For the Oregon Beer Growler
A visit to Agrarian Ales in the lush, bountiful countryside of the Willamette Valley, just 13 miles south of Eugene, is an escape from the demands of everyday life. The farmhouse brewery sits on 25 acres of family land brimming with 15 different varieties of hops, herbs, spices, orchards, beehives, wheat fields, natural grasses, and an abundance of fresh vegetables.
Brothers Nate and Ben Tilley grew up here on their parents’ organic vegetable farm. When they graduated from Oregon State University, they returned to plant hops and grow a brewery. Toby Schock joined from the start as the master brewer.
In November of 2012, they opened the brewery in a converted dairy barn on 17 acres leased from Crossroad Farms, their parents’ operation. Their vision was to use only homegrown hops and they have stayed true to that vision. In fact, they are the only Oregon brewery exclusively using estate-grown, hand-picked hops.
General manager Todd Perlmeter said, “Agrarian has never purchased hops. This year we pulled our entire crop of Cascade hops, 500 plants, because of downy mildew. We added a third hop field, focusing on varieties like Mount Hood, Centennial and Nugget.”
They also planted an experimental stand, trellised in a tepee configuration, of heritage Mount Pisgah hops, transplanted from the native plant nursery at Mount Pisgah Park. When harvested, these hops will be used for a Mount Pisgah porter to benefit the park.
Agrarian also sells hop starts in early spring at their farmers’ market booth, a five-tap beer trailer. “We feel very fortunate to be the only brewery allowed in the market,” said Perlmeter, “because we grow our own products.”
The casual, rustic brewery and taproom have drawn record crowds this summer. It appeals to young and old, pets, kids and parents. With 4 acres of outdoor space, there’s plenty of room to play or simply sit at one of the many picnic tables and take in the surrounding view of growing fields.
The red barn is brewing central Monday through Friday until 3 p.m. when it transforms to the taproom and gathering place to sample brews and local food. The taproom is open Friday and Saturday from 3 p.m. until 8 p.m., and Sunday from noon to 8 p.m. with live music in the summer. The pizza oven is the cornerstone of the outdoor kitchen, but the focus for everything at Agrarian is fresh from the surrounding fields to the table.
Perlmeter said, “The original idea was to use all local products. We’re willing to pay a premium to buy products to support local farmers.”
While their website lists many of these farmers, some of the more unique connections include Eugene’s Noisette Pastry Kitchen that takes the spent grain and bakes custom bread for them. All the raw grains are local. Agrarian gets most of their wheat, barley and flours for pizza dough from Camas Country Mill. In fact, the pizza flour is custom-milled for them. Nearby Burnheimer Meat Company makes their pepperoni using Agrarian’s beer and chili spices.
“Everything we serve here tastes so fresh and real; there are no chemicals, no glycol in our beer,” said Perlmeter. “All our beers are seasonals.”
Brewer Shock creatively uses the ripest ingredients at hand. He makes farm-fresh beers, often using peppers, such as Chipotle Porter and Hot Banana Hef. They usually have 12-15 beers on tap
Generally, Shock brews just one batch and that’s it. “Sometimes he repeats a batch because it’s so popular,” said Perlmeter. “Essentially, all the brews are one-offs. Even the same recipe a year later won’t be the same because the fresh ingredients will taste different.”
The one constant, usually available year-round, is a farmhand session.
They recently started barrel projects and have bottled a few favorites. Like everything at Agrarian, it’s a labor-intensive, totally manual production process with one person sanitizing the bottles, another filling them and a third corking and caging them.
The first bottle release was Yuletide, a Belgian beer that was strong aged in rye whiskey barrels for eight months, bottled and aged for another year.
Last fall their neighbor offered them Akane apples from his orchard. They ground and pressed the apples, then aged the juice in a pinot noir barrel letting it ferment with all the wild yeast for one year. Then they used that tart, funky juice to brew a Belgian saison, bottled it and aged it for another six months. The Akane Saison is only available on-site.
Eventually, they want to grow or produce everything they use. That means having a malting facility on-site and a yeast lab.
“The goal is to continue the ethos and grow organically. We like to grow roots deep into the ground versus spreading them across the land,” said Perlmeter.
Speaking of organic growth, the next step for the hops is to get organically certified. “We think it will be worthwhile for sales, documentation and talking points. We have some unique practices out here. Finding a way to communicate that to customers without hitting them over the head with it is important. We want people to come out here and experience that lifestyle,” he said.
Back at the brewery, the long-awaited addition of indoor bathroom facilities was completed June 27. This project was the number one priority for the funds that Agrarian has raised from Hatch Oregon, a new investment opportunity available only to Oregon residents. Agrarian was one of the first investment opportunities rolled out when the new law became effective in January.
Their original stock offering was set for $165,000. So far, halfway into their one-year time frame, they have raised $65,000, most of which went to the new addition. The remainder will go to purchase more kegs, cooperage and larger batches of grain.