This week’s brewery adventure brings me back to Salem, Oregon and Vagabond Brewing. Founded in the early 20-teens, three friends and veterans came together to create a brewery that reflects their years spent wandering the globe exploring all that the world (of beer) has to offer. Since then they have opened an outpost in Albany and a soon to premier brew pub in Portland, the trendiest of locations to expand your footprint. Pour yourself a beer, take a seat, and enjoy as I wander my way through this review.
- Beer – While their current tap list was limited to mostly hop heavy offerings, they did have a stout that I found quite delicious, and in general I thought their beers were decent. They checked the boxes on all the fundamentals of brewing, but nothing in particular stood out as excellent quality or blending of unique flavors to me. The variety (or lack thereof) was a bit disappointing but reviewing their list on Untappd shows they have in the past offered a lot more diversity of style than what I saw on my visit, so I can’t get too upset. What I do have to bring up is one of the worst rated beers I’ve recorded happened here, and that was one of their IPAs. To me, it had an off taste, a similar flavor to a batch if home brew that was contaminated, at least to my palate. That beer appears to be well rated on Untappd so I won’t ding them too hard as maybe it was just my tongue or a one off problem, but it really stood out, and not in a good way. Score: 2.5/5
- Brewery – Non-descript from the outside, the inside is a cavernous space that features something I’ve never seen in a brewery before: an arcade. Sure, a few breweries have featured some arcade games, but Vagabond has an entire room devoted to it. The brewery itself, as mentioned, is quite large with ample seating scattered around the interior with views to the brew floor and a small outside space with large roll-up doors to let the summer in. Décor is minimal, giving the place a true warehouse/industrial feel, matching its location well. Flights are $9 for six pours, a decent price in the PNW, and the rest of their prices are right on par with what I would expect in Oregon. They have a small food menu consisting of mostly bar-style fare, and excellent hours of operation seven days a week. Score: 3/5
- Ambiance and Entertainment – Here is where they excel in my opinion. Along with the previously mentioned arcade, televisions are scattered throughout the bar and were tuned to the Portland Timbers game while I was visiting. Apparently, sport-watching events are a regular here and the place was packed with yellow and green clad Timbers fans through most of my time there. In addition, there is a massive stage set aside for weekly live music and I assume the trivia night hosts use it as well. Combine that with other bar games scattered around and intermittent other live events such as beer releases and charity nights and Vagabond scores solidly in the entertainment category. Score: 4/5
- Location – What seems to be the theme for breweries in Salem is a slightly hidden location in a light commercial or industrial area of town, and Vagabond is no exception. Located on the north side of town just off the interstate and tucked away at the back of a long warehouse meets strip mall type building, they are easy to miss if you aren’t paying close attention to the signs. While they have plenty of on-site parking, I would probably avoid biking here if you live locally as the surrounding streets are quite busy. As for other options close by for food and drink, well, there really aren’t any aside from a fast food restaurant just down the street. Score: 2.5/5
- Customer Service – While nice, the bar tender was quite disorganized and slow to take my order and fill it, and that was with an initially smaller amount of people in the brewery. It was not a deal breaker, and like I said he was really friendly and talkative, but when it takes 15 minutes and I’m the only person getting a drink, that stands out, and as the night got busier, the line got longer. Score: 2/5
Total Score: 14/25
Favorite Beer: NW Passage – 7.4% ABV Stout
Final Thoughts: One bad beer and slow customer service drag down their rating for me. While not the most egregious offenses to craft beer I’ve ever seen, as I really did enjoy the brewery and a few of their drinks, it makes it hard to want to re-visit when there are so many other stronger offerings in Salem. Ultimately, I think they are still worth a visit as those could absolutely have been one-off problems and the fundamentals of Vagabond are sound.