By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Usually when a craft beer place draws in the public, they are attracting people who come primarily for the beer. But with Beergarden, the 1-year-old Eugene taphouse (and home to four food carts) gets just as many people who come first for their favorite grub — and then discover a pint of something special to go with it. Customers may start out more interested in the food than in the beer, but with 42 (soon to be 47) taps of craft beer, wine, cider, mead and more, they soon realize Beergarden is a unique blend of indoors and outdoors, craft beverages, and artisan food.
Founded in 2015 by Tap & Growler co-owners Colby Phillips and Patric Campbell, Beergarden is located in a renovated former service station at a nexus of major roads and neighborhoods. Decor was salvaged from a to-be-demolished local Marie Callender’s restaurant — look above the bar and you’ll find the old salad bar shield. Beergarden combines metal and wood in both a comfy indoor space and an airy, yet covered, outdoor space that’s filled with plants thanks to the garden center next door. Lunch and dinner crowds come for a variety of reasons, including live music, a food truck meal and the enclosed space where kids can play.
“It’s a beer garden with a true garden feel,” says Phillips. “People really seem to like it.” Local people’s choice awards would agree. During its first year, Beergarden garnered a number of honors: “Best Beers on Tap,” “Best New Restaurant” and “Best New Business.”
At the heart of Beergarden, of course, is the “beer” in the name. At the heart of the beer is beer steward Holly Emery-Walen, who has been with Beergarden since the beginning. The University of Oregon graduate has a resume that includes positions at a number of well-respected beer establishments, such as The Bier Stein, Hop Valley’s Tasting Room and Belmont Station. Managing the Portland beer cafe connected Emery-Walen with brewers, brewery owners and other figures in the industry. Around 2013, though, she was ready to return to Eugene, where she met Colby Phillips, who was conceptualizing the place that would become Beergarden.
“He approached me about something he and Patric were putting together,” explains Emery-Walen. “I wanted something full-time where I could have creative control with the tap list and bottle list. I get that autonomy.”
Now Emery-Walen is the general of the business’s taps and bottle selection. “I love drinking beer,” she says, “and I like to explore.” But developing the right beer selection wasn’t just a matter of pulling in every esoteric beer she could get her hands on. The onsite food carts pulled in lots of foodies and food cart fans. “They aren’t necessarily beer geeks or in the craft beer scene, which is different from a lot of beer places,” says Emery-Walen. “We’re at this confluence of North Eugene, South Eugene, Whiteaker. We’re near two highways, and that brings a big mix of demographics. People weren’t necessarily coming just for craft beer.”
With constantly rotating taps, however, Emery-Walen hit upon a simple solution for people whose taste in beer might be more on the stick-with-what-you-know end of the spectrum. She decided to keep Hop Valley’s Light Me Up Lager on Beergarden’s sole permanent tap, “for people who want something familiar in a place where all the beer is unfamiliar.”
That simple change puts people at ease, though, and more and more customers come in who “enjoy exploring.” That adventurous spirit, Emery-Walen observes, is a natural extension of food cart fans and foodies. “They’re already familiar with their palate, what they like. Usually foodies are pretty exploratory. You can have different tastes in food or beer, but still be able to find beer and food that suits whoever is coming with you.”
When curating Beergarden’s selection, Emery-Walen focuses on quality and freshness. As Beergarden celebrates entering its second year, she continues building relationships, expanding access to limited-release beers and keeping Beergarden’s selection a mix of the unique, the everyday, and overall, the well-crafted.
“I try to keep a diverse range of styles, and beers within styles. Diversity was our foundation at Belmont Station, and I brought that here too,” says Emery-Walen. “If you taste something and think it’s awesome, you want to share that with the world.”
(a) 777 W. Sixth Ave., Eugene
Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Friday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to Midnight
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.