Eugene has a growing yet manageable beer scene: Local breweries are not too few that we are subject to just one abysmal brew, but not too many that we can’t count them all and never know when another is popping up. In the briefest overview of Eugene, it’s immediately evident that there’s a wide variety of alcoholic concoctions. A lot of cities have beer breweries, some have cider, fewer have braggot, but Eugene has it all, including a thriving community of brewers specializing in barrel aging, local and organic ingredient sourcing and wild and classical fermenting styles.
This town pushes the boundaries of brewing by sending brewers yeast up to space (Ninkasi), and mixing unusual and unexpected flavors. Without further ado, here is a summary of the local breweries with some recommended beers, unique characteristics and a little backstory that makes visiting their tasting rooms all the more worthwhile.
Ninkasi is debatably Eugene’s most recognized brewery nationwide, but was co-founded by Nikos Ridge and University of Oregon alumnus Jamie Floyd in 2006 with a small, humble beginning in a rented space in Springfield. Ninkasi beers are quite good and the company has a wide selection from IPAs to stouts, although the hometown feel and intimate craft has diminished with their larger-scale production and need for continuity for thousands of cans.
At about $1.50 a can, I recommend Ninkasi’s Prismatic Juicy IPA. It’s a major step-up from a PBR and a comfortable introduction into IPA territory, with a light and fruity flavor on a backdrop of hops.
Founded the same year as Ninkasi, Oakshire took a different route, staying more local and finessing a wide selection of interesting beers, including a barrel-aged selection. For $5 to $7 a pint, I am excited to try Oakshire’s anticipated April 2019 release of the POG Smoothie, a hazy IPA conditioned with pineapple, orange and guava purees and vanilla beans. Their website claims that June will sport a Ghostbusters-inspired, literally glowing green sour ale. Well, we’ll just have to wait and see.
Alesong is next level. With experience founding the barrel ageing program for Oakshire, some old friends decided to embark on their own dream and open the doors of Eugene to a local renaissance of eclectic, elaborately cultivated beers.
Nestled in the quaint wine country 20 miles south west of Eugene, the brewers at Alesong don’t offer the cheapest beer, but maybe some of the most exquisite, taking time to barrel age their elixirs, offer some to wild yeasts and blend some in an old Belgian style of brewing.
At around $16 a bottle, this is one of the more expensive breweries near Eugene, but it provides some of the most memorable tastes and overall experiences.
Falling sky is not a pizza place — not just a pizza place. Serving beer on the University of Oregon campus and at two other brewpubs in Eugene, the local brewers are consistently changing their beer lineup, adding in sours, IPAs, stouts, smoked beers, ad infinitum.
At about $6 a pint, I recommend ordering one of their IPAs with a lower IBU. Falling Sky makes one of the most balanced yet flavorful IPAs in town, which makes for a refreshing and easy drinking experience.
Claiming to be the “first major brewery in Eugene,” Steelhead has held its legacy here for almost 30 years now, and through its journey, the brewery has gone on to win national awards. Steelhead/Mckenzie beers have won medals at the Great American Beer Festival almost every year from 1991 to 2006. Steelhead Brewing started Mckenzie Brewing as its distribution arm in 2014.
The beers on tap recently show that the Steelhead team is still interested in innovating and exploring the unmarked territories of beer. For example, their guavalicious beer is made by adding guava at two different stages of the brewing process and only filtered 80 percent, both of which show the brewers’ creativity and experimentation in making a fruit beer exactly to their liking.
On a farm north of Eugene near Coburg, Agrarian Ale has offered locals not only beer made from all organic ingredients, but an experience of hand picking hops and visiting a brewery located on the land that supports its fruits. But on March 28, New School (a beer news website) reported Agrarian’s closure, which comes after seasons of ceased production and legal troubles. Its website was shut down, too. Although there could be a chance of resurgence for the farm-to-bottle hero, new bottles aren’t being produced anytime soon. For those looking to get some of the last sips, a few remaining beers can be found at local bottle shops including the Bier Stein and 16 Tons.
The Wheel Apizza is obviously a Pizza-forward brew pub, but behind the scenes, locally-beloved former-Agrarian Ales head brewer Tobias Schock is now brewing off 4th Avenue and Lincoln Street. Schock is brewing everything from an Imperial stout aged in whiskey barrels to a barrel-fermented and dry-hopped brut IPA.
Pints go for $5 to $6 and they even have cans to go, despite their low-key appeal.
Beer is made from fermented barley. Mead is made from honey. Braggot is made from beer and mead, but has about the same consistency of beer with hints of the sweet honey flavor. Viking Braggot churns out a Pacific Northwest-Norse mashup, combining two millennia-old brews using local honeys.
