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Exploring Downtown Corvallis' Craft Brew Scene

Guest Author | 08/10/2018 | Breweries, Breweries, Wineries & Distilleries

It all started with a beer review my husband saw in the Willamette Week.

“Listen to this,” he said, as he began to read. “It smells like dessert and looks like a benign saison, but there’s a lot of octane inside this sweet and lemony hybrid, which falls somewhere between a Belgian golden and a Tripel.”

“Sounds delicious,” I said, flipping through my magazine.

He continued.

“Straw-colored, dry, with a peppery finish. Spiced with coriander, orange peel, black pepper and juniper berries…”

I placed the magazine down and glanced up, my interest piqued.

Now, we weren’t exactly culinary ingénues. We knew a fair amount about Willamette Pinots, French cheeses, some truffles—but beer? Suddenly a new world opened up to us which, until then, had been relatively unexplored: craft beers.

Brew background

How had one of the oldest libations ever produced by humans — dating back to the BC era, recorded on the palimpsests of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia — escaped us?

We decided to learn all we could about craft beer; there was no better locale than Corvallis.

Corvallis is considered a small-yet-potent epicenter of craft beer, with four breweries located in the heart of downtown and two others just a few miles outside the core.

Oregon State University even has its own pilot brewery as part of their Food Science program. The brewery is used for teaching, research, product development, and, of course, the fun part: ingredient testing.

According to Thomas Shellhammer, professor of food science at OSU and president of the American Society of Brewing Chemists, there are more than 220 students in the program, 75% of them are studying fermentation of wine, beer, cheese and bread.

The four staples of my husband's diet.

“Is it too late to go back to school?” he said, not entirely joking, as he closed the trunk of the car.

Earning our hops

Riverfront Commemorative ParkI had agreed to a weekend of craft beer tasting in Corvallis, on one condition: before heading out on our Sip Trip, we would have to earn it. With the myriad of running and biking trails easily accessed from downtown, brew hopping would be our hard-won prize.

Add to the love of hops, Corvallis is rich with history and culture. Strolling along the beautiful, downtown Riverfront Commemorative Park as it runs along the Willamette River, is a lovely experience.

Large trees. A wide-flowing river. A classic bridge. Historic former warehouses turned hip restaurants; mini plazas for storing bikes. Shops. Galleries. Bakeries. Pilates studios.

I understood why Riverfront Park is considered one of the Seven Wonders of Corvallis. It bustles with life in spring and summer with farmer’s market energy and color, street musicians and multi-generational fun.

Diving into brew

Our first stop on our Sip Trip was Sky High Brewing. The modern and hip roof-top brewery overlooking downtown and across to the river was the perfect place to ease into our beer-infused pilgrimage.

At Sky High, we tasted specialty lagers and ales made from hops from a farm near Portland (Woodburn) and yeast from Hood River. They deliver their kegs around town on a cargo bicycle built in Eugene.

Next up was Block 15.

“There is a sophisticated population of beer drinkers in Corvallis,” said the young man we met at the bar at Block 15.

And by the look of the clientele, many of them were present.

Block 15 is a seven-barrel brew house with 27 tanks and 160 oak barrels in the cellar. Every few weeks they offer a new beer on tap, in addition to a spectrum of beer styles. Some of them can be tapped directly from the cellar to the bar.

Jeffrey was an amateur brewer and he happened to have his wares on hand. At his feet was a large bag; it wasn’t groceries. He had just stocked up at the Corvallis Brewing Supply, the ultimate fermentation supply shop for the DIY beverage enthusiast.

“People crave beer because they enjoy the flavor profile,” said Chris Heuchert, Block 15 General Manager. “Each brewery creates a different product.”

“Our beer is made with organic base malt, imported specialty malts and Northwest hops, while following strict sustainability practices,” he said. “Some beers take a minimum of two weeks to brew; others, as long as a year.”

“Why do you think there is such a desire for craft beers?” I asked Chris.

“A lot of it relates to breweries bringing back old styles of beer that had died off, like the wild and sour beers. There is a new love for these styles,” he said.

The styles Chris was talking about require brewing naturally through barrels, which is inherently unpredictable (and a process many modern brewers avoid). That’s why some beers take months to ferment and can take years to mature. The more natural (i.e. sustainable) the process, the longer it takes.

We listened to the beer aficionados wax poetic about a beverage that used only four main ingredients: malted barley, hops, water and yeast.

“Who needs college when we have Sip Trip?” said my husband. He was having a little too much fun and needed coaxing to get off the barstool. It was getting late and he was making an ingredients list from Jeffrey’s recommendations.

A part of history

Craft Beer Tasting FlightWe spent the remainder of our weekend touring the rest of the downtown breweries, talking with every brewer we could find.

The more we explored, the more we realized this was a relationship that needed to be cultivated over time — we weren’t going to learn it over the weekend. And that was the good news: we would be back.

That evening, over a very tasty and slightly bitter Alpha IPA, with flavors of citrus, fruit and pine, we mused about the best things in life.

“You know,” my husband started to say, slowly weighing his words. “There’s something really satisfying about being a part of a tradition that has been around for thousands of years.”

“Even if we are only sharing its pleasures,” I said.

“Corvallis seems to be a cradle of civilized living, wouldn’t you say?” he said, as he savored the remnants of his pint.

After a day of trail running, shopping, sharing a Spanish-inspired tapas lunch at the upscale Del Alma’s overlooking the river, followed by our now customary craft brew tasting, I couldn’t agree more.

Corvallis had quietly figured it out and we were just catching on. Life just got a little better.

Article by Hilary Stunda. Keep up with Corvallis news, events and happenings by signing up for our email newsletter.

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