Of the Oregon Beer Growler
“There’s nothing wrong with being familiar.”
That assessment by Three Creeks head brewer Zach Beckwith is spot on in describing much of our daily existence. The familiar propels routines and gets the job done. It’s where we find comfort and relief. But in an industry where trends drive business and customers are willing to abandon what they know for the opportunity to try what they don’t, “familiar” might sound downright pejorative.
“There’s so much now,” Beckwith said of beer selection and variety, “it’s almost seen as negative if you’re ‘the same.’ ”
That’s not to say Three Creeks Brewing Company doesn’t experiment or release one-offs. But for Beckwith and his team of six, it’s all about fine-tuning rather than jumping on bandwagons. In other words, don’t expect any Orange Julius-style IPAs that have surged in popularity lately coming out of this Sisters brewery. You might just reframe its beer as “classic” instead of “familiar” if the latter sounds a tad dull. But when you’ve spent three hours in a cramped car on your way to Bend for a weekend vacation, it’s nice to have a reliable pit stop before the final 30 minutes of the journey. And Three Creeks is always there for the weary traveler who is looking for something familiar.
With the Central Oregon summer tourist season having come to an end and the apres-ski crowd awaiting adequate snowpack, early fall might be an opportune time to visit Three Creeks. On Thursday, Nov. 2, the business will host its biannual Brewer’s Dinner, the highlight of which will be a pairing of complementary flavors found in Frontier Justice Coffee Stout — Beckwith’s favorite and a collaboration with Sisters Coffee Roasters — alongside braised short rib with a coffee rub.
Even if you can’t make it to that event, there’s the filling and the familiar that spills across the rest of the menu, which must fill both hungry families in the rustic dining room as they pause while passing through town and locals at the coppertop bar after they clock out for the day. A dense burger would be ordered happily by either party, so it’s no wonder there is an array of five to choose from. But in Sisters, where every building looks like it’s been lifted from its foundation in Walt Disney’s Frontierland (if Frontierland had an old-timey Ray’s Food Place and McDonald’s), there’s one obvious sandwich to get: the Outlaw Barbecue Burger.
It arrives with the top bun barely clinging to the back of the patty — resembling Pac-Man trying to gobble down a monster-sized pellet. This gives you a better view of what rests atop the ground chuck patty: melted Tillamook Pepper Jack Cheese, two strips of soft and chewy bacon arranged in an “X” marking the spot for a tumble of grilled onions — their caramelization melding with the sweet smokiness of a Hoodoo Voodoo IPA barbecue sauce. Beckwith’s Firestorm Red is a beer that embraces the smoldering notes of the Outlaw. Its copper hue may trick you into thinking it is sweet and heavy, but this is an ale that would have a typical Oregon IPA fan asking for another. It took Beckwith a few years to find just the right balance between the malt and hop character, but last year’s recipe made him happy and he’s stuck with it. The bitterness of the red is enhanced by the burger, though it never loses its backbone of Munich malts. Together, they resemble the essence of an autumn campfire in your mouth.
For a departure from pub fare that’s still a warm hug for your stomach when the temperatures drop, look to the Thai Chicken Rice Bowl. Its flavors come at you like a South Pacific typhoon. The heat of red curry begins to tingle before a cooling coconut milk hits at just the right time. Both ingredients are combined in a creamy sauce that creates a bath for tender slabs of chicken breast, earthy mushrooms, green bell peppers and zucchini. A mountain of rice rises from the center of the dish; sprigs of cilantro and shredded carrot rest on its plateau.
Don’t hesitate to dive into the pretty plating — topple the mound and mix everything together until well-coated in the sauce. There’s even fun to be had with the textural counterpoints of crunchy and soft, meaty and snappy. Crowdpleaser IPA is the best fit for the variety of ingredients in the Rice Bowl. Three Creeks gave the people what they wanted with this modernized take on the style: “sexy hops, higher alcohol,” said Beckwith. He added that Sorachi Ace hops bring out hints of lemon rind and dill in the beer, which play well with the citrus from Mosaics. The curry gets a kick after each sip of IPA while a bite with bright cilantro pushes back with a slight sweetness.
So if this is what familiarity breeds — pub food with character and beers that are tinkered with until they reach as close to perfection as possible — there’s nothing to dismiss here.
“To me, the mark of a great beer is if you have a pint and you want a second pint,” Beckwith said.
Brewing fads will come and go, but Beckwith is working on the long game: making sure you want another round.
By Chef Mark Perry
Paired with Three Creeks Firestorm Red Ale
One 8-ounce burger patty
1 slice pepper jack cheese
2 ounces barbecue sauce
2 slices thick-sliced cooked bacon
1/4 cup caramelized onion
--Precook bacon strips.
--Caramelize sliced onions.
--Cook burger on grill, then top with barbecue sauce, cheese, bacon and onions.
--Continue cooking until cheese melts.
Thai Chicken Rice Bowl
By Chef Mark Perry
Paired with Three Creeks Crowdpleaser IPA
1 ounce sesame oil
3 ounces sliced mushrooms
2 ounces zucchini
2 ounces bell pepper mix
8 ounces coconut curry sauce (see separate directions below)
6 ounces chicken breast
4 ounces rice
2 sprigs cilantro
1 ounces shredded carrot
--Heat olive oil in saute pan and add vegetables.
--Saute for 2 minutes and add coconut curry sauce.
--Meanwhile, heat chicken on flat top.
--Slice cooked chicken breast and toss with veg mix.
--Pour chicken and veg mix into large soup bowl.
--Place rice in center of bowl.
--Garnish with cilantro and carrot.
For the Coconut Curry Sauce:
2 tablespoons sesame oil
1/2 yellow onion
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
2 cups chicken stock
1 tablespoon chopped ginger
1 can coconut milk
1 tablespoon red curry paste
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 bunch chopped cilantro
--Heat sesame oil in heavy pot.
--Add onion and garlic and saute for 3 minutes over medium heat.
--Stir in chicken stock with base.
--Add ginger, coconut milk, curry paste and brown sugar.
--Simmer for 10 minutes.
--Add cilantro and simmer while stirring another 10 minutes.
Three Creeks Brewing Company
721 S. Desperado Court, Sisters