Freebridge is set to span the beer production gap in the gorge.
Steve and Laurie Light took over the historic Mint building and plan to open Freebridge Brewery to the public on Jan. 15.
“This has been a long time coming,” Steve said, “People around here talk about how this town of 17,000 has had no brewery, while Hood River, a smaller community, has five. People here in The Dalles also want good, local beer.”
However, if you want a preview of Freebridge beer, attend The Dalles Area Chamber of Commerce Business After Hours, Dec. 17, 5 to 7 p.m. at Sunshine Mill winery and café, four blocks east of Freebridge on E. Second.
Steve is taking five years’ of intensive homebrewing experience and turning it into a second career, brewing beer after spending 20 years as a fly fishing guide on the Deschutes River. Laurie has worked a variety of retail and industry supply jobs over the years, and is also working at restoring their home on Fifteenmile Creek Road.
For several years The Dalles has had several outlets for regional craft ale, including Clocktower Ales and Rivertap, and the new Route 30 tap room downtown. Now, with Freebridge serving up next month and Sedition opening a few blocks away, The Dalles gets two new breweries at virtually the same time. The last place beer was made in The Dalles was the old Columbia Brewing building, two blocks due north near the river.
“People have said, ‘What took you so long?’” joked Steve.
After charging up the glycol system on Dec. 13, Light and master brewer Mike Boler dropped their first beer shortly before Christmas. They will focus on traditional styles including pales, stouts and lagers, starting with pub and keg sales and adding bottles later next year.
“There aren’t many lager makers around. They’re more expensive and take longer, but we know there is a real desire for this style of beer. We vetted the demographic, spending a lot of time in the brewpubs in the Gorge and elsewhere,” Steve said.
Examples will be a Belgian saison, a pilsner, and a German wheat, when possible using local grain (The Dalles being wheat country, after all.) Freebridge’s glistening new 10-barrel system was designed by JV Northwest of Canby
The brewery will employ the Lights, two brewers and four or more pub workers, once the operation is up and running.
The pub will offer 10 taps, reserving some for guests and for cider.
“The pub will start simply, with pub fare including sandwiches and soups, and we’ll expand as we get busier,” Laurie said. Look for charcuterie and cheeses from Olympia Provisions and Ancient Heritage Dairy. New furniture and some interior tweaks are planned, but guests will recognize the relaxing feel of the dining from from its previous incarnation as Erin Glenn Winery.
Beers introduced last month were an American Pale Ale and a dry bourbon-aged Irish stout. Steve took pieces of bourbon barrel wood, and floated them in a nylon bag in the cold side after initial fermentation.
Steeping the essential wood gave the beer a “creamy, silky quality,” he said.
Freebridge debuted at a Main Street Uncovered event in October, with an American Pale Ale and an IPA that the Lights made at home, and again at a Chamber of Commerce event on Dec. 17 at Sunshine Mill.
“That definitely helped build some hype, but we have to say that our reception has been great. The support of the community of The Dalles, and the entire Gorge, has been really gratifying,” Laurie said.
The east end of The Dalles’ Second Street is shaping up into a destination neighborhood for the fermented arts, between the Freebridge, Sunshine Mill, and the forthcoming Sedition Brewery, four blocks west of Freebridge.
Sedition is planning on a February 2016 opening; owners Aaron and Kelly Lee started out as “Defiance Brewery” but decided last month to formally change the name to avoid a trademark dispute with a company back east.
The old sign was painted over Dec. 13. Yet the same raised fist logo, with the new name, surrounded by the list of brewery supporters, fills one wall of what will be the main pub room.
Sedition will have two main rooms, joined near the entrance, as well as a private meeting room.)
Freebridge was the first bridge over the Deschutes River, which was crossed by the Oregon Trail.
Laurie was born and raised in The Dalles, the daughter of a multi-generation wheat farm near the Deschutes River, and her background gives the brewery name its roots: Legend holds that the “Freebridge” was blown up by the Moodys, who ran a toll bridge near the mouth of the Deschutes.
The feud, if feud there was, is apparently long since resolved as one of the wines the brewery hopes to feature is from local winery Moody Toll Bridge.
The pub entry access is the same as before, and your first steps in the door will take you right past the brewing operation.
“We want people to see it, to have that connection to the making of the beer,” Steve said.
He said he has refined his skills over the past five years, but bringing Boler on board as contract brewer was essential to the success of the Freebridge beers.
Boler previously worked at Everybody’s Brewing in White Salmon, Full Sail in Hood River, and Wy’east Labs in Odell, and currently works for HR Distillers.
“Mike is a real student of the craft. He has the knowledge and skills to ensure we are successful,” Steve said.