Braggot is one of those drinks you have to grow accustomed to. Viking Braggot’s lineup concedes to beer nomenclature, so if you know you like IPAs, try the Battleaxe IPA braggot, and fans of red ales, try the Reverence dry hopped red ale. They also make seasonal specialties, and spring’s include fruit forward brews, one using raspberries, another with blueberries and hibiscus.
Founded by two brothers in 2015, Coldfire is not the only local brewery with a former-scientist head brewer. Their light beers tend to be hop-forward with bright tropical fruit notes. The Cumulus Tropicalis, a scientific-sounding name is intended to mean something like tropical cloud, has hints of passionfruit, peach and grapefruit. It’s both a tropical and hazy IPA, that is a relief to drink. But Coldfire also boasts a wide and impressive array of beer varieties.
Coldfire stands out with some of its beers’ being blended with other drinks such as the First Temptation, a sour ale blended with pomegranate juice, or the Affogato Ice Cream Ale, a coffee cream ale blended with cold-pressed coffee.
Hop Valley is a Eugene staple, but was purchased by MillerCoors in 2016. Local brewers don’t seem to be mad at Hop Valley or their founders, but more so at large beer conglomerates for buying small craft breweries and masquerading as such.
They brew some variety of beers, but overall, produce a lot of IPAs. Their vast IPA setlist at least shows a lot of experimentation: beers with cryo hops, added fruit and lower ABV.
Manifest Beer celebrated its anniversary and label release party Friday March 29. Seemingly one of the youngest breweries in town, co-founder and head brewer Brandon Woodruff has actually been around for a while. If you ever heard of Mancave Brewing, that was an earlier form of Manifest Beer, run by Woodruff in the Whitaker. The Exalted IPA made the jump from Mancave to Manifest, but Woodruff’s new venture has a lot more to offer. The passionfruit and lychee berliner weisse is somewhere between wheat beer and a sour ale. It is very tropical and incredibly refreshing. His slogan is “palate altering,” and the beers on tap step out of typical beer classification, testifying to how beer can make a person think.
Founded in 2018, Freehand is actually Eugene’s youngest brewery, and although it’s young, it will be turning the heads of beer drinkers. This artisanal brewery finds its peer with Alesong more than with the other breweries on the list. Founder and brewer Tyrone Reitman deals with barrel ageing, saison brewing and blending, and incorporating local ingredients. Many of the bottles come with a cork and cage top — an indication of what you might find on the price tag.
Sam Bond’s Garage is a Eugene music scene staple in the Whitaker district. Sam Bond Brewing, however, was founded in 2013; although it names and produces its beer out of the spirit of the original music venue and pub, the brewing venture is a little more new Whit than it is old Whit. Cans and bottles are minimally distributed in town, but both Sam Bond locations pour their beer, including a nitro stout (an incredible combination) and a hazelnut brown ale that is smooth and rich like Nutella.
Touting southern food fare, it makes sense that Elk Horn brewery would exceed in tart and acidic ciders, perrys and sour ales to cut through the rich and decadent meats and sides. Elk Horn has won several awards for its Perry (pear cider) and has innovated what cider can include, having brewed with blueberry and acai, peach and kiwi, black currant, raspberries, blood orange and plum. But sours and ciders aren’t the end of their fruit experimentation. They currently have a barrel-aged chocolate orange stout and a milkshake IPA made with tangerine, strawberry and blueberry.
Claim 52 was founded in 2012, but found its downtown home on Willamette Street more recently. They offer a lot of IPAs and hazy IPAs, probably because they’re so popular right now, but also because the brewers are skilled at making flavorful and robust unfiltered beers. What makes Claim 52 stand out is that it has collaborated with local dispensary TJ’s to brew cannabis-inspired beers and is coming out with a CBD soda. They also have examples of their innovation currently on tap with a saison using three strains of brett, a smoked stout and a gose — classically brewed with salt — pineapple and strawberry purees and vanilla bean.
Eugene’s longtime cider brewer, WildCraft Cider Works, does a lot of special things to set themselves apart and produce an astounding beverage. They frequently source their apples from local communities’ backyards and wild spaces. The bottles are also bottle conditioned (they add yeast right before they cap the bottles to carbonate) and always have an incredible variety of flavors, from plum to quince, and more unheard of ingredients such as nettle and sage. Bottles are a little more expensive than commercial cider brands, but in this instance, you really get what you pay for.
Cider is typically made by fermenting apples; adding in some honey would make it cyser, but slightly fortifying it with brandy technically defines what Cyderish founder and brewer Ryan Werthwein currently makes as “carbonated honey apple wine.” He experiments with bold flavors such as pineapple habeñero; raspberry, basil and serrano; mango ginger; and cucumber infused gin and lime. Cyderish bottles are easy to spot with a slender glass facade and shimmering gold debossing.