Over the last week the breweries and taprooms of the Columbia River Gorge began to reopen for on-premise consumption. While any resumption of service carries the risk of spreading the novel Coronavirus, the worry is especially high in the gorge where tourists often flock to town for outdoor recreation and world class beer.
The Washington side of the gorge is home to the growing success story of Backwoods Brewing, who now has a Portland pub and was one of the first to reopen in Washington. And according to the brewery, the reopening is going well.
“The bulk of our traffic (as is normal this time of year) is coming from Clark county and Portland metro, with some folks driving from northern WA as well,” says Backwoods CEO Steve Waters. “The not-so-normal part has been the sudden shift into being so busy so quickly, and even busier than we would normally be this time of year.”
Backwoods is complying with Washington’s Phase 2 reopening requirements like asking, but not requiring customers to leave their information for contact tracing. The brewery will keep a 30 day log of this information before destroying it, and guests may opt out of it. The brewpubs patio will also be monitored to prevent large congregating groups, and they are requiring that all guests be seated at a table in order to consumer food or beverage.
“The new normal isn’t going to be great for business, and we’re hoping that our county is able to move through the phases quickly,” says Waters.
Freebridge Brewing – The Dalles, OR
Since Oregon governor Kate Brown ordered the closure of bars and restaurants, Freebridge has remained open 7 days a week for curbside delivery and takeout. And when Wasco County received the green light to reopen, Freebridge opted to stay the course and not begin dine-in services immediately.
“We understood that we would forego much needed revenues and perhaps public scrutiny over our waiting, but this decision was affirmed to be the right decision based on what we witnessed in our community on May 15th,” said Freebridge owner Steve Light. “Restaurants and pubs not respecting the guidelines required for Phase One reopening were simply appalling. We understand that everyone wants to go back to the way it was, but that is not in our immediate future.”
But after soliciting consultations with North Central Public Health District representatives for guidance on reopening, they have made the decision to begin on-premise service on May 29th. Freebridge will continue their touchless curbside pick up, take and bake pizza, and local delivery while testing the waters with dine-in.
“If we lose confidence in the process we will not hesitate to return to curbside pick up only,” says Freebridge owner Steve Light.
Walking Man Brewing – Stevenson, OR
This longtime favorite gorge spot has a very small taproom pub but a great beer garden during the summer that opened last weekend.
“Guests did a great job following guidelines and we all worked together to keep everyone as safe as possible. At least at our place,” says Walking Man owner Tabatha Wiggins.
The pub is outdoor seating only for now, with counter service for food and beverage to enjoy onsite or for takeout. Tables are spaced to meet the 6′ guidelines and Walking Man is working to expand the outdoor seating area so more people can enjoy a pint and a pizza while keeping a safe distance.
Walking Man is now open limited hours Wednesday – Friday but plans to expand those too.
Big Horse Brew Pub – Hood River, OR
This longtime staple of Hood River suffered a fire that closed down the pub last year, but they have been remodeling and were planning to reopen before the pandemic hit. Unfortunately the insurance money for their reconstruction has been delayed, so Big Horse is looking to create a backyard beer garden in the meantime. Big Horse hopes to open a full outdoor bar and food truck with wood-fired BBQ sometime this summer.
Thunder Island Brewing – Cascade Locks, OR
The riverside brewery has opened their destination worthy patio for on-premise consumption as of last weekend and has adopted strong precautions in doing so. This includes outdoor only seating, port-o-potties sanitized every 30 minutes and mandatory online ordering for beers and food. Those strict but carefully thought out measures were met with both praise and consternation when they opened last weekend but they are measures the brewery feels strongly about.
“There has been push back from some customers,” admits Thunder Island owner David Lipps, but despite any blowback he says, “We’d rather be safe.”
Lipps says many customers get it, but that it’s a big learning curve for all involved, but that the risk of an outbreak that could cause a second shutdown is too great. Thunder Island is even discouraging people from visiting the brewery that don’t live in their region, even though Lipps says, “pretty much everyone who comes to our business is from out of town.”
Double Mountain Brewery & Cidery – Hood River, OR
Hood River locals favorite brewpub was forced to cancel their 13th anniversary due to the pandemic and is carefully easing back into their reopening. The pub and restaurant is now serving customers for in-house seating and service at 3pm each day with plenty of spacing between tables and masked staff. Double Mountain is encouraging patrons to call ahead for reservations as they will be utilizing a wait list during these times that call for reduced capacity.
Everybody’s Brewing – White Salmon, OR
The brewery and pub located across the gorge from Hood River is in Washington’s Klickitat County which has not yet been approved to reopen. The county has about 36 reported cases of suspected Coronavirus but is now applicable to apply for a phase 2 reopening which could happen soon. Everybody’s Brewing is open for to-go sales every day and has cautioned that they may not immediately reopen when the stay at home order is lifted.
Dwinell Country Ales – Goldendale, WA
Like Everybody’s Brewing, Dwinell is in Washington’s Klickitat County which has not yet been approved for a reopening. In the meantime, they are doing to-go pickups and will even ship to residents of Oregon or Washington from orders placed on their webstore. This June, Dwinell will open a pop-up bottle shop from the brewery every Saturday and Sunday. Pre-order for bottles and crowlers can also be made from their webstore.
Full Sail Brewing – Hood River, OR
The largest brewery in the gorge has one of the smaller taprooms and restaurants, accessible only down a fairly narrow hallway.
“We have continued to brew beer and kombucha throughout the pandemic and we’ll be continuing to follow CDC guidelines as well as considering the overall safety of our employees, our production team, and our neighbors. As the situation develops, we’ll be evaluating the impact of reopening the Pub and making decisions cautiously,” says Full Sail marketing director Sandra Evans. Anotherwords, a taproom reopening is still very TBD.
pFriem Family Brewers – Hood River, OR
The pFriem team has been very cautious to resume operations at their popular waterfront destination spot. While they have been doing curbside pickups for beer, the kitchen has been closed and no plans have been announced to reopen for on-premise consumption yet. Though co-owner Josh Pfriem has talked about restarting their food program and taking advantage of Hood River’s open container laws and the taprooms proximity to Hood River waterfront park as an alternative to partaking indoors.
Solera Brewery – Parkdale, OR
No word yet on if and when this rural destination brewpub will reopen for on-site consumption, yet they have been doing to-go for awhile.
Sedition Brewing – The Dalles, OR
The brewery reopened for dine-in last weekend but says they are taking precautions like social distancing measures to heart. Sedition’s online ordering platform remains open for carry-out.
Ferment Brewing – Hood River, OR
Still doing takeout and local delivery by phone, the pub is holding off on reopening for now.
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.