Industry News

Beer and History in Oregon City

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A view of downtown Oregon City from the top of the outdoor Municipal Elevator

A view of downtown Oregon City from the top of the outdoor municipal elevator

I usually avoid Zwickelmania (Oregon’s state-wide brewery open house celebration), but when esteemed and semi-retired local beer blogger Bill Night offerred to shepherd our small group around from brewery to beer bar, it was an opportunity too good to miss.

We were to spend the day in Oregon City, the oldest non-native town in the state. Founded in 1829 by the Hudson’s Bay Company, it was originally the capitol of the  Oregon Territory. In 1844 it became the first incorporated U.S. city west of the Rocky Mountains. It later became a quiet blue collar town known mostly for its paper mill.

In the last few years, Oregon City got its first, second, third, and now fourth breweries in a short period of time. I must confess that I had not been to any of them, though New School contributor John Chilson has done a great job writing about them for this site. It was time to change that.

Coin Toss Brewing tasting room

Coin Toss Brewing tasting room

Our first stop was the brand newly opened Coin Toss Brewing. You may have seen the brewery’s beers around at last year’ Spring Beer and Wine Fest and here and there at other Portland area-taprooms. Coin Toss Brewing was first contract brewing batches around town at Coalition, Kells, 13 Virtues, and others before getting its own 10bbl brewery cooking this past December. The brewery just opened a tasting room only days before Zwickelmania and finally had a full lineup of its own beers, some brewed there and some elsewhere.

Dave Fleming on Coin Toss Brewing's brewdeck

Dave Fleming on Coin Toss Brewing’s brewdeck

Coin Toss Brewing owner and KPAM radio personality Tim Hohl was there manning the bar along with a few friends, while brewery consultant and brewer about town Dave Fleming was in the brewery giving tours. Coin Toss has a small tasting room in a modest business development. On tap was George’s Honest Ale  (brewed to be similar to homebrew by our Founding Father in the  1700s), Tails Pale (a single malt beer with all Cascade hops), Heads Red (NW Red Session Ale), Black Hohl (the flagship Cascadian Dark Ale), Black Hohl Son (a sessionable version of their CDA), Pie Hohl (brewed for the Holiday Ale Fest, a cherry ginger stout), and Nine Eyes IPA (five malts, and 4 hops in an IPA).

Coin Toss beers are very drinkable and pretty balanced; the biggest one (Nine Eyes IPA) is still only 6.3% ABV and was probably my favorite. The Session Red and CDA are also nice. The Honest Ale does not do it for me, though. I think Coin Toss is one to watch in the future and I bet their tasting room will be a popular spot for sampling and growler fills.

Feckin Brewery tasting room & brewery

Feckin Brewery tasting room & brewery

Next we headed over to Feckin Brewery. These guys have been around a few years, originally brewing out of Maher’s Irish Pub in Lake Oswego before opening a brewery and tasting room in a small warehouse space south of downtown OC. Feckin is best known for its Top ‘O the Mornin’ Imperial Coffee Stout that has become a local favorite and festival hit. The brewery is in an inconspicuous small warehouse that looks like an auto repair station that is right off the the train tracks and with a view of the Willamette River and Falls if you walk across the lot. Walking around the backside of the building, past the old boats up on blocks and through muddy gravel, you can finally see that you’re in the right place. A roll-up garage door is up,  revealing an eclectic interior that looks a bit like a clubhouse/speakeasy for dock workers or a biker gang. Inside there is a pool tables, random chairs, tables and signs that are mismatched, a tiny bar out front of a walk-in cooler down a few steps into what might have once been a loading dock.

Feckin Brewery

Feckin Brewery

Feckin only has five beers on tap; Top ‘O The Feckin Mornin’, Dublin Pale, Irish Red Ale, IPA, and an Irish Oatmeal Porter. The beers are pretty solid, though; the designation of being “Irish” is misleading and unwarranted. I would argue that calling a beer an IRA should (and does to most people) stand for India Red Ale, not Irish Red Ale, and is a semi-offensive reference to the Irish Republican Army. I also don’t know what makes the Oatmeal Porter an Irish oatmeal porter, but it was pretty good and chewy. The IRA did taste like an India Red Ale, not like the actual Irish-style Red, which is malty and not at all hoppy. The place is undeniably charming and the most “Oregon City” place of the trip, plus the beers are affordable at $4 for an Imperial 20oz pint and a growler fill for $12. I could while away an afternoon here smoking on the patio and playing pool and board games.

Oregon City Brewing

Next up was perhaps the biggest draw, the namesake Oregon City Brewing Company, centrally located near downtown OC in the largest space of the local breweries. It’s not only a brewery but also a taproom with an impressive selection of beers showcased on bright Digital Pour tapboard screens. The OC Brewing Co. recently revealed that it has hired award-winning 13 Virtues award David Vohden and will be adding a restaurant to the building.

