Oregon Beer. Those two words incite a lot of enthusiasm among beer lovers, seemingly the world over. Right here at home, Jefferson Public Radio’s signal is flung far and wide in the State of Jefferson, a land inhabited by a multitude of independent thinkers and a preponderance of beer-loving folks. As we know, southern Oregon is a diverse territory, with much to offer in the realm of food, wine, public radio, and for the purposes of this article, beer. But where does one begin when talking about what is known as Oregon beer? And what about northern California beer for that matter?
Let’s start with a bit of background. In the beginning, Henry Saxer was the first licensed commercial brewery in the state, opening the doors in Liberty Brewery in 1852. While many in the area may think it was Henry Weinhard who flung wide the brewery doors, Mr. Saxer was actually first. Weinhard’s proceeded to purchase Liberty Brewery of Portland in 1862. Weinhard’s aptly named partner, George Bottler, worked together for two years until Bottler sold out to Henry. It’s widely documented that Mr. Weinhard wanted to pump beer through the Skidmore Fountain, Portland’s oldest piece of public art, yet was not granted permission. Pity.
If you have a chance to read about Weinhard’s Fine Beers, you can learn a great deal about what beer was like in the community leading up to the First World War. Germans in America, pre-wartime, were welcomed the same as many immigrants. The struggles, dreams, successes and failures all resonated with the newly established European influenced brewers. Take the Lewis and Clark Centennial American Pacific Exposition and Oriental Fair of 1905 for example. Portland, Oregon hosted this centennial celebration of the Lewis & Clark Expedition. As a global event, it was the perfect opportunity for an Oregon brewer to be featured and indeed the special beer they brewed for the event, Kaiser Beer, won a gold medal at the Fair.
California was also an integral player in the modern beer movement. Pioneers like the venerable Fritz Maytag slowly resurrecting Anchor Brewing from the ashes in San Francisco, represented a quiet forthcoming sea change for beer in America. Credit needs to be given to Jack McAuliffe for starting up the “first” modern small independent brewery in the form of New Albion Brewing smack dab in the middle of what was becoming world class wine country, Sonoma, California. And we can thank others like Irene Firmet, founder of Full Sail Brewing in Hood River, Oregon for getting into the mash tuns (vessels used in the mashing process to convert the starches in crushed grains into sugars for fermentation) to progress the universal beverage of beer in America.
Moving forward. The age of prohibition found Oregon implementing a statewide prohibition fully four years prior to the national ratification of the Eighteenth Amendment that took place in 1919. And it wasn’t the only state to do so. By 1916, 19 states had adopted anti-liquor laws effectively predating countrywide prohibition. For a full glimpse into Prohibition in this country, take a look at Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s three-part documentary film series that tells the story of the rise, rule, and fall of the Eighteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the entire era it encompassed (www.pbs.org).
Fast forward to modern day. Past repeal in 1933, past the possible secession of the State of Jefferson in 1941. Past the Civil Rights and Women’s Liberation Movements and into the 1970’s. At this time, America had a scarcity of breweries when compared to just 50 years earlier. By some accounts there were well over 1700 breweries in the U.S. when the Volstead Act (also known as the National Prohibition Act of 1919) was passed. By other accounts there were a thousand more. Regardless of the actual count, beer in America — and most certainly in Oregon — was very different than it is today. For beer lovers everywhere, that’s good news. For those in the JPR listening area, it’s even better with the numerous choices of fresh beer that we have available in our region.
Of the dozens of communities that share what JPR has to offer, many of them have their own breweries as well. When you want to sip and listen, find a local brewery, brewpub, or taproom and enjoy them simultaneously. Let’s take a trip, give you an overview and see who’s out there to discover and savor.
Headquartered in Ashland, Oregon on the lovely Southern Oregon University campus, JPR shares its own immediate community with at least three local breweries. Standing Stone Brewing Company, in the historic Whittle Garage building in the middle of downtown, has been in operation since 1997 and is a full service brewpub. The 10-barrel system stays busy with the pub serving as a popular gathering place for locals, as well as an inviting spot to the many visitors the town sees each year. Caldera Brewing, with the original pub downtown, also began in 1997. With a recent expansion they’ve opened a roomy new brewpub on the south side of town to complement the downtown location, serving beer and food at both locations. Like many of the new breed of breweries popping up, the newest addition to Ashland is a “nano” brewery, Swingtree Brewing. The proud new owners have a taproom that’s open a few nights a week with their own fresh beer on tap as well as guest taps, cider and wine. Since there is no food on premise, you can bring your friendly canines as well.
If you hop in the car and are listening to say Car Talk on JPR on a Saturday morning drive, you can easily get to Medford where the count of local breweries is climbing steadily. Bricktowne Brewing, started by an enthusiastic and accomplished homebrewer, has expanded from a 1-barrel system (31 gallons) to a 7-barrel custom-made system. Being right downtown in Medford provides a great central gathering place created by these community minded owners. Southern Oregon Brewing, known as SOB (say “es – oh – be”) by locals, has been around for a while and makes a variety of beers available both at their nicely appointed taproom as well as in various retail establishments.
Ask if there’s a place to walkabout for a beer in Southern Oregon and you’ll find owner Ross with his 14-year-old Walkabout Brewing, newly relocated to Medford from Central Point. It was time to expand (a common happening as you can see!) and he found a new home with room to move. The coming summer months should also find a new patio set and ready for flavor lovers to linger and get some sunshine along with their beer. Along with a few other small capacity breweries in town, there’s no shortage of locally made beer.
Keep heading north and you may find you’re seeing double. June of 1975 welcomed the newly opened Miller’s Shady Oaks Pizza Deli in Cave Junction by community minded owners Bertha and Jerry Miller. Now known as Wild River Brewing, they operate five locations you can visit in the Rogue Valley region. The original store is in Cave Junction; there is also one in Brookings, two in Grants Pass and one in Medford. Once you arrive and get comfy, you can take your pick of their beers and signature pizza at all the family friendly locations.
When you’re looking for tasty beer and are interested in supporting local business, Roseburg’s a good burg to explore. It’s a gem of a town nestled in the Umpqua River watershed with a colorful story. With at least five breweries currently in operation, up from zero not very long ago, you can find flavors that please at various spots around town. Old 99 Brewing is a good place to start, with a friendly crew ready to tell you about their beer. Started by three friends brewing in a small garage, Old 99 offers what is relatively standard in most breweries, taprooms and pubs: a sampling, also known as a flight. A flight is an assortment of beers on tap at a brewery, served in small portions and designed to enable folks to taste what’s available. It’s an excellent and smart way to become familiar with beer wherever this option is available. The Old 99 crew has fun with it calling their flight a “Road Trip.”
There’s even a new site dedicated to all the locations and hours of operation info for the breweries and pubs in Roseburg, findable at brewburg.com. Local beer enthusiast and diplomat Steve Bahr started the site to simply help others easily find Roseburg beer. And he’s not alone in helping people find fresh beer. Julie Wartell, founder of PubQuest.com, began this site several years ago when her skills for professional mapping and love of beer happily collided. Julie graciously created a special map to use in looking at beer choices in the State of Jefferson. Cheers to that!
Being a long time local and retired librarian with an easy manner and desire to share what he knows, Steve happily recommends Roseburg Station Pub & Brewery. It’s one of the many McMenamin’s establishments started by brothers Mike and Brian McMenamin in 1974. Steve shares that “it’s our go-to place because of the atmosphere with its hard to beat coziness, especially in the winter, and the fact that it’s located in the old train station is very eye appealing.” Two-Shy Brewing is a newer flavor opportunity when you’re in town as well, open Friday and Saturday for the seasoned and the curious seeking local beer. The trip to Draper Brewing from Roseburg isn’t long enough to enjoy a whole hour of As It Happens, yet it’s worth the sacrifice to enjoy their beers, thoughtfully brewed on a compact 5-barrel system.
The Oregon Coast is a regional gem, most likely something JPR supporters like to crow about. Rightly so, especially when you combine the fresh ocean air with fresh beer. Once in Coos Bay you can visit the 7 Devils Public House, open five afternoons a week, to enjoy their beer and food. Like many breweries, it was a dream in the making made real. Many brewers and breweries come to the fold by way of other careers first and the owners of 7 Devils, wife and husband team Annie Pollard and Carmen Matthews, are a great example of this commonality in the industry.
In the east, located in the gorgeous Klamath Basin is namesake brewery Klamath Basin Brewing Company housed in the former historic Crater Lake Creamery building, built in 1935. With the easy to find neon “Blue Cow” sign from the old creamery still standing, it’s a beacon for local and traveling beer fans. Another tasty option is Mia & Pia’s Pizzeria and Brewhouse, a short 3.5-mile bike ride down the road in Klamath Falls. Featuring their own beers and house made pizzas, these folks are typical of beer folk: they support the community that supports them, which keeps them pretty busy in return.
California has long been known for setting trends in America. The beer available in the Northern California JPR listening area goes hand in hand with that now permanent part of our American landscape.
Let’s start with Lost Coast Brewery in Eureka, California. With a full brewery and restaurant open seven days a week, Lost Coast is a great example of a solid modern brewery in America. July 1990 found the café open for business, a several year plan and dream of co-founders and owners Wendy Pound and Barbara Groom. The historic Pythian Castle provides a singular location for enjoyers of fresh beer and food, served up with enthusiasm in the Humboldt Bay region. Lost Coast is also an example of a distributing brewpub, wherein you can buy fresh made beer on premise, as well as packaged beer to go.
Long time and totally organic brewery Eel River Brewing in Fortuna is well-known and well-received for its beers. As America’s first certified organic brewery, it’s definitely a destination to explore. A short trip to Six Rivers Brewing in McKinleyville will yield yet another flavorful visit – with a twist. One of their house beers, the Chili Pepper Beer, is a delightful and tastebud-awakening selection that pairs nicely with their food menu. Co-owners Meredith and Talia have been generating enthusiasm from the community far and wide since they purchased it in 2004, with continued success.
Mad River Brewing nestled in Blue Lake rounds out this cluster of breweries in the immediate area, with an assortment of year round beers complemented by delicious seasonals. A short hop away, Etna Brewing proudly extols their location as “Fresh From the Mountains of Jefferson State.” The brand also proudly announces that the brewery started in 1872, well before Prohibition. There aren’t many breweries that were able to make it through Prohibition so this claim to fame certainly gets your attention.
Visiting the quaint town of Dunsmuir will find you in good company with other beer lovers. Dunsmuir Brewery Works is an easily findable spot on the map and worth a stop to refresh and refuel. This small and cozy place serves up delicious house made soups like Gazpacho in the hot summer months to go with their tasty beer on draught. Open since 2009, they’re a symbol of the continued growth of breweries all across the country.
If you’re heading to Redding then a visit to one of the newer establishments like Wildcard Brewing Company would be in order. The tasting taproom is open a few days a week with regularly visiting local food trucks. Fall River Brewing also located in Redding is another likely target to find in the Intermountain area. Finally, when you head back seaside, put North Coast Brewing in Fort Bragg on your list of places to visit. With a restaurant and live music, it’s a perfect way to wind up this beer trip as you enjoy your Jefferson Public Radio programs on your travels.
I’ve yet to come across a brewery of any size uninterested in sharing their story. One thing I know is that brewers are hardworking folks, with busy full days. So if you want to stop by and chat, calling ahead to find out what works for them is in order. You can’t stop a brew cycle, and respecting their schedule will reflect your interest in their tasty efforts by being mindful of their busy days.
Lots of beer focused businesses, breweries included, welcome visitors. Some have scheduled tours that are either drop-in or call-to-reserve-your-spot, so a quick web search should yield that information when you make your plans. Another option is taking a beer bus tour, like the one Indigo Creek Outfitters offers out of Ashland. Will Volpert, owner of the Indigo Creek, leads interactive tours of local breweries and eateries. Plus it complements the warmer months’ river rafting schedule and helps develop more local economic stimulus for the breweries.
Finally, a few things to keep in mind as you consider the mind-boggling availability of fresh beer in the region: moderation, frequency and volume. Designating a driver and consuming in moderation help everyone enjoy beer more. Being a diplomat of beer (vs. a snob) will create and develop friendship and community. Frequency of consumption and volume consumed are two elements to also be mindful of. Making sure you are happily and responsibly supporting your local breweries is good for everyone.
So get out there. Gather a group of friends together, load up the car, and tune your radio to JPR. Make plans this year to enjoy, meet, sip, and learn about the incredible beer offerings the State of Jefferson brings us. Cheers!
When you want to go out and enjoy beer and food, Ginger Johnson is game. She loves the wide variety of programming on JPR and getting people to think differently. Find out more about her and her business at WomenEnjoying