In 1845, a man named Joseph Avery came all the way from Illinois to stake out a land claim here on this side of the U.S. He said he knew that steamboats were going to come up that river (The Willamette) and he wanted a town there waiting for them. By 1850 there was a population of over 600 people. By 1870 there were 1200. And the only reason they could do it was because almost every person who showed up had to contribute. They built stores, and roads, and schools. The courthouse, the post office, and the first meeting hall, the Opera house. If they couldn’t build, they farmed. If they couldn’t farm, they taught, or transported, or communicated, or just plain gave what they had.
And yes, they built a brewery. Corvallis Brewery was both a beer brewery and distillery. Sadly there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of info on it. It burned in 1870, but along the same portion of river in 1987 a new incarnation of brewing appeared in the Old World Deli in Corvallis. After remodeling the corner of the deli building, they were up and running with 20 barrels a year. Now, just as they did then, all the grain is hauled all the way to the top story. When brewing, it is fed into a grain hopper that is set into the floor and feeds directly to the mash tun. It saves space in what is a very tiny (1800 sq feet vertically in three levels) brewery. It took hard work and cooperation to get that brewery up and running. Reinforcing floors and moving restrooms is not an easy task.
At the time there were only three other breweries in the entire state of Oregon. Widmer, Full Sail, and Bridgeport. Microbrews were still not popular at this time in Oregon. Even having to battle over every single tap handle they gained, Oregon Trail began to win over customers with their consistent brews. In 1989 they won a silver for Oregon Trail Brown at GABF. The brewery prospered and increased to 300 barrels per year.
Poised to increase to 1200 barrels per year, disaster struck. The owner at that time, Jerry Shadomy, fell into hard times and brewery suffered. They lost tap handles in the community and it seemed that Oregon Trail was destined to fail completely by mid 1992.
Dave Wills, who had assisted Shadomy in renovating the space for the brewery decided that he didn’t want to let this piece of history die after so much effort had been put into it. While he had other businesses such as Freshops demanding his time and expertise, he threw his efforts in with Oregon Trail. He redesigned fermenting, marketing, and packaging. Instead of just kegs, they began to bottle and present their microbrew in a new way to the public. This gained them valuable shelf space, and customers. Dave hired new brewers who helped create quality, dependable recipes. Other breweries and the public have contributed, and even today when a customer offers pounds of hops or other ingredients they grew in their backyard, Oregon Trail Brewery is only too happy to accept. This makes the community part of this brewery.
Today Oregon Trail Brewery is at full capacity, 1200 barrels. They have continued to improve packaging and marketing. They hire brewers who have surprised us with their interesting ideas and tasty recipes such as sours and beers created with wine yeast. Their flagship brown still continues to be a prominent seller although they have added a wit, a solid IPA, and a ginseng porter to their regular lineup. They provide kegs as well as bottled beers aged in casks. It’s the only brewery in Corvallis that offers party pigs for those who can’t afford or transport a full keg.
You can go right into the brewery itself and on most any day, the brewer is happy to talk to you, give you tour, and a taste from the bright tank. Dave himself is more than willing to talk to homebrewers or even share hop starts. Every fermentor has a name, every piece of equipment a story, and every brewer a different view.
Other breweries have taken on many of the ideals that Oregon Trail started with and even though other breweries in Corvallis have expanded, all the breweries in Corvallis are still willing to share ingredients and make the public part of brewery life. It’s the way that Corvallis started and it’s what we will remember about Oregon Trail Brewing. Cheers!
Photos by Che Dean (https://plus.google.com/+CheDean)