By Patty Mamula
For the Oregon Beer Growler
It’s hard to believe, but true. There are still a few places in Oregon where craft beer is NOT king. Albany, sandwiched between Corvallis and Salem, is one of those places. Not exactly a craft beer desert (Calapooia Brewing and Deluxe Brewing Company are both located in Albany) — but close when compared to other cities that boast at least half-a-dozen breweries.
Enter Vagabond Brewing from Salem. When the opportunity arose to take over a former growler fill station next to Albany’s Heritage Mall, Vagabond jumped on it. Vagabond Brewing Outpost, a cozy sports pub, held its grand opening March 31. Located at 14th Avenue SE in Albany, it’s in a prime spot right off the city’s busiest street. “We have all the business on this end of town,” said Vagabond co-founder Dean Howes.
Vagabond Brewery, on Salem’s north side, celebrated its three year anniversary in February. The founders are James Cardwell, Alvin Klausen and Howes — three Marines who served multiple tours of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq and traveled all over the globe once they completed their service. “We developed a passion for beer and wanted to figure out something to do together,” said Howes.
They decided to capitalize on that passion and start a brewery named Vagabond. “We zeroed in on Salem. There wasn’t much happening here for beer,” said Howes. They wrote a business plan and scraped together enough capital to qualify for and secure a Small Business Administration loan. “We brewed with anyone who would give us the time of day — Gigantic, Breakside, McMenamins in Salem and several others. This industry is incredibly accommodating, “he said.
Their beers will be featured front and center at the Vagabond Brewing Outpost. Ten of the taps will be Vagabond’s and the other 20 pour guest beer and cider, with an emphasis on local products. Vagabond’s lineup is American, mostly Northwest styles. Their best-selling beer is a hop-heavy IPA called Attack Owl. It’s named for some local birds that began attacking people in a Salem park. The owl attacks made the national news and so did the beer. Howes said, “At one point, people were buying it as fast as we could make it.” Naturally, when Rachel Maddow mentioned it on her show, they sent her some samples.
Vagabond, which made 50 different beers last year, also plans on adding a 20-barrel lagering tank in order to make larger batches. Some of that increased capacity will surely be due to the traffic in Albany. The Outpost, which seats 60 inside and offers outdoor accommodations, features a new bar that was built by the three partners. In fact, the three did much of the construction work on the new location. Although the pub has a kitchen, the focus for the immediate future will be on beer.
Klausen and Howes plan to manage the Outpost and work the bar so they can get a handle on it and work out any kinks as they come up. During that time, they’ll launch the search for a manager.
Growth has been steady for this trio of Marines turned brewery owners. Last year, Vagabond opened the Victory Club in downtown Salem. Located between Commercial and Liberty Streets NE, it has a retro, speakeasy feel. The brewery itself is undergoing a 2,000-square-foot expansion. In the fall, a new 10-barrel brewhouse from JV Northwest will replace the current 3.5-barrel system. Vagabond produced 700 barrels last year, and with the new system capacity will increase to 2,500.
2195 14th Ave. SE #103, Albany
By Sarah Mason
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Four Salem breweries have made it their mission to quench the thirst for craft beer in Oregon’s capital.
Together, the founders of Gilgamesh Brewing, Salem Ale Works, Santiam Brewing and Vagabond Brewing formed the Salem Brewery Association, a nonprofit focused on fermenting the state capital’s craft-beer culture.
Their motto, “Drink Salem Beer,” is a call to action urging the enjoyment of Salem beer, Salem craft breweries and ultimately the Salem community. For a long time, Oregon beer has left a good taste in the mouths of beer drinkers. But Salem has gone unnoticed among many fans of craft.
“Oregon is hands down the best craft brewing state there is, so it’s kind of strange that the capital has been neglected so far,” said Alvin Klausen from Vagabond.
If this is true, then why has such little attention been paid to one of Oregon’s most important cities?
“Salem has been overlooked as anywhere to consider when seeking out craft beer, even by those living here,” said Jake Bonham, the association's new president and co-owner of Salem Ale Works.
In recent years, Salem’s craft beer scene has started to bubble up, and the Salem Brewery Association is encouraging Oregon beer drinkers to reconsider Salem.
“I think what’s happened over the last seven years is that Salem has started to develop a craft beer scene,” Klausen said. “A few Salem-based breweries have formed, and we want to raise awareness about it.”
Other than McMenamins and RAM Restaurant & Brewery, Gilgamesh is the oldest brewery out of the new crop in Salem at four years old. Compared to other beer scenes throughout the state, Salem is young.
“Salem beer is so far behind,” Klausen said. “Eugene has Ninkasi, which is eight and Steelhead, which is much older. Portland has Widmer, which is 20 or 30 years old now and Rogue, on the Coast, is pushing 30 years. Then in Salem our oldest is only four! We just want to bring awareness to our beautiful craft beer.”
One thing that sets the Salem Brewery Association apart from others like it in the state is that it is centrally located, making access to other metro areas relatively easy.
“Other than the fact that our beer is really awesome, we are incredibly centrally located for the population of Oregon,” Klausen said. “We are an hour south of Portland, an hour north of Eugene, an hour from the coast and a couple hours to Bend.”
In addition, all four breweries are located within miles of one another and use their small selection to their advantage.
“I think we are a very eclectic group,” Klausen said. “Between all of the breweries, we have very different styles. And this is kind of a weird thing, but the lack of craft brews is kind of cool. There are only our four choices right now, so people can hit up all four of them in the city pretty easily.”
The comradery between the breweries is also unique. Because the four breweries are all fairly new, they are experiencing the ups and downs of the industry together. They have all shared information and been supportive of one another.
“We share ideas and help each other out when needed,” Bonham said. “We all realize that we own independent businesses in the same industry, so there is the reality of that. But certainly we get along and are supportive of each other and cross promote when it makes sense.”
“We are hoping that working together to create more of a culture in Salem will raise everybody,” Klausen said. “A rising tide raises all ships. We want to work together to create that for Salem.”
The association has a few ideas in the works, such as organizing festivals and tap takeovers in Salem and other cities as well as sponsoring events in the city.
“I think if they give us a try, we will grow just like the other cities did in Oregon,” Klausen said.
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