By Gail Oberst
For the Oregon Beer Growler
“City of Sunshine”: Klamath Falls, population 20,000-plus, is hours off the beaten track for most craft beer tourists.
Fortunately, beers from the city’s largest and award-winning brewery, Klamath Basin Brewing Company, are available all over Oregon, as well as northern California and southern Washington.
But if you want the full Klamath Basin Brewing experience, you have to make the trek into the 51st state. Klamath Falls is nearly in the middle of the “State of Jefferson,” whose residents have been threatening succession since … Oregon’s statehood. Defiance Double IPA, Rebellion Red Ale and 51st State Pale Ale all allude to Southern Oregon’s traditional break from the status quo. Include this brewery in a weeklong high desert trek from Redmond down Highway 97 through Bend, ending in Klamath Falls. Or make up your own Southern Oregon brewery tour and spend a night in Klamath Falls. But bring your inner redneck. I know you have one, because you’re a beer drinker.
The restaurant and pub are separated from the brewery by a glass wall, all in the former Klamath Falls Creamery building, home of the late Crater Lake Dairy Products. Most of the historic building is home to The Creamery Brewpub & Grill, a popular eatery for locals and visitors. The 1935 building’s high barn-like beams speak to Klamath Falls’ agricultural history. Today, the beams sport colorful flags of favorite local, college and professional teams hanging over half a dozen flat screen televisions scattered throughout the main restaurant and bar area, including one screen almost as tall as a small house.
There are other nods to local history and culture. Pictures of the creamery’s old ice cream fountain hang on the walls right next to a sign with the message: “Hippies Use Side Door.” Relax hipsters. For the most part, you won’t be the target of K. Falls derision, as long as you keep your discussion to beer.
Anyway, Klamath Falls defies most preconceptions about rednecks. The restaurant brewery out-greens most others in its class: Its menu is loaded with steaks and seafood, burgers and nachos, but it also offers (by my count) more than a dozen vegetarian options. The brewery and restaurant’s owners, Lonnie Clement and Del Azevedo, feature foods made from local produce and beers made with Klamath Basin barley, Northwest hops and Oregon yeast. But possibly the greenest activity on site is the brewery’s use of geothermal-heated water in its brewing and heating. Volcanic hot water aquifers just below the surface of Klamath Falls provides the downtown with hot water that is used for everything from heating sidewalks to home showers.
In addition to hot water, Klamath Basin Brewing Company also brews with water from wells fed by springs from the mountains that surround the city.
Does all of that make their beer better? You decide. On my latest visit to The Creamery Brewpub & Grill, there were nine Klamath Basin beers on tap, three of which were award winners (Backroad Vanilla Porter, Crater Lake Amber Ale and Notch Eight IPA). In addition to the State of Jefferson inferences, Hard Hat Hefeweizen speaks to this area’s working-class values. Notch Eight IPA refers to the maximum velocity on a locomotive’s throttle.
Corey Zschoche has been Klamath Basin’s head brewer for the past six years or more after studying fermentation science at Oregon State University. His Beaver allegiance is displayed throughout the brewery: an orange door here, a beaver flag there. Billy Harwood-Sloan assists him in the brewery. Zschoche estimated that the brewery produced about 1,500 barrels in 2014 -- about a third of which was sold in the pub. The pub employs about 40 people.
The brewery is growing: Zschoche estimated production was up about 25 percent last year — with as much or more growth expected this year.
Klamath Basin Brewing
The Creamery Brewpub & Grill
[a] 1320 Main St., Klamath Falls
Owners: Lonnie Clement and Del Azevedo
Brewer: Corey Zschoche
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.