Many Oregon breweries have become high-profile operations with significant advertising budgets and sleek new brewpubs with roof-top patios attracting crowds of millennials from downtown high-tech firms that have become an important part of Portland’s new economy. The bravado is sometimes more for the underlying events and image of the venue than the beer.
Thebeerchaser is not suggesting this is a negative. In fact, the micro-craft industry, from its roots in the mid-1980’s by some pioneers including Don Younger, the Widmers and the McMenamins has become a multi-billion dollar industry providing family-wage jobs, attracting tourists to all parts of the state and even becoming an integral part of the higher-ed curriculum at Oregon State, University of Portland and Portland State University.
According to the Oregon Craft Beer website, by the end of 2016, “…the state had 230 brewing companies operating 261 brewing facilities in 73 cities across the state….employing roughly 31,000 Oregonians directly and indirectly and contributing $4.49 billion to the state’s economy.” 4/017 (The 2017 ending brewery count had grown to 245.)
However, today’s post of Thebeerchaser focuses on one of the more understated and yet highly regarded members of the brewing community which has great beer. Lompoc Brewing has four locations in Portland – down one when the Hedge House on SE Division closed last year. “Sadly, it seems to be a victim of increased competition, rising rents and bad weather combined with the lease being up for renewal.” – New School Bar, 11/19/17)
Lompoc’s website is almost too basic and not typical of a brewery with their profile and history. I featured the original pub (the New Old Lompoc) on NW 23rd in an 11/18/15 post on the blog, when I visited it with one of my favorite individuals, Dennis Ferguson, Senior Philanthropic Advisor for the Portland State University Foundation.
Accompanying us was Tygue Howland, a superb athlete in his high school and college days and now Associate Athletic Director at Portland State. We loved the ambiance of this small pub which “rose like the Phoenix” when the area around it was redeveloped.
I had the same reaction, as did my fellow Beerchasers, on two visits to one of the other Lompoc locations – the appropriately named Oaks Bottom Public House – in the heart of Sellwood and adjacent to the Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge.
Former Willamette Week Arts and Culture Editor, Martin Czimar, an expert on the Portland restaurant and brewing scene – in this excerpt from one of his last columns written before he left for a new job in Washington D.C. – wrote about Lompoc Brewing (although describing the NW 23rd pub, it fits Oaks Bottom as well):
“It’s just one story that illustrates why so many Portlanders are fiercely loyal to this friendly mini-chain, which was founded by Don Younger of Horse Brass fame before the ever-affable Jerry Fechter took over. Lompoc is perhaps the city’s archetypal brewpub of its generation—homey, friendly and totally lacking in all pretension.” (Willamette Week 3/4/18)
Now most Portlanders in the Baby Boomer era (including Thebeerchaser) know the late Don Younger as the legendary founder of the Horse Brass Pub – one of the older and more revered Portland pubs and Younger’s legacy based on his contributions to the fledgling craft industry.
If you have never been to the Horse Brass, you should visit it next time you are in East Portland. In fact, in Willamette Week’s “2016 Best of Portland,” the Horse Brass Pub was recognized for the best pub food in Portland: “….One of the most important pubs in the history of Portland’s brew culture. It also has some killer meat pies and fish and chips.” (In 2017, the weekly also recognized Horse Brass for the City’s best Fish and Chips.)
My own experience is described in this post I wrote in May, 2013: https://thebeerchaser.com/2013/05/23/the-horse-brass-pub-pinnacle-of-perfection/
However, we digress as is my tendency when talking about brews and breweries…..Back to the Lompoc Brewery…..In an Oregon Live article written in April 2017, Nathan Freeburg interviews the Lompoc Founder, Jerry Fechter, who the columnist describes as a “fun, friendly and gregarious guy,” about the origin of the Brewery:
“Fechter was working at ‘The Old Lompoc House’ on NW 23rd in the early ‘90’s. It was a small bar that got its name because it reminded the owner of an old bar from the ‘50’s. When craft beer started getting big in Oregon, Fechter figured out how to brew beer, went to beer school in Chicago and began building the brewery. They brewed their first batch in early 1996.
In 1999, the owners weren’t ‘into the whole craft beer thing,’ so he bought them out. ‘We were playing golf and I said, ’hey, can I buy the brewery?’ By the end of the round, we had agreed upon a price’ and the rest is history”
Accompanying Janet and me to the Oaks Bottom Pub were Beerchasing regulars Roy Lambert and Mary Maxwell – they also accompanied us on our first trip to the pub several years ago – both times after a good walk to enjoy the scenery described below.
Newcomer to our walking group and new to Oregon as well, Chris Hamm, who moved here recently from New Hampshire, joined us on the walk and Kate Dickson, met us at the pub afterwards for dinner and beer.
While Oaks Bottom had a nice feel in the past, the expanded space (they acquired the former dry cleaning shop next door) enhances the experience. It provides additional booths and tables to accommodate what can be robust crowds especially for the good Happy Hour values available. It also has a nice décor and a big fireplace for winter visits.
One trend in micro-brewing lately is to incorporate all kinds of weird ingredients when making beer in an ill-advised effort to be innovative.
