A Hophead's Guide to Eugene
Eugene, Oregon is a beautiful college town located approximately two hours south of Portland. The small city is home to the University of Oregon and is surrounded by green hills, with the stunning Willamette River running right through it. I consider myself extremely lucky to have called Eugene home for five years as it has the ideal mix of surrounding natural beauty, friendly locals, nearby outdoor activities, and excellent beer. Many people might not realize all of the delightful beer options coming out of this small city, but for the hopheads out there, Eugene is simply not to be missed if you're in Oregon. Not only does Eugene have multiple breweries, but it is also home to some stellar taphouses that pour eclectic varieties of beer. As an avid IPA drinker, I'll be offering IPA recommendations for each brewery and taphouse I mention in this Hub. Ultimately though, even if you aren't an IPA fan, these various beer-centric locations are not to be missed as they all pour a variety of excellent beers across multiple styles.
Ninkasi Brewing: Perhaps the most well-known brewery in Eugene, Ninkasi lives up to the hype. I am one who often likes to skip breweries whose beers are seemingly easy to find everywhere, but Ninkasi's taproom not only makes for a fun stop with its outdoor patio, but it is also often pouring beers they brew that won't be found elsewhere. For example, Total Crystalation is a delicious beer that is a fresh-hopped version of Ninkasi's flagship IPA (Total Domination), but you aren't going to find it anywhere but at the Ninkasi taproom. Ninkasi's space is primarily outdoors, which may seem daunting during the cold and rainy season, but a cold winter night was actually one of our favorite times to stop by for a pint as the patio stays cozy with its fire pit and space heaters. My go-to IPA at Ninkasi is their double IPA, Tricerahops, which is actually my favorite overall double IPA. This beer is extremely hoppy, but at the same time smooth, and is brewed with a mix of Chinook, Cascade, Centennial, Summit, and Palisade hops. If you're a hardcore IPA lover like myself, then this beer is a must try. IPA not to miss: Tricerahops Double IPA, 8.0%, 84 IBU
Oakshire Brewing: Located within walking distance of Ninkasi is Oakshire Brewing's Public House, an inviting taproom with a warm, wooden interior that is cozy in the fall and winter; on a sunny day, the doors are rolled back to turn the space into an open-air area with additional space outside. While I think the atmosphere of their tasting room is by far one of the biggest draws for Oakshire, they also produce solid beer. My go-to IPA at this brewery is their Watershed IPA, which they produce year-round. This is a more standard IPA than Ninkasi's Tricerahops, but it has a nice hoppiness that is the perfect amount of bitter. When available, I also recommend Oakshire's Perfect Storm IPA, which is their double IPA that is only available during certain times of year. IPA not to miss: Watershed IPA, 6.7%, 70 IBU; Perfect Storm Double IPA (when available), 9.0%, 100+ IBU.
Hop Valley Brewing: Located just between Ninkasi and Oakshire, Hop Valley is also an excellent place to stop for a brew in Eugene. Their tasting room has ample room outdoors on a wooden patio that is decorated with twinkle lights and live, growing hops. In addition to lots of space to soak up the sun, Hop Valley has shuffleboard available to play in case you're feeling competitive while you sip your brew. While, in my opinion, Hop Valley's beer as a whole is not as tasty or diverse as Ninkasi or Oakshire, it is still worth a stop as their space is fun and low-key, especially on a sunny day. Also, Hop Valley does produce one of my favorite Imperial IPAs: their Alpha Centauri, which is delectable and super hoppy. Just be aware that this particular IPA has a higher alcohol content than the other IPAs at Hop Valley at 9.0% ABV. If you're looking for a more standard IPA at this brewery, I recommend their Proxima IPA, which is a very smooth and light IPA that is at a lower 6.20% ABV. IPA not to miss: Alpha Centauri Imperial IPA, 9.0%, 100 IBU
Three Great Breweries All Within Walking Distance!
Rotating food trucks, packaged snacks
Rotating food trucks, packaged snacks, outside food okay
Hop Valley Brewing
Food available. Appetizers, small pizzas, sandwiches, salads
Additional Breweries to Try
I only touched the tip of the iceberg when it comes to breweries in Eugene. Here are a few other local breweries that are also worth checking out if you have the time:
- Coldfire Brewing
- Falling Sky Brewing
- Sam Bond's Brewing
- Claim 52 Brewing
- Agrarian Ales
The Bier Stein: Locally referred to as "the Stein," this taphouse/restaurant is an absolute must-see for every craft beer lover. With 25 taps that are constantly rotating, you never know what you're going to find here, but you can always trust that there will be a good variety and that everyone in your group will be able to find something to please their individual palate. In addition to the 25 taps, the Stein also has a wall of refrigerated bottles that can be purchased and poured onsite as well as a few wines on tap. Not only is this place perfect for beer lovers, but for foodies as well; they carry a full menu with lots of quality pub-style food in addition to seasonal menus utilizing ingredients that are in-season. Since the taplist here is always changing, I can't recommend any one particular IPA, but they always designate taps 1 through 4 for IPAs and double IPAs, so that is where to find them when trying to decide what to order. The other 21 taps are spread across stouts, farmhouse ales, pale ales, Belgians, sours, and nitro/cask taps. I really can't recommend this place highly enough, though I will suggest avoiding it on Friday and Saturday nights when the University of Oregon is in session as it fills with lots of college students. For a weekend lunch, a weeknight dinner, or just a couple of pints with friends, this place can't be beat. IPA not to miss: All the IPAs! Extra Credit: The Bier Stein was listed #6 on USA Today's 2016 list of Best Beer Bars in the U.S.
The Tap and Growler: This small taphouse is a great place to go, and offers a smaller, more intimate setting than the Stein. It has a soft, wooden interior, with garage door-style windows that roll open allowing for open-air and outdoor seating on a nice day. The Tap and Growler has an impressive 81 taps, though only a portion of them are allocated for beer. While the beer selection is always solid and diverse, they also offer a wide variety of wines, kombucha, meads, and ciders on tap; this variety makes the Tap and Growler a nice option if you're with a group of people that contains non-beer drinkers. What is also nice about the Tap and Growler's taplist is that they place the taps under certain headings on the menu. So, if you're an IPA drinker like me, you'll look for the section entitled "Hoppy/IPA." Like the Stein, the Tap and Growler's taplist is always changing so I can't recommend anything in particular, though I do recommend trying some of the local brews that come from the smaller, local breweries such as Mazama Brewing in Corvallis or Agrarian Ales in outer Eugene, if they are on tap. IPA not to miss: Whichever one strikes your fancy!
Things to Do in Eugene Between Beers
Of course one can't only drink beer for entertainment, and luckily Eugene has a host of fun things to do while you're in town! Here are just a few fun things to do in and around Eugene:
- Go on a local hike at Spencer Butte or Mt. Pisgah
- Attend the Downtown Saturday Market with lots of local produce, food, crafts, and music
- Take in a movie at the Bijou Arts Theater, a movie theater in an old Church building
- Walk along the Willamette for miles and miles on the Alton Baker trail
- Visit the University of Oregon Campus and Autzen Stadium
- Drive to the Oregon Coast, a mere 1.5 hour drive
- Drive up the McKenzie River for a hike