Road Tripping Oregon’s Breweries

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viking braggot brewery
Viking Braggot Brewery - Eugene, OR (Photo: . Gabbard)

This article is an online extra, expanding on Cody Gabbard’s article Planning a Brewery Roadtrip in the May/June 2022 Zymurgy magazine.

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By Cody Gabbard

Ellie, my six-year-old mutt, romps through the muddied snow with reckless abandon. She has completely forgotten the several-hour drive up a graveled road that left her nauseated and panting. She is also unaware of the three-hour drive yet to come on the fourth and final day of our road trip, so bursts through deep snow banks with pure ecstasy. Meanwhile, my boots have been soaked through from the unexpected deep snow on the trail. I’m thinking about my tires after the bumpy ride up the mountain, and am acutely aware of the upcoming drive home; I envy Ellie and take great joy in seeing her in a state of unadulterated happiness.

The start of a road trip is always my favorite part. There are activities, food, drink, and shared companionship ahead, just waiting for you to arrive. During the first few hours of the drive, I smiled to myself, watching the people in the passing lane as they hurriedly speed to their destination, and even occasionally clicked on my GPS’s alternative route that suggests a slower direction, just to see what else we may discover off the highway. Even though it takes longer to arrive at our first destinations, I find that my stress subsides with no expectation we’ll arrive at any predetermined time. Was this what people felt before our navigational devices provided to-the-minute arrival estimates?

Leaving the highway is also a therapeutic way to avoid the road shoulders perpetually dotted with campaign signs, a constant reminder there is no true escape from our daily lives. I try to ignore them nonetheless, and make an effort to avoid associating the color schemes and slogans with past and current candidates who trigger a blood-pressure-increasing response.

We arrived at our first hike of the trip, Oak Creek Dimple Trailhead, in Corvallis, Oregon. The week prior, we went on a test hike with a friend and his dogs, so I have a good grasp of what Ellie and my limits are. If you aren’t a seasoned hiker, this is a great way to feel what to expect when you’re out of practice. The app Gaia proved indispensable, providing total time, elevation change, and coordinates without fail despite variable cell service throughout the trip. Knowing we had three days to go I planned on capping our trek a mile or so short, but the draw of the hill’s horizon had too great a pull, and we pushed ahead. We were rewarded with a view of the valley and a slight misting of rain that unlocked the scent of the forest.

Photos by Cody Gabbard

A late lunch took us to Viking Braggot Company. My goal for the entire trip was to visit breweries that were either not widely distributed or had a uniqueness to them rarely exhibited elsewhere. Although many breweries dabble in honeyed beers (including former presidents), Viking brews them exclusively. I’ve found many braggots to be a bit thin due to the high fermentability of the sugars, and lacking much honey character since most rely on generic wildflower varieties. With years of experience, Viking’s offerings are neither. The beers I sampled had an appropriate body, and the unique honey varietals added another layer of complexity.

Talking to Manager Jonna Threlkeld about my trip and the shared interest of all things fermentable (they also make in-house fermented vegetables for some of their dishes) and how they source their honey led to her pouring a sample of Oran Mor mead, which happened to be located in the next town on the itinerary, Roseburg, Oregon. As I typically space out visiting breweries pretty broadly to remain flexible, this worked out perfectly as an added bonus before my evening plans. Talking up the locals, especially those with common interests (hint, brewing), can lead to better recommendations, so don’t be shy. Oran Mor exceeded expectations, as I’m not a big consumer of meads, especially with their range of methlegins. A fireplace and well-worn couches also provided a much-deserved respite for myself and a middle-aged dog after a moderate hike in the chilly rain.

The evening took me to Draper Draft House, the taproom for Draper Brewing in Roseburg, Oregon. A walk through the quaint downtown was interrupted by a life-size cardboard cutout of a grinning politician in a store window, seemingly mocking my ambitions to escape reality by giving a double thumbs up. Living in the urban sprawl of Portland, Oregon, has biased me into thinking small towns offer a respite from news and reality when in truth, that is an extremely naive notion. Everyone has opinions; they just seem louder when they differ from your own. I likely don’t notice the shouting of my own preferred candidates, blinded by my own righteous indignation. Being in a town that is relatively close to my current hometown, but politically on an opposite spectrum, provided some humble insight despite my best efforts to avoid any type of mental reconciliation while on vacation. The town and people of Roseburg were generous and welcoming, seeming to all be on a first-name basis regardless of where I ate or drank.

spencer butte
Photo by Cody Gabbard

The taproom at Draper is a conglomerate of part old-timey burlesque venue, and part rustic dive bar, the walls festooned with bygone brewery signage and neon along with velvet paintings of female nudes. The atmosphere does not feel put-upon, but rather an authentic reflection of the town and brewery itself, with the juxtaposition of fairly obscure mixed-culture beers in a city that appears like it prefers mass-marketed lagers. The beers are highly nuanced and complex, yet unpretentious, as evidenced by their bottle labels which lack the usual garish embellishments, instead opting for a simple black stamp on a white background. The House Saison is the perfect embodiment of this ethos, like a fresh version of Orval, a beer with great depth but brewed and presented in the rustic farmhouse style.

