Finding myself with a free Sunday recently, I decided to check out a few breweries in the nearby state capital, Salem, Oregon. Sitting about half-way between the local brewing meccas of Portland and Eugene on the I-5 corridor, I imagine Salem is often overlooked in the craft brewing world of the Willamette Valley. Based on today’s visits, it would be a mistake to overlook the beer scene in the capital. Join me as I recount my visits to a new city and a new round of craft breweries.
- Beer – I think my wife was more excited about finding a good sour than I was about visiting Santiam Brewing Company, but not by much. My first thought when looking at the tap list was surprise at finding a place that does cask ales. I’m rather fond of this method of serving and have missed having a brewery close by like I did back in Colorado. In addition to the cask ales, they had a nice selection of other styles available, including the aforementioned sour and a variety of dark and hop-heavy beers. I think my favorite was the Spitfire amber ale, an English pale ale with great body and toasted malt flavor. In general, they did a great job blending flavors and styles all around. I would certainly recommend grabbing any of their beers if you find them in the store. Score: 4/5
- Brewery – Whomever designed this brewery had a thing for pirates. If you combined the aesthetics of a pirate ship with an Old-World tavern, you would arrive at something like Santiam. An interesting stylistic choice but it missed the mark for being stylish and landed somewhere in the eclectic realm. That being said, it still had a cozy, warm feeling to the tap room. The best part by far was the food. They have an agreement with a catering service/restaurant next door that serves up some delicious grub. I ordered one of the best Philly cheesesteaks I’ve ever eaten, and my wife had a Rueben that was equally tasty. They have plenty of indoor seating, darts, and snooker to keep you entertained with several televisions for sporting events. I would have loved to see more outdoor space, but I understand the limitations of the location (more on that below). Score: 3.5/5
- Ambiance – They don’t do much here to add to the ambiance, it seems to just exist as is. They make a few attempts with bingo and trivia nights, but I didn’t see much in the way of space for live music or advertising for brewery events. It would be nice to see a cohesive attempt to set the mood and build on what seem to be a loyal and frequent customer base. Score: 2.5/5
- Location – Another brewery that was not easy to find from the road even with decent roadside signs. Set in a small industrial complex on the south side of Salem, once we turned in we drove around for a solid five minutes trying to find the place. Once we did, there was plenty of parking to be had. The restaurant next door makes for a convenient spot to get food but there is not much else within walking distance. There are a few other breweries within a short car ride so there are other places to try close by however. One final thought, because of the limitations of the complex, extensive outdoor seating was not possible around the bar, which makes locations like this less than ideal. Score: 3/5
- Customer Service – Our bar keep was friendly and helpful, answering all our questions and making great suggestions. It would have been nice to have more than one bar-tender since it was fairly busy, and the wait times got a little long. There was no table service but then again, it’s a bar so it’s not expected but is always a nice addition to customer service. Score: 3.5/5
Total Score: 16.5/25
Final Thoughts: A little more attention to detail and they would have scored higher here. That being said, I did enjoy my visit and the beer offerings were well thought out and executed. A solid experience for my first trip to Salem, I encourage anyone to stop in for a beer and great food if you are in the area.