272 Van Buren St, Eugene, OR 97402
Believer Double Red Ale was the first beer I drank in Eugene (August, 2008). We’d pulled into town after a long drive from Arcata, and set up camp in a couch-filled room at the Campbell Club housing co-op on campus. It was fantastic, and I quickly out-hopped myself on these newfangled West Coast IPA sorta beers.
A couple months later I attended an event at Ninkasi, which included a brewery tour of the 15-barrel (?) system. It was located in part of a small L-shaped industrial lot on Blair Blvd. The tasting room was the front office, and Dave or somebody would come out and give you samples or pints of whatever you wanted. Every Last Friday Art Walk party seemed to have a keg of Total Domination or Oatis, and the proliferation of the “Big N” (a term a friend coined) swag outpaced Ducks gear for a while. The Whiteaker Block Party was always a hoot and a half; Ninkasi has always been about music in some form or another.
Over the years, Ninkasi gradually took over the lot, and then demolished the building to build a 30-barrel (?) brewery and taproom. “The beer changed,” said everybody. They were right, even though it wasn’t necessarily a pejorative statement.
Ninkasi grew and grew. Some people said they were “gentrifying the neighborhood,” which meant that they were bringing foot traffic and commerce to local businesses, and the fucking tweakers didn’t rule the ‘hood anymore. People complained about “the smell,” which is similar to that of nearby Grain Millers. Basically, most of the complaints were baseless and reactionary. People thought they’d sold out, when in fact they did the opposite: ditch its distributor Western Beverage (owned by AB/Inbev) when AB bought Elysian and 10 Barrel. Ninkasi has always been supportive of the community, from donations to local nonprofits to hosting the local homebrew club meetings.
Ninkasi’s beer is good. Some of it is great. Sometimes, with efforts to brand itself one way or another, the marketing got ahead of the beer. Many beer geeks miss the Prismatic lager series, with beauties like Lady of Avalon dunkel coming and going like a mirage. The flagship Total Domination IPA was the first of its kind in town, and has stayed true to its roots with a deeper color and more prominent bitterness than the modern iterations of the style. A new pilot program called the Whiteaker Series is getting at the brewers’ creative sides again.
Right now, the brewery is preparing to close the tasting room and move its retail space into a new restaurant in the Admin building, further north on Blair.