Sated by a previous evening of good drink at Draper and a hearty breakfast, we set out on our second hike at Spencer Butte in Eugene, Oregon. This would prove to have a slight elevation increase from the day before, so the restraint of an easier hike on day one was appreciated. The summit provided great views of Eugene and a good test of our sea (rock?) legs for the coming days. It also proved to be another reminder of the general magnanimity of strangers. Being only about a foot or so tall from foot to shoulder, some of the steep embankments on the climb down proved a bit too high for Ellie. Luckily, a height-gifted gentleman acquiesced when I asked, “would you mind catching my dog if I drop her down to you?” Before he could change his mind, forty-five pounds and four flailing paws fell into his arms and were safe if not awkwardly, deposited to the trail below.

We again made it into our next town, Oakridge, Oregon, with ample time to do some further exploring. My anticipation of visiting the next brewery overcame my desire for more hiking, so we grabbed lunch at The 3 Legged Crane, a brewpub serving traditional cask-conditioned real ales. I was pleased that I had not tried to greedily squeeze in another brewery in Eugene beforehand, as I was now determined to return again that evening in order to go through their entire range of cask beers. As with braggots, most breweries don’t have a continuous offering of real cask beers so results can be mixed. Again, not so with The 3 Legged Crane. The bitters, in particular, are classically presented, exhibiting the full range of malt flavors, with just enough bitterness to balance. Despite a full-bodied, creamy mouthfeel from the oxygenated hand pull, they disappear quickly without filling you up, a true testament to British beer, and one sorely missing in our current brewing landscape. Much like Draper, The 3 Legged Crane isn’t set in a space of manufactured hominess. There is a genuine authenticity embodied there not seen in many modern taprooms, like the patina found on a generations-old family trunk compared to the distressed copy for purchase at HomeGoods.

Cask beer is easy to romanticize, but for good reason. The flavors are ephemeral, with only a small window to enjoy to their fullest extent, and difficult if not impossible to transport. Perhaps this is even easier to appreciate on a trip focused around the act of outdoor sports like hiking. There are no gift shops at the end of the tour or logoed growlers. What there is to enjoy must be enjoyed in the moment.

Day three would take us through the heart of central Oregon, hiking several trails in the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. The weather had held up quite well until this point, but despite the continual rainfall proved to be a godsend by providing a real-time lesson in geology. We started at the Painted Hills in Mitchell, Oregon, a swath of hills with a fondant-like carpet of colors on gently sloping undulations. Millions of years of weathering has revealed layers of exposed clay, composed of varying elements that result in vivid hues of red, yellow, and black.

An hour’s drive east brought us to the Blue Basin, another area within John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. You can choose to walk through the canyon or take a more difficult hike above it. With rain steadily coming down, we reluctantly opted for the shorter canyon hike but were rewarded with stunning up-close visuals of the terrain’s texture. The interior of the canyon is awash in various colors, comparable to the blue-green shades of spruce trees, a result of a mix of clay and volcanic ash. The hillsides are craggy and pitted like a jagged, alien landscape, more pronounced by the rain, which provided a glimpse of the continuously eroding facade that pooled into the creek bed like a murky runoff of potter’s clay. The conditions prevented any reliable visual recording, again resulting in another encounter that could only be experienced in person.

painted hills
Photo by Cody Gabbard

On our final day, we set out early to tackle our longest hike, China Cap in the Wallowa mountains, just outside of Baker City. We’d paced ourselves well up to now and were prepared for the day ahead. The drive was about an hour away, with the final five or so miles up a narrow dirt path. It started out bumpy, and I could hear Ellie in the back panting, the first sign she was getting carsick. We pressed on but were met with about two feet of snow with still several miles to go. Knowing when to cut our losses, I turned around for fear of bottoming out without any phone service or a reasonable way to dig ourselves out should we get stuck. I was a bit crestfallen as we had built up to this final hike in order to finish on a literal high.

The Wallowas have an extensive network of trails, though, and a quick check of Gaia displayed several nearby alternatives. We wouldn’t be able to attempt any type of summit, but would at least get to do some forest hiking. We set off, but less than a quarter of a mile in we came upon several feet of snow across the path, extending about fifty feet long. Before I could begin to calculate the cost-benefit of wet boots and uneasy footing Ellie had bounded across the snowscape in a brown blur, up to her shoulders in powdery goodness. I was disappointed that we wouldn’t get to any ridgetop views, but she was overjoyed to hop through the crusty snow. She looked over her shoulder and wagged her tail, beckoning me to continue on.

What could be perceived as a lackluster conclusion to our trip ended up as a cliched (but for good reason) life lesson in living in the moment. Whether it be the fleeting flavors of perfectly executed cask-conditioned ale in a remote mountain town or watching your best friend have the time of her life, these are not things we can always expect or be guaranteed but can cultivate through a little good planning and a willingness to be open to other possibilities.

Cody Gabbard lives in Portland, Ore/, by way of Colorado, D.C., Virginia, and Kentucky. He is a data analyst by trade and occasionally poses as a freelance writer. He is a proud member of the AHA and is in constant awe of his fellow homebrewers in the Portland Brewers Collective.

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