Over 6 years ago, when I first visited pFriem’s brewpub location, I was taken aback by a menu primarily focused on Belgian IPAs and Saisons. It was a shock not only because of the sincere focus on a limited set of styles (they were relatively new after all), but also the fine cuisine that accompanied their fermented offerings.
I was looking back a pictures of what the pub space looked liked then, versus what it is today, and couldn’t help but notice that the original space itself hasn’t changed much. And in may ways, this is the success of pFriem Family Brewers, at it’s core: if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it. They’re focused on quality first and ever passionate about great beer, food, and a one of a kind experience.
It’s always been this way, and despite being in a constant state of expansion, the end product and experience has never changed.
Over the past weekend, the PNW beer media made it’s annual pilgrimage to Hood River for what has become one of my favorite gatherings of the year. A chance to peek behind the curtain to witness first-hand pFriem’s latest endeavors, to taste their newest creations, and to revel in that same passion that embodies everyone that represents their brewery. It’s infectious.
The Cascade Locks Facility
Before our arrival, we already knew we’d need to be in Hood River earlier than usual so as to make a quick trip down to visit their new facility in Cascade Locks. Upon entering from the Western side of the building, we were greeted by it’s largest open space and future home to their loading dock and storage for packaging (cans, bottles, labels, kegs, etc.).
The most dramatic aspect of the building, is it’s height. Standing at least 3 to 4 stories high, it allows for vertical growth and a variety of enclosed temperature controlled spaces throughout. It has one of the largest cold-storage spaces I’ve seen, a much larger “Warm Room” for bottle conditioning, an equally spacious “Cool Room” for specific barrel storage, as well as second floor offices and a break-room space.
In addition to a dedicated area for stainless fermentation and the yet to be finished koelschip “chapel,” the other large space found at the East end of the building will be inhabited by barrels and a private event space, surrounded by some of the few large windows in the building. Also intriguing to me is pFriem’s plan to truck recently brewed hot wort from Hood River to fill the 30 bbl koelschip, something I’ve never encountered.
They foresee the new facility to be completed within the next few months and it’s truly exciting to see. It was rare to see Head Brewer Gavin Lord, who provided an info-packed tour, without a smile on his face during the entirety of the proceedings.
True to form, the variety of draft options on hand was nearly overwhelming, and on point throughout our time there. Before we even headed down for the tour, I had to try their Triple IPA – arguably the best made today and my first of the season. Packed with tropical juiciness, it was a great first taste just arriving from Portland.
While on the tour, we sampled their wonderful Vienna Lager, as well as the impressive Drouf Rouge (literally translated as “Red Grape”) while in the large cold storage area at Cascade Locks.
Upon our return to homebase, I had the always dependable Rauchbier with Dinner, their Pêche before dessert (a lambic-inspired ale, aged in oak barrels, and conditioned 8 months on heirloom peaches), then the Scotch Barrel Aged Imperial Brown ale to accompany dessert. The pairing was transcendent – further elaboration shortly.
From our arrival at Hood River and the end of the tour at Cascade Locks, to dinner and discussion back at the main brewery, there was delectable cuisine, overseen by Chef Justin Congdon, at every step.
The ever present and always lovely meats from Olympia Provisions and cheese from Cascadia Creamery are always a staple at pFriem. What really stood out for us this visit were the slow-roasted Pork Wellington and the chocolate mousse dessert featuring their Scotch Barrel Aged Imperial Brown. It was divinely paired with the beer.
As they do each year, owners Josh Pfriem, Rudy Kellner, and Ken Whiteman discuss the current goings on, the year that’s past, and the what’s to come. Key points that stood out were Rudy’s mention that the brewery’s fermentation capacity increased 50% last year, producing 27,000 barrels last year, primarily by bringing in new, larger fermentation vessels.
With the new Cascade Locks facility nearing completion, all the barrels and secondary conditioning vessels will be moving there, allowing for the installation of their new 50 hL (42 bbl) German brewhouse from GEA. Slated for April, this new system will focus on production of IPA, Pilsner, and all their seasonal offerings. This is in addition to their existing 15 bbl brewhouse, which will remain in place, focused on specialty and barrel aged beers. With both brewhouses operational, pFriem anticipates the release of 130 unique beers in 2020.
Add to this their new bottle club, pFriemster’s Union Local 541, which enables a unique and special membership for their most avid supporters. Members receiver quarterly shipments of six unique pairs of rare pFriem beer for a total of 48 bottles per
year, including a combination of verticals, new releases, and styles brewed with Union
Members in mind. They’ll also receive 10% discounts on bottle purchases, discounts on local lodging in Hood River, access to special tastings and events, as well as members-only access to an online forum. Learn more on their pFriemster’s Union page.
In essence, all these transitions and updates have been handled as seamlessly as can be, at least from our perception. This ever present growth was best summed up by Mr. Kellner who noted that “pFriem’s been in a constant state of expansion for 7 years.” And soon, hopefully, it appears the breweries need for more space may indeed be satiated. Despite this continued need for more capacity to meet demand, the quality of pFriem’s beer, food, experience, and it’s purpose as a steward to the community continues, unwavering.