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Cameron Litton, general manager of Walkabout Brewing Company in northwest Medford, pours a pint on Saturday during Medford Beer Week. (Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune)

Medford's microbreweries quietly bloom

Fans of stouts, ales, lagers — and, yes, IPAs — have plenty to celebrate in the Medford area for the week ahead.

A week of good times and offbeat beers is hitting its fizzy stride as Medford Beer Week picks up steam, lifting up Southern Oregon’s small-scale microbrewers alongside events highlighting larger craft beer companies in the state, such as Deschutes Brewery and Ninkasi.

At Walkabout Brewing Company, about a dozen beer drinkers competed in a “One-Handed Triathalon” Saturday afternoon, trying their hand — and only one hand — at a games such as darts, cornhole and ladderball while keeping their beer hand free to try new brews such as their Sunburst Summer Ale and once-a-year limited runs such as Walkabout’s hoppy Kicked in the Teeth Douple IPA.

Cameron Litton, Walkabout’s general manager, said that the annual beer week draws newcomers, particularly to the brewery’s tasting room at 921 Mason Way, in Medford’s industrial area off Rossanley Drive.

“We’re not in a space where people are going to find us by mistake,” Litton said.

Walkabout’s seven-barrel brewery is enough to keep taps flowing at various pubs, restaurants and growler-fill stations in Southern Oregon, particularly for its popular Workers Pale Ale, but the Medford brewery is far smaller than players from Bend, Eugene and Portland. Litton said Beer Week helps to highlight the craft beers that beer tourists may otherwise miss heading north — or south to northern California’s more established craft beer scene in Chico, California.

“There’s a lot of good beer in Southern Oregon, but we’re not on the map,” Litton said.

Among the smallest Beer Week participants for 2018 is Osmo’s Alehouse at 522 S. Central Ave., whose rotating selection of house-made beers from its three-barrel brewing system is sold exclusively at its location. Because of the brewery’s size, Osmo’s ESB is the only mainstay on its eight taps, according Osmo’s co-owner and brewer Nick Hull.

“There’s something on the board for everybody,” Hull said.

Hull described the variety and spontaneity as something his customers seek, adding that they’re seeking something different from the craft beers on supermarket shelves.

“You can find all those beers basically everywhere,” Hull said. “People are kind of looking for the hidden gems.”

While Osmos produces only 90 gallons of beer — enough to fill six kegs — once a week, Eugene’s Ninkasi now distributes beer in 12 states and as far away as New York, Maryland and Virginia, along with the two western Canadian provinces.

Osmo’s Grateful Dead-themed night held Saturday is very different from the concerts Ninkasi can afford to sponsor, but Hull said described the major craft brewery as almost “pulling from different demographics” than his three-person business caters to.

“I don’t really see it as competition, just a different type of event,” Hull said.

The same sentiment was described at similar nanobrewery Portal Brewing Co., which sells a rotating mix of 14 small-batch beers at its tasting room with limited hours Wednesdays through Saturdays at 100 E. Sixth Street. It produces about six kegs of beer every other week.

“Any small brewery can do way more creative things than a big brewery,” Portal brewer and co-owner Mike Dimon said, adding that it’s hard to produce something “unique and creative” if a company has to make 200 barrels of it.

Dimon and co-owner Theresa Delaney said Portal has no intention of expanding to that scale.

“It’s like being a beautiful little flower,” Delaney said.

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A week of beer

A variety of local breweries, tap houses and restaurants are participating in numerous daily events for Medford Beer Week, which all lead up to the 10th annual Southern Oregon Craft Brew Festival, happening from noon to 8 p.m. Saturday, June 16, at the Medford Commons. For the week’s full schedule, see www.medfordbeerweek.com.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@rosebudmedia.com.

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