By Sarah Mason
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Four Salem breweries have made it their mission to quench the thirst for craft beer in Oregon’s capital.
Together, the founders of Gilgamesh Brewing, Salem Ale Works, Santiam Brewing and Vagabond Brewing formed the Salem Brewery Association, a nonprofit focused on fermenting the state capital’s craft-beer culture.
Their motto, “Drink Salem Beer,” is a call to action urging the enjoyment of Salem beer, Salem craft breweries and ultimately the Salem community. For a long time, Oregon beer has left a good taste in the mouths of beer drinkers. But Salem has gone unnoticed among many fans of craft.
“Oregon is hands down the best craft brewing state there is, so it’s kind of strange that the capital has been neglected so far,” said Alvin Klausen from Vagabond.
If this is true, then why has such little attention been paid to one of Oregon’s most important cities?
“Salem has been overlooked as anywhere to consider when seeking out craft beer, even by those living here,” said Jake Bonham, the association's new president and co-owner of Salem Ale Works.
In recent years, Salem’s craft beer scene has started to bubble up, and the Salem Brewery Association is encouraging Oregon beer drinkers to reconsider Salem.
“I think what’s happened over the last seven years is that Salem has started to develop a craft beer scene,” Klausen said. “A few Salem-based breweries have formed, and we want to raise awareness about it.”
Other than McMenamins and RAM Restaurant & Brewery, Gilgamesh is the oldest brewery out of the new crop in Salem at four years old. Compared to other beer scenes throughout the state, Salem is young.
“Salem beer is so far behind,” Klausen said. “Eugene has Ninkasi, which is eight and Steelhead, which is much older. Portland has Widmer, which is 20 or 30 years old now and Rogue, on the Coast, is pushing 30 years. Then in Salem our oldest is only four! We just want to bring awareness to our beautiful craft beer.”
One thing that sets the Salem Brewery Association apart from others like it in the state is that it is centrally located, making access to other metro areas relatively easy.
“Other than the fact that our beer is really awesome, we are incredibly centrally located for the population of Oregon,” Klausen said. “We are an hour south of Portland, an hour north of Eugene, an hour from the coast and a couple hours to Bend.”
In addition, all four breweries are located within miles of one another and use their small selection to their advantage.
“I think we are a very eclectic group,” Klausen said. “Between all of the breweries, we have very different styles. And this is kind of a weird thing, but the lack of craft brews is kind of cool. There are only our four choices right now, so people can hit up all four of them in the city pretty easily.”
The comradery between the breweries is also unique. Because the four breweries are all fairly new, they are experiencing the ups and downs of the industry together. They have all shared information and been supportive of one another.
“We share ideas and help each other out when needed,” Bonham said. “We all realize that we own independent businesses in the same industry, so there is the reality of that. But certainly we get along and are supportive of each other and cross promote when it makes sense.”
“We are hoping that working together to create more of a culture in Salem will raise everybody,” Klausen said. “A rising tide raises all ships. We want to work together to create that for Salem.”
The association has a few ideas in the works, such as organizing festivals and tap takeovers in Salem and other cities as well as sponsoring events in the city.
“I think if they give us a try, we will grow just like the other cities did in Oregon,” Klausen said.
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.