The Ninkasi team with Brandi Ferguson of McKenzie River Trust sampling Pilot Batch No. 84, featuring the experimental hop McKenzie (C-148), where the McKenzie and Willamette rivers meet at Green IslandPhoto by Rob Sydor / Ninkasi

Brewing Love for Oregon

A new project by the Coalition of Oregon of Land Trusts promotes local beer and the outdoors

There are two things in life that Oregonians undeniably love: the great outdoors and great local beer. The best part is that there is no shortage of those things in Oregon, especially in Lane County.

And a new project by the Coalition of Oregon Land Trusts (COLT), a group of nonprofit conservation organizations, is celebrating those things. Called “Oregon I Am,” COLT created a map of land trusts and other natural areas around the state, highlighting places where people can access protected lands. The 81 locations featured on the map are managed or owned by conservation land trusts, which own or manage land for protection and stewardship.

To promote the new map, COLT is partnering with eight breweries across the state to each create a special edition, Oregon-inspired beer. Ninkasi and Oakshire Brewing in Eugene, who have long-standing relationships with the McKenzie River Trust, are crafting their beers with Oregon-sourced ingredients in an homage to this beautiful state and its wildlands, so you can taste the state as you roam it. 

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Brewer Chris Archer adds brewing salts to the mash

Photo by Rob Sydor / Ninkasi

“It’s a cool resource with a lot of information in it,” Kiley Gwynn, creative project manager  for Ninkasi, says of the map. “It sends a positive message to Oregon as a whole and our relationship with nature.” The map is filled with colorful illustrations and numbers of natural spots around the state. On supplemental pages of the map, each protected area is listed with details about trails, when it’s open to the public, if dogs are allowed and how many acres.

In creating Ninkasi’s beer, employees took a nature walk around Green Island, an area of about 1,200 acres west of Coburg, owned and managed by the McKenzie River Trust, accompanied by McKenzie River Trust’s associate director of philanthropy, Brandi Ferguson. A secluded area open selectively to the public, Green Island boasts a flourishing ecosystem at the confluence of the Willamette and McKenzie rivers. 

 Each brewery’s beer label features a piece of the map. An art illustration of Green Island will be on Ninkasi’s beer label for the project. Ninkasi has worked with the McKenzie River Trust since the brewery started, raising funds for the trust and having employees volunteer on the land to help preserve it.

Ninkasi and members of the McKenzie River Trust hiked around the south loop of Green Island, admiring trees they planted years ago that are now 30 feet tall. Ninkasi co-founder Jamie Floyd says they took a single hop brew with them over to Green Island to talk about what would pair well with it specifically. They spent the walk discussing other ingredients for their special edition beer and acknowledging the impact of Ninkasi and the community on a piece of protected land.

“What we wanted to do is make a completely Oregon beer out of it,” he says. “Also, we thought it would taste good as well.”  

After their hike with McKenzie River Trust, Ninkasi decided to create Unfiltered NW Pale Ale as their Oregon-inspired beer, Floyd says. 

“When I think of the McKenzie River I think pale, clear, fresh and bright,” Floyd says, adding that he knows Ninkasi is known for its IPAs, but thought a pale ale would be better for this project. 

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Ninkasi Brewing, McKenzie River Trust, Coleman Agriculture and West Coast Hop Breeding Company teams brewing Oregon I Am

Photo by Rob Sydor / Ninkasi

Ninkasi is using an experimental hop, called McKenzie (C-148), in the beer. Floyd says McKenzie is a different tasting hop that you can go different ways with. Ninkasi also added citrus hops, meaning they have a citrusy aroma, sourced from a farm in Independence, near the Willamette River. The other ingredients came from around the state, too.

“Much like the hike we decided to take at Green Island was the south loop, instead of the north loop, if you will,” Floyd explains.

Oakshire also chose to create a beer exclusively containing Oregon ingredients, which is not something they usually get to do. Dan Russo, director of brewing operations for Oakshire, says as a bigger brewery, it cannot always include hops from smaller farms into their production schedule. This was an opportunity to utilize local grains. 

Oakshire decided to go with a Hazy Extra Pale Ale, also in honor of the McKenzie River Watershed and McKenzie River Trust. Russo says this bridges a normal pale ale and an IPA. Their ingredients are also sourced from all over the state.The grain comes from central Oregon and the hops come from the Willamette Valley.

“It really showcases what we can do here in Oregon,” Russo says.

For Russo and others with Oakshire, joining the Oregon I Am project was not just a celebration of the land, but also represents the company’s love of the outdoors. He says whether they are hiking, biking or snowboarding, they carry cans of beer out with them wherever they go. 

“And it’s pretty amazing to know so many people didn’t know about these land trusts,” Russo says. “A private citizen can access these places.” 

Oakshire’s beer will be released in a four-pack of 16 oz cans, available at various retailers around town and in Portland. Ninkasi’s beer will be released in limited edition crowlers available exclusively at Ninkasi’s Better Living Room restaurant and taproom.

The beers are launching on June 15. To celebrate the new brews and the outdoors, Oregon I Am is hosting a free virtual happy hour event on June 25 from 4:30 pm to 6 pm. To attend the happy hour and to get access to the map, visit TheOregonIAm.org.