Local Lagers Strike Gold

Eugene beer scene blossoms as Viking and Claim 52 open new breweries

In no other state is weather as worthy a conversation piece as Oregon. Our deceptive pre-spring warm spell, which happens every year, brought out crocuses in the garden and patio dreams in the brew kettle.

And speaking of brew, two local breweries are bringing Pilsner back, and two more are set to open satellite joints on Willamette Street.

After a lull in lager production, ColdFire Brewing has put out its Czech Pils once again, to much acclaim. You may think of Pilsner, the second most modern (1842) non-adjunct lager to hit the streets, as pedestrian because it is everywhere. And you’d be right.

But sometimes there’s a beer. And sometimes it’s the beer for its time and place. That beer is Pilsner.

Pilsner is the brainchild of Industrial Age espionage: Bavarian brewers took the technology that makes pale malt possible (the only reason all of our beer isn’t amber at its palest) from England, and Josef Groll, a Bavarian brewer, applied it to lager production in the Bohemian city of Pilsen (or Plzeň if you’re extra Czech).

Fast-forward to the present, and craft brewers all over the country are producing the same type of beer that inspired the rebellion of the craft beer movement in the first place: fizzy, yellow — but with respect to tradition and heavy consideration of ingredients and process.

There is nothing inherently wrong or bad about a beer with more than a third of its sugar content coming from rice or corn, like Bud-Miller-Coors-etc., but there is something inherently good about finding a beer like ColdFire’s Czech Pils in little ol’ Eugene. Its fermentation is “clean.” It has personality, soft edges and a bitterness that comes with a wink and a grin. Go drink it before I do.

At first, Oakshire’s Lagerbier produces cognitive dissonance. Resplendent red, white and gold, cursive lettering and angular, Cold War graphics might lead one to doubt the integrity and age of the beer within. Superlative claims of quality ingredients are a mental cue; we’ve seen this before. Believe the can!

“As brewers and beer geeks have forayed into brewing and drinking craft lager, it’s starting to break back into the everyday,” says Oakshire head brewer Dan Russo, and he’s onto something.

Lagerbier sales are skyrocketing. It has something that Bud hasn’t: ethics, locality and … oh yeah, hops! The Czech Pilsner style is defined partly by its firm, spicy bitterness, so it’s not a challenge for Oregon brewers who get antsy under a certain IBU (international bitterness units).

Looking beyond the label, the beer pummels any notion of cheap wateriness with malt muscle and luponic fortitude in an eminently drinkable form. This ain’t your dad’s light lager.

The Eugene beer scene is blossoming (but will resist the imminent late-spring frost) with two new west Eugene breweries opening up taproom-restaurants on Willamette Street in April. Viking Braggot Company will be the only brewery outpost in south Eugene at 2490 Willamette, a welcome opportunity for the four-year-old brewery.

Viking uses local honey in all of its brews, which span the stylistic gamut with added texture and flavor nuance from our pollinator friends’ delicious vomit.

Along with the brews, Viking will divvy out pizza as an extension of Pillage Pizza, the food truck that also provides pies to hungry patrons at the brewery taproom.

Just north, at 1203 Willamette, Claim 52 Brewing Kitchen is set to open around the same time as Viking. With a totally different idiom, Claim has gained notoriety for its inclusion of haze in its hoppy beers (as well as cookies, lactose and fruit, which begs the question: When does it stop being a brewery and become an alcoholic confectionary?).

The Kitchen, serving Asian-Latin fusion food along with 24 taps, will add its own flair to the fledgling Eugene Beer T, an unofficial pub crawl I invented that follows Willamette north from Viking, and splits east and west to hit all of the major brew hubs in town. On a map, it looks like a drunken toddler drew a T on an Etch A Sketch. Claim’s location will connect downtown drinkers with nearby Falling Sky Brewing and The Bier Stein as well.

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