The Classics Never Die: Wild River Brewery’s Taste Stays Relevant
I used to visit my grandmother every summer, out in the boonies of Idaho. She lived on thirteen acres, took care of three horses and, at one point in her life, regularly carried around a shotgun with the break open as if fearful a water buffalo might stampede through her double-wide trailer at any moment. She was the kind of character that’d appear in Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove as a fur hunter or the local law enforcer. Her neighbors called her “AJ” and, despite her age, no one needed to help her much. Grandma AJ was independent, and fiercely talented at many things.
She was not, however, good at cooking. God-awful, really. Corn flakes and skim milk might be for dinner, or maybe she’d whip up a packet of cheddar-filled Oscar Meyer wieners with wheat buns and some diced onion for flavor.
We’d stay for a week, and during that visit, we’d go out one night. That night was one I looked forward to almost more than Christmas. She’d take us to this “local” pizza joint. Local for her was a 25-minute drive. The imagery sticks in my mind: my sister and I sitting in an old booth, surrounded by paintings of landscapes and wildlife, tearing through our pizza as if it were our last meals, my grandmother tepidly sipping on a crappy beer and scowling mildly at the tattoo on the waitress’s lower back. Eventually, the owner, Bill, would come out, call her by name and they’d chat like friends because people knew AJ.
Sometimes I dream about that place.
As soon I entered Wild River in Medford, I was instantly hit with a wave of nostalgia. The wood paneling, realistic paintings of blue herons, elk, wolves, and all types of wildlife, the cafeteria placing of the tables, all the way down to the desserts in a display case. It was the same place.
The restaurant is a local brewery that specializes in pizza. Brewing started in Cave Junction almost 30 years ago and eventually lead to their brewing operations in Grants Pass where their 15-barrel brewhouse makes all the ales for their five establishments.
I was greeted by a kind Bartender, Keith, who set me up with a sample tray of eight beers (including two seasonals). They did their staples well; the IPA was robust and their ESB had a very subtle hop flavor with a bit of malty sweetness. Their Saison #4 was aged in Pinot Noir casks for 6 months, giving some complexity to the beer’s tea flavoring. The Noveske Black Hop IPA had a sweet nose, was incredibly smooth and had a full body flavor of a stout with a crisp hop finish of an IPA. Perfect for any season and complex enough to pair with an assortment of meals.
My favorite was their Sunrise Blood Orange IPA. I was instantly taken by its strong nose, a rich citrus smell that’s followed by even more citrus flavors. Decent hops, present blood orange flavor and a lingering taste made this beer the kind I could see myself drinking three or thirty on a hot summer day.
When I finished the tray, I half expected to turn around and find Grandma AJ talking to Bill in one of the booths. I was hit with that wave of nostalgia once more, and found myself liking the odd décor, the old chairs, and the tired tap handles. Perhaps more importantly, I enjoyed every one of the beers. Wild River certainly isn’t glamorous, but their beers are a cut above.
Located in Grants Pass, Medford, Cave Junction and Brookings Harbor. Visit wildriverbrewing.com for more information.