Fairgoers can expect to get a taste of life in Southern Oregon at the annual Jackson County Fair — except for a taste of local craft beers.
Going on its 158th year, the fair is about “showcasing added-value food and beverages, as our regional wine, cheese, beer and fruit industries compete internationally,” according to the Fair Board’s mission. But this year's drink menu has no local breweries, despite the booming local micro-brewing industry.
The beers are provided through a large distributor, Columbia Distributing, which is one of the fair's sponsors.
Bartender Debbie Smith has spent her summers serving drinks at the fair for 12 years. Her booth, located near the entrance, is famous for its frozen margaritas — aided no doubt by the 90- to 100-degree weather that arrives about the same time as the fair every year.
“People love the margaritas — that’s my most popular drink,” Smith said.
But there hasn’t been much changes on the menu over years, she said. On tap, she has Coors Light, Mike’s, Blue Moon, Corvallis’ 2 Towns’ Angry Orchard and one Bend-based Deschutes’ beer.
"The Deschutes' beer sometimes changes, depending on the year," she said.
Mike Dimon, owner of Portal Brewing Co. in Medford, said he hasn’t thought of getting his beer served at the fair.
“It’s not up to me — it’s really up to the people who run the fair,” Dimon said. “If they honestly want the fair to represent what the county has to offer, they would have contacted all the breweries.”
Jackson County Expo Director Helen Funk said there's little focus on beer at the fair, regardless of where it's produced. She said a beer festival held at the Expo in September is a better venue for local breweries.
"We don't focus heavily on alcohol at the Jackson County Fair," Funk said. "It's a family event."
Dimon said he thinks the lack of local beers comes down to a convenience factor for the fair.
“There’s always a desire to have local beers represented at local events,” Dimon said. “But it’s easier for them to make a phone call to a distributor and ask for whatever beer is available.”
This year, the fair is sponsored in part by Columbia Distributing, which in turn contracted with Ubhill One Commission, a locally owned mobile bar service. Smith said Ubhill One has been providing beers at the fair for more than a decade. “There’s no competition,” she said.
Fair bartender Demian Hunt, with a selection of beers on tap at his booth, said he served about 18 kegs of Coors Light and a total of 36 kegs of beers the first day of the fair.
“It (Coors Light) sells like crazy,” Hunt said. “It’s a popular, mellow beer that people can drink off of, but the micros are doing pretty well, as well.”
Hunt said Coors Light is likely a big seller because most people order familiar brands. Coor Lights is also the cheapest drink on the menu, at $4 per cup, compared to other options at $5 or $6.
Fairgoer Terrence Terrones said craft beers are his go-to choice of beverage because of their unique tastes and characteristics. He bought a Deschutes Mirror Pond Ale to cool down between carnival rides with his three sons.
“This is all I drink,” Terrones said of microbrews. “I don’t drink soda, so if I want anything besides water, craft beer is my go-to. (Microbrewing) is so big now in Medford and Ashland, with more breweries moving in. It’s definitely growing.”
Jackson County may not have as many craft brewers as Portland, Bend or Eugene, but it has seen an increase of registered brewhouses in the last decade, according to data from Oregon Liquor Control Commission.
The fair runs through Sunday, with free admission the final day.
— Tran Nguyen is a reporting intern for the Mail Tribune. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.