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Medford tours you can drink to

Like most seasonal business operators, Will Volpert wanted to find a way to extend the season for his guided tour company, or at least provide an additional revenue stream.

Assessing his surroundings, the owner of Indigo Creek Outfitters in Ashland thought about wine tours, but it didn't really feel right.

Then Volpert discovered a brewery tour in downtown Bend and began mulling the possibilities.

After testing local watering holes, Volpert came up with a four-stop tour of Medford breweries, giving Indigo Creek Outfitters something new to offer during the winter and another option for summer tourists.

"Ever since we opened our doors in 2011, we've been looking to expand to different rivers or entirely into a different industry," said Volpert. "Wine didn't seem right, we had the vehicles to do it but it didn't seem to fit into our culture. We're more folks who like going to a small brewery and drinking beer — especially after a day of rafting."

So Volpert went to the source — the beer source, that is — and lined up a tour featuring one of Medford's newest beer makers, Apocalypse Brewing Co., to go with Walkabout Brewing Co., Bricktowne Brewing Co. and Southern Oregon Brewing Co.

"Essentially we're going from the smallest to largest," Volpert said.

Although some tours are scheduled other days beginning in March, the initial outings have five-hour Saturday afternoon expeditions. Customers sample 20 beers — roughly a pint per stop — catch a snack and are driven back to Ashland (there's also a Medford pickup and drop-off spot). The cost is $65 per person, designated tour guide and driver included, with a 12-passenger capacity.

The band of tasters receive an Indigo Creek bag, bottled water and a tasting notebook with a set of tasting guidelines from the American Homebrewers Association to help them to score each beer.

"Realistically, most people will just jot down notes," he admitted.

Apocalypse Brewing, operated by Nick Ellis, at 545 Rossanley Drive, is first for one primary reason — it's small. Once the regulars begin showing up, there's not a lot of room for a group of 12.

"Apocalypse is what you would call a nano-brewery, because they brew on such a small barrel system," Volpert said. "Nick will tell us how he got into the business and we will see some of the hops and grains used in his beers."

Walkabout, the oldest of the four breweries, began operations in 1997 in Ross Litton's Central Point garage.

"The cool thing about Walkabout is that it's really off the beaten path," Volpert said. "We've taken people from Medford on the tour and they didn't know the brewery was there. It's in the industrial part of town, so people wouldn't be going that way unless they were going there."

Bricktowne, operated by Craig McPheeters, turns out tacos to go with its 10 on-tap beers.

"Craig talks about the grains and hops used to create his beers," Volpert said. "It's probably the most educational part of the tour."

Tom Hammond, owner of Southern Oregon Brewing, helped develop the itinerary and tested it out during December.

"Four breweries is just right," Volpert said. "Five would be too many."

At some point there might be an Ashland tour, he said. Caldera and Standing Stone, however, are generally packed during the peak tourist months, he said.

On the backside of the season, Volpert has lined up a three-day "Pints at Paradise" trip down the Rogue River which, naturally, stops off at Paradise Lodge. The Sept. 20-22 venture runs $990.

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or email business@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregMTBusiness, and read his blog at www.mailtribune.com/Economic Edge.

Bricktowne Brewing Co. in downtown Medford is among the four breweries that will be included in a beer makers tour offered by Indigo Creek Outfitters. - Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch