McMenamins recently reached a milestone by producing 1 million kegs in July. The Pacific Northwest institution is well-loved because of its unique properties. You can visit all 53 in Oregon and Washington, including seven historic hotels and eight theater pubs, during your travels. Photo by AJ McGarry
By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
On July 2, McMenamins began Oregon Craft Beer Month with a unique milestone: one million kegs. The millionth keg, the raspberry ale Ruby, was racked at 11:39 a.m. at the McMenamins Queen Anne pub in Seattle.
“It is an interesting milestone for us, this whole ‘Keg Million’ business,” says John Richen, Chief Brewery Administrator for McMenamins. “It was crazy. It was daunting. And ultimately, just a huge amount of fun.” But he keeps perspective: “It is a symbolic milestone. There isn’t anything substantially different about keg one million from keg nine-hundred-ninety-nine-thousand, other than the gravitas of what it stands for to folks inside our brewing ranks.”
The Oregon and Washington chain of more than 50 pubs, breweries and hotels began brewing in 1985, initially releasing 5.5 kegs of Hillsdale Ale at the Hillsdale Brewery & Public House in Southwest Portland. The first year of production reached 83 barrels, or 165 kegs. Five years later in 1990, production had leaped to 12,813 barrels (25,625 kegs). By the turn of the century, McMenamins produced 173,427 barrels in 2000, or 346,853 kegs — more than 30 percent toward one million.
Five years ago, in 2010, production was more than 75 percent of the way: 395,692 barrels, or 791,385 kegs. Now, as of July 15, McMenamins has officially brewed 1,001,806 kegs. While 24 percent of that was produced at the Edgefield Brewery in Troutdale, 76 percent was brewed at “small house” breweries, such as High Street in Eugene, Lighthouse in Lincoln City and Spar in Olympia, Wash.
Of the one million kegs, 89 percent were kegged in Oregon and 11 percent were kegged in Washington. But not one used “kegging robots, automated golden gate fillers, racking line programmed replicants or Amazon drones,” says Richen. “We filled them all ‘the hard way.’”
Early Experiments, Today’s Favorites & Yesterday’s Disasters
Hillsdale Ale gave rise to other standard McMenamins beers enjoyed today, such as Terminator Stout, Hammerhead and Ruby. Originally brewed as extract-based recipes, the ales were switched to all-grain malt bills starting in March 1987. Early experimentation set a precedent that continues — but the brewers are glad that there have been equipment improvements.
“McMenamins pioneer brewers were a rugged breed,” explains Richen. “The brewers’ day started by driving to F.H. Steinbart to pick up their bags of malt. They would then drive to the Barley Mill Pub to crush the grain through the functional malt mill, which serves as the pub’s namesake. After cleaning up the mess and loading the resulting grist back into their vehicles, they would return to the Hillsdale to begin the brewing process. There was great rejoicing when a simple plate mill was purchased and installed in the brewery.”
In 1985 McMenamins released their first fruit beer, named simply Batch No. 2 and made with blackberries growing in the parking lot. The first Terminator Stout (Brew No. 12) was brewed Nov. 19, 1985 and the first Hammerhead (Brew No. 37) was brewed Jan. 25, 1986.
While first year production focused on original standards — Hillsdale Ale, Terminator Stout, Crystal Ale, Hammerhead and Barley Mill Ale — by November 1986 the fledgling brew operation had produced 40 batches of fruit beers between the Hillsdale, Cornelius Pass and Lighthouse breweries. Early fruit batches also included Brew No. 67, a raspberry ale brewed on March 21, 1986.
Today we know it as Ruby.
Despite the regional popularity of bitter beers such as IPAs, Ruby and Hammerhead remain two of the company’s most popular beers, with Ruby alone comprising 21 percent of total output.
Not every experiment has paid off, though.
“We’ve had great success with incorporating fruit, coffee and spices into styles both traditional and untraditional,” says Richen. “Forays into the worlds of garlic, Mars Bars, Cherry Garcia Ice Cream and wormwood were not as successful, which, to be honest, is a tremendous understatement. They were unmitigated disasters.”
With 24 breweries in two states producing more than 70 batches of beer each week, it’s no small challenge to balance brand consistency with freedom to experiment.
“There is so much that has been learned, much of it the hard way,” says Rob Vallance, general manager of McMenamins Breweries. “Most importantly is the big-picture concept of how every facet of the process affects the beer that goes into every glass. You have to be ever-vigilant.”
