Is it time Salem?

I recently commented on a Salem Blog called What’s Up With That after the author had discussed the lack of local brewpubs in downtown Salem.  I know what your thinking, McMennamins has two locations in Salem and The Ram is right across from Willamette University so why would Salem need more breweries?  However, let’s face it, these establishments are both chains. Don’t get me wrong, I like McMennamins a lot and while The Ram can make good beer I’ve always had my druthers about their food and atmosphere.  Really, it comes down to the fact that Salem really doesn’t have it’s own brewpub. Oregon has the largest number of breweries per capita in the country and the Willamette Valley is pretty much the beer capital of the world.  So why is it that Salem is a brewery dead zone?

I grew up in Silverton and my wife grew up in the Pratum area.  Both of us know the Salem area well; we have lived in and around Salem for most of our lives until last year when we moved up to Kenniwick, WA (Part of the Tri-Cities in south-east Washington). We’ve always thought it such a shame that if we wanted to go to a “real brewery” we had to head to Corvallis or Portland. I know that Salem is more of a blue collar crowd compared to Eugene, Corvallis, and Portland but that is changing.  Also I know from working up here in Kennewick that a blue collar crowd can more than support a local brewery.  There have been breweries that have tried and failed in Salem and I’ve always wondered if that was because of the population or because of the establishment, but I’m guessing the latter.  That fact got me thinking a lot as I became a full time brewer at Ice Harbor Brewing up here in Kennewick.

My wife and I will be moving back to the Willamette Valley next summer and we have seriously discussed starting a brewery in Salem.  For us right now it’s more of a dream than a reality but that really hinges on knowing if Salem is ready and if inverstors are willing to take a chance with us on this venture.  I’d really like to start something unique in Salem; we’ve talked about doing organic beers, Belgian beers, and even lagers as a way to separate ourselves from all of the over the top hop bomb breweries out there (even though we like making those too).  Ideally we would have 7-10 beers available and very tasty salads and wood fired pizzas (think something like American Dream in Corvallis). We’ve also thought about locations a lot and an obvious choice is a historical building downtown but we’ve even thought about doing a organic brewery in the Pringle Creek Sustainable Community development (which would be a blast!).

So what say you?  Is Salem ready for a unique, family friendly brewing establishment?  Or am I wasting my time?  Any comments would be greatly appreciated as every word of encouragement or discouragement will help us decide our path.

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26 Responses

  1. Waterfront! Salem needs tasty beer on the waterfront! Riverfront Park/Boise Project needs a pub. Whether the zoning and whatnot would permit one is entirely another question. And indeed the time-frame might be wrong on that development. Maybe the warehouses on the north of the Union St RR Bridge? And as you say the historic buildings downtown.

    Excellent idea not to focus on the hop bomb and extreme IPA. Plenty of folks mining that territory very well already.

    Keep brainstorming & ruminating!

    • Waterfront especially in the new development that once was Boise Cascade would be awesome, I’m guessing it would be super expensive though. I’d really like to make some good lagers maybe bring “Salem Beer” back as well as making some tasty ales that are sessionable.

  2. I would *love* to have a local brewery here in Salem. I go to Corvallis and there is Block 15..which is great!

    In Bend, which is *very* working class and has one of the State’s worst hit economies, they have seven microbreweries!

    I’m dying for a local brewhouse to be here in town with a pub and taproom. hell, I’ll even help promote the heck out of through my craft brew blog and all my beer blogging friends as well!

    • Hey I’ve been dying for a great local brewery in Salem as well. I love Block 15 but I really wish I could bring something like Block 15 to Salem so people don’t have to go so far all the time. I like Block 15’s variety of beers, they don’t stay constrained to NW hop bombs but freshen up old world styles. I’ll be honest people want IPAs, it’s like 70% of the sales of the brewery I work for, so I will have a tasty flavorful IPA but I also want to do more interesting beers like lagers, wine barrel aged beers, and Belgian beers.

  3. Yes, please. I’ve lived in Salem for 10 years and have been dying for a local brewery for nearly that long. Love the idea of an organic brewery in the Pringle Creek development, too.

  4. Here’s my $.02. Become known for your beer first and then open a brew pub. People will hesitate about going to your restaurant if they don’t like(or know about) your beer, especially if you only offer your brand. I’m saying this as someone who would rather have an established microbrew, import or domestic rather then experimenting on an unknown. Ram/The Ram brews pretty good beer but they also offer a variety of others satisfying all customers. Good luck with this, I hope that you get down here and do it.

    • I agree with you to a point, I have really seriously considered starting a very small production brewery just to get my name out there, but I’m not sure that I need to sell other established breweries beer at my pub along with my beer. There are some breweries popping up around Salem, they are doing a great job, but I’m also aware that they are having a rough start with some quality issues and such. Believe me there is a huge learning curve going from home brewing to professional brewing and to expect an emerging brewery, that has only home brew experience, to be up with the big guys out of the gate is just not a realistic expectation. I have been a professional brewer for a year now, I have established recipes, I know how to make a consistent and quality product, and I’m confident that I can make a product that will attract beer geeks and casual beer drinkers alike. I’m sure I’ll make it back down to Salem, hopefully I can get something off the ground.

