My Quest to Dragon’s Gate

27 Mar

photo 2This past weekend I visited a new brewery while I was in the thriving metropolis of Milton-Freewater. What?! You’ve never heard of it? Well, it’s a town of about 7,000 located in the northeast corner of the state. This being Oregon, of course it has it’s own brewery (well it’s no surprise at least). The town is literally a stones throw across the stateline from Walla Walla, WA, where I met up with my college besties for wine tasting and a weekend away. If you’ve never been out that far into Oregon / Washington, go! The scenery is reason enough. The rest is just gravy.

photo 3After driving for miles with nothing but fields for as far as the eye can see, and then winding through farmland along country roads, some without names, you’ll find a gravel drive that leads you to Dragon’s Gate Brewery. Unless of course you come from the Walla Walla wine trail in which cphoto 4ase you are just a few turns and a couple vineyards down the road.  Either way you might feel like you are a little lost, I did, until I saw the cute little shed, an a-frame sign, and a dozen or so red adirondack chairs just waiting for the sunset.

It made me wish I could have stayed into the evening, but unfortunately it was early afternoon on a Monday and I had a long drive still ahead of me back to Portland. Plus, I didn’t want to overstay my welcome. The brewery is technically only open on Saturdays so the brewers were already gracious enough to let me visit on a workday. Gracious doesn’t even begin to say enough about these people. They probably would have let me stay all day sitting in the sun drinking beer even if I’d have been in their way.

I was immediately welcomed by the sweet smell of wort alongside Jennifer and Adam, brewers / owners / distributors / jacks-of-all-trades, in their work boots with big smiles and a glass of beer. You can’t beat that hospitality. No wonder they’re ready to expand after only being open for a year and half / selling for two.

They are currently brewing two barrels a week and have four fermenters on hand. But later this year they will add a 30×60 foot space to the brewery moving up to a 3-5 barrel system and increasing distribution. Right next to the brewery, they also grow their own hops with ten different varieties but more on their way in 2015.

Despite the expansion, the focus will remain on small production, on quality rather than quantity. Adam was clear they source top notch ingredients and supplies, locally whenever possible. That signal is even sent in the corked Belgian-style bottles they chose over standard bombers. And their half growlers (or howlers) are from Liberty Bottleworks in nearby Yakima, WA. Which I would like to note, has a nice seal and ceramic interior. Even after a full day of travel, my beer still had nice carbonation that you don’t get from standard screw tap growlers.

The most visible change for customers will be the addition of a taproom along the highway right next door to some of the wineries’ tasting rooms. In addition to brewing, the current space will still be open to beer club members and for special events, so don’t worry you’ll still have a chance to see where the magic happens.

Speaking of the magic…

Adam and Jennifer make four core brews which are available for sale in the bottle: Belgian Golden Strong Ale, Porter, Belgian IPA, and Belgian Wit. But they brew over a dozen different styles in total, many of which, like their saison, they play with and tweak frequently depending on their mood, the season, or local ingredients. They described a raspberry version made in the summer with local berries as well as both a chai and a coffee one that had me especially intrigued.

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Their beers are unfiltered and hand bottled. They don’t force carbonate so they finish aging in the bottle – a process known as “bottle conditioning” which allows carbonation to occur through secondary fermentation.  Because of this, the beer will continue to change and mature over time if you leave them on a shelf in the basement like I am apt to do. The brewer said he recently enjoyed a bottle of their Belgian IPA he had aged for two years. Not surprising, a lot of the hops had subdued but he said it had a nice complexity tasting like a Tripel but with a dose of hops.

The best seller? the Belgian Wit. As they put it, they live out in Keystone country and most  folks are looking for a light beer. So Adam and Jennifer deliver; but add that extra punch of quality, which in this case also includes a little coriander, star anise and bitter orange peel. Unfortunately they were sold out on my visit but they sent me home with a bottle that should be ready to drink in two weeks (remember that bottle conditioning I mentioned above). So check back in with us on our next hot day here in Portland…this time of year, 72 should qualify…when I’ll crack it open and write a review.

For now, let me tell you about what they had on tap…

It’s dark beer month at Dragon’s Gate (lucky me!!).  So I had the:

Porter: nice, easy-drinking, good roast and malt flavors, on the lighter side of porters in terms of body

McDink’s Dry Irish Stout: (Jenn’s first solo beer!!!), light milk chocolate aroma, super smooth, it finished with a light dryness which was in contrast to their other beers

Le Morte de Arthur: this is a chocolate stout all-the-way baby! a sweet chocolate nose that made me think of a cup of hot cocoa. the flavors: chocolate with vanilla, a small dose of dark fruit, and a hint of honey. it was rich and full bodied but not cloying, thick or sweet. the chocolate offset the dark malts well leaving just a hint of the roast like a nice bittersweet chocolate bar.

Double Dragon:  a double IPA brewed with 100% chinook hops. it poured a cloudy amber, had a medium+ body, and carried a good malt backbone to balance the spicy, bitter hops. there were nice herbal and citrus undertones from the hops as well and no noticeable alcohol.

The last two have more tasting notes because I brought home a half growler of each and had more time to really think about what I was drinking. I was too busy asking questions, taking notes, and having a great time to take very good tasting notes while I was at the brewery. Which is all you really need to know at the end of the day. The beers from Dragon’s Gate are all really well made, enjoyable, easy-drinking beers and Adam and Jennifer are down-to-earth, friendly, funny and generous people. You know, the kind you just want to sit down and have a beer with, preferably while you watch the sunset!

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Before I left, I made each of them pick a single beer they make that is their favorite. They both came up with answers not on tap that day. So now I have to go back. So if any of you have the chance to enjoy a glass of one of these be sure to have an extra for me and send us your thoughts!!

Jenn’s favorite: Tripel Belgian

Adams favorite: Saison

So, where do you get these beers?

For now, at the brewery and at a few local spots including Olive, Walla Walla Wine Women, and Bacon & Eggs. Most of their customers are local farmers and residents from Walla Walla and Milton-Freewater and then there are the visitors from Seattle, Portland, and the Tri-cities, most of whom are looking for a change of pace on the wine trail. So sometimes they can sell through most of their bottle supply on a Saturday. Which means your best bet is to just visit the brewery in Milton-Freewater. Trust me, you won’t regret it. Make a long weekend of it, get outside a bit and do some wine tasting too.

2 Responses to “My Quest to Dragon’s Gate”

  1. Brian March 28, 2014 at 11:24 AM #

    Gotta say, I’m ready to go out and try some of their beers. Great write up!

    • Miranda March 28, 2014 at 12:00 PM #

      I think we need to do the eastern Oregon beer fest one of these years!

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