By Branden Andersen
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Prineville gets a bad rap. Sitting just more than 35 miles northeast of Bend, most people would rather take that time to visit nearby Redmond, Sisters or Sunriver. But the city wasn’t always the least glamorous of the Central Oregon children. Until the early 1900s, it was the economic hub of the region. In fact, according to Jon Abernathy’s research for his book “Bend Beer: A History of Brewing in Central Oregon,” the small town had the region’s first brewery, which stood from 1882 to 1890.
The city lost popularity as railroads were built around Prineville and not through it. The two breweries in town closed by the early 1900s and industry moved southwest, where large mills were built across from each other along the Deschutes River in what was then the small town of Bend. However, Prineville remained economically stable as a logging town.
But Prineville doesn’t have the mountains just a short jaunt away like Bend does. There’s not a lazy river flowing right through the middle of the city. It’s not nearly as close to other Central Oregon cities and activities. So with the decline of timber came the decline of Prineville.
Joseph Barker saw the people living in his town and realized they needed something to rally around — a place for Prineville citizens who are proud to be part of the community. That’s when he opened Solstice Brewing in 2009.
“After a few years it was clear that Prineville had enough craft beer enthusiasts to keep a brewpub alive,” Barker said.
Solstice largely kept its presence in Prineville, aside from some brew fests and specialty accounts. But with names that poke a little fun at its outsider status, like Prinetucky Pale or Crook Lite, Barker has given Prineville an identity they can be proud of.
Last year, Barker decided to rename Solstice to Ochoco Brewing, to honor both the natural forest near Prineville and the first brewery in the city, which shared the name. The rebrand seems to have reignited the brewery, which got a lot of media attention and a boost in tourism, a bartender at the pub said.
“As our brewery and pub began to grow, we discovered a lot of other Solstice-related businesses in the state and we did not feel like we really stood out,” Barker said. “(After the rebrand) We had a lot of fans tell us that they really thought we had earned the right to use (Ochoco Brewing). It really does root us locally and we plan to brew beer here forever.”
The restaurant space is very different from most Prineville restaurants and bars. The bright dining area is accented with lightly stained wood with bright exposed metal, and an enlarged topical map covers one wall. Live music plays in the corner every Tuesday and Wednesday, and for a more casual dining experience, there are couches near the large window looking out toward North Main Street.
“This building has a deep history here in historic downtown Prineville. It was previously the home of several ‘knife-and-gun club’ type establishments. It has a lot of natural historical elements and themes throughout,” Barker said. “That gave us a lot to work with from the get-go.”
The brewery holds most of the 16 taps, but reserved a few for Central Oregon-brewed guest beer. The brewers seem to be having all the fun, with styles across the spectrum. Also, the brewery bottled its first beer this past year: the Winter Schnocker that had been aged in Oregon Spirit Distillers CW Irwin bourbon barrels. The 22-ounce containers received wax caps.
“We are a very nuts-and-bolts brewpub,” Barker said. “Our goal is to provide an array of beers that appeal to a broad audience all at once — partly because we have to in our size market; partly also because we have limited capacity.”
The locals, Barker said, have been more than receptive. There is now a Facebook data plant in Prineville, which helped boost the local economy, and being a well-rounded food-and-beer spot, Ochoco has become a top destination for the industry growing there.
Point Blank Distributing gets Ochoco’s product to three nearby counties — Deschutes, Jackson and Crook. The business will have even more beer to send out to customers with its new brewing facility. Barker is happy with the company’s growth as well as his ability to brew his own beer according to his own philosophy.
“Our company mission statement is: ‘Love God, Work Hard, Drink Beer’” he said. “If we do these things well we will surely love our neighbors as ourselves.”
[a] 380 N. Main St., Prineville
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.