By Anthony St. Clair
“When we started operation, it was all about the beer,” says Ben Tilley, who along with his brother Nathan founded Agrarian Ales near Coburg in December 2012. “We quickly learned how food and family are important, collaborative features that were needed to realize what Agrarian could offer the community.”
Two years later, that focus on food, drink and family continues to guide Agrarian Ales.
The Tilley brothers were kids when their parents moved from California to Oregon in 1984 and set up Crossroads Farm. After leaving the farm for college, the brothers did something unusual: they came back. In addition to an appreciation of the region’s agricultural history, they understood the Willamette Valley’s hop-growing history and its growing craft beer industry. Working with their parents to shape the farm’s future, the Tilleys began planting hops, converting a 1941 dairy building into a modern 6-barrel brewery, and planning beers and brewing styles that would truly be farm-to-glass.
Tilley soon realized they had created more than just another brewery. “We had no idea how much people would enjoy our location, how they would feel by coming out to the farm on a sunny day and truly being able to relax and let life slow down,” he explains. “We offer a unique atmosphere that isn't always possible at other breweries or brewpubs. Kids and their parents really like it out here, and we try to foster that as much as possible.”
Improving the tasting room and other public space at the brewery is among future plans, Tilley adds, as is creating more space for families and large gatherings. Farm production constrains how much beer Agrarian brews, so they are looking at ways to increase farm yields and brewing capacity. The team is also doing a “small amount of bottling,” and plans to age beers in wine and whiskey barrels. Because, after all, it does all come back to the beer.
“Not every brewer out there gets to choose what beer they are going to make every day,” says Tilley. “The love and passion that Tobias Schock, our head brewer, puts into every drop is very apparent.”
Instead of the modern practice of maintaining an unchanging flagship lineup, Agrarian returned to the traditional farm and brewing practice of seasonal-based availability. What’s pouring depends on time of year, ingredient availability, and what the farm is producing. “Figuring out how to use excess chile peppers or winter squash results in sometimes creating a new or modifying an existing, known process to produce farm-fresh beer,” says Tilley, but “since every beer we make is ‘seasonal,’ we build and maintain a yearning for one's favorite beer to come back around.”
Favorite Agrarian beers have included the BelGene series, a hop-forward Eugene take on Belgian pale ales, and seasonal beers such as the Poblamo! winter chile beer. But if there’s a standout, Tilly notes, then “Dandy Porter has been the favorite so far. A mild, brown porter with roasted dandelion roots from our hops fields are added. The dandy roots smell like chocolate cake when you roast them.”
After two years of welcoming people seeking fresh beer and fresh air, Tilley knows that some things will always change, but focusing on home and community won’t be one of them. Neither will Agrarian’s focus on keeping it local. “Distribution will stay in Oregon for as far as we can see,” he says. “You have to have a personal connection to Agrarian to really understand how unique your experiences with our beer are. Our beers won't resonate with someone living 500 miles away.”
[a] 31115 Crossroads Ln W, Eugene
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.