes good to them.
Crume has always wanted to brew beer and finally got into it when his wife brought him home a kit and a book dog-eared by homebrewers everywhere: Charlie Papazian’s “The Complete Joy of Homebrewing.” He has since evolved from bathtub fermenters and boil-overs on the kitchen stove, but likes to keep things simple. That doesn’t mean a lack of variety, though. Crume brews IPAs, reds, and stouts, just to name a few. A bourbon rye stout that’s being aged in barrels from Joseph’s Stein Distillery will debut this fall. Crume gets a kick out of brewing them all and developing new recipes.
And the other thing—I like it when I put a smile on somebody’s face and they say ‘Wow, that’s a good beer,” adds Crume.
Brewing beer and coffee won’t keep Crume and Heinz away from their first shared interest, tandem racing. The friendship goes back 20 years after striking up a conversation about mountain biking at the Malheur County Fair. They moved from individual bikes to a tandem for competition after catching a demo at a bike show in Las Vegas. Their first spin on the contraption ended with a crash into a sticker bush, but it’s an experience they can laugh about now. Of course, the name “tandem” seemed like a perfect fit once the brewery began.
“If you think about it, you’re always having a beer in tandem—having it with a friend or something,” says Heinz. “You’re not generally drinking alone.”
In addition to the social aspect, tandem is also about teamwork—a lesson these friends know well through biking and business.
“It’s gone real well. We have our disagreements. We get on the bike and go get them resolved,” says Heinz. “But it’s been a good ride.”
(a) 298 S. Oregon St., Ontario
Owners: Carl Crume and Todd Heinz
By Andi Prewitt
After Barley Brown’s Beer won five medals and Very Small Brewing Company of the year at the 2013 Great American Beer Festival, a competition some liken to the Super Bowl, you’d expect beer geeks would be clamoring for a photo of owner Tyler Brown. But the same day Brown collected all that hardware, he found himself being asked to get out of a shot while pouring his gold medal Pallet Jack IPA in the Barley Brown’s booth. Apparently, he didn’t move far enough and once again received a request to take a few steps aside. It turns out the photographer wanted to snap a picture of two more famous brewers: Jeff Bagby, formerly of Pizza Port, and Fat Head’s Matt Cole. But what that beer fan failed to notice was why the men were at the booth to begin with. Brown pointed out, “yeah, they’re drinking our beer. If you want a beer I’m going to pour you a beer, otherwise get out of the way.”
That exchange summarizes the journey of Barley Brown’s, aka Baker City Brewing Co. Barley Brown’s seemed to fly under the radar of most drinkers in the state even though it has been operating since 1998 and winning awards at major competitions since 2006. Perhaps it’s the far-flung location, the brewery’s initial low-key presence in Portland, or Oregon’s metro-area myopia. Whatever factors might have contributed to Barley Brown’s muted profile seem to be diminishing now that the brewery has won a slew of medals, including the much- coveted gold in American-style IPA at GABF. Brown knows that Portland has started to notice because people tell him they think his brewery is new.
“Yeah, I hear that all the time,” Brown laughs. “‘Oh you guys just popped right in the middle of the scene!’ yeah, about 16 years ago!”
Barley Brown’s cellerman Addison Collard says the recent notoriety “is like being a band that’s been together for years and you finally get that one hit album and they’re like, ‘Oh, these guys are good!’ Like, no. We’ve been struggling. Pounding the pavement for a long time.”
While it took time to draw the attention of the average beer consumer, bar and bottle shop owners have been in the know for about 10 years. Brown recalls Belmont Station’s Carl Singmaster making the 300-mile journey to Baker City just to get a few kegs he seat-belted in the back of his Subaru before returning to Portland. Brown would also take kegs to the city and target outlets that were choosy about which beers they offered, making them difficult to get into and often filled with sophisticated drinkers. He used these opportunities as tests to see how
his beer would stack up against some of the best. Brown is clearly a man who likes a challenge since his tests these days pit him against not just the top competitors in Portland, but some of the finest in the world.
