The town of McMinnville – population 34,347 – is now home to not one but two gluten-free breweries, and seven breweries in total, making it a new Oregon beer destination. No, there hasn’t been a spike in Celiac disease in the area. This is just how things go sometimes. One of those places is Bierly Brewing, located behind a nondescript building in a former bakery off, ironically, Northeast Baker Street. Opened on St. Patrick’s Day 2016 by JP Bierly and his wife Amelia, the brewery churns out beers aimed at satisfying gluten-free and non gluten-free drinkers alike.
“When we moved into this place, it was pretty much a blank slate,” says JP, who has managed to fit a small but productive brewing setup into a space about the size of a large living room. Visitors can hang out at the bar or sit at one of a few tables scattered about the space. Being parents themselves, JP and Amelia welcome children and their own son Felix – who is the namesake of their Felix Pilsner – often comes to work with mom and dad.
While his wife has lived with Celiac her whole life, JP was diagnosed later, and when it came to finding beer he could drink comfortably, he says the experience was like “wandering in the wilderness,” so he decided to put his homebrewing skills to use.
Gluten-free brewers often use a variety of techniques to fill the role of barley and wheat. JP has put in his time as a gluten-free brewer, first at the Eats & Treats Café in Philomath before making the move to McMinnville to expand into a brewpub. At the helm of his own namesake brewery, he is no stranger to these methods and utilizes ingredients like quinoa, sorghum, brown rice, and candi sugar and syrup.
“I’m only running three barrels right now. When you draw a certain amount of electricity, the power company wants to charge you more. So far I’ve been doing 40 gallon batches and that has been ramping up,” says JP, who has been selling his beers in the taproom and also bottling them to sell at farmers markets and local retailers. His electric kettle system allows him to keep the noise down and is highly efficient for the type of brewing he does. He also built his own cold storage space to give the brewery a sort of DIY, expert homebrewer setup.
The flavor of gluten-free may come as a shock to drinkers of traditional beer, considering the noticeable lack of malty flavor, but some styles lend themselves better to the format. At Bierly, the standouts are the Amber IPA and the Felix Pilsner, which are the flagships at this point. On this writer’s visit the brewery was also pouring a porter and a dark IPA. In the spring and summer he also brews a popular Citra Pale and has also brewed a dubbel in collaboration with Portland’s Moonshrimp Brewing.
“The nuts and bolts of it is, on our partial-grain recipes we swap out the base malt for sorghum, which also is higher in fermentable sugars. Where you might have to use like eleven pounds of a pale malt, I get away with using six and a half pounds of sorghum. The flavor is fantastic – there’s a difference but if you emphasize the good parts of that difference you don’t get the bad parts,” says JP.
As a mostly sorghum-based brewery, Bierly is similar in approach to local favorites Ground Breaker, Alt Brew in Wisconsin, and Burning Brothers in Minnesota.
“I think the unique thing is that there are eleven dedicated gluten-free breweries in the whole country and six of them are on the West Coast,” says JP.
To complement the beers, Bierly also offers a handful of tasty baked goods, a nod to the building’s former life as a bakery and a chance for JP’s wife Amelia to show off her culinary skills. Soft and doughy, the pretzel is a clear standout on the menu as it is good enough to make you forget it’s gluten-free. They also have bread, donuts, hummus, cookies, and even nachos.
“I’ve been gluten-free my whole life, but I’ve been baking and experimenting with different flour blends and recipes since I was a kid. I tested recipes and people would say they couldn’t tell, so I kind of zeroed in on the method and ingredients,” says Amelia.
While the space itself could use a little more decorating and perhaps some warmer lighting, it still feels laid back and welcoming. For now, the brewery has limited hours and is only open on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. If you go, you might as well make the gluten-free rounds and check out Evasion Brewing, which is nearby. Slake House is located just around the corner and showcases the many offerings of Carlton Ciderworks (also gluten-free!) and a slew of craft beer taps. Those looking to also get their gluten on should hit up Heater Allen – who JP cites as an inspiration – and Allegory to make a fun day out of visiting.
Bierly Brewing, 214 NE 11th St, McMinnville, Oregon 97128