Yachats Brewing + Farmstore recently added to its 7-barrel brewhouse, including a six-head bottling line and wind machine that will power the glycol chiller. Pictured, left to right, assistant brewer Aaron Gillham, director of brewery operations Jenna Steward and head brewer Charlie Van Meter. Photo by Michael Kew
By Michael Kew
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Brewer on the roof: “I’m snowblind whenever I first walk up here.”
We squint in the glare. Sunday afternoon. Over there is the ocean. We’re at the beach, but we’re not.
In shades and a black hoodie, Charlie Van Meter sips fresh kolsch from a glass. From his downstairs brite-tank tap, of course.
“It’s nice being right on 101,” Jenna Steward, his wife and director of brewery operations, says. She’s on the kolsch, too. “Even if people don’t expect to stop in, they see our sign and decide to take a break and see what we’re about.”
Third story — technically the flat, white roof — of Yachats Brewing + Farmstore. This used to be a bank. Look 30 feet down: Highway 101 and the somnolence of Yachats, population 700. Look up: clear sky. Look west: blue Pacific forever. Look south: the Yachats River estuary, shadowed by Cape Perpetua — the fabled green fist of rock, knuckling the white waves.
“The dream,” Van Meter says, “is to put a third-story taproom right here so we can all have this epic view. Yachats is beautiful in the sun — and in the rain and wind. It’s great for storm watching, too. People will sit and watch the chaos around them.”
In 2015, Van Meter and Steward (both 28) relocated from Hood River at the wish of Yachatians Nathan and Cicely Bernard. Three years earlier, the Bernards flipped the old bank into a farmstore hub, selling local meat, produce, fermented food and all sorts of cool garden gear. The bright, helpful space was crafted with salvaged Oregon wood and wine barrel furniture. It became an intersection for this tranquil community.
“We’ve got a ‘coast time’ outlook on things,” Van Meter says, exhaling, admiring the view. “It’s Yachats Time, like ‘island time’ in the tropics. A nice, relaxed pace.”
Unfortunately, the Bernards are not here today. They’re likely eight miles upriver, tending to their sunny permaculture homestead. Here at the brewery, they’ve left the proverbial gate ajar for their young yeastmaster; Van Meter and Steward (with assistant brewer Aaron Gillham) are taking full advantage. New additions to their 7-barrel brewhouse include a six-head bottling line for 500 milliliter glass with “limited release sales, hopefully by Thanksgiving,” Steward says before pointing at a roof next door. “And over there is the proprietary wind machine that’s going to power our glycol chiller.”
Van Meter is an anomaly. Just a few years into his wort-wrangling, he stood onstage at the 2014 Great American Beer Festival, fist-bumping Charlie Papazian and sporting a shiny silver medal for a peach saison he helped brew at his (now) alma mater, Logsdon Farmhouse Ales. That happened after he’d dovetailed jobs at Portland U-Brew and Uptown Market into his first pro-brewing gig at Sasquatch Brewery in Hillsdale. This was in 2012, the birth year of Yachats Farmstore. Logsdon’s Chuck Porter — colleague of Van Meter and an old friend of the Bernards — then cameoed to mash a few farmstore ales with Bernard’s 20-barrel pilot system.
But the system had to grow. Logsdon again pollinated the Yachats fold, this time via Van Meter/Steward.
They fit in.
“Yachats is an eclectic collection of people who very intentionally decide to live in this town,” Van Meter says. “It has a weird magnetism. People with all kinds of crazy skills and backgrounds end up here. I like to say Yachats is a collection of wizards.”
It’s getting hot here on the roof. More kolsch, anyone?
On draught downstairs in the bustling eatery/store/bar are 13 house beers. There are three kombuchas, seven guest beers, two meads, three ciders and two wines. There’s a saison with Szechuan peppercorns, a saison with plum and lavender, a saison with sage, a saison with lemongrass and rosebud….
“We like to keep it fresh, keep it new, keep it tasty,” Van Meter says. “Farmhouse ales are close to my heart — probably my ‘traditional’ beers. They capture my imagination in terms of the history of the style and the romanticism of oak and its charms and attention to the simple ingredients.”
“Simple grain bills and hop bills. A lot of the stuff I make is just a little bit of pilsner malt, a little bit of wheat, and combinations of yeast and adding fruit or spices to it. There is so much you can do with a small palette, like a painter’s palette. You can make a lot of things within the saison/farmhouse category with only a few ‘colors,’ if you will. It’s complex, yet it can be refreshing. There are lots of subtle flavors to come out of these combinations of yeast. Brewing is like being a yeast shepherd. You try to give it its ideal conditions and food and let it take care of itself. You’re just there to help it get into a package.”
I gape at the long wooden tap wall, a palette of choice in a place that is nothing but.
“This brewery is its own living thing,” Van Meter says. “We’re just letting it grow to what it wants to be.”
Yachats Brewing + Farmstore
348 Highway 101, Yachats
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.