Drink locally: July is Craft Beer Month!
The Germans have a saying: Bier ist flüssiges Brot – beer is liquid bread. It’s literally true – combine grain, yeast, water and a little sugar and depending on how you treat it, you’ll either wind up with a crusty, fragrant loaf or what’s known in my circles as a Frosty Adult Beverage. Bread and beer are among the earliest known purpose-made human foods; so intertwined are the histories of baking and brewing that some scholars credit the dual invention of bread and beer as a fundamental force in the emergency of human civilization.
Fast forward to present-day Oregon, and a thriving industry of “craft brewing,” the art of making small-batch beers (and ales, and porters, and stouts) with flavors and ingredients as distinctive as the people who make them. And July is the perfect month to celebrate the brewers’ craft.
It’s hard saying just how many craft brewers call Oregon home. The Oregon Brewers Guild lists more than 75 member breweries (not to mention the multiple brewpubs of such small-brewer-gone-large operations as Rogue and McMenamin’s). It’s a sign that even in a region better known for its wine, the craft beer business is booming.
If you’re working on eating locally, why not drink locally, too?
Right here in the Albany-Corvallis area we have three terrific brewpubs, each making and serving distinctive hand-crafted brews. The variety is remarkable, from traditional beers and ales to exotica brewed with fruits, berries, chocolate and chili peppers – even handcrafted root beer for those who don’t care for alcohol. Many are available on tap at other local pubs and restaurants, and to take home from the brewery to accompany your (locally grown!) meals, by the keg or by the jug.
Now, I’m not suggesting you go out and get tanked. Far from it. Hand-crafted beer deserves the same respect and attention as hand-crafted food. Take your time; savor and enjoy. I can nurse a pint of Calapooia Porter (for one instance) all evening long and come away more satisfied than if I’d swilled a six-pack of undistinguished brand-name beer. Add time for food and conversation, and there’s no cause to leave a brewpub in a less competent state than when you walked in the door.
If you haven’t visited one yet, July is a great month to start. Here are the three fine craft brewers local to me, oldest first:
Oregon Trail Brewery, housed in the Old World Deli on 2nd Street in downtown Corvallis, is the grand-daddy of Mid-Valley craft brewers, dating back to 1987, when the microbrewing industry was just getting a foothold in Oregon. Owner Dave Wills, who rescued the brewery when it nearly ran aground with financial and quality control problems in the early ’90s, and brewmaster Jerry Bockmore have built a loyal following with a select variety of distinctive brews, including an award-winning Brown Ale. Enjoy a pint alongside your choice from the deli’s extensive menu of sandwiches (or legendary chili and lasagna), catch a little local talent on the funky little faux-European stage or take home beer by the keg or “party pig” for your next barbecue.
Calapooia Brewing Co. is the two-year-old incarnation of what started life as Oregon Trader. Owners Mark Martin and Laura Bryngelson bought the business in 2006, and they’ve nurtured it to the point where they now produce 11 different regular brews, from their most popular Yankee Clipper IPA to a Scottish Ale that will knock your socks off, plus seasonal specialties. The little pub, at the corner of Hill and Water Street in what used to be Albany’s riverfront industrial district, is bright and comfortable, the food menu tasty (mmm, hand-made burgers!), and most weekends there’s a local band playing in a corner otherwise devoted to darts. While the pub itself is small, they’ve converted part of what was the warehouse garage to sheltered outdoor seating – a little low on ambience, but a nice place to enjoy a beer and a burger on a warm night. They’re licensed to sell their beer for off-premises consumption in handy, refillable 1/2 gallon “growler” jugs, as well as kegs. The ‘Pooia, as its fans call it, is the closest thing I’ve found to a cozy neighborhood pub, so I visit fairly often. Besides, I have a soft spot in my heart for any pub that regularly celebrates International Talk Like A Pirate Day.
Block 15 is the new kid on the mid-Valley craft brewing block. Located in the historic Gazette-Times building (more recently, a succession of pizza joints) at the corner of 3rd and Jefferson in downtown Corvallis, Block 15 looks like an upscale pub, brews several excellent beers (and root beer!) right on the premises. Owner Nick Arzner is committed to finding local sources for both its beer-making and food menu wherever possible, with a commitment to sustainability that means, among other things, recycling brewery byproducts into animal feed and compost for local farmers. Brewer The kitchen menu features what, in my opinion, is the perfect beer-and-food combination: Slow-cooked barbecue, smoked on the premises, using locally sourced meat, including succulent baby-back ribs a couple of nights a week and the best pulled-pork sandwich I’ve eaten west of the Mississippi. Summertime entertainment includes a Blues, Brews & Barbecues” event each Wednesday featuring local acoustic blues players.
One of these July nights, the kitchen’s going to be too hot for cooking. Why not try a brew pub? And if you do, be sure to wish them a happy Craft Beer Month.