Before Brown was turning out top-quality beer in his remote section of the state, he witnessed his parents experiment with various businesses in the building that would eventually house the brewpub. The couple ran a bakery out of the property after purchasing it in the 1970s and parked bread trucks where the current dining room is situated. In 1983, they remodeled the space and turned it into a restaurant. Despite changing the cuisine several times—pizza, breakfast, and what Brown describes as “pseudo-Mexican,” nothing would really stick. Meanwhile, Brown would use the building’s kitchen space to brew during slow nights.
The rise of the brewpub came with the collapse of the Mexican food joint. That business actually had some success since it was the only one in town at the time. But it was the beginning of the end when a Mexican family moved to Baker City and opened their own restaurant with authentic fare. Brown’s father told him he was done with the place and that he could now do whatever he wanted with it. So he did. Brown installed a four-barrel brewery that he had built for the tight quarters and didn’t look back. And the Mexican restaurant that helped push his family’s place out of business is still one of Brown’s favorites.
Baker City is one of those towns where the only strangers are those who make a pit stop
while traveling along bustling I-84. It’s no surprise, then, that Brown and his brewer Eli Dickison have longstanding ties. Dickison started as a prep cook at the pub, but decided it was time to go back to school after working odd jobs for seven or eight years. Leaving Baker City for college at Oregon State University caused a bit of a culture shock. But it wasn’t due to the larger population or urban living.
“I realized just how expensive and hard-to-find good beer is,” says Dickison. “So I started to play around with making some myself.”
Dickison was finally able to fuse his two favorite things, science and beer, into a career path. He joined OSU’s Fermentation Science program while continuing to homebrew. One of those beers made its way into Brown’s hand while Dickison visited Baker City on winter break. Instead of having to sip and politely smile while secretly choking down the homemade concoction, Brown was blown away. That night, he told his wife how excited he’d be if Dickison came to the brewery after graduating. About one year later, Dickison joined the brewing family he seemed destined for.
While Brown and Dickison continue to garner ecognition for their beers, they never set out to perfect any particular style. Brown says that’s a big difference between homebrewers and craft brewers. Rather than worrying about style guidelines, the Barley Brown team develops new brews by tossing around ideas. Sometimes a beer is born when an ingredient isn’t available and the brewers have to improvise. Dickison explains that’s one element that led to the making of Ratchet Strap IPA. The brewery lacked hops normally used in Pallet Jack IPA and Hand Truck Pale Ale. However, some new German Melon hops had recently arrived, so they decided to try something new. Brown says the Germans claimed that particular hop could never be used in an American-style IPA. Once again, he rose to the challenge and proved those doubters wrong.
“We have targets. We have an idea. And I guess it would be more of a style of brewing instead of brewing beer styles,” explains Brown. “We have favorite hops we use; techniques we use. So our process is more the Barley Brown style process rather than trying to create the perfect IPA. We want our IPA that we’re going to drink.”
There are no special competition beers either. The beers that will be judged by experts have already been reviewed by customers at the brewpub or nearby taproom. It has become a Barley Brown tradition to pull those kegs and use them to fill bottles that are shipped to events like GABF. Although the locals taste the beer first, Brown says they won’t pay much attention to the fancy titles or shiny awards that adorn the taproom wall. But you might chalk that up to a rural Oregon mindset of not making a fuss about things. Brown points out that’s why some famous retired pro baseball players choose to call Baker City home. They can sit at the bar without being bothered.
These days you can get Barley Brown’s beer on tap just about anywhere in Baker City, including the VFW. yes—a VFW that in almost any other town would offer up Budweiser or Coors for $2.50 a pint gives patrons the option of a craft beer for the same price. But 16 years ago when the brewery started, Brown says his best-selling beer was Bud Light. He worked to prime palates by having servers offer craft beer samples to customers at the door before they even had a chance to sit down and order a mass-produced lager. It took two to three years for his beer to catch on, but now regulars never veer from some of their early favorites, like Coyote Peak Wheat and Tumble Off Pale Ale. In fact, the brewers say it can be challenging to get them to try new brews.
“I think it’s more of a local beer culture than a craft beer culture,” says Brown. “They know us and they know where it’s made and they like it, so they drink it. But they’ve probably never heard of most of the breweries in Portland.”
There is still a tap dedicated to Bud Light at the brewpub and it speaks to Brown’s nature. He’s loyal to enduring relationships and quite giving. The tap exists because of one devoted customer and a likable beer salesman. If they weren’t there, the Bud Light would probably get taken out of the restaurant. you could say that Brown is saving Baker City from bad beverages in general. Last summer, the city was under a boil order because of a cryptosporidium scare. The brewpub was able to keep operating because of the brewing equipment. Water was boiled in the hot liquor tank and cooled in a fermenter. When the nearby Powder River Correctional Facility found it had no way to easily prepare enough water for inmates and staff, Brown didn’t hesitate to help. The brewery cut back on production a bit and processed about 1000 gallons of water for the prison every other day. But while Baker City worried about water, others who heard about the boil order were concerned about Barley Brown’s beer.
“It was so frustrating hearing phone calls from some people in Portland,” says Dickison. “‘Is the beer safe to drink?’ It’s like going back in time 100 years. The beer is good.”
“The beer is the only thing that’s good,” added Brown.
While Barley Brown’s gears up for another year of competitions, additional medals could be on the horizon. The awards do carry significant meaning— to a point.
“With something like World Beer Cup and Great American Beer Festival you get to put your beers up against other beers, double-blind, and your peers judge it. And so when you get a medal, it’s pretty cool,” says Brown.
Sometimes the brewery even picks up memorable nicknames with victories—like the time a San Diego brewer said he knew Barley Brown’s as the “Wookey Slayer” for beating Firestone Walker’s Wookey Jack at the World Beer Cup. Ultimately, winning medals and the respect of fellow brewers is rewarding. But Brown says it’s generally not going to help sell anymore beer. The one exception, he notes, is placing first in the IPA category. What matters most, though, are the consumers whose feedback can be just as meaningful.
Brown and Dickison recently got a little surprise from a satisfied drinker. The two were unloading bags of malt and milling when Brown noticed a broad smile spread across Dickison’s face. He’d found a piece of candy—a Nut Goodie—tucked in the load from Brewers Supply Group in Vancouver, Wash. The treats come with almost every delivery. Dickison figures it’s because they know it’s going to brewers who need some sustenance to balance out all of the beer. But this time, the Nut Goodie had a note that read “Hand Truck Pale is my fav!” It wasn’t flashy. It didn’t come with national recognition. And it certainly won’t make headlines. But somehow it was a little bit sweeter than that stuff.
“You get a medal and you hang it there, but it’s not personal. But somebody had to stick that sticker on there, write it, and know those pallets were going to Barley Brown’s. Aw, that makes you feel good. A Nut Goodie,” Brown says with a smile.
CAPTION: In Ascending order, Tyler Brown, owner; Eli Dickison, brewer, and Addison Collard, cellerman, make up the core of Barley Brown’s winning brewery team .
By Gail Oberst
Forget about the “Top 10” and “5 Faves” lists. Those are for sissies. This is Oregon, where towns fight over the title Beervana, where a 6 pack in your refrigerator is enough for breakfast, where geeks don’t talk about their computers … they talk about what they spilled on their computers. So buck up, Oregon craft beer fans. Here’s a list of the 55 favorite beers chosen by you -- our consumer volunteers at the Perfect Pints tasting events Oregon Beer Growler hosted throughout 2013. Please note that many of these may not be available now, but we mention them so that you, dear beer lover, can hassle the brewers to brew them again.
Here’s another note, mostly of appreciation. All of these breweries and many more have contributed to our monthly tastings, and our consumers have heartily toasted them at each tasting. And about our tasters: Where other publications might have enlisted the same geeky gang of four judges each month, the Oregon Beer Growler has chosen to go to the consumers, all over the state, to ask them what THEY like. Their opinion, we believe, is what our readers will trust.
Beers below are loosely arranged according to the categories noted.
