By Michael Kew
For the Oregon Beer Growler
I really need exercise.
An early-December Tuesday. Raining. It’s been raining — hard. I've been sedentary since Friday. Need to sweat outside.
Afternoon arrives. A rift in the clouds. A window?
I like windows.
And so, from Brookings, I drive up along the north bank of the River Chetco, flowing fast and fat, wide acres of murky brown embossed with wispy-white rapids and swirling eddies, poked with driftwood beneath a sky of polished lead.
I stop at Loeb State Park. Its air speaks of moss and camphor. Its evergreens contrast with the deciduous hardwoods, wind-stripped of their summer grandeur — now pretty, pre-winter groundcover amid salal and salmonberry.
The Riverview and Redwood Nature trails are two gems that seem custom-built for jogging. They thread several streams tumbling loudly to the Chetco, 56 scenic miles of river born deep in the Kalmiopsis, a wilderness area in the Klamath Mountains of southwestern Oregon.
I jog the moist myrtle-to-redwood-to-myrtle loop. Later, back at the trailhead, I’m thirsty. And naturally so. The swollen Chetco is front-and-center. Indeed, some of that cold rainwater will become delicious beer that I and many others will drink in the months to come.
Five hours later, I'm warm and dry in Chetco Brewing Company's snug taproom, feeling fit with a pint of award-winning Block & Tackle Stout. The beer was made with Chetco water in a repurposed home garage mere yards from the river itself — 3 miles from where it empties into the Pacific, 2 miles from the intake station that draws fresh water for Brookings and Harbor.
With me are seven members of Chetco Running Club, launched in September 2015. (The brewery was founded in 2011.)
"Welcome to the clubhouse!" brewmaster Mike Frederick says merrily, clinking his glass against mine. A bearded, beatific human who also owns a massage practice, Frederick is thrilled to make tracks again.
"I used to do a LOT of running in Minnesota and down in Los Angeles, but I sort of stopped when we moved to Oregon. We were so busy with other things, and I kept thinking I didn't have enough time."
But the popularity of his beer made a taproom imminent. When a clean, 768-square-foot space surfaced in early 2015, Frederick and his wife Alex wasted no time. Now, a year later, it's more than a quaint bar with a long beer menu.
"We had always wanted to be deeply involved in our community," Frederick says after a sip of IPA. "Providing jobs, hosting local musicians, supporting charities — stuff like that. I'd looked at several breweries that did different types of community involvement, and a couple of them, like Nevada’s Great Basin, had a running club. I thought that was a fantastic idea.
“When we finally got the taproom going, we were more in touch directly with the community, so I said, 'Let's start a running club, because then I'll have to run!'"
Having weekly group runs in and around town, usually on Mondays evenings, the club has also participated in a couple of 10Ks, and there was the official Chetco Brewing 5K held during 2015's rainy Oktoberfest in the middle of Brookings. "It was so great to have our small town draw a high number of enthusiastic runners of all levels," runner/taproom beertender Loretta Alcala says.
"And some of them are brutally competitive," Frederick says with a wink.
Overall, he wants the club to evolve and be as welcoming as it possibly can. "Anybody — anybody — can join,” he says. “If you're 80 years old and can walk a block, you should be able to do this. People who want to run a marathon should be able to do this."
In the future, Chetco Running Club would like to flourish for trail excursions, half-marathons, marathons, triathlons, and to be a team in events like the Wild Rogue Relay and the Warrior Dash, a 5K obstacle course.
"We can make one of those," Frederick says.
"We could have an awesomely muddy event here," runner Diana VaVerka adds. "We get enough rain, right?"
VaVerka is the group’s newest recruit.
"Running is such a culture of its own, and it can take some sort of level of insanity to truly enjoy it," she continues. "It's really nice to meet people who can share that level of insanity, and it keeps you sane!"
"It gives us something to look forward to,” Alcala says. “It keeps us accountable. It's social. There are people around here who want to be active outside."
"Yup,” runner Jackie Knudsen says, “and if you find someone you can compete with, it helps you improve, because you're always better or worse than someone else.”
