Oregon may be best known for its wines and ciders but craft beer lovers will also find plenty to rave about. In keeping with the rich agricultural tradition that draws people to the region, we set out to find breweries and brewpubs that source ingredients locally and/or serve them in a farmhouse setting. Here are six breweries worth a tour.
The Ale Apothecary (Bend)
Paul Arney and his wife moved to Bend in the mid-90s, where he worked at Bend’s legendary Deschutes Brewery for 15 years. Being in a management position, managing spreadsheets more than actively making beer, was one of the reasons he wanted to start doing his own thing. “I wanted to move away from being behind a computer screen and make a completely natural product utilizing nearby ingredients,” he says.
“All of the beers that we talk about as far as ‘styles’ go started out with a brewer that was in a particular location who had a very limited, supply of raw materials. They had the water that was coming out of the ground. They had a farm nearby where they could get the hops or whatever else they were using. And they had the yeast that was present in the area.”
For Arney, location is supremely important. He has “awesome” water, local yeast and bacteria that flavor his beer in a unique way, and nearby farms for barley malt, hops, and local beekeepers for Oregon honey for their bottle conditioning. Many breweries will “force carbonate” their beer, a process which takes only 20 or 30 minutes. But Arney uses a process that takes three to six months. “We feel it’s very important, not only for the way that the beer tastes but to adhere to this idea of doing things naturally,” he says.
Arney’s beers spend most of their lives in woods as opposed to stainless steel barrels and everything is barrel aged in a “farmhouse” wild fermentation style. Arney struggles with calling them “sour beers” because he doesn’t want to give people who are unfamiliar with that style the impression that the beer is “sour,” but the industry doesn’t have a good description that everyone agrees on. The wild fermentation does give the beers a tart as opposed to sweet taste, but sour just doesn’t do it justice, so try it for yourself and express a totally natural and very local beer.
Dragon’s Gate Brewery (Milton-Freewater)
Dragon’s Gate opened in 2011 with the goal of creating a brewery with a farm atmosphere. Owners Adam and Jennifer Gregory had visited Belgium and the Netherlands and liked Belgian-style beers, so they wanted to recreate the beers that they loved on their 10-acre farm. They brew about 30 different styles at the farm, including IPAs, with five to seven available seasonally. “Our primary focus is Belgian-style,” says Adam, “with some sours with wild yeast.”
They’re working on spontaneous fermentation using coolships to capture wild yeast. A “coolship” is a shallow, open vessel traditionally designed to cool hot wort prior to fermentation. They’re often used for traditional Belgian lambic beers because it encourages spontaneous fermentation and a rich assortment of interesting flavors. About four years ago the brewery expanded from an old barn to a bigger brewing facility that also allowed them to increase their production. They grow seven varieties of hops that are used in their beer-making process.
The couple wanted to create a very inviting atmosphere. “We didn’t want to necessarily be in a bar or at a store front,” says Adam. “We wanted to create an atmosphere where people could come out and sit on the grass and look at the lavender and the fruit trees and the hops growing and really experience the farm atmosphere rather than be in a warehouse or something.” There’s no better place to sit, enjoy the scenery, and enjoy the deer that might come to visit, and really taste the place where you are.
De Garde Brewing (Tillamook)
Where Trevor Rogers, owner and brewer of De Garde Brewing, brews on the Oregon coast, it’s hard to grow the prime ingredients for his beer. What he does do is let the microbes and naturally occurring yeast of Tillamook do their work on his beer.
“Both my wife and I are passionate about spontaneously fermented beers that provide a unique representation of place,” Rogers says. “And given that there wasn’t really any being made in the U.S. at that time that we opened in 2012, we decided that we should perhaps pursue that.”
Rogers sources all of the ingredients for his beers from farms and producers within just a few hours of Tillamook. Everything they make is spontaneously fermented beer that utilizes only the yeast and bacteria that are native to the very local environment. Their tap room in downtown Tillamook has a number of different beers on draft as well as a pretty broad array of bottles to take home. They produce around 50 beers each year, with a wide variety of flavors, that are aged in oak, bourbon, wine, and gin barrels, and are sometimes fermented with fruit.
Some bottled flavors include The Blossom, a spontaneous wild ale aged in oak barrels with peach blossoms; The Boysen Buveaux, a spontaneous wild ale aged in oak barrels for one year with boysenberries; and a Spruce Tip Cuvée, a spontaneous wild ale aged with spruce tips in oak gin barrels.