However, Vallance notes that McMenamins brewers have an “unprecedented amount of freedom with recipe formulation.” Instead of locking down specifications across all the breweries, some beers — such as a standard McMenamins IPA — actually have no official standard recipe.
“Brewers have different philosophies and skill sets in our system,” he explains. “With the standard and seasonal recipes, it is very difficult to create consistency across so many breweries across such long distances with so many hands on so many paddles.”
This creative freedom also reflects simple practicality. “Water tables can be so different,” says Vallance. “Each brewery is its own unique ecosystem. These are neighborhood breweries. We have to accept that our methods will breed some inconsistencies, and it has always been, and always will be, our most daunting challenge to try and minimize those inconsistencies. The goal is always production of a quality end product with a nod to the stamps the various regional factors place on a beer.”
Creative license, though, does have limits. “We’ll let our brewers try pretty much anything,” says Vallance. “Once anyway.”
The Path to 2 Million
“Having worked in this craft beer business since 1987,” says Richen, “I was unexpectedly moved seeing the listing of the 195 names of folks who put the beer into those million kegs since 1985, many of them in batches with a number of kegs you could count with the fingers on two hands. I pictured faces of people I hadn’t seen or even thought of in years.”
Now as they look ahead, Vallance and Richen wonder what the path to 2 million kegs looks like.
“It certainly won’t take us 30 more years,” says Vallance. “Probably between 15 and 20.”
By Alethea Smartt LaRowe
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Romance is probably not the first thing that comes to mind when you head to your local brewpub for a pint. But if you love beer as much as I do, then you find ways to incorporate a visit to a brewery in everything you do, including a date with a special someone. This list includes just some of the Oregon breweries that have one or more of the following elements of romantic ambiance: cozy seating options, a fireplace or fire pit, a nice location on the water, a great place to watch the sunset, and even a place to sleep. For your next date, seek out the perfect spot at one of these breweries and order an oyster stout, or any beer made with chili peppers, honey or chocolate. Let the magic of the ingredients and the setting make it a day (or night) to remember!
Note: In an effort to keep this list manageable, it only includes locations where beer is made on site.
1019 NW Brooks St., Bend
Nestled along the banks of the Deschutes River near Mirror Pond in downtown Bend, this quaint brewpub has a patio for enjoying the scenery in the summer months. In the winter, grab a table by the big windows in the back and watch the snow fall.
Crux Fermentation Project
50 SW Division St., Bend
Located in the former AAMCO building near the Old Mill District, Crux is the perfect place to watch the sunset from the tasting room and patio. Sundowner starts a half-hour before sunset and lasts for one hour, offering discounts on appetizers and beers. Afterward, you can linger with a pint by the fire pit.
1355 SW Commerce Ave., Bend
This brewery encourages living the good life with great beer and food to be enjoyed in a variety of settings. While the indoor space is filled with natural light and ample seating for large groups, the beer garden with its grassy lawn and fire pit is perfect for spreading out a blanket and lounging with your loved one.
Old St. Francis School
700 NW Bond St., Bend
Another gem in the McMenamins crown that is comprised of more than 50 properties in Oregon and Washington, of which 24 are also breweries. Here, take your pick from a glowing pot-bellied stove or a toasty outdoor fire pit on the patio. Maybe you can catch a romcom playing at the movie theater. Overnight guests can enjoy the soaking pool, surrounded by stained glass and shimmering tilework.
Three Creeks Brewing
721 Desperado Court, Sisters
Housed in an Old West livery stable, this warm and rustic brewpub is a welcome respite after a fun day outdoors. Particularly inviting are the plush leather couches in front of a gas fireplace.
The adjacent FivePine Lodge (operated independently of the brewery) offers a unique experience for those seeking romance and adventure.
Astoria Brewing Company
144 11th St., Astoria
Start your visit here by catching a ride on the Astoria Riverfront Trolley. After you’ve taken a ride down the waterfront and waved at all of the passersby, walk back to the Wet Dog Cafe, which has been in business since 1995. The riverfront deck is open seasonally and offers a fantastic view of the Columbia River.
Buoy Beer Company
1 8th St., Astoria
This brewery, which opened its doors to the public on Valentine’s Day 2014, is as close to the water as you can get. In fact, it was literally built over the water, from the meticulously repurposed remains of an old cannery building. The river view room is the big draw here, featuring a wall of windows facing the Columbia River, where sea lions cavort and cargo ships ply their trade.
