Don't underestimate the influence and work ethic of two guys who really like beer.

Don't underestimate the influence and work ethic of two guys who really like beer.

Chris Dennett and William Macleoud, the organizers of Medford Beer Week, a celebration of yeast and hops that kicked off Sunday, are looking to bring business and a little bit of pride to downtown Medford.

Dennett, who owns Elements Tapas Bar & Lounge, believes Medford is an underrated force in Oregon's thriving craft beer industry.

"The beer scene is huge here," Dennett said. "This is an industry that Medford can really grab on to. It gives people a reason to come here for quality food and quality beer and not skip over us to go to Ashland or Jacksonville."

The idea struck Dennett and Macleoud last year and they've spent a large chunk of time lining up restaurants and bars to host more than 50 beer-related events through Saturday, June 18.

The goal was to push "State of Jefferson" brews from Southern Oregon and Northern California such as Walkabout, based in Central Point, and Medford's Southern Oregon Brewing Co., Macleoud said. "Oregon leads the nation in craft beer," he said. "Medford shouldn't get lost in that. There is remarkable craft beer made here."

Macleoud, a sales manager with Mad River Brewing Co., out of Blue Lake in Northern California, said many of the downtown business owners he spoke to were eager to join the event.

The duo rounded up around a dozen downtown businesses willing to offer beer specials on various nights. The events range from high-end meals paired with specific brews to free open mic and karaoke nights featuring prizes and giveaways.

They were hands-off when it came to what specials and events were offered, opting to raise sponsorship money for advertising and building the event's website.

They left it to each business to decide their own specials and celebrations.

Dennett suggested the best way to enjoy the week is to support your favorite bar or restaurant's event, but take a moment to try a new place.

"We want people to have a reason to come and explore downtown," Dennett said. "Hopefully, people from other towns who normally won't come to here for whatever reason, will stop by and find that Medford has a lot to offer."

Soon, breweries from across Oregon and California came on board. Ninkasi of Eugene and Hair of the Dog Brewing Co. of Portland will host meet-and-greet nights with their head brewers.

"We had some breweries call us at the last minute hoping to get in, but we had to turn them away because it was too late," Dennett said. "I think next year, this will be even bigger. Beer companies will put this on their calendar next year."

Jenn Brown, manager of Southern Oregon Brewing Co., said Medford is a growing hotspot for craft brew.

Southern Oregon Brewing Co. hosts weekly tours of the brewery, something that has drawn the increasing interest of locals and tourists alike.

"People want to know about where the beer they love comes from," she said. "They also realize that we are companies that help the area's economy by bringing in local dollars and providing living-wage jobs. It gives Medford a sense of local pride."

Dennett believes a beer celebration fits Medford's blue-collar roots.

"We already have wine and cheese festivals in other towns," he said. "They are great, but there's something about beer that's more laid back. You have beer snobs, of course, but beer people mostly just want to enjoy quality beer and have a good time."

Dennett and Macleoud are confident Medford Beer Week will become a yearly staple, much like the Medford Cruise.

"We're looking forward to a great week," Macleoud said. "Spreading the gospel of beer has always been a passion of mine."

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Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471 or email