"What's the connection between beer and the whole group athletic effort?" I ask.
"It's our motivation to run!" runner April Smith jokes.
"Yeah — we run, and then we get to come here and drink," Alcala says, grinning with her pint of porter.
But isn’t that detrimental to our good health?
Table consensus: Nope.
Not at all.
"Beer is not an unhealthy thing," Frederick says with sincerity. "For example, silicon builds stronger bones, and the lupulin from hops helps to prevent cancer.
"But, bottom line, anything that can be used to bring people together for a positive cause? That's the best health benefit in all of this."
I look at the dark beer in my hand; I think of my earlier jog. Two pursuits of mind, of exercise, of satisfaction, of well-being. Two concepts of joy, two things widely loved. I am here because of them.
Frederick is right. Welcome to the Club.
Chetco Brewing Company
[a] 927 Chetco Ave., Brookings
By Gail Oberst
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Chetco Brewing, a tiny brewery founded in Michael Frederick’s garage near Brookings, is making some big beers these days. In 2014, less than a year into production, Chetco won a silver medal for its Block and Tackle Stout in the World Beer Cup competition. That year, he produced 111 barrels.
His award-winning, American-style imperial stout is on tap at places in Brookings, Grants Pass, Portland and a few other towns. And as of May, the stout and other brews are on tap at Chetco Brewing’s new taproom.
Earlier this year, with a goal to opening a taproom in Brookings, Chetco raised over $15,700 to renovate a former Radio Shack space. The taproom is now open Friday through Monday, 3:30-9 p.m. at 927 Chetco Ave. in Brookings. The adults-only space has room for 49 and is outfitted with 10 taps. The brewery is also organizing the first Oktoberfest celebration in Brookings.
Frederick is expanding a 1 1/4-barrel system (“if you’re being generous”) to a new 7-barrel system and a new brite tank. He said he needs to increase production more to make a living. “My hourly wages don’t really pan out yet,” he laughed. “It’s inefficient at a small scale.”
The new taproom promises a production upscale.
Michael’s wife and partner Alex Carr-Frederick maintains her work in real estate sales while Michael continues to work as a masseuse and a yoga instructor. But the new taproom heralds more work at Chetco Brewing in the future.
Michael’s interest in brewing hails back to the 1980s. His brother-in-law was a homebrewer, and later, his wife bought him a brewing kit. “It blew my mind that you could make your own beer,” he said. He immediately began brewing all grain.
When the couple moved to Oregon, they planted a small garden and began using some of their own hops and berries in the brews.
When a friend left them a small inheritance, Michael began making plans for a commercial brewery, registering it in 2011. Family hardships and then the prolonged illness and death of their dear dog and “chief snuggler,” Hazel, bit into their windfall. “Life is what happens while you are planning something else, right?” said Michael. Two years ago, they finally licensed the brewery and are forging ahead with their dreams.
And speaking of dreams. Michael and Alex live and brew in one of the most scenic breweries I’ve ever seen -- perched on a cliff above one of Chetco River’s most popular fishing holes. If you’re lucky enough to be counted as “staff,” you might get to sit in the deck hot tub and watch the salmon and steelhead twitch at the end of a lucky angler’s line. With a stout in hand, the sun setting in the Pacific a few miles west, what could be better? Watching the fishermen cast into the river below me while Michael filled a growler, it dawned on me where the inspiration came from for Block and Tackle Stout’s name.
Visit Chetco Brewing’s website at www.chetcobrew.com. The website’s “On Tap” button tells you where you may find the beers in Oregon.
Chetco Brewing Company
[a] 927 Chetco Ave., Brookings
By Brian Yaeger
For the Oregon Beer Growler
In the winter, Oregon gets fewer than nine hours of sunup. That’s a lot of darkness. Beer-wise, darkness is something our brewers do very well. Some of those stouts and porters get a big spotlight while others, pardon the expression, are generally left in the dark. There’s no arguing that Deschutes’ The Abyss is a world-class imperial stout or that Barley Brown’s Turmoil deserves to be the award-winning Cascadian Dark Ale that it is. But there are more than 200 breweries across Oregon. Some simply get less lip service; some stellar beers may be overlooked. So in honor of wintry dark ales, especially as imperial stouts get their major love-fest this Valentine’s Day at Fort George Brewery’s Festival of the Dark Arts, take a moment to try and seek out these other opaque and obscure onyx beauties.
