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Bring on Beer Week

To widen the reach of his craft beers, Ross Litton kept Walkabout Brewing Co. close to home.

The brewery based for almost 15 years from Litton's Central Point residence moved a few miles in November to a warehouse on Medford's Mason Way. Evoking a rustic watering hole in Australia's outback, Walkabout's taphouse will open Sunday for a public preview that kicks off the second annual Medford Beer Week.

Situating Walkabout against the industrial landscape of northwest Medford, Litton says he hopes the location will attract beer enthusiasts making the rounds of local breweries. It's handy to Highway 99 through Central Point and Highway 238 from west Medford to Jacksonville. Walkabout already is on the radar of delivery drivers and contractors who work in the vicinity, says Litton.

"They're all excited."

While Litton's label is familiar to many in the Rogue Valley, Walkabout took longer than most industry contemporaries, including Ashland's Caldera, to transition from home to bona fide brewery. The journey, however, is in keeping with Litton's persona. Originally from Australia, the 45-year-old found his way to the Rogue Valley 22 years ago and stayed.

"I felt like I was on a walkabout or whatever," says Litton of his business moniker.

Litton learned the brewers' trade with Rogue Ales, formerly of Ashland, and branched out on his own as the microbrewing movement picked up speed locally and nationally. Most breweries that proliferated locally in the 1990s are no longer in business, says Litton. But he stayed small, self-distributing in towns north of the Rogue Valley and distinguishing his brand with icons from Down Under.

Wallaby White, Platypus Porter, Croctoberfest and St. Outback Stout complement Walkabout's best-know beer, Worker's Pale Ale, as well as Jabberwocky Strong Ale and Point the Bone IPA, originally a seasonal brew for Halloween. Litton says he plans to debut Hops Away Imperial IPA for Beer Week.

Taphouse visitors can catch a bus from Medford's Beerworks every 15 minutes from 2 to 6 p.m. Sunday, June 10. Walkabout samples also will be available next week at Howiee's On Front, The Gypsy and Porters, where Litton will host a "meet the brewer" reception from 5 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, June 12.

"It's getting a lot more focused," says Chris Dennett, co-owner of Beerworks and Beer Week organizer.

Yet Beer Week festivities expanded this year to Jacksonville, which "deserved to be part of it," says Dennett. The town's Frau Kemmling Schoolhaus Brewhaus and Bella Union plan multicourse beer dinners, along with Howiee's, Habaneros and Dennett's Elements Tapas Bar & Lounge in downtown Medford. Priced between $20 and $50, the dinners require advance reservations.

"From a food aspect, it's exciting to see so many different beer dinners ... and beer pairing," says Dennett.

Buttercloud Bakery & Cafe, 4 Daughters, Havana Republic, Jackson Creek Pizza Co. and The Wharf restaurants also plan food specials and tastings throughout the week. The event culminates Saturday, June 16, with the Southern Oregon Craft Brew Festival in downtown Medford. Twenty-five breweries will offer 47 beers for tasting from noon to 8 p.m.

For the complete schedule and pricing see www.medfordbeerweek.com and www. socbrewfest.com.

Reach Food Editor Sarah Lemon at 541-776-4487 or email slemon@mailtribune.com.

Ross Litton samples some of his Walkabout beer at his new brewery and taproom on Medford's Mason Way. - Bob Pennell