Thursday, May 24, 2012

Brewers Union Local 180 - Oakridge, Oregon

Finally! Only four years after the one-of-a-kind Brewers Union Local 180 opened in the out-of-the way location of Oakridge, Oregon, I finally paid a visit this week and was able to sample a range of brewer Ted Sobel's cask-conditioned beers in their native habitat.

In case you're not familiar with Brewers Union, it's a pub which brews and serves "real ale" in the sense of England's Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA).  Ted brews beer in 2-barrel batches -- that's British imperial barrels, about 2.8 Yankee barrels -- conditions them in firkins, and serves them at cellar temperature in 20-ounce imperial pints.  The small batches are open-fermented, typically between 4% and 5% ABV, and drawn from the firkin with hand pumps.  So, the proprietor must be a homesick British expat, right?  Er, no, but he did learn the trade during a stint a few years ago at a Lake District pub called the Woolpack Inn.

There were only four house-made beers on the pumps Monday when Carla and I were in Oakridge, all delightful:
  • Wotcha Best Bitter - 4.3%: smooth and honeyed, balanced with a touch of earthy hops.
  • Good With Bacon Special Bitter -  4.9%: light caramel flavor, nice balance of bitterness.
  • 3 Sigma Out IPA - 5.3%: beautiful floral aroma, light body, long hop finish.
  • Cumbrian Moor Porter - 4.8%: smooth and roasty without being charred; full-bodied but not cloying.
I enjoyed all the beers, but Wotcha -- this batch made with Mt. Hood hops -- was the standout and I came back to it again and again.  It might have an alcohol content lower than Budweiser, but it was packed with flavor.  Ted credits the Maris Otter malt from Thomas Fawcett with the great taste.  Northwest aroma hops in most of the beers provide a nice counterpoint to the otherwise studiously English recipes and presentation.  The food menu, too, is more Oregon than England, though there is an obligatory fish and chips plate (I got mine with sweet potato fries).

The usual IPA -- Union Dew -- was out when we were there, but a fifth pump had on a nice malty cask of Block 15's Ridgeback Red -- at 6.3%, pretty potent compared to the BU180 beers.  There are always a few guest kegs of "regular beer" on tap for non-believers. Monday's guests were Oakshire Domaine du Lane Saison, Oakshire Watershed IPA, Seven Brides Chocolate Stout, and Hale's El Jefe Hefeweizen. There was also a cider on tap from Wandering Aengus, and a mead from Eugene's Blue Dog Meadery.

A lot of attention goes into the brewing, storage, and serving of the ales, but Ted says the important thing about Brewers Union is that it provides a space where people can get together and socialize.  He is a very hands-on publican, mingling with the customers, and getting to know them by name.  I once needled him for setting up such an idiosyncratic pub pretty much in the middle of nowhere -- Oakridge (pop. 3220) is the only incorporated city in Oregon that lies entirely within a national forest -- but his response was simple:  "Every town needs a pub".  It is a cute little town, surrounded by miles of beautiful scenery, and now that I've seen it, I do think it's a great place for a pub. If you ever have the time, take the hour's drive out from Eugene and experience it for yourself.


  1. That every year arrives with Ted still making beer is heartening. One pint at a time, he's slowly converting us to the joys of cask. And you couldn't find a prettier part of the planet.

  2. Went there nearly two years ago and loved it. Would be great if it were a little closer to Portland though, or if something similar opened here.


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