With a large patio, a good-sized beer hall, and plenty of space to expand brewing operations, there seems to be a bright future for Oregon City Brewing. There are a ton of housemade beers on tap, including one from new brewer David Vohden. I think we had 15 different beers that were brewed in house. We had mixed reviews with some off flavors definitely detected, but there is plenty choose from 44 taps.

Also Oregon City Brewing had two beers from the city’s newest brewery, Bent Shovel Brewing. We had wanted to go to Bent Shovel, but were told it was closed for the day and no one answered the phone. It was really surprising since it was a Saturday, and Zwickelmania day at that! But both of the beers from Bent Shovel, a schwarzbier and a stout, were very solid.

Arch Bridge Taphouse

Our final stop was not a brewery, but downtown OC’s Arch Bridge Taphouse. Just a block below Oregon City’s famous Municipal Elevator (the only outdoor municipal elevator in the U.S.) that bridges two neighborhoods in a structure that resembles the kid brother of Seattle’s famous Space Needle. Up a short ride to the top of the elevator provides a nice view of downtown Oregon City and the Arch Bridge that crosses the Willamette River to West Linn.

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Arch Bridge Taphouse turned out to be one of the highlights of the trip. Though surprisingly quiet inside, it’s a polished, modern-looking taproom full of wood and barrels with an impressive taplist and bottle selection. I could tell immediately that these guys were beer geeks who knew their shit, because one of the bartenders (probably owners) was wearing a Beetje Brewery shirt and the other one had a shirt from De Garde.

Also, the beer selection revealed some beer geek knowledge, with eclectic taps that included rare kegs from Melvin Brewing and a bottle selection with Commons, Breakside, Logsdon, Almanac, The Bruery, Deschutes, and a lot of De Garde. These guys must be big farmhouse ale fans, and they had a bunch of De Garde beers I haven’t seen in stores, suggesting they may have pilfered from the tasting room to share with us unwashed masses! They even still had a bottle of Deschutes cognac barrel-aged The Abyss.

At Arch Bridge Taphouse you have the choice of two local establishments that will deliver you food. One is great, the other not so much. Both sounded like excellent drinking food options–Don Pepe Fresh Mexican and Mi Famiglia, a wood fired pizzeria and Italian joint. Mi Famiglia does not offer slices and I didn’t want to wait for a full pizza, so between that and my primal craving for nachos and I ordered from Don Pepe. I chose….poorly. These, my friend, are not nachos. It’s more like 5lbs of what a nacho would barf up after eating another nacho. The result is something more like a nacho casserole. Meanwhile, Mi Famiglia is making the best pizza and calzones south of Portland, and I am looking forward to trying it next time I make it out to the OC.

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Also worth mentioning is an event series that Clackamas County Historical Society is putting together with the Oregon City Public Library.  It’s a discussion series called “Pints from the Past” and next Monday, February 29th. it’s taking place at the Midway Bar in Oregon City featuring Sam Holloway from Oakshire Brewing.  Attendees can have dinner and drinks with friends while listening to fascinating expert lectures on a topic related to the rich history of the Oregon Territory.

Sam Holloway, Ph.D. His presentation, The End of Big Business? How Small Business Owners are Taking Over … One Craft Beer At A Time, will detail the booming transformation of beer that the Pacific Northwest is leading.

“This is a perfect event for the connoisseurs of craft beer – or just casual drinkers who recognize its superiority – to learn how our region is changing the face of beer nationally,” said CCHS Executive Director Claire Blaylock. “Attendees can literally find out how their drinking habits are changing our region and nation for the better – at least from a taste perspective.”

Midway Bar at 1003 7th St. in Oregon City. Doors open at 5:30 p.m., the talk starts at 6:30 p.m. Based on previous turnouts, attendees are recommended to arrive early to guarantee entrance.

Holloway is an Associate Professor at the University of Portland and part-owner of Oakshire Brewing in Eugene. Like most craft breweries, it started as a home brewing operation, later transforming into a full- fledged company in 2006.

Founder of The New School and most frequent contributor Ezra Johnson-Greenough has worked in the craft beer industry for almost 10 years, doing everything from illustrating beer labels to bartending at renowned beer bars and breweries like Belmont Station, Apex, Laurelwood and Upright Brewing. He has also had a hand in creating events like the Portland Fruit Beer Festival, Portland Beer Week, and the Brewing up Cocktails series. He is available for freelance consultation in marketing, events, graphic design and branding. Contact: SamuraiArtist@NewSchoolBeer.com

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