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A brew with a view at Caldera

With comfortable seating inside or out, Caldera Brewery and Restaurant offers 45 craft beers on tap, a large menu with lots of choices, and a pastoral view of the hills east of Ashland.

While about 25 of the beers are sold retail or in the downtown Caldera Tap House, most are only available at the Clover Lane restaurant.

We’re Caldera regulars, Ed and I, so we don’t have to think too hard about the menu. Sometimes it’s just beers and starters after a long day. Our usual is the hot pretzel accompanied by a chipotle cheddar cheese sauce and Pilot Rock Porter mustard with tender seeds. Sometimes we order mushrooms stuffed with Rogue Creamery’s Smokey Blue, and the Coconut Prawns with Mother Pucker sweet and sour chili sauce are sometimes just the thing.

If it’s dinner, choices are tougher because there are many options, and each is paired with a recommended Caldera brew. There are also many vegan and gluten-free options.

We watched as 12 orders of White Truffle Mac ‘n' Cheese were served up and our mouths watered. Burgers are classic of course, pizzas (by the slice or pie) are distinctly original and the salads generous. If you’re a fan of beer-cheese soup, Caldera’s Ashland Amber Beer Cheese soup is tops. Ed always has a Tap House burger cooked medium with Tillamook Cheddar and fries at $12. The beef is tender and flavorful on a house-made toasted bun, the shoestring fries crispy. And me? I’ll have today's Food and Beer Pairing at $15, a marinated skirt steak with sautéed onions and peppers on Caldera’s Ashland Amber roll, finished with arugula and chipotle cheddar and served with a Helles Lager.

On this hot hot day, Ed’s selected a taster (it is really hard to choose among the craft brews), and I added a thirst-quenching Hibiscus Rose Petal Ice Tea (one of Caldera’s new Soda Works line). Needless to say, there’s no room for dessert, but maybe next time we’ll split a float made with Caldera’s Coconut Porter or Mogli Imperial Chocolate Porter.

Service is quick but not pressured at Caldera Brewery and Restaurant, and there’s lots to look at while you’re there. Inside, marvel at owner and brewer, Jim Miller’s collection of 4,678 beer bottles at last count, every one unique and placed carefully on wall shelves that reach the high ceiling (the bottles are glued down just in case of a trembler). The back bar is a beautifully crafted purple mosaic, 3-foot timber slabs form the tables and bottle cap art is everywhere.

Sit outside, and the world changes. The view of the Siskiyous is astounding and the wind blows steadily keeping the air fresh and cool no matter the temperature. I sit outside when I want to be alone and look at the mountains or when I’m with friends with dogs, welcomed and watered right at the table.

Caldera has been an Ashland landmark for a long time, brewing first in a non-descript building elsewhere on Clover Lane and, in 2012, at the new brewery and restaurant. This year is the 20th anniversary of Caldera’s flagship beer, Ashland Amber and the year that Jim Mills first started brewing. Locals will remember the word of mouth dock sales at the old building, and they’re coming back this summer, just stay tuned for news.

Caldera Restaurant and Brewery, open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily, is at 590 Clover Lane, just off Exit 14 on Interstate 5. Happy hour is 4 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. Call 541-482-HOPS to make reservations for groups of eight or more.

— Maureen Flanagan Battistella is a free-lance writer who lives in Ashland, Oregon. She can be reached at mbattistellaor@gmail.com.

A craft beer sampler, Tap House burger with Tillamook Cheddar and fries and marinated skirt steak with sauteed onions and peppers on Calderaís Ashland Amber roll. [Photo by Maureen Battistella]