One is an old cabinetry shop. Another is in the basement of a commercial building on Chetco Avenue. A third is in the garage of a house overlooking the Chetco River.
What they all have in common is they are breweries. It is these inauspicious places that malted barley, water, hops and yeast are transubstantiated into beer.
One year ago, Curry County was brewery-less, just like Del Norte. But since the beginning of 2013, three breweries opened in the county just to the north, eliminating what had been a craft beer desert north of Eureka.
Arch Rock Brewing Co. in Gold Beach opened its doors in January, and Tight Lines Brewery and Chetco Brewing Co. of Brookings opened later in the year. Since then, the locally-made beers have been making appearances at local watering holes throughout the region as the fledgling breweries look to tap into local thirst for microbrewed beer.
Bars and restaurants are stocking local beer and Ray’s in Brookings even offers a growler — a reusable glass container — fill-station for people to bring their favorite draft beer home to share.
While the breweries are still tiny when compared to those owned by the multinational companies that continue to take up the largest share of the market, Curry County’s breweries are even small when compared to established craft breweries throughout the state. But this isn’t deterring a local group of brewers.
“My goal is to put Brookings on the map as far as good beer goes,” said Nathan Heath, owner of Tight Line Brewery. “We could be the first or last brewery people hit on their way through Oregon.”
For Heath, brewing developed from a hobby into an obsession.
The corrections officer at Pelican Bay State Prison started homebrewing in 2009 and from the kitchen and then his spare bedroom and now to his own commercial brewery, his knowledge and desire to create a quality product has only deepened.
The brewery, located at 625 Chetco Ave., is the culmination of years of perfecting recipes, and handing out samples to his fellow officers to see which recipes were the best.
Tight Lines moved into its location in January and sold its first beer two and a half months ago. So far it is only distributing to a few locations, such as Black Trumpet Bistro and the Pine Cone Tavern.
Heath has chosen to continue to develop slowly, with attention toward making quality products
“Everything has to be perfect,” Heath said. “I’ve had beer that came out all right, but I wasn’t happy with it and kept working at the recipe.”
This desire to get it right, to brew consistently, has even resulted in Heath dumping out of a batch of beer he wasn’t satisfied with rather than trying to sell it.
“I’m not going to let the quality of the product take a back seat by trying to do too much,” Heath said.
Tight Lines brews 80 gallons at a time. The setup is simple, with a mash tun, hot liquor tank and brew kettle.
“It’s a larger version of the homebrew setup I have at home,” Heath said.
The large vessels are heated by propane, and the brewery has an elaborate exhaust system to keep the brewery running. Two stainless steel fermenters provide yeast the space it needs to eat sugar, converting the brown, sugary, hop flavored water into ethanol, making the beer have alcohol.
The temperature in the fermenters are regulated, providing the beer the optimum temperature to turn to beer. Maintaining the proper temperature for the yeast improves the taste and quality of the beer — beer fermented at temperatures outside of recommended temperatures can develop off-tastes or become infected.
Heath currently brews only ales, but anticipates making lagers in the future. Ales are fermented at room temperature, while lagers are fermented at temperatures hovering around 45 degrees. The two different kinds of yeasts impart different flavors and characteristics to the beer.
Brewing provides Heath with a creative outlet he enjoys, but besides brewing beer, he also makes the tap handles for the brewery out of old fishing rods.
Currently Tight Lines has two main beers, its RIP Pale Ale and Dog Hair Porter, and is anticipating to have a tasting room open by January and to continue its steady growth.
“We almost ran out of beer at the Slam’n Salmon Festival last weekend,” Heath said. “I need to brew more.”
In addition to working at Pelican Bay and starting a brewery, Heath coaches soccer and the brewery sponsors a women’s soccer team.
“We really want to be involved in the community and to build a following in the community,” Heath said.
James Smith gets to brew the beer he wants, the way he wants.
Which is a good thing — he already has a gold medal to prove he knows how to make good beer.
Smith entered Arch Rock Brewing’s State of Jefferson Porter into the North American Beer Awards, the second largest beer contest in the country, mostly to get feedback from other brewers on his beer in the blind tasting.
His porter ended up taking first place, far exceeding Smith’s expectations for the beer from the little brewery that just opened its doors in January.
After stints at Uinta Brewing in Salt Lake City, Utah and Grand Teton Brewing in Victor, Idaho, Smith was hired by Larry Brennan, owner of Arch Rock Brewery, to be brewer.
“I asked Larry what kind of beers he wanted me to brew. He said ‘You’re the brewer,’” Smith said. “I get to make the kind of beers I want, the way I want to brew them.”
After taking the job and moving to Gold Beach, Smith got to work putting the brewery together with Brennan, cleaning the old cabinet shop, bringing tanks in, building a grain room and a cold storage unit.
Smith started homebrewing in 1999 in Utah and later worked in a homebrew supply shop.
“When I worked at the homebrew shop, I had no idea I could be a professional brewer,” Smith said.
But he got a job at Uinta Brewing, starting its barrel-aging program, before moving to Grand Teton, where he continued running its barrel aging program.
Smith foresees Arch Rock will barrel age some beer in the future. When beer is aged in barrels, it takes on different characteristics, depending on the kind of barrel used and how long it is aged for. For example, a beer aged in a barrel formerly used to age bourbon whiskey can take on flavors from the bourbon barrel, even though the beer has no bourbon in it.
So far business has been steady for Arch Rock, and the brewery has brewed 300 barrels; Smith expects to hit 500 barrels by the end of the year.
