By Michael H. Kew
For the Oregon Beer Growler
“Bandon? Ain’t no brewery in Bandon!”
Leaning against the yellow cedar bar he made, sipping a pint of ale he made, Jonathan Hawkins laughed at the memory — a quip he heard at the 2017 Great American Beer Festival — one month after Hawkins first brought his Portland Kettle Works 5-barrel Hopmaster online.
“It’s a great little system,” he told me, gesturing at the shiny steel tanks behind him. “A Cadillac for its size.”
A lifelong beer lover, Hawkins, 43, spent much of his time between Gold Beach and Lake Quinault, Wash., where his mom ran a resort. In April 2013 he moved to the quaint seaside village of Bandon “chasing Nicole,” his wife and business partner who he originally knew from high school. Years later, they were reacquainted at a mutual friend’s party in Portland.
With his background in professional construction, Hawkins launched his own business. In 2015, he and his wife purchased the historic 9,500-square-foot McNair Building as a new home for Bandon Vision Center (Nicole has been a local optometrist for 13 years) that briefly shared walls with the pizzeria Hawkins ended up buying. In September 2016, his construction company started work on vision center on one side, brewery/pizzeria on the other.
“I told Nicole that if I was going to take on a restaurant and do pizzas, I wasn’t going to do conveyer pizzas. I was going to do wood-fired pizzas and I was going to make beer. She was gracious enough to agree with that, and away we went.”
His first taste of hands-on commercial brewing occurred via weekly trips to Labrewatory, run by Portland Kettle Works in Portland, where he tested and refined recipes before hopping headfirst into Oregon’s coastal craft beer scene. “It’s been a phenomenal experience,” he said. “Brewing has been the most collaborative industry I’ve been a part of. So many people have been encouraging and supportive, showing me their operations, offering advice and suggestions.”
Bandon Brewing’s grand opening was Sept. 8, which coincided with the 71st annual Bandon Cranberry Festival. The reception was “fantastic,” Hawkins said. “I feel fortunate I got to be the one to do this here. Residents and visitors have really embraced us.”
Near the mouth of the Coquille River, at the entrance to Old Town Bandon, near the nautical-themed we hope you are enjoying bandon sign arcing over the road, the cedar-shaked McNair Building was originally a hardware store. In recent years it was managed by Bill McNair of Gold Beach. “We called Bill and asked him if he’d be interested in talking about a sale,” Hawkins said. “Nicole and I met him at Redfish [a restaurant in Port Orford] with the intent of just discussing some possibilities, but three-and-a-half hours later, we walked out of there with an agreement. We wrote out the terms and everything right there in Redfish. It happened fast. Totally unexpected.”
On being one of the Oregon Coast’s newer breweries amid the nation’s craft beer boom, he viewed the building’s current ambiance as a natural progression. “There used to be churches and taverns,” he said, “and they competed and tried to put each other out of business, basically. You had the diabolically opposed on each side, and taverns kind of opened that space up. I call [brewpubs] the new churches, places where people from all walks of life can get together and discuss ideas, art, jokes — whatever. It’s a great environment. And I don’t know of a single town I visit where I’m thinking, ‘Damn, there are just too many breweries.’”
So far, Hawkins has made instant classics like One-Eyed Jacque IPA (named for his one-eyed schnauzer), Pacific Puffin Porter, Camp 7 Coffee Porter and Rogue River Red. From this year’s harvest, he has plans for a cranberry saison, a tribute to Bandon’s large cranberry industry. Ultimately, Hawkins aims to offer nine taps of in-house beer, plus five for guests. “Having guest taps is awesome camaraderie,” he said. “I’m not asking anybody else to carry my beers, but I’ll always be happy to carry other beers from Southern Oregon.”
To help with brewing and imminent expansion, Hawkins has hired James Petti, who, after five years at Karl Strauss Brewing Company in San Diego, launched Wavelength Brewing Company in Vista, Calif. “I’m gonna put him right to the fire when he gets here,” Hawkins said with a laugh.
From the copper-covered oven, my pizza emerged. Hawkins and I took seats in the airy dining area, warm with golden midday autumn sun that radiated off the brewpub walls, all coated with gorgeous reclaimed wood from Redmond’s Barnwood Industries. Out on the street, a horseman rode past. It was a lovely Bandon day for pizza and beer.
“The Bandon area has some phenomenal coastline,” Hawkins said, quaffing some Camp 7. “From Brookings to Florence is some of the prettiest coastline anywhere. Being in the Navy and also having sat on the back deck of a crab boat, I’ve seen the whole coast: from Cape Flattery all the way down to San Diego. And guess what? We’re right in the middle.”
Bandon Brewing Company
395 Second St. SE, Bandon
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.