By Kirby Neumann-Rea
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Commercial brewing is returning to The Dalles for the first time since pre-Prohibition.
Freebridge Brewing, 710 E. Second St., is about to open in the historic Columbia River Gorge city. Steve and Laurie Light took over the historic Mint building and plan to open Freebridge to the public on Jan. 15. The name originated with the first bridge over the Deschutes River, which was crossed by pioneers traveling along the Oregon Trail. Legend has it that the “Freebridge” was blown up by the Moodys, who ran a toll bridge near the mouth of the Deschutes.
Steve is taking five years of intensive homebrewing experience and turning it into a second career. He’s now making beer on a larger level after spending 20 years as a fly fishing guide on the Deschutes River, which meets the Columbia 17 miles east of The Dalles. Laurie has worked in retail and industry supply over the years. She was born and raised in the city to a family of multigenerational wheat farmers.
“This has been a long time coming,” Steve said. “People around here talk about how this town of 17,000 has had no brewery, while Hood River, a smaller community, has five. People here in The Dalles also want good, local beer.”
The Dalles has had several outlets for regional craft ale, including Clock Tower Ales, Rivertap Pub, and the new Route 30 Bottles & Brews downtown. Now, with Freebridge starting operations and Sedition Brewing Company opening a few blocks away, The Dalles gets two new breweries at virtually the same time. The last place beer was made in The Dalles was the old Columbia Brewing building near the Columbia River.
“People have said, ‘What took you so long?’” joked Steve.
After charging up the glycol system on Dec. 13, White and master brewer Mike Boler dropped their first beer shortly before Christmas. They will focus on traditional styles, including pales, stouts and lagers, starting with pub and keg sales and adding bottles later this year.
“There aren’t many lager makers around. They’re more expensive and take longer, but we know there is a real desire for this style of beer. We vetted the demographic, spending a lot of time in the brewpubs in the Gorge and elsewhere,” Steve said.
Freebridge also plans on producing a Belgian saison, a pilsner and a German wheat, using local grain when possible (The Dalles being wheat country, after all). The brewery’s glistening new 10-barrel system was designed by JV Northwest of Canby. Freebridge debuted at Main Street Uncorked in October, with an American pale ale and an IPA that the Lights made at home. The brought their beers to the public again at a Chamber of Commerce event in December at Sunshine Mill, the beautifully refurbished winery and artisan plaza. That time, in addition to the pale ale, consumers got to sample a dry, bourbon-aged Irish stout. Steve “dry hopped” pieces of bourbon barrel wood after initial fermentation. The steeping process gave the beer a “creamy, silky quality,” he said.
“That definitely helped build some hype, but we have to say that our reception has been great. The support of the community of The Dalles, and the entire Gorge, has been really gratifying,” Laurie said.
The brewery will employ the Lights, two brewers and four or more pub workers once the operation is up and running. The pub will offer 10 taps, reserving some for guests and for cider.
“The pub will start simply — pub fare including sandwiches and soups, and we’ll expand as we get busier,” Laurie said. Look for charcuterie and cheeses from Olympia Provisions and Ancient Heritage Dairy. New furniture and some interior tweaks are planned, but guests will recognize the relaxing vibe created by the previous inhabitant, Erin Glenn Vineyards.
“We want people to see it — to have that connection to the making of the beer,” Steve said.
He said he’s refined his skills during the past five years, but bringing Boler on board was essential to the success of the Freebridge beers.
“Mike is a real student of the craft. He has the knowledge and skills to ensure we are successful,” Steve said.
The Dalles’ Second Street is shaping up into a destination neighborhood for the fermented arts, between the Freebridge, Sunshine Mill and the forthcoming Sedition Brewery. Sedition is planning on a February 2016 opening. Owners Aaron and Kelly Lee started out as Defiance Brewing Company, but they decided last month to formally change the name to avoid a trademark dispute with a company back east. But if you’re familiar with their raised fist logo, that will remain the same. It will fill one of the walls inside the pub.
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.