In addition to being on tap at several locations from Coos Bay to Harbor, the brewery has its own tasting room at 28779 Hunter Creek Loop, Gold Beach, where people can taste and purchase its brews.
“It’s been a good mix of locals and out-of-towners; actually a lot more than we expected,” Smith said. “It’s $8 for growler fills. We’ve been trying to keep it reasonable for local people.”
Smith said the brewery should continue its steady growth, and he doesn’t plan on getting too big too quickly. He’s excited there are so many craft beer drinkers in the area and is excited there are now other brewers in the area.
“The more people drinking craft beer the better,” Smith said. “When you drink beer from local people, you’re supporting local people, too.”
Getting most of the beer’s ingredients from the Pacific Northwest, the brewery has also reached out to local businesses to make everything from designing the logo to making tap handles for the brewery. Even the leftovers from the brewing process, the spent grains, are given to a local farmer to feed his cows, chickens and pigs.
“Not only do I get to live here, I get to do what I love,” Smith said. “It’s someplace I’ve always wanted to live and on top of it, I get to make beer.”
In the future, Smith says the brewery plans to brew 1,000 barrels of beer next year, and he plans to add a barrel aging program. He also anticipates brewing many styles beyond the porter, pale ale and lager the brewery currently makes.
“The sky is the limit — I want to brew everything,” Smith said.
Chetco Brewing Company
The view can’t be beat. From a garage overlooking the Chetco River, Chetco Brewing Company has been churning out unfiltered ales since the beginning of the year, occupying local tap handles at places such as Vista Pub and filling growlers every Saturday at the farmers market down at the Port of Brookings Harbor.
Owner and brewer Michael Frederick has been homebrewing for nine years, and a few years ago started dreaming about owning his own brewery, he made the jump earlier this year and brewed his first commercial batch in April.
But he soon realized his 5 gallon brew system was not going to cut it for making commercial beer. After talking to Smith at Arch Rock, Smith loaned Frederick his own home brew system that allows him to brew 90 gallons at a time instead of 5.
Scaling up from a small system to a larger one has left Frederick’s garage packed with kegs, equipment and stacks of grain bags. He has slowly been adding on to equipment, improving one piece at a time, all while he and his wife continue to work full-time jobs.
“We come home from work and we start working another job,” Frederick said.”It’s taking all of our time.”
Besides brewing beer, the Fredericks also grow 11 varieties of hops on their property, some of which has been included in the beer they brew.
So far Frederick has released 10 different kinds of beer, the first beer being the Willie Nelson IPA that was released on April 20, when the brewery received its license. Besides being on tap at Vista Pub, selling beer at the farmers market has been good for the brewery, giving Frederick direct feedback from the public.
Growing slowly in the near future appears to be on the menu for Chetco Brewing, with Frederick looking to add more fermentation space, a bright tank, a keg cleaner, as well as a larger brewing system. He has also been talking to local farmers about growing hops locally so he can source more of the ingredients from nearby. He hopes to also eventually hire a few people in order to create some jobs locally.
Along with the help Frederick received from Smith, he says the brewing community as a whole is incredibly supportive.
“The brewing community is super helpful and friendly. It’s rare to come across someone who isn’t,” Frederick said.
With all the opportunities to drink local beer, Frederick thinks great things could be in Curry County’s future.
“Curry County now has a brewery for every 7,000 people,” Frederick said. “We could make Curry County into a destination for beer, like Bend or Portland, because it already is a great destination.”
Have you ever been confused by all the jargon associated with craft beer? Here’s some information to help guide you through the next beer menu you see.
• Hops: A cone-like flower that adds bitterness and flavor to the beer.
• IBU: International bittering units, the measurement of bitterness in beer. The higher the IBU, the more bitter the beer.
• Malt: Barley that has been malted is one of the main ingredients in beer. Enzymes break down the sugars in malt, giving yeast something to eat and turning the sugar into alcohol. Barley can be malted to different colors, giving beer different colors and flavors.
• ABV: Alcohol by volume. The higher the number, the more alcohol in the beer.
• Ales: Beer made with yeast that ferments at around room temperature, about 65 degrees.
• Lagers: Beer that is made with yeast that ferments at a much colder temperature, around 45 degrees.
• Stout: Dark beer. It gets its darkness from dark-malted barley.
• IPA: India Pale Ale, a popular beer style in the Northwest that gets its name from the days when British brewers would brew a stronger, hoppier beer that could last the voyage from Britain to India in the 19th century. Characterized by stronger alcohol content and more hoppy bitterness, aroma and flavor.
• Wheat beer: Beer that includes wheat in its grains for brewing. A variety of different grains can be used in beer, from rye to sorghum.
LOCALS TO TRY:
Arch Rock Brewing
State of Jefferson Porter: Dark, chocolatey and rich, this tasty brew deserved the gold medal it earned at the North American beer awards. Probably one of the best porters out there — if you love dark beer, this is one to drink.
Pistol River Pale Ale: Balanced, refreshing, full bodied and everything an American pale ale should be. Perfect for warm September days sitting on the deck looking at a river.
Tight Lines Brewing
RIP Pale Ale: Light in color, well balanced, crisp and clean, about everything you would expect out of a pale ale. It’s not too hoppy, not too bitter, not too bland and not too alcoholic — it’s the Goldilocks of pale ales — just right.
Dog Hair Porter: There’s no dog hair in this rich, contemplative and fortifying beer. It is a perfect companion to staring at the fog as it rolls in.
Chetco Brewing Company
Thunder Rock IPA: Cloudy with a bitter bite, this IPA is a hoppy melange of flavor. It goes really well with spicy food.