What Goes Better With Pizza? Wild River Brewing delivers the old-school classics
Over the past four decades, Wild River Brewing & Pizza Company has built up a modest chain (of five, in Cave Junction, Medford, Brookings Harbor and Grants Pass) restaurants in southern Oregon—and, starting in 1990, way ahead of the microbrew craze, they began supplementing their restaurants with their own beers, with what was then known as Steelhead Brewery. It didn’t take long for those two businesses—the pizza joints and the brewery—to merge under the current name, and it wasn’t a huge trek upstream from Steelhead to Wild River Brewing.
In recent years, many new breweries have stepped into the market with a hops-forward approach and IPAs are the flagship brew. But like a 90s band, the tastes from Wild River are a bit darker in tone than the current bright notes, and a welcome departure—and throwback.
Wild River beers run the gamut of lagers, wheats, pilsners and, on the lighter side, kolsch, and all the way to Nut Brown Ale and Imperial Stout. Their Golden Vienna Lager has the pleasant earthiness of “classic” old world lagers, in the Heineken or Beck’s direction, while Harbor Lights Kolsch, light and citrussy with a hint of sweetness, is an excellent beer that carries clean malty thickness without any sweetness. I favor the IPA’s hop-assault, but the Extra Special Bitter (ESB)—lighter than expected, though crisp and dry—is a pleasant drink, and the Nut Brown Ale was dark and surprisingly dry and toasty, with dark roasted malt. On the woolier side of beer drinking, their Double Eagle Imperial Stout, at 9% ABV, avoids the common burnt-malt note while still carrying a pleasing creaminess, replete with notes of bittersweet mocha.
Seasonals at Wild River push the envelope a bit more, like their Noveski Black Hop IPA, with its aggressive hop bitterness (but a touch of a sour), and Cave Bear Barley Wine, 13% ABV, which comes in a 10 ounce serving, and lands thick on the tongue, but still light, with overtones of (wait for it) WHISKEY!