Seaside’s eponymous brewery, Seaside Brewing Company gives the arcade and taffy-laden town what it really needed: a brewpub. Their imperial stout, Black Dynamite, lives up to its name in that it’s pitch black and explosively tasty. The beer with bourbon-soaked vanilla beans and cacao nibs (also getting the bourbon treatment) is a show-stopper from first chilled sip to last warmed drop that has the sweetness to not just pair with dessert but replace it, yet the bitterness and roastiness to enjoy snifter after snifter.
At the southern end of the coast in Brookings is Chetco Brewing Company. Michael Frederick and his wife Alex Carr-Frederick launched Chetco as a nanobrewery using their friend James Smith’s 1.5-barrel homebrewing system as their commercial setup. It’s how they make their super-small batch but mighty Block & Tackle. This stout achieves a unique viscosity after aging for six months, and the resulting notes of Baker’s chocolate achieve the right balance between a sweet and dry stout -- just ask the World Beer Cup judges who awarded it a silver medal.
Speaking of award-winning south coast breweries, the aforementioned James Smith is the brewer at Arch Rock Brewing Company in Gold Beach. Although he medaled at last year’s Great American Beer Festival for his lager, State of Jefferson Porter pours a chocolaty brown hinting at the deep chocolate flavor buried under the mocha aroma. Yes, there is a robust maltiness that suggests molasses and brown sugar, but it’s not syrupy on the tongue. The brew is rich from the roasted malts and holds up from first sip to last, then back to first.
In mid-Willamette Valley, two tiny breweries are making some of the most unique stouts in the state. Santiam Brewing is the passion project of nine buddies, only some of them homebrewers, who collectively formed the brewery and cozy tasting room in Salem. Pirate Stout is a rum-barrel aged “tropical export stout” (7.9% ABV) with a fudgy base of chocolate malt and de-bittered black malt that sails through the Bahamas in a dark rum barrel picking up a crew of toasted coconut flakes. Fans of Malibu Rum and Mounds bars are the obvious targets, but the allure of this rich, sweet, voluptuous stout is very easily enjoyed as the meal, not just dessert.
While farther down I-5 in brewery-happy Eugene, Viking is technically a brewery but I like to call it a braggotery since every brew they make has a large honey content. They make a bourbon-aged stout with Meadowfoam honey, which naturally tastes like toasted marshmallow giving it an overall s’more character. But they also make Winter Squash Porter featuring 150 pounds of delicata squash that is hand-roasted and given a honey backbone courtesy of turnip honey. The result is reminiscent of Big Black Jack Imperial Chocolate Pumpkin Porter from their neighbors at Oakshire Brewing but bottles are even rarer to find.
One last pick from a brewery truly off the beaten path is the Chocolate Stout from Dragon’s Gate Brewery in Milton-Freewater near the northeastern corner of the state. Le Morte D’Arthur is a milk stout with cocoa nibs that was once described as a “Fudgsicle, but beer” and has developed a local cult following. Therefore, if you’re heading to this farm-based brewery near Washington’s wine country, bring a growler to share this decadent treat with friends.
Finally, even in Portland there are rare jewels to be treasured. Ex Novo Brewing Company is the most altruistic brewery, donating 100% of its profits to local charities -- but their new Moonstriker is still pure hedonism. This stout is a collaboration with Moonstruck Chocolates and debuted at the Holiday Ale Festival. It features nutmeg, cinnamon, vanilla and, of course, Moonstruck cocoa along with a fiery kiss of habanero. The result is a creamy, dreamy Mexican hot chocolate stout.
Clearly, the force is strong on the dark side of Oregon’s less-heralded brews.
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