By Patty Mamula
McMenamins Old Church and Pub in Wilsonville weds old and new in an historic compound that forms a comfortable plaza oasis, screened by trees and landscaping from the bustling urban center around it.
The 1911 church is the focal point for one side of the McMenamins quadrangle, facing busy Boones Ferry Road.
A new 350-seat McMenamins pub, built using reclaimed lumber to resemble a historic hop barn, is the opposite side of the square that faces the shopping center parking lot.
Connecting these two is a grassy amphitheater, surrounded by native plantings, that descends to a courtyard area with tables and chairs, adjacent to the church basement bar and brewery.
The property seems to have organically grown on this spot, even though the church was moved here and the pub is only three years old.
Still, it’s already earned a reputation as a summer hot spot.
Brewer Justin Azevedo, who started here in November, has heard about the summer crowds. He expects the first week of July, when they will pour an IPA for Oregon Craft Beer Month, to be crazy. “IPA madness. I’m excited and nervous. I might have to brew the IPA three times a week.”
His regular routine is to brew three or four days a week. The Old Church brewery has four fermenters, and Azevedo said the average turnaround is eight to nine days.
A typical brew day for him starts at 9 a.m. and ends between 4:30 and 6 p.m. “A bigger beer like an IPA means a longer day because it has more materials,” he said. Likewise, the higher alcohol beers can take up to 12 days to develop, while a beer like Ruby usually takes about seven days.
Azevedo has worked as an assistant winemaker at Illahe Winery in Dallas, Ore., and completed viticulture courses at Chemeketa. He’s also
been home brewing for nearly four years. After completing an AmeriCorp assignment in Gresham, he started at the Highland Pub there and worked as pub staff before moving up to brewer here.
He compares winemaking to sculpting and brewing to painting. “Think of the grapes as a piece of stone with a will of its own. The winemaker’s job is to discover what’s best for them,” he said.
“Beer is a blank canvas where you add colors to make a picture, it’s more like cooking.”
When he came to the Old Church brewery Azevedo worked with the previous brewer for a few weeks. He was already familiar with commercial scale equipment and cleaning procedures. The
challenge was getting acclimated to a new system. “The other challenge is anticipating what kind of beer will sell here, anticipating demand,” he said.
In addition to the home pub, you’ll find brews from the Old Church at the Sherwood Pub and the Mission Theatre in Portland.
McMenamins standards are always on tap but the rest of the taps are at the brewer’s discretion. “We make our own one-offs and some of these move faster than others,” he said.
“This is the greatest property. I have flexibility in schedule and freedom in brewing,” he said.
The Old Church
The classic white clapboard church was built in 1911 by the Wilsonville Methodist Society. It was located near the Willamette River and the historic Boones Ferry crossing, named after Daniel Boone’s grandson, Alphonso.
In the ensuing years, the settlement shifted further south and the church was purchased and moved to its current location off I-5 at Wilsonville Road. Today, the brewery and small bar are in
the basement but the main floor of the renovated church is available for special events such as rehearsal dinners, family reunions, business meetings, baby showers, weddings, political events, funerals and parties. The former church sanctuary will hold 100 people seated with tables and 200 reception style.
All the hardwood in the church – the flooring, stage and wainscoting, are original. The wood downstairs in the bar and floor area comes from the Crystal Ballroom. The stained glass windows are also original with new crystal pieces added to repair breaks.
Typical of McMenamins’ attention to local history, most of the Old Church artwork in the event space depicts crops that were originally grown in the area and people who were important to the town’s development.
The church is open to the public during McMenamins’ regular hours.
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.