On Sunday, my wife and I went to visit friends in Salem, Oregon who just happened to be the same friends we visited in Denver. They’ve now moved back to Oregon after completing a PhD internship and we were celebrating their return. So what else would be on the docket but a brewery tour, right?
Salem is much smaller than Denver, but has a growing beer scene. Currently, there are 5 breweries in the city, with at least one more opening soon. We made it to three of the five on our mini tour. Three that happen to be very close together on the same side of town. Gilgamesh, Santiam and Salem Ale Works. Vagabond and McMenamin’s Thompson Brewery and Pub are the other two in town.
We started at Gilgamesh because our friends told us they had good food, and did they ever! It does lean heavy on pub favorites like burgers, but they were good. We tried the stoney fries (bacon, cheese, chipotle sour cream), the mac attack (mac and cheese with bacon and pulled pork) and the happy hour sliders. Those were all great, and had some pretty good beers to wash them down. Hoot Attack ISA (funny story behind the name and logo), Vader Coffee CDA, and Hoppy Farmer, a barrel aged sour saison.
Next stop was Santiam Brewing, and this time instead of a pint we decided to split their large taster tray (10 samples). My wife remarked that she was having Denver flashbacks at this point. The beers at Santiam were solid, but not remarkable. They didn’t really blow us away. While they were good, they were just missing that oomph. You could tell the beers they spent a lot of time and effort on, the raspberry pale that tasted like a bite of fresh berries, the Bourbon barrel aged version of their English Amber, and of course, the classic Pirate Stout, Rum barrel aged with coconut. The rest didn’t seem to have had as much attention paid to them, which was a bit disappointing. Again, not bad by any stretch of the imagination, but just middle of the road. “Serviceable”.
The last stop was Salem Ale Works. I had heard of this brewery through a pro-am brew that a friend did, but I haven’t had much else of their stuff. These beers really blew us away. We had a NE style IPA, which I’m not a huge fan of but this one was really good. A pale ale with an interesting blend of hops in their rotating Sgnarly series, a light refreshing summer ale with the hilarious name of Frisky Marmot, and the Cast Iron CDA which was dark and slightly chocolaty with a huge hop presence. The waitress (who turned out to be a sales rep) did an amazing job describing the beers to us, and what was in the glass matched exactly what she said, so she did a great job selling us on the beers! We didn’t eat anything at SAW, but the food coming out of the kitchen looked great so we’ll have to try that next time we’re in town.
So a super quick trip, but hit up a couple of the Salem hotspots. I would recommend all three, but especially Gilgamesh for great food and Salem Ale Works for great beer.