Central Oregon Winter Warmers – Tasting at Platypus Pub, Bend
Boneyard Hop Venom – West Coast Double IPA – ABV 10 %
Crux Snow Cave -- ABV 10 %
10 Barrel Pray for Snow -- Strong Ale – ABV 7 %
Cascade Lakes Slippery Slope – Winter Ale – ABV 6.4 %
Silver Moon’s Hoptagon – Imperial IPA -- ABV 8.6 %
Three Creeks Hodag – Cascadian Dark Ale – ABV 6.4 %
Stouts – Tasting at Bier One, Newport
Beer Valley’s Black Flag Imperial Stout, Ontario – 11 % ABV
Hopworks Urban Brewery Survival 7-Grain Stout, Portland – 5.3 % ABV
Ninkasi Oatis Oatmeal Stout, Eugene – 7.2 % ABV
Pelican Tsunami Stout, Pacific City – 7 % ABV
Rusty Truck Procrastinator, Lincoln City– 5.4 % ABV
Walkabout’s St. Outback Stout, Medford – 7 % ABV
Green Beers – Tasting at Belmont Station, Portland
Agrarian BelGene Green Farmhouse Ale (Saison)– ABV 7%
Ambacht Mazobrau Golden Ale -- ABV 6.5%
BridgePort Smooth Ryed – ABV 6.3%
Coalition Two Dogs IPA – ABV 5.8%
Hopworks Secession Cascadian Dark Ale – ABV 6.5%
Laurelwood Organic Free Range Red Ale – ABV 5.9%
Oakshire Watershed IPA – ABV 7.1%
IPA tasting at Hood River’s Volcanic Bottle Shop & Pub
BridgePort Hop Czar – 7.5% ABV, 87 IBUs
Pfriem IPA – 7.2% ABV, 65 IBUs
Vertigo Friar Mike’s IPA - 6.1% ABV, 62 IBU
GoodLife Descender IPA – 7.0% ABV, 70 IBU
Long IPA – 6.2% ABV, No IBU listed
Lompoc C-Note – 6.9% ABV, 100 IBU
Big Horse Pale Rider IPA -- 6.2% ABV, 55 IBU
Fruit Beer tasting at Portland U-Brew
Buckman Botanical Brewery Apple Beer -- 8% ABV, 25 IBUs
Burnside Sweet Heat – 4.8% ABV, 9 IBUs
Flat Tail 5 Loco – 7.5% ABV
Lompoc Cherry Wheat –5.0% ABV
Ninkasi Vanilla Oatis – 7.2% ABV, 50 IBUs
Portland U-Brew Peach Phuz -- 5.8% ABV, 23 IBUs
Vertigo Apricot Cream Ale – 4.8% ABV, 11 IBUs
Pale Ale tasting at O’Toole’s, in Roseburg
BricktownE Brewing’s Applegate Pale Ale, Medford 5.7 % ABV, 45 IBUs
Deschutes Mirror Pond Pale Ale, Bend -- 5.0 % ABV, 40 IBUs
Good Life Brewing’s Mountain Rescue Dry Hop Pale Ale, Bend 5.5 % ABV, 40 IBUs
Hop Valley Citrus Mistress, Springfield -- 6.4 % ABV, 76 IBUs
McMenamins Hammerhead, Roseburg -- 5.93 % ABV, 44 IBUs
Omission Brewing Co., Portland -- 5.8 % ABV, 33 IBUs
Vertigo’s Closer Pale Ale, Hillsboro -- 5.7 % ABV, 55 IBUs
Widmer Brother’s Alchemy, Portland -- 5.8 % ABV, 40 IBUs
Wheat Beer tasting at Saraveza, Portland
Columbia River’s Rose City Wheat, Portland, 5.5 % ABV, 18 IBUs
Deschutes Brewery’s Chainbreaker White IPA, Bend 5.6 % ABV, 55 IBUs
Gilgamesh’s DJ Jazzy Hef, Salem 5.7 % ABV, 9 IBUs
Heater Allen’s Isarweizen Bavarian Style, McMinnville 4.8 % ABV, 15 IBUs
McMenamins Oak Hills Brew Pub’s Stephen Weizen, Beaverton 5.5 % ABV, 28 IBUs
Pyramid Hefeweizen, Portland -- 5.2 % ABV, 18 IBUs
Sky High’s June Bug Wheat Ale -- 4.9 % ABV, 23 IBUs
Widmer Brothers’ Brotha From Anotha Motha -- 5.8 % ABV, 16 IBUs
Session Beer tasting Horse Brass Pub, Portland
