Best bets for local craft brews

Flights are available at Portal Brewing Company in Medford. Mail Tribune / Julia MooreJulia Moore

It would be straight-up wrong to describe Southern Oregon's craft brewing scene as "up and coming." Rogue Valley brewers have been crafting quality beer and selling it at bars and farmers markets for years.

Walkabout Brewing owner Ross Litton is famous for brewing his first beers in his garage in the '90s before moving on to bigger things. The Central Point brewer distributes far and wide and boasts a taproom that rivals any you would find in the craft-beer meccas of Portland and Denver.

Ashland's Caldera Brewing was the first local craft brewer to can its award-winning beers and distribute them across the United States. Caldera recently built a stately taproom and restaurant on Clover Lane.

Southern Oregon Brewing's taproom in northeast Medford is often packed to near capacity with people bellying up to the bar for a pint of its Na Zdravi pilsner. You can now find SOB's beers on draught in several Portland bars.

Joining these established entrepreneurs are a group of hungry, up-and-coming brewers looking to make their mark on the local craft-beer scene. They might want to grow as large and varied as Caldera Brewing, or they might want to stay small and hyper-local. All we know is they are serious about beer and are definitely worth seeking out.

Apocalypse Brewing Company

Few breweries offer a more unique drinking experience than Apocalypse Brewing Company. The small-batch brewer offers a no-frills space in a west Medford industrial park that is often packed with a dedicated core of regulars who enjoy nothing more than pulling up a plastic lawn chair and imbibing a pint of brewer Nick Ellis' latest concoction.

If Apocalypse has a flagship brew, it has to be its Sixth Seal. You'd have to search far and wide to find a beer this aggressively hoppy. Ellis welcomes growlers, so be sure to fill up on this nectar to enjoy at home.

Apocalypse Brewing Company is at 545 Rossanley Drive, Suite 106, Medford. Hours vary daily, so be sure to check its website at www.apocalypsebrewing.com or call 541-210-8550.

Portal Brewing Company

We would need a full page to list and properly describe all the unique beers Mike Dimon brews for his corner taproom that occupies the ancient fire station in downtown Medford.

Portal features 14 taps of small-batch beer that is made with care and an adventurous spirit at Dimon's nearby house. If you had to choose just one to try, you would be doing yourself a huge favor to sip a pint of its Dances with Kokonuts, a big-flavored brown ale made with organic, toasted coconut. Sugary fake coconut syrups have no place in this beer, Dimon says.

"We make a lot of different beers, because we like to drink a lot of different beers," he says.

Come for the beer but stay for the food, much of which is GMO- and gluten-free. The menu includes hummus, lamb gyros and a rotating choice of soups.

Portal is at 100 E. Sixth St., Medford, at the corner of Sixth and Front streets. The taproom is open from noon to midnight Wednesday through Saturday. See www.portalbrewingco.com for details.

Bricktowne Barrel House

Bricktowne Brewing Company has been rolling strong since January 2012 and seems to be a destination spot for people who want a lively atmosphere to go along with their craft brew.

Bricktowne occupies a roomy space decorated with wooden casks converted into tables. We'd suggest you try the Ore-Gunslinger Double IPA. This is not a beer for the uninitiated. Veteran craft-beer drinkers will find much to appreciate in this full-bodied and malty IPA, which packs an alcohol-warming punch in the finish. You can also buy a T-shirt bearing the beer's label at the taphouse's gift area.

Bricktowne carries a full menu of taproom eats, so feel free to chow on a panini with your Ore-Gunslinger IPA.

Bricktowne is at 44 S. Central Ave., Medford. Call 541-973-2377 or see www.bricktownebeer.com.

Swing Tree Brewing Company

Swing Tree owner and brewer Brandon Overstreet has no grandiose plans to dominate the West Coast beer scene. He just wants locals and visitors to the Rogue Valley to enjoy his small-batch concoctions without feeling put upon.

"For right now, the only place that is going to serve our beer is our little spot," Overstreet says. "I want to stay small and local."

Overstreet brews on a half-barrel system out of a commercial space on Hersey Street in Ashland. The taproom is as unpretentious as Overstreet's beers. The goal here is to simply provide a space where you can sit down and enjoy the hard work of a true, small businessman.

Swing Tree's flagship beer is its Porch Swing Ale, an easygoing ale with peach and bright citrus notes and a dry finish. This is the type of beer you enjoy on a sunny and warm afternoon.

Overstreet intends to carry three taps at all times. He is brewing two beers right now, and the third tap will be taken by another small, local brewer such as Apocalypse. It's a staple of the small-brewer ethos that everyone sticks together and supports each others' endeavors, Overstreet says.

Swing Tree is at 300 E. Hersey St., No. 7, Ashland. Its grand opening is set for Saturday, Nov. 14. The taproom will open from 3 to 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday. Hours could expand in the future, Overstreet says. Call 541-591-8584 or see www.swingtreebrewing.com.


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