Fort George Brewery
1483 Duane St., Astoria
Located on the original settlement site of Astoria (founded 1811), the Fort George building housed an automotive repair facility before being revitalized and made into the brewery. The upstairs section, which opened in 2013, has the best views of the sunset and the river. In a neighboring building, the cozy Lovell Taproom features a huge gas fireplace, where you can snuggle up with your honey on the hearth.
Pelican Pub & Brewery
33180 Cape Kiwanda Drive, Pacific City
If you want to enjoy an award-winning beer with sand at your feet and nothing but beach between you and the Pacific Ocean, then this is the place for you. Scan for bird activity on Haystack Rock, watch the dory fleet landing, look for spouting whales or just stare into the eyes of your special someone as the sun sets.
Rogue Brewers on the Bay
2320 SE OSU Drive, Newport
The name says it all -- this two-story brewpub offers a panoramic view of Yaquina Bay and the marina. Wind your way through the brewery to get to the full-service restaurant. Just for fun, order a beer with a seafaring name, like Old Crustacean. You can also buy a bright red bottle of Double Chocolate Stout, the perfect gift for Valentine’s Day. If you want to extend the date, Rogue’s Bed ‘n Beer is just across the bay.
Dragon’s Gate Brewery
52288 Sunquist Road, Milton-Freewater
Adam and Jennifer Gregory’s 10-acre farm is in the middle of vineyards in the Walla Walla Valley. The brewhouse, in a small barn, is where Belgian-style ales are made with their own estate-grown hops. Relax in an Adirondack chair and take in the view of the Blue Mountains framed by hop bines. Don’t miss the massive black Friesian horses.
Mutiny Brewing Company
600 N. Main St., Joseph
Minutes from Wallowa Lake, this brewpub has a beautiful view of the Wallowa Mountains. The outdoor patio is the perfect place to enjoy a pint while you watch the sunset behind the mountains.
Terminal Gravity Brewing
803 SE School St., Enterprise
An oasis in Eastern Oregon, this brewery is known for its excellent IPA. A destination for locals and tourists alike, the outdoor dining area, in the form of picnic tables under the shade of an aspen grove, offers views of the Wallowa Mountains. Sit by the creek and let your worldly cares dissolve.
Mt. Hood Area
Big Horse Brew Pub
115 W. State St., Hood River
This small brewery is one of the oldest in the Columbia River Gorge. North-facing windows on the second and third floors of this remodeled home offer expansive views of downtown Hood River and the Columbia River Gorge.
Full Sail Brewery
506 Columbia St., Hood River
This employee-owned, award-winning brewery was constructed on the site of the abandoned Diamond Fruit Cannery. Perched on a bluff overlooking the Columbia River Gorge, the brewpub has a wall of windows facing the river along with an outdoor patio that is open year-round.
Logsdon Farmhouse Ales
4785 Booth Hill Road, Hood River
Located on a picturesque 10-acre estate off Highway 35 complete with assorted animals and 400 cherry trees, this brewery celebrates its four-year anniversary in February. On a clear day, the tasting room windows offer a beautiful view of Mt. Hood.
Mt. Hood Brewing Company
87304 Government Camp Loop Road, Government Camp
On the south slope of the mountain, it’s too close to offer views of the snowy peak. All the more reason to cuddle up in comfy booths or grab a seat in a leather armchair in front of the fireplace. If things get too warm, head to the bar, the entire length of which features an ice-glazed strip for keeping your beer cold.
Pfriem Family Brewers
707 Portway Ave., Suite 101, Hood River
Housed in a Silver LEED-certified building across the street from Hood River’s beautiful Waterfront Park, this brewery made 50 unique beers in 2014. The rustic beer patio features a large fire pit and sweeping views of the Columbia River Gorge. The upstairs “library” is a nice place to escape for a quiet conversation.
4945 Baseline Drive, Mount Hood Parkdale
This cozy brewpub located just off of Highway 35 in Parkdale will celebrate its three-year anniversary in April. With spectacular views of orchards and Mt. Hood, it’s is a wonderful place to grab a picnic table and soak up the sunshine on a clear day.
