Cider

First look Inside the New Willamette Ale & Cider House

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The Willamette Ale & Cider House (WACH), located in the heart of historic West Linn, seamlessly opened its doors in late February. The beer and cider is pouring, the menu created, and staff hired. But, unlike many new breweries or taphouses, the road to the grand opening involved more than choosing what beers to serve. It also involved the complete renovation of the 100-year-old building it resides in.

Tyler Chay, WACH’s business manager, says his family had owned the building for more than seven years and have lived nearby for 18 years in West Linn. “I went to elementary school, middle school, and high school with my brother here,” he said. “The funny thing is, when we rolled up into town, my first day there, I remember my dad pointing at that building and kind of saying, ‘Oh it would be so cool to own something like that someday.’” A few years later, an opportunity arose, and Chay’s dad, JC, ended up buying the building. Chay says they rented it out, keeping is as a general store but, “there were just too many complications, honestly. The building was falling apart.”

But, before the building was envisioned as a brewery and cider house, it started with a visit to South Korea. Chay’s dad, JC, started 7Bev, a global distribution company that would serve as their parent company.  “He started going over to Korea, his home country, as well as Japan and China. My dad being full Korean, and myself half Korean, we wanted to see the opportunities that reside there. In this search, however, we found out pretty quickly that it’s hard to compete on price overseas, unless you have a large manufacturing capacity.”

That’s what led the 7Bev team into thinking about starting up their own retail operation. (It’s definitely a family affair. In addition to Tyler’s dad, his brother Toney is also the general manager.)

Complete renovation
The building the Chays purchased in 2011 (and site of the former, venerable Willamette General Store that originally opened in 1913) had numerous owners and shuttered in 2014. It was no doubt historic. However, and not surprising, it was in serious need of retrofits. This included seismic upgrades and bracing in for a CMU wall.

“We had to put in steel posts and wood beams. Long story short, we had to start structural upgrades for the building, and we think it ended up being the best thing for it, because, while it’s from 1913, it will be able to stay around for another 100 years to come.”

But, the fun didn’t stop there.

“There was so much dry rot, the plumbing wasn’t even hooked into the city, we had roof leaks, and just every kind of window problem you could think of,” said Chay. They had to completely rip up all the floors and literally raise the roof of everything, which worked up to their second floor. “There’s no way that we could ever rip that building down. There’s only two historical buildings left in West Linn—our building and the church across the street, so changes had to be made with that in mind.”

On tap and in action
They’re currently creating their own in-house ciders and producing them in the back of the building. They have three casks engines, something that Chay says he took away from a London visit. “It’s a traditional way of serving beer. They’re engines that go directly into the bar and are separated from our cold storage. It draws out more beer characteristics, while also giving a frothy and creamy body. Pints are served at 55 degrees, and it’s a live fermentation that goes on within the beer,” he says.

Some of the big sellers on tap so far have been Wayfinder’s Czech Pilsner, Three Weavers’ Day Job Pale Ale, Heretic Chocolate Hazelnut Porter, and Santiam out of Salem. Also on tap is Ex Novo, Coin Toss, Fort George, and of course cider under their own cidery, 7bev. The bottleshop should be up and running soon as well. And, they are serving food, including, sandwiches, salads, a kid’s menu and desserts.

Growing up in West Linn, the family wanted to stress the importance of creating a place that offers a warm, family friendly, and social environment.

“We’ve concentrated on the idea that despite selling a variety of craft beers ciders and foods, what’s really important to us is the atmosphere and experience. We want it to be a place where people come to unwind after a long day, reunite with old friends, and make new memories that keep them coming back. We are a family business, and want to make sure that the family environment is one that takes precedence,” adds Chay.

The Willamette Ale & Cider House is located at 1720 Willamette Falls Drive.

Hours are 11-9 Tuesdays through Thursdays, 11-11 Fridays and Saturdays, Sundays 11-9

Check them out on Facebook and Instagram.

John Chilson writes about Portland history and architecture at Lost Oregon. He's also written for Neighborhood Notes, Travel Oregon, Portland Architecture, Askmen.org, San Diego Reader, and Portland Food and Drink. Follow him on twitter at @LostOregon for local history nerdism; for beer tweets he's at @Hopfrenzy. Shoot him an email at hopfrenzy@gmail.com if you want to get in touch.

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