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Banjo
05-27-2010, 03:34 PM
Welcome to Brew-gene
Suddenly, the Eugene area flows with locally bottled artisan beers that serve the prevailing “buy local” mood.
By Joel Gorthy
http://www.registerguard.com/csp/cms/sites/web/special/tastings/24621363-44/eugene-beers-beer-brewing-brewery.csp


Appeared in print: Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Craft beer lovers in Eugene languished in a brewing backwater for much of the past 15 years, as those in Portland — aka Beervana — reveled in the hoppy, malty riches of their city.

A bright mid-1990s Eugene brew pub scene gradually dimmed until it reached its darkest point in 2004 after the closures of West Bros. BBQ (briefly the Dive Bar & Grill), Wild Duck Brewery and Oregon Fields Brewing Co. The stalwart Steelhead Brewing Co. and McMenamins High Street Brewery continued to serve draft beers from their on-site microbreweries, but the idea of a vibrant local beer culture went flat.

Flash-forward almost six years, and beer is back in town in a big way. Locally crafted brews are on minds and palates all over the city, and the proof is on the tap handles at bars and restaurants and in the coolers of supermarkets, corner stores and bottle shops. Eugene — Brew-gene? — has evolved into a worthy satellite of Beervana, one that might even deserve its own nickname.

Interestingly, Eugene’s craft-beer revival is not being driven by a new generation of brew pubs, like those that once abounded in the city.

Rather, two production breweries — beer only, no food — and two brew pubs that also bottle their products have put Eugene back on the brewing map.

And a bevy of stores, pubs and restaurants have tapped consumers’ thirst for brewed-here beers.

“We’ve been open for about five years, and in that time we’ve had three new breweries open up,” says Chip Hardy, owner of The Bier Stein pub and bottle shop. “The market for craft beer in Eugene is really increasing because I think people here are educated about craft-brewed beer. We certainly try to help people discover the more flavorful and local craft beers.”

Eugene’s brewed reawakening

Track Town in a bottle: Eugene’s local-beer revival began sometime around November 2004, when Rogue Ales of Newport took over the former West Bros./Dive Bar & Grill at 844 Olive St. Rogue renamed the downtown restaurant and brew pub Eugene City Brewery, in a nod to the historic brewhouse that occupied the site from 1866 to 1914. Rogue also began bottling a Track Town Ales series — 200 Meter Ale, Honey Orange Wheat Ale and Triple Jump Pale Ale — under the Eugene City Brewery label, making these the first commercially bottled “Eugene” beers to hit store shelves in decades.

Superstore of suds: In July 2005, Hardy, the onetime West Bros. brewmaster, and his wife, Kristina Measells, opened The Bier Stein at 345 E. 11th Ave. With more than 1,000 bottled beers from around the world and a rotating tap lineup that often features artisan brews not available on draft anywhere else for miles, the shop quickly became Eugene’s unofficial craft-beer community headquarters.

Growth of the goddess: Over pints at The Bier Stein, former Steelhead brewmaster Jamie Floyd hatched plans with business partner Nikos Ridge for a local production brewery that they hoped would earn recognition as Eugene’s “hometown” beer. In 2006 Floyd and Ridge established Ninkasi Brewing — they named it for the Sumerian goddess of fermentation — and quickly saturated the local restaurant and tavern market with draft beers including the aptly named Total Domination IPA.

Ninkasi started bottling its beers in 2007 and since has achieved broad distribution throughout the West. In 2009 it became Oregon’s sixth-largest brewery, with an annual production of 18,000 barrels (558,000 gallons) of beer. By surpassing 15,000 barrels in a year, Ninkasi also emerged as the first Oregon producer in more than a decade to meet the national Brewers Association’s definition of a “regional brewery.”

Ninkasi’s Whiteaker-neighborhood brewhouse at 272 Van Buren St. recently expanded; an adjacent tasting room is open daily from noon to 9 p.m.

Artisan brewhouse takes root: Another production brewery, Oakshire Brewing, started fermenting its own success story in 2006. Brothers Jeff and Chris Althouse set up their beermaking operation, originally called Willamette Brewery but rebranded following a legal challenge from Willamette Vineyards, in a northwest Eugene industrial area. The owners secured dozens of draft accounts in Eugene and farther up the Willamette Valley before expanding their brewery. Upon recruiting award-winning brewmaster Matt Van Wyk from Chicago, they began bottling their beers in 2009.

Oakshire’s production of 1,800 barrels in 2009 didn’t approach Ninkasi’s, but its output grew by 60 percent over 2008 and is on track to double in 2010. And the brewery has earned wide acclaim for small-batch brews based on creative artisanal recipes. Oakshire’s accolades include a silver medal from the 2009 Great American Beer Festival for its Overcast Espresso Stout.

Oakshire hosts tastings and brewery tours from noon to 4 p.m. every Saturday at 1055 Madera St.

Hopping into the picture: Just across the freeway from Eugene in Springfield’s Gateway area, in a building that housed three earlier brew pubs, Hop Valley Brewing Company is the latest local beermaker to enter the bottling business. Established in 2009 by former Eugene City Brewery brewmaster Trevor Howard and partners Ron Howard, Jonas Kungys and Chuck Hare, Hop Valley serves most of its beer at the on-site restaurant and bar, 980 Kruse Way. But the owners started bottling their beers in March of this year to build brand awareness and capture a share of the growing demand for locally made beers.

Eugene’s Beer Quarter: Two more specialty beer retailers recently bubbled up within a few blocks of The Bier Stein, creating a bona fide bottle-shop district between downtown and the University of Oregon campus. Beer Nuts opened in April 2009 at 98 E. 13th Ave., and Sixteen Tons, a beer and wine shop, opened in April 2010 at 265 E. 13th Ave.

Bottled breakthrough

With such variety now coursing through their beer scene, Eugene craft-brew aficionados may forget that less than six years ago they had no option to buy a locally bottled beer. That void seemed incongruous in a city known as a haven for buy- and eat-local advocates.

Today consumers can choose from some 22 different hometown beers bottled throughout the year or seasonally, including amber and brown ales, IPAs, summery wheat beers and winter-warming stouts and altbiers. At least some of these local brews (all in 22-oz. bottles, at least for now) are available at most stores where beer is sold, from bottle shops to locally oriented grocers such as Market of Choice, Capella Market, Sundance and The Kiva.

In Ninkasi’s case, distribution has expanded to include chains such as Fred Meyer, Safeway, Albertsons, Plaid Pantry, BevMo! in California and Costco warehouses in Oregon and Washington.

What most excites many local-minded consumers is that now, in addition to being able to order draft beers made in-house at places such as the Steelhead and McMenamins, they can go to almost any store and find a selection of fresh beers just bottled across town.

“With the gasoline crunch, people are starting to think locally and buying products that are made locally,” says Hardy at The Bier Stein. “I wouldn’t say we’re selling as many $15 Belgian beers, but we’re selling a lot more $3 or $4 local microbrews that don’t have the fossil fuel footprint of beers that travel the world to get here. World-class beers are made right here, too.”
And what could be better than offering up an array of world-class, ice-cold hometown brews to delight guests at a backyard barbecue?
Such is life these days, reveling in the hoppy, malty riches of Brew-gene.
Staff writer Joel Gorthy can be contacted at sp.feedback@registerguard.com.
http://www.registerguard.com/csp/cms/sites/web/special/tastings/24621363-44/eugene-beers-beer-brewing-brewery.csp