Silver Moon GetSum Pale Ale, Bend -- 5.6 % ABV, 44 IBUs
Ninkasi Radiant, Eugene -- 6% ABV, 40 IBUs
Long Brewery Linda’s Lager, Newberg -- 4% ABV, 12 IBUs
Hopworks Organic Lager, Portland -- 5.1% ABV, 32 IBUs
Full Sail Session Lager, Hood River -- 5.1% ABV, 18 IBUs
Deschutes River Ale, Bend -- 4% ABV, 28 IBUs
Bend Brewing Metolius Golden Ale, Bend -- 5.4% ABV
Double IPA Tasting at a neighborhood barbecue, Independence
Big Horse Strictly Rude #4, Hood River -- 7.8 % ABV, 75 IBUs
Burnside Alter Ego Imperial IPA, Portland 7.9% ABV, 99.5 IBUs
Hopworks Ace of Spades IIPA, Portland -- 9.5% ABV, 100+ IBUs
Coalition Double Dog Dare, Portland -- 8.2%, 80 IBUs
Natian Old Grogham, Portland -- 8.5 % ABV, 86 IBUs
Pelican Imperial Pelican Ale, Pacific City -- 8% ABV, 85 IBUs
Widmer’s Nelson, Portland -- 8.6 % ABV, 70 IBUs
Boneyard Hop Venom -- 10% ABV, 80 IBUs
Fresh Hop beer tasting at Crosby Hop Farm
(Note: most fresh hop beers won’t be available until next September-October)
Laurelwood’s Fresh Hop Red -- 6.2 % ABV, 60 IBUs
Coalition’s Green Pig Fresh Hop Pale Ale, Portland. 5.0 % ABV, 50 IBUs
McMenamins Thundercone Ale, All locations. -- 6.19% ABV, 56 IBUs
Hopworks Fuggin’ A, IPX Single-Hop Ale, Portland 6.0% ABV, 60 IBUs
Sky High Brewing’s Fresh Hop Ale, Corvallis -- 5.0% ABV, 27 IBUs
Stickmen’s Cascade SMaSH, Fresh Hop Pale Ale, Lake Oswego. 5.8 % ABV, 34 IBUs
Golden Valley Fresh Hops Ale, McMinnville -- 5.1% ABV, 35 IBUs
Civil War tasting (Eugene and Corvallis-area beers) at The Bier Stein, Eugene
Plank Town IPA, Springfield -- 6.2% ABV, 65 IBUs
Flat Tail Rough Cut IPA, Corvallis -- 6.8 % ABV
Mazama Brewing White Wedding, Corvallis -- 5.2 % ABV, 55 IBUs
Oregon Trail Hop Doctor, Corvallis -- 7 % ABV
Oakshire Brewing Watershed IPA, Eugene -- 6.7% ABV, 70 IBUs
Block 15 Sticky Hands Man on the Moon IPA, Corvallis 8.25% ABV, 110 IBUs
Benny’s Pale Ale, McMenamins, Corvallis -- ABV 6.9%, 95 IBUs
Turf Burner Amber, McMenamins, Eugene -- 5.8 % ABV, 39 IBU
Sky High Freewheel IPA, Corvallis -- 7% ABV, 77 IBUs
Ninkasi Total Domination, Eugene -- 6.7% ABV, 65 IBUs
Calapooia Paddle Me IPA, Albany -- 6.8% ABV
McKenzie Brewing Twisted Meniscus, Eugene -- 6.9% ABV, 63 IBUs
Falling Sky’s Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster, Eugene -- 5.7% ABV, 60 IBUs
Hop Valley’s Proxima IPA, Eugene -- 6.3% ABV, 70 IBUs
Holiday Beer tasting at Belmont Station, Portland
Burnside Permafrost, Portland -- 8.3% ABV, 77 IBU
Coalition Bring Out the Imp – Imperial Stout, Portland 8.5% ABV, 70 IBU
Pyramid Snow Cap, Portland -- 7.0% ABV, 47 IBUs
Golden Valley Tannenbomb, McMinnville -- 8 % ABV, 50 IBU
Ninkasi Sleigh’R Dark Double Alt Ale, Eugene -- 7.2% ABV, 50 IBU
BridgePort Ebenezer, Portland -- 6.4% ABV, 40 IBUs
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