Thanks to its proximity to Eugene, Corvallis has a bit of a self-image problem – even though it shouldn’t.
Eugene, the larger of the two college towns, is home to the University of Oregon Ducks. Corvallis, a closer drive to Portland but a bit off the interstate, is home to the oft under-appreciated Oregon State University Beavers. Eugene is known for its colorful hippie vibe and Nike-infused support. With OSU being the land-grant university, Corvallis is a bit more rural, agriculturally based and utilitarian.
A recent weekend visit to Corvallis revealed a growing craft beer culture and one with quite a history as well.First stop was the Oregon Trail Brewery, which was aptly named, as it has been in existence since 1987. Dave Wills is the brewer at Oregon Trail, creating a lineup of a half-dozen or so standard beers that are anything but regular. Wills also is the founder of Freshops, homebrewers’ original mail-order source for fresh, whole and organic hops, thanks to Corvallis being situated smack in the middle of Willamette Valley’s hop farms.
Oregon Trail’s space is quite small, but he has built in some rustic yet effective changes over the years to make it more efficient. It shares a building with the Old World Deli, a popular downtown eatery where all the Oregon Trail beers are served alongside tasty, towering sandwiches.
Wills beers include a refreshing 4.2 percent ABV Wit, a multiple award-winning brown ale, an IPA that is not over-the-top in hops, Smoke Signal – Will’s take on a rauchbier – and a Ginseng Porter, infused with four different types of ginseng: American, Siberian, Korean and Tienchi ginseng, which is purported to provide a number of health benefits in addition to being a natural stimulant. Take that Red Bull! Wills also has a small space reserved upstairs in the very vertical brewery to dabble in barrel-aging and blending. His Bourbon Barrel Porter is a yearly rarity that is truly a treat.It was the two-year anniversary on Feb. 21 for Block 15, which is named for the plot number of the building in the original town — called Marysville until all the mail was sent to Marysville, Calif.
Brewer/owner Nick Arzner is doing some amazing stuff at Block 15. The regular lineup of beers is enough to enjoy, but the other half of the list features ongoing results from his and his brewers’ active imaginations. February is Bourbon Month at Block 15, so the specialty half of the beer menu featured such wonderful barrel-aged offerings as Pappy’s Dark, a 10 percent ABV sipper with a velvety texture, and a warm bourbon finish and Super Nebula, a brooding black brew, with woody, chocolate, caramel and bourbon aromas, a deep, rich texture and flavors of coffee, vanilla, figs and molasses. Six Hop Wonder, a super florally hop blast of a double IPA and Love Potion #9, a fabulous stout that was conditioned with local black raspberries were also standouts that were featured on the specialties list.Block 15’s building used to be the home of the local newspaper, the Gazette-Times; the huge cellar that once was used to store newsprint is now Arzner’s playground. That’s where he stores beers in both Grundy tanks and different wine and spirits barrels for future blending and crafting. Judging by the samples that we all enjoyed, it’s a safe bet to say that there are some really interesting things coming up in Block 15’s future. Another brewpub is opening up between Oregon Trail and Block 15, giving locals a great excuse for a very walkable downtown pub crawl – especially if you include a few of the taphouses and bars that are on the way. Flat Tail Brewing, slated to open at any time, will have nearby Albany’s Calapooia Brewing’s beers on (one Flat Tail partner is Calapooia’s owner, Mark Martin) until Calapooia’s old system, can get up and operational. Martin says Calapooia will soon be brewing on the former Siletz brewery with plans to reformulate and revive some of the Siletz beers down the road.
It’s great to see the craft beer culture finally taking off in Corvallis, and cheers to even more success in this quiet college community in the future.
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