By Curtis Barnard
A couple months ago, a cider company and a little known brewery got together and said “Hey we should have a festival in Salem.” Wandering Aengus, a well known cider maker, and Gilgamesh Brewing, a young but very unique brewery, were the two companies who had this foresight. Last weekend they, along with 13 other breweries and one other cider company, threw the Salem Beer & Cider Festival at the historic Mission Mill Museum. While not all breweries had staff on hand I was able to talk with a few people and try some great beer and cider.
With more than 35 brews and ciders to choose from and only a handful of tokens I had to pick my tastings well. Among the breweries with beer available there were familiar faces from Portland such as Upright, Hopworks, Lucky Labrador, Migration, and Alameda Brewhouse. I decided to skip over these as they are fairly well known. Instead, I decided to talk and taste with Gilgamesh and Carlton Cyderworks as the owners/brewers were on hand and they had some very interesting stuff to pour.
Gilgamesh brewing is located Turner, Oregon and is the definition of a family run business. Their first sale was only last April, but the three brothers, their wives, and their father who run the brewery are always looking to make a splash. The brew that they’re most known for is called Mamba and is brewed with no hops, black tea, tangerine zest, and rye. While some snobs may turn their nose up, this beer is smoooooth. There isn’t a hint of hot alcohol flavors which is surprising because it’s 8% ABV. Mike Radtke, the head brewer, said “I don’t see any limits in brewing. If I want to try something I just do it.” He continued “A lot of breweries might have just thrown in a little black tea to give a hint of it in the finished product. My philosophy though is to think of some interesting ingredient and try to build a beer around that ingredient.”
I continued on with their Filbert Lager, which is brewed with over eight pounds of Oregon hazelnuts per barrel. The aroma gives away little to what’s in the beer. As I tasted it I started to say “Hey there isn’t a nutty fla–“ Then the smooth flavor of hazelnuts filled my mouth. This is an easily sessionable beer. Unfortunately only six kegs of the stuff was brewed, but it’s had such a good reception that they plan to brew it again. The last beer from Gilgamesh I tried was their Hopscotch Ale. Hopscotch is another 8% ABV brew that is brewed well with no unpleasant alcohol flavors or aromas present. It has a nice malty body and a slightly floral aroma from the dry hops added in fermentation.
I bet everyone’s running out to try to pick up a bottle from Gilgamesh, but wait there’s a catch. Gilgamesh is only available on draft at about 25 locations throughout Portland and Salem, but they are planning to bottle sometime in the near future. If you can’t find them on draft contact them through their website or watch their twitter for the next growler fill day that they hold at their brewery in Turner.
Next I headed over to the Carlton Cyderworks booth to talk with Keenan and Allen who run the operation with their dad, Martin. They start pressing apples in their garage four years ago and then in May 2009 sold their first batch. Most of the apples are acquired from orchards around McMinnville, which apparently can be difficult. Carlton Cyderworks makes real apple cider meaning that they use fresh cider apples, not cheap concentrate like some of the mass market ciders. The quality shows through in their selection of three ciders. Carry Nation is a crisp, light, spritzy and sweet cider that is back sweetened after fermentation. Duke is a blueberry apple cider that is fermented with 1/3 blueberries and 2/3 apples. The color is a light pink and the flavor has a gradient from blueberry at the beginning to apple at the finish. Citizen is a traditional English style cider and is fermented to dryness. All three are wonderful beverages that would go well with some light food such as salads. Carlton Cyderworks and Wandering Aengus are two local cider companies trying to revive this traditional American beverage. What better place for them to kick off than Oregon, home of great apples and consumers eager for high quality local products.
With only two months to plan the host put together a great event for Salem. There was great beer, live music, art from local artist, and even beer classes from Oregon Beer Odyssey. I asked James Kohn of Wandering Aengus and Kari Radtke of Gilgamesh Brewing what was their goal in putting together this festival. Kari responded “I just wanted to bring some unknown beers to Salem and allow the small guys to make some money.” Then James said “We want to coolify Salem, make it interesting so that people don’t have to travel to Portland for a good night out.”