According to an article in Paste Magazine, the list includes dill, horseradish, peppercorns, celery seed, maple syrup, molasses, margherita pizza, bourbon vanilla beans, Vietnamese cinnamon and peanut puree to name a few.
Fortunately, there was no indication that Lompoc decided to try leftover dry-cleaning solvents, from their expanded space, in a new beer release which could include turpentine spirits, benzene, carbon tetrachloride or liquid carbon dioxide in furtherance of this trend. Sorry, I just have no desire for a “Cleaned and Pressed IPA!”
The bar, itself, is a nice setup although most people use the tables and booths. It’s in a passageway that leads to the patio in the back – a much better option than the few tables on the sidewalk in front of the pub – right on busy SE Bybee Blvd..
While the menu can be described as pub food, it offers a lot of options and based on our experience, the food is pretty good and reasonably priced. On the first trip, one of us tried the fish and chips and a delicious cobb salad and rated them highly.
On this trip, we stuck to burgers and sandwiches – the Oaks Bottom Burger (1/2 lb. for $12) or a smaller one at Happy Hour and the chicken sandwich. While the HH hamburger is a good deal at $6, it does not compare favorably with some of the bars and pubs at which burger lovers rave. Examples include the Slow Bar and Wilder. (See prior Beerchaser reviews.)
But the tap list of Lompoc beers is the highlight – particularly the Proletariat Red, a former winner (2015) of a silver medal at the 2015 Great American Beer Festival. Craft Beer.com describes it as, “Deep chestnut in color…..features a toasted malt profile with biscuit undertones leading to notes of caramelized pear and cinnamon. It strikes an ideal balance between malt and hops.”
And the proximity to Reed College with its sometimes controversial reputation and the history of Portlander, John (Jack) Reed, (not the founder of Reed College as is often thought) but a key figure in the early Communist Party raises the question, why isn’t Reed’s picture on the back of the Proletariat Red bottle?
Reading about John Reed and Reed College is worth placing yourself in an easy chair at the Pub while having one of the Lompoc Beers. (For example, their Kick Axe Pale Ale – according to RateBeer.com: “The unofficial beer of the Timbers’ Army. Kick Axe is a crisp and nicely hopped pale ale that has been dry-hopped in the fermenter with whole leaf Cascades for a huge hop aroma.”)
One fascinating article describes John Reed’s interactions in Russia with Lenin and Trotsky in an article entitled, “Oregon lad became a founding father’s of Russian Communism.” He was buried with full military honors and is the only American to be buried in the Kremlin Wall!
Another example is this excerpt from a 2009 piece written by a Reed grad and activist – Ty Marbet, who interestingly enough, tried to get rid of gun free zones on Oregon college campuses including Reed:
“Depending on who you ask (Princeton Review, etc.), Reed is between 2nd and 8th ‘most politically and socially liberal’ college in the country, comparable to UC Berkely. Our school’s unofficial seal proudly sports the hallowed trinity: ‘Communism, Atheism, Free Love.'”
Finally, an extremely interesting and detailed article on John Reed is from the Marxist Internet Archive with intriguing references to the Arlington Club, Waverly Country Club, Dunthorpe and Portland society – part of John Reeds, young life in Portland – written by prolific Portland author, Michael Munk, another Reed College grad and university professor.
For example, on the first visit, we walked the trail along the Oaks Bottom Wild Life Refuge for which the pub is named. It’s an urban wetland popular with bird watchers and full of other critters including beavers, otters and cranes which sometimes pose for photographers.
It also provides some great views of the southern parts of Portland along the Willamette River – a great contrast to the wild and primitive nature of the area surrounding the trail.
This was a description from a 10/10/17 Willamette Week article on haunted hikes in Portland
“You’ll wind around Wapato Marsh, passing by the wildlife mural on the Portland Memorial mausoleum, which became the first crematory west of the Mississippi when it opened in 1901.
Eventually, you’ll turn left onto the Springwater Corridor and head toward Oaks Amusement Park. The amusement park is allegedly haunted by a young man and a little girl who died there long ago, according to Ghosthunting Oregon by Donna Stewart.”
And if you want a more urban, although highly scenic option, try meeting at the Crystal Springs Rhododendron Gardens adjacent to Eastmoreland Golf Course and across the street from Reed College and only 1.2 miles away from the pub.
While you’ll have to pay $5 per person for admission to the Gardens, the flowers and surrounding ponds are well worth the price.
And then we walked through the interesting trails on the Reed College campus which also includes more wooded landscape, streams and ponds. It’s also great to see the students lounging on the greens scattered through the campus which also has some interesting and historical buildings.
Even if you don’t supplement your trip with a hike, check out the Oaks Bottom Pub. This excerpt from a Yelp review last August sums up the situation pretty well and is typical of those you will see on social media.
“…….now it’s one of my favorite spots for dinner and/or drinks in the Sellwood neighborhood! I love that they expanded the place, so it’s definitely faster getting a table now. But I do tend to try to go before or after their busiest times.
The food is great (I actually love their salads!) and the drinks are strong in just the right way. Service is almost always awesome. And I love sitting by the fire on cold, rainy nights.”