By Gail Oberst
Oregonians are famous for their connection to what comes up out of their soil.
Eric Steen of Portland has taken Oregonian’s native interest in flora and suggested it could be used for more than just food and beauty. Local plants can also inspire art and beer.
“People are interested in beers that reflect their local landscapes,” Steen said.
Last year, Steen helped organize over 30 “Beers Made by Walking” events that got the public up off their barstools and into the wilds of Portland, Astoria, Ashland, Oregon’s parks and points in between with a goal to inspire professional and home brewers to include native plants in their craft. His walks and hikes took participants past wild wheat and wild flowers, nettles, thistle, dandelions, Echinacea, yarrow, heather and mushrooms, to name a few. Mint, elderberry, and rosemary wound up in local beers – Upright and Coalition, for example – as a result of the public hikes.
“Beers Made by Walking” is among Steen’s many projects aimed at combining his love of hiking, beer, art and sustainable living.
“Everyday actions are art. Activism is art,” said Steen. “I’m not just putting on a beer event. It’s art.”
His programs have inspired features at the Portland Art Museum and at Oregon, Washington and Colorado breweries. He’s garnered attention from local, regional and national media, including a feature on NPR’s food blog and Oregon Public Broadcast’s Ecotrope series. His findings are catalogued in The Walking Encyclopaedia, on exhibition at Stoke-on-Trent, England. He was awarded the Outstanding Instructor of the Year in Letters, Arts & Sciences College at the University of Colorado. And the list goes on.
So, what’s he doing now?
Steen is digging in, literally. He’s working on a project with Portland’s Forest Park Conservancy to raise awareness about the resources in the park and in the urban area, including yeasts. Brewers from one of the Columbia Gorge’s newest breweries, Thunder Island, placed beer wort in the old-growth forest area of the park to expose it to wild yeasts there, and then exposed another batch to second-growth forest yeasts. The results are still in the works.
Brewers – professional and home brewers – and other organizations can contact Steen for help organizing their own Beers Made by Walking event. He helps brewers locate a route or a trail, connects them with an area botanist, and provides assistance either in person, or via phone and e-mail. Steen doesn’t charge for his services, but he does ask for donations of beers inspired by these programs, which he shares with the next group of walkers. He also asks that breweries donate a portion of the proceeds from the beer they make to a local environmental nonprofit of their choice.
The walks don’t have to be sponsored by breweries. Recent sponsors have been 16 Tons in Eugene, and Belmont Station in Portland.
Updates on Steen’s activities are on his website and Facebook page, listed on this page. To connect with Steen, send him an e-mail.
Beers Made By Walking
( e ) Eric@beersmadebywalking.com
Facilitator: Eric Steen
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