Breweries are blossoming in Eugene, Oregon.
The brewery scene in Eugene is expanding so fiercely, it’s developing the nickname of Brewgene. And you won’t hear any of the University of Oregon students or other residents complaining about it.
From Ducks young to old, blue-collared or tie-dyed, there’s now a brewery for everyone. That makes this southern Valley city a great excuse for a beercation.
In the immediate future, Eugene’s Whitaker District will complete its transition from haggard to happening with four of the area’s breweries completing construction on expansions or additions.
Eugene’s largest brewery, Ninkasi (272 Van Buren St.), is the pre-existing Whit resident and it’s more than doubling in size, adding an 80-barrel brewhouse to its current 60-barrel system. If you’re a fan of India Pale Ales and think their Total Domination IPA is big now, its dominance of the Oregon craft beer market has just begun. Already the grounds offer visitors a taproom with a beer garden, fire pit, and a food truck to help visitors sample their lineup of big, hoppy ales. Their Sterling Pils from the Prismatic Series of lagers is an easy-drinking, 5 percent alcohol beer perfect for enjoying any day and on our increasingly-warm nights.
Mere blocks away, Oakshire is building a tasting room. Currently, the brewery itself (1055 Madera St.) requires a trek through an industrial area along the tracks. It’s also expanding to keep beer drinkers in Watershed IPA as well as their popular Amber Ale and one of the very few coffee stouts available, Overcast Espresso Stout. This coffee brew is made with beans sourced from Wandering Goat Coffee, conveniently located across the street from the new tasting room. The expansion will let decorated brew master, Matt Van Wyk, develop more of his small-batch creations beer geeks salivate over and I’m happy to report I tried a wild-yeast ale he’s got in the works that will please budding sour beer fans.
Directly in between those two on the short half-mile walk and opening this month is the second location of Hop Valley. Currently it’s a brewpub in neighboring Springfield. Despite the original pub opening on Friday the 13th back in February 2009, Hop Valley is experiencing a run of good luck. The family-friendly restaurant has a 15-barrel brewery, but the new production facility will make 60 barrels at a time. The Eugene tasting room (990 W. 1st St) will have a limited food menu, but it’s the prospect of quaffing hop bombs such as Alphadelic IPA, Natty Imperial Red, and Alpha Centauri Imperial IPA in a beer garden large enough to hold 200 people that will be the real draw.
And the Whit’s fourth brewery-oriented space will be the tasting room for Falling Sky, one of Eugene’s newest breweries that opened early 2012. Co-owner Jason Carriere turned his homebrew supply shop into a progressive brewpub (1334 Oak Alley) after Rob Cohen came along with his dream of opening a locavore eatery and brought the perfect executive chef, Corey Wisun. This chef had already developed a cult following with Field to Table Catering and was dazzling folks at the farmers market. The last pieces of the puzzle fell into place when two homebrew shop employees, Scott Sieber and Michael Zarkesh, presented Jason with their business plan to become pro brewers.
While the current and original spot is a nice, airy space with an open wall and communal seating, expect the forthcoming brewery-gastropub opening in July to be a bit more chic (if such a term can be applied to a NY-style deli/bakery with a bar that’ll feature cocktails mixed with delicious house-made sodas). I love that there will finally be a brewpub to fill the void in the knish niche.
The Classics Continue
Of course, Brewgene is more than just new, hip hot spots. The oldest brewpub in town is the oft-overlooked High Street Brewery (1243 High Street), one of the McMenamins Brothers’ earliest locations, which opened in 1988. Built in 1905, the house on High Street has been everything from a café to a flophouse, but a brewpub with a beer garden is easily its best designation. Brewer Hanns Anderson helms the seven-barrel system in the low-ceilinged basement and manager Jenny Gomez keeps the house running smoothly. I enjoyed the homey, relaxed atmosphere that draws students and faculty as well as neighborhood families.
There’s also Steelhead Brewing (199 E. 5th Avenue) that has changed little since opening in 1991, except for all the high-def flat-screen TVs, which makes this a hub for mighty Ducks fans to watch football and basketball action. There has been one major change: The name. It’s still Steelhead when you walk in and drink beers like Hopasaurus Rex Imperial IPA However, because Mad River Brewing Co. in Humboldt County debuted with an American pale ale it called Steelhead in 1990, Steelhead Brewing’s new line of bottled beers appear under the label McKenzie Brewing (and it’s a great name since anglers flock to the McKenzie River that runs a stone’s throw from the brewpub).
The other old-school brewpub is Eugene City Brewing (844 Olive Street), simply referred to as ECB, which Rogue Ales took over and rebranded in 2004. Brewer Christina Canto makes Rogue’s Track Town Ales, in deference to the University of Oregon’s world-class track program. Fun events occur almost nightly ranging from bands to Bingo. However, that’s not what the public house’s regulars come here for. The bar is lined with plaques commemorating its most ardent barflies who are on a first-name basis with the bartender—and with one another. But you don’t need a nameplate to get the royal treatment. Celebrate your birthday here and first thing you know there’s a huge mug of complimentary beer in your hands.
There’s plenty more beer culture to soak up in Eugene, including stellar pubs and bottle shops 16 Tons (the café location is 2864 Willamette St. and the original taphouse is at 265 E. 13th Ave.) and the Bier Stein(1591 Willamette St.).
And don’t miss visiting one of the newest breweries just outside of town. What feels more like the farming hamlet of Coburg is technically in Eugene’s city limits, but getting there requires driving or bike riding down a farm road to reach Agrarian Ales (3115 W. Crossroads Lane). What started as a farm by Ben and Nate Tilley’s parents, the sons have converted into a proper farmhouse brewery. That’s a rare and noble achievement in an era where farmhouse-style beers are immensely popular, but typically concocted in urban breweries.
A visit to the farm begins with ambling past hop fields planted enough years ago that Agrarian uses entirely estate-grown hops (some 25 different varieties). This is not to say all they grow now are hops. Previously famed for two dozen varieties of chile peppers, Agrarian continues to utilize these spicy treats in their beers. Each season, they’ve debuted a new chile beer along with their seasonal saisons, hop-forward ales, and even sodas sweetened with honey sourced from a neighboring apiary. Bring your friends and families and make a day of drinking in the sun (or inside the barn if it’s raining), playing horseshoes or corn hole (tossing bean bags at a raised platform with a hole), and watching kids romp in the dirt.
A Place to Lay Your Head
As for a home base during all this brewery hopping, check out The Oval Door (988 Lawrence St.), a B&B in a downtown farmhouse residence less than a mile walk to nearly every brew spot mentioned. Guests can help themselves to a local craft beer in the guest fridge, but the real treat is the gourmet breakfast prepared at whatever time you choose.
And if you’re not out at a pub in the afternoon, help yourself to the Oval Door’s fresh-baked cookies. Considering the effort brewpubs go through to make guests feel at home, it only makes sense to stay somewhere that truly makes you feel that way. – Story and photos by Brian Yaeger, RFT Beer Editor