Golden Valley Brewery (McMinnville)
Peter Kircher with Golden Valley Brewery says the inspiration for his farm-to-table restaurant and brewery date back to experiences in Europe over 30 years ago.
“I had classical French training [as a chef], and in the kitchens I worked at we were always bringing stuff in from local farms,” he says. “When I traveled in Europe back in the 1970s, the food was so different because everything was sourced locally.”
When he decided to open a brewery and restaurant in McMinnville many years later, “we started with a vision of sourcing locally and growing as much as we could on the farm.”
Golden Valley was one of the early entries into Oregon’s microbrewing scene. They were the 12th brewery to open post-1980, when the craft beer movement was just beginning to take off. Since that time they’ve been creating IPAs, porters, stouts, kolsches, wheat beers and more. Brewer Jesse Shue uses healthy doses of local hops to create many of their award-winning beers.
Both the McMinnville and Beaverton locations are open daily for a beer tasting or a meal. Golden Valley has full lunch and dinner menus that utilize plenty of local food. The company has its own gardens that supplied the kitchens with around 5,000 pounds of produce last year.
In 2002 Golden Valley started its own cattle ranch. Cows graze on pastures and munch spent grain from the brewery. “That’s part of a sustainable circle that fits nicely with the whole program,” Kircher says. “It’s a true farm-to-table experience, even though our prices aren’t what you’d normally expect from a farm-to-table restaurant. We believe in providing real food at a good value for the guest.”
Local Oregon hops are key at Wolves & People Farmhouse Brewery (Newberg)
The “farmhouse” in Wolves & People Farmhouse Brewery refers to the style of beers brewed by founder Christian DeBenedetti. But visitors who come to quaff saisons, cezannes and other ales do so in another farm structure: a barn that’s been on this Newberg farm since 1912.
Before opening the brewery in July 2016, DeBenedetti traveled the world studying traditional brewing technique. After spending several years working as a beer and travel writer (his book, The Great American Ale Trail, is now available), he decided to put his knowledge of brewing into practice.
He knew he wanted to create the farmhouse-style ales he’d come to love in Europe. And there was no better place to do it than his parent’s barn.
The two-story, timber-framed structure will play a small role in his desire to use traditional brewing techniques. In the winter he plans to open the big double doors in the hay loft and allow wild yeasts to do the work of fermenting the beer.
“There are only ten to fifteen breweries in the world that make beer this way,” he says. “It’s a tricky and risky way to make beer because you never know what’s coming in on the breezes.”
Yeast isn’t the only local ingredient DeBenedetti sources. “Farmhouse traditions tend to mean a brewer uses whatever they have at their disposal,” he says. “They use their own well water and fruit from the farm.” Water is, in fact, sourced from an onsite well, as are fruits such as apples, pears and apricots.
The result is what DeBenedetti describes as “rustic, wheaty beers that tend to be grassy and sometimes herbal. They’re refreshing and great with food.” Currently a food cart called The Wild Hunt, which serves Scandinavian-style cuisine, provides meals to weekend diners. Visitors are also allowed to bring picnics. They’re best enjoyed in the summer, when it’s possible to sit at an outdoor table and enjoy the view of the nearby mountains.
Grain Station Brew Works (McMinnville)
A bold-lettered statement on the website for Grain Station Brew Works in McMinnville makes their mission quite clear: “We craft our beer in the spirit of our neighboring farmers, ranchers and vintners who get their hands dirty every day. Our passion is brewing, and we are committed to creating quality, down to earth, indy craft brews in the tradition of working the land to give back to the place we call home.”
Among the ways Grain Station pays homage to the region’s agricultural tradition is their location. The brewery is housed in a barn that once stored grass seed and other grains before they were loaded onto train cars in McMinnville.
Grain Station produces a fresh hop beer from just-picked local cones every year. They also try to use ingredients that stay true to the style of whatever beer they are crafting. For instance, German grains and German yeasts (acquired from a lab in Hood River) are used for German beers. The resulting IPAs, pilsners, reds, wheat beers, saisons and other beers are perfect for quenching your thirst after a long day in the fields (or playing tourist).
Visitors can grab a bite to eat in addition to a beer. Grain Station serves salads, burgers, sandwiches, and pizza with house-made marinara. The owners source much of the food from the nearby farmers and ranchers they salute with their beer.
Discover more spots dishing up Oregon’s local flavor: