The eruption of Mount Mazama 9,000 years ago left us with the caldera that currently holds Crater Lake. A fitting name then, for the newest brewery in Corvallis’ craft beer explosion. Owner and brewer Jeff Tobin has an affinity for mountains and volcanoes as well as the Belgian-style ales he has been brewing since the 1980s. That’s when Jeff and his wife Kathy started brewing at home and fell in love with some styles of beer that were a bit off the beaten path, especially for the time. After years spent developing their brewing ability and hearing glowing feedback from friends, the two began thinking seriously about turning their passion into a business. With the styles of beer that they love to brew surging in popularity, now is the perfect time to get up and running. They are set and ready to help fill in the crater left by the Willamette Valley beersplosion with some tasty ale that complements other local products while focusing on a segment of the market that is underrepresented in the area.
Belgian beers owe much of their distinctive character to the strains of yeast that are used, and Jeff takes his little eukaryotic beasties very seriously. He is starting with four strains from Belgium and has even gone to the extent of building a small laboratory within the brewery to ensure accurate yeast cell counts and monitor for contamination throughout the entire brewing process. Yeast is notoriously fickle and sensitive, and the well thought-out steps Mazama is taking to ensure such an important part of their beer is under control is indicative of the way they have approached the entire endeavor.
What they built as an absolutely beautiful 20-barrel brew system with a 2,000-barrel cellar capacity has been given plenty of space to grow. With room for an in-house grain mill as well as plans for a silo behind the building, Mazama is thinking ahead, planning for their facilities to grow along with the business. They are also taking a measured approach to the handling of the actual beer, making sure that they put their best foot forward. Their massive walk-in cooler can store six full batches of beer, allowing it to reach its full potential before release. As Jeff says, “Some of these beers age well and you don’t want to rush a product.” When he really wants to take his time aging a beer, he has barrels from local whiskey producer 4 Spirits Distillery in Adair Village, to do seasonal and limited releases.
Their location in Eastgate Circle is in the middle of a burgeoning fermentation sciences scene out on 34. With 2 Towns Ciderhouse and Nectar Creek Honeywine in the same complex, there are now plenty of delicious options for an adult beverage. Mazama will be operating a taproom with eight taps to begin with, including a couple of guest spots. There will be a bar, communal table seating, and televisions for the game day crowd as they stop on the way in or out of town.
While the taproom will be open soon, and Jeff wants to foster an environment where people stop by for some pints or to get a growler filled, Mazama is going to be a production brewery first. Primarily brewing for distribution, they will package in cans using a mobile service that will pull right into the brewery. Initially the focus will be to serve the local market, working with local outlets and getting a tap handle in Corvallis bars so people become familiar with the product. Jeff realizes that with a specialty segment of the market like Belgian beer, the distribution will need to be wider, moving beyond Oregon borders fairly quickly. This is not the kind of beer that gets bought in a 30-pack to shotgun at frat parties, but there is definitely a huge market for quality craft beer and the example set by other breweries in the region shows that a top-flight product doesn’t stay on the shelves very long.
An uncompromising approach to quality seems to be the Mazama mantra. The Tobins are very passionate about the styles of beer that they are making and want to do them justice. Shouldering the extra expense of building and using a lab to do quality checks throughout the brewing process demonstrates just how serious they are about the quality of the finished product. With that sort of commitment, Mazama beers will undoubtedly be ubiquitous in grocery store coolers in no time.
The initial offerings will include a Belgian lineup of Blonde, Saison, Dubbel, and Golden Strong Ales as well as their takes on a porter and an IPA. Jeff may be a fanatic about Belgian beers, but you can’t be a serious beer drinker in Oregon without appreciating a great IPA. Locally grown hops are just too delicious to ignore.
Mazama Brewing is planning to open their taproom at 33930 Eastgate Circle on Friday, May 31, and will then be open Wednesday to Saturday from 3 to 9 p.m. Stop by and try a pint and keep an eye on MazamaBrewing.com to find out where their beer is on tap around town.
By Jesse Tomaino