  5. Adam – you and I have already talked about this, but I wanted to reiterate something here: establish your brewery, get your name out there and then move downtown and do your brewpub/pizza concept. Sell only your beer (people don’t like it, they don’t have to have beer) but maybe think about occasionally doing a ‘guest tap’ with another local brewery once in awhile. It’ll get people that haven’t tried your beer yet to come in. And stick to local beverages – you probably won’t be able to get away with not having Coke or Pepsi but bring in lots of locally bottled sodas, ie Crater Lake Soda, Hot Lips, Jones…we have so many great resources around here – I think Salem will go crazy over a restaurant that actually uses them!
    And you KNOW we’ll be serving your beer here at WBC :]

    • Oh yeah I totally plan on having guest taps and I’d like to use Fordyce fruit to make sodas. Oh and because it’s too hard to make a beer like it, I’ll always have PBR on tap! Having a restaurant is a lot of work, I’d rather just brew beer, but I have learned that unless you plan on getting large fast having a production brewery is a money losing proposition. Heck I’ve even considered having a beer cafe in Salem, much like Belmont Station, I’d just have lots and lots of other people’s beer, but I’m not sure Salem can support a bottle shop. There is a lot to think about at this point but like I said I’m very open to suggestions. Thanks for the advice Sarah.

  6. Yes, please. Salem really really needs some microbrews! We are all waiting. Hurry!

  7. I think it’s embarrassing Salem doesn’t have its own brewpub. Just look at Ventis, it’s one of the only places in town you can get good beer and the place is packed all the time. All I can say is along with a good product you need a good location and atmosphere. One problem I see in Salem is establishments have a hard time creating something unique and lively. That’s what Mcmenamins does so well, even though their beer and food is below par they create a place people still want to go to. So I say go for it! I know I’ll be there.

    • It does seem like establishments in Salem, and a lot of other places for that matter, have a hard time creating atmosphere. I can guarantee that we would have a atmosphere that would not disappoint. My wife and I always make mental notes about things we like and dislike about every brewpub we go to. If we really find that we can make a go at this it would be nice to have all of your opinions to put into consideration as to what would make the perfect brewpub for Salem.

  8. […] his post titled “Is it Time, Salem“, he talks about how Salem is in need of a microbrwerey and asks whether we’d like a […]

  9. Have you talked to Gilgamesh about maybe doing a joint effort? Gilgamesh is starting to get a local following and having their brew plus your own might get you a following for the pub or maybe launch the pub with a beer tasting event with local breweries.

    You should come down for the beer and cider fest on Sept 25th. Obviously any beer lovers will be there and it would give you a chance to do some market research on what locals would want in a pub.

    I have some location ideas, but none of them would be cheap. They need work.

    • I’ve talked to them a little but just about the legality of opening a production brewery outside of the city limits. I’m not sure what they have in mind for their direction some day, it may not be a brewpub, I know plenty of brewers that don’t want to mess with that. Honestly I’d be totally open to having their beers as a guest tap but I don’t really want to have our beers competing. I’d really like to be involved with the other breweries around even to the point of doing collaboration beers but I don’t really see partnering with another brewery, maybe working for one though, if I can’t get my brewery off the ground.

  10. Having several of my formative years near Salem, I am quick to defend its reputation. I’ve heard people bemoan it as a cultural desert, devoid of any stimulation greater than a handcrafted carousel (which I loved watching come to life at the hands of artists in Liberty Plaza).

    I say Salem is one of Oregon’s greatest potentials for improvement. A locally-owned and operated brewpub is one essential step in lifting Salem’s reputation. Especially if it’s borne from your desire to see Salem take its rightful place among the great brew cities of Oregon.

    No doubt it will be a challenge, so call on others for help. Reach out to Bend, Eugene, and Corvallis for suggestions, promotions. I just recently completed the Bend Ale Trail with a group of friends, a great example of how a city’s tourism board can help up-and-comers (think Boneyard Brewing).

    Indeed, it is time for Salem to have a place where I can sit and enjoy a frosty brew and brick oven pizza after a drive over the mountains. Make it known and I’ll be there!

    Cheers!

    • I think that is what I like about starting a brewery in Salem, there is still room for improvement. If I tried starting a brewery in Portland or Bend I’d just be another one but in Salem it’s uncharted territory. That fact is also what scares me the most, why is it that Salem doesn’t have a locally owned brewery? Is it because no one has tried or is it because people have researched it and it doesn’t pencil out?

      • In the 90s, the Willamette Brew Pub operated in the space where Alessandro’s is today – 120 Commercial NE. So a Brewpub was tried, and for whatever reason they weren’t able to sustain success.

        Thompson’s opened around the same time. They are still around.

        We don’t know anything about the Willamette Brew Pub ownership, but if another reader did and could help with an introduction or connection, it’s probably be worth your while to learn more about why Willamette Brew Pub closed up.

      • Hmm that’s interesting I didn’t even know they existed, course in the 90’s I wasn’t old enough to drink so I don’t know why I would have paid attention anyway. I’ll have to look into it and see if I can find anything. I think there was a brewpub out by the airport too called the firehouse or something like that.

      • I asked the question about Willamette Brew Pub on Twitter this evening (not the best time) and here’s what I heard back from a local:
        ” I think it was because the beer/food wasn’t very good and the ambience was weird. Not comfortable – hard to tell who their target was. In my opinion….

  11. YES, YES, YES! I have been an all grain home-brewer since moving to Salem 7 years ago. I have been thinking along very similar lines and would love to be involved at any level. I encourage you to consider offering a wide selection of beers that “beer snobs” like me would enjoy tasting. Preferably on a rotating tap basis similar to Venti’s. Shoot me an e-mail sometime and let’s talk business.

    • Well I’ll need all the help i can get. One thing I have noticed working in the industry is that a lot of people have “their beer”. That is to say a lot of us are creatures of habit, many people find a beer they like and that is all they want to drink. That is why I will more than likely have 3-4 regulars and 3-4 rotating beers for the geeks like you and me.

  12. Yes! It’s high time for Salem to have a brewpub. I would suggest the North riverfront area off Front Street for a less expensive riverfront alternative. Not cheap, probably, but less expensive and close in.

  13. Yes, we NEED a good local brewpub here in Salem. Please, pretty please.

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