Monday, October 1, 2007

The State of Jefferson: Notes and Musings by a Weary Traveler

I spent the weekend in Southern Oregon, with family, for the opening weekend of deer season, and now I am just beat down, tired and sore all over. My brother, Jason, and I both filled our deer tags opening day before noon - it was a great day for the family, but I won't get to the details because I figure a lot of you won't be interested. Getting our deer out of the woods was, well, miserable, with steep and wet terrain frustrating the efforts we put out - painful. Dripping with sweat, but somehow chilled to the core, I was reminded once again that beer is just beer.

Why? Well, in our fatigued and celebratory conditions, it was time for beer - we all needed it. However, there is no craft beer to be found here, just Bud and Coors Light in cans. Just like last year, under similar circumstances, the moment was perfect, even if the beer was 'lacking' for my tastes. You may not appreciated that, or maybe you will, but standing with my worn out, yet joyous, father and brother drinking a cold Coors when words were nowhere to be found - replaced with silent glances of admiration and love - it was just right. No beer-politics, no numbers and no judging, replaced by something so much more important.

That was Saturday. By Sunday, I was itching for better beer. Luckily, Southern Oregon has it going on.

I stopped at Dick's Market in Central Point, knowing this little, run down, market always has the goods when it comes to beer. While there I picked up a six pack of Sirius to share with family and happily noted the high percentage of small, hand crafted beers to choose from. If you ever find yourself in Medford/Central Point, check out Dick's on Beal.

For dinner I went with my folks to Wild River Brewing, who makes a mean pizza and fantastic fish and chips. Here I enjoyed their IPA, one of my favorites of the west coast. They also had a pretty fantastic Pilsner, light bodied and displaying a nice crisp hop bittering - not at all overpowering.

I was a bit sad to not find my way to Southern Oregon's newest brewery, aptly named "Southern Oregon Brewing Company". This place opened up early in the Summer and has so far generated little in the way of reviews, from what I can tell. I had hoped to make it here for a beer, but I suppose I'll have to try again in three weeks when I return.

On my way out of town I stopped in Ashland's "Market of Choice", just down the street from SOU (formerly SOSC). I absolutely love this store - think Trader Joe's meets Whole Foods meets Nugget Market - wonderful produce, meats, cheeses and, of course, beer. I believe MoC has 10 beer fridges, 8 of them full of craft beer and quality imports. This place always has something new, something I haven't tried, and Sunday's stop was no different. I picked up a couple Ale Smith products, Caldera's IPA (now in cans!) and the Oak Aged Yeti I've read so much about, from Colorado's Great Divide Brewing Co.

My trip home to California was interrupted by mechanical issues, so I found myself in Yreka for a night. No worries, the little market there had Triple Exaltation by Eel River, their Old Ale. I'd been meaning to get to this beer, but never found occasion to actually do it. Sitting in my hotel room, watching MNF and enjoying this beer wasn't a bad idea - it was a great beer.

Monday, with a new rental car, I drove south a bit till I got to Redding's Liquor Barn, a must stop for any lover of good alcohol. This place is 90,000 square feet of goodness - great whiskey's and wonderful beers. Here I loaded up on more Alesmith beers (keep in mind, I can't get Alesmith in Sacramento - and I still can't tell you why!), including their ESB, IPA, Imp Stout and something else in a foil topped bottle. I also picked up a couple bottles of Sierra Nevada's Harvest ale, the wet-hopped gem released in bottle for the first time this year. I actually was able to try this beer too, and think I can say if you see it, you'll be best to pick it up - it just seems like a beer anyone can appreciate, not over the top, but full of flavor. There was also the new-to-me Imperial IPA from Mt. Shasta Brewing Co, in Weed that found its way in my basket, along with a six pack of the 2007 release of Lagunitas' Imperial Red.

In all, I feel well stocked with good beer. I love the "State of Jefferson" region I grew up in, the far northern part of California and far southern part of Oregon. The place is just beautiful, with rugged terrain and majestic views of Shasta and other mountains of the region. Add to this our love of great beer, and there is no doubt these people know how to live - simple, with clean air, great food and fantastic beverages to cap off a day of hard work.

A few more notes: It appears the proposed tax increase on beer in Oregon has failed for now. Good news, but brewers are still leary of this coming back soon.

The State of Jefferson is still a neglected region. No, it isn't as bad as it once was, but it is sad in some areas. All public libraries in Jackson County have been closed and public services are reduced significantly. This is due to a depressed forestry industry, with nothing there to fill that void. It bothers me a bit, I suppose, because other regions that were once logging dependent have found ways to retrain their workforce, most notably some towns in southern BC, like Chilliwack who now has call centers for computer companies employing former loggers and mill-workers, largely due to the BC government's willingness to retrain workers and do what was needed to attract these companies to do business in their small town. I love the area I grew up in, and it is sad to see what has happened there. Hell, just two years ago my childhood school district had to cut classes to four days a week because they couldn't afford to pay teachers for five days - so they effectively reduced classroom time by 20%. Now the libraries are closed. I hope for better things in this area, I really do. Right now, however, I just don't see things changing.

Finally, on a personal note. I love hunting with my family. I wouldn't hunt on my own, I don't really feel the call to do this, but it is easily the most enjoyable time I spend with my family. Up at 4:30 and on the road by 5, the cold, damp and cold mornings in the mountains are a conversation of their own. There is just something about the activity I think you can't understand if you have not done it. Now, I don't mean to suggest you all need to hunt, but for me and my family this time of year is amazing. In fact, my brother and father, uncle and cousin, all spend most of the year dreaming about this time of the year.