Thunder Island Brewing
515 SW Portage Road, Cascade Locks
Uniquely located alongside the Columbia River near the Bridge of the Gods and the Pacific Crest Trail, this year-old brewery is the perfect place to grab a pint after a day of hiking. With views of namesake Thunder Island from the large outdoor patio, the brewery is a year-round destination for adventure lovers of all types.
Portland Metro Area
Base Camp Brewing
930 SE Oak St., Portland
This brewpub offers the opportunity to pretend you’re on a camping trip. As you sip a S’more Stout, topped with a roasted marshmallow, you can plan your next outdoor adventure using the topo maps on the glass-topped tables. Look up at the wooden bow truss roof and spot constellations in the permanent late-summer night sky. Or just head outside to one of the fire pits, grab a seat on a log bench, and take turns howling at the moon.
Deschutes Brewery and Public House
210 NW 11th Ave., Portland
The reclaimed wood carvings throughout this enormous warehouse space feature northwest animals and landscapes and make the perfect backdrop for the stone fireplace that separates the bar area from the open kitchen.
2126 SW Halsey St., Troutdale
Located on the site of the former Multnomah County Poor Farm, this sprawling 74-acre property offers countless ways to romance your loved one. Rocking chairs on the verandas, Ruby’s Spa, a soaking pool (for overnight guests only), numerous fire pits, and the oh-so-cozy Little Red Shed with its wood-burning fireplace are just a few of my favorite options.
Old Town Brewing
5201 NE MLK Jr. Blvd., Portland
A large stone fireplace anchors the bar area, giving it a ski lodge feel. Assorted armchairs and couches offer plenty of cozy seating options for couples.
Portland U-Brew & Pub
6237 SE Milwaukie Ave., Portland
The perfect activity for a beer-loving couple — drink a pint of the house-made beer while you brew your own. The best part is that you don’t have to do the cleaning! The couple that brews together stays together.
Stickmen Brewery & Skewery
40 N. State St., Lake Oswego
The 200-seat back patio overlooks Lakewood Bay and is open when the weather is good. When the temperature drops, the heat lamps make things cozy. A great place to watch the sunset.
Tugboat Brewing Company
711 SW Ankeny St., Portland
This tiny brewery specializes in British-style strong ales. The pub is homey and relaxing, with lots of small tables topped by lamps, and jazz on the sound system. Read a book of poetry to your sweetie or play a board game.
Caldera Brewery & Restaurant
590 Clover Lane, Ashland
If the weather is nice, grab one of the 69 patio seats with breathtaking Siskiyou Mountain views. Indoors, the couch that faces the bold, blue fireplace is the perfect place to snuggle.
Klamath Basin Brewing
1320 Main St., Klamath Falls
The Creamery Brew Pub & Grill is great for sports lovers. Cheer on your favorite team together from a table near the large brick fireplace. If you want a space away from the action, the intimate front area and booths provide a quieter setting.
Brewers Union Local 180
48329 E. 1st St., Oakridge
This spot describes itself as Oregon’s “only Real Ale pub and brewery” featuring “a blend of the best of the British Public House, the American spirit of adventure, and the natural scenic beauty of Oregon's Cascade Mountains.” The cozy front parlor is the choice spot for lingering over a pint.
2065 Madrona Ave. SE, Salem
A beautiful stone fireplace anchors the bar area and is surrounded by overstuffed leather couches. Pringle Creek runs along the covered back patio which opens up into the large backyard of the property and creates a nice ambiance and a quiet place to chat.
High Street Brewery & Cafe
1243 High St., Eugene
This location features McMenamins’ only truly subterranean brewery and was the first microbrewery in Eugene since the days of Prohibition. Explore the renovated 1900s house or relax in the backyard beer garden where ales are enjoyed under the shade of fir, ash, hawthorn and tulip trees in the summer; warmth is provided by an outdoor fire pit in winter.
Ninkasi Brewing Company
272 Van Buren St., Eugene
The tasting room itself is pretty tiny, so everyone heads to the outdoor patio. Make a beeline for the two-part fire pit, a mesmerizing work of art. You can also stay under the tent and huddle together next to a patio heater.
Sky High Brewing
160 NW Jackson Ave., Corvallis
This four-story renovated building offers multiple options for date night. Drink and dine year-round on the heated porch on the third floor. In season, enjoy the 360-degree views of the Coast Range, Willamette River and the countryside from the rooftop, then watch the sunset over Corvallis. Patio heaters provide additional warmth on cool nights.
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.