The Yeast Wizard of Yachats

By Michael Kew

Charlie Van Meter, Jenna Steward, and Aaron Gilham. Photo: Kew.

BREWER ON THE ROOF: “I’m snowblind whenever I first walk up here.”

We squint in the glare. Sunday afternoon. Over there is the ocean. We’re at the beach, but we’re not.

Indian Summer. In shades and a black hoodie, Charlie Van Meter sips fresh Kölsch from a glass. From his downstairs brite-tank tap, of course.

“It’s nice being right on 101,” Jenna Steward, his wife and brewery manager, says. She’s on the Kölsch, too. “Even if people don’t expect to stop in, they see our sign and decide to take a break and see what we’re about.”

Third story—technically the flat, white roof—of Yachats Brewing & Farmstore. Used to be a bank. Look 30 feet down: Highway 101 and the somnolence of Yachats, population 700. Look up: clear sky. Look west: blue Pacific forever. Look south: the Yachats River estuary, shadowed by Cape Perpetua, the fabled green fist of rock, knuckling the white waves.

“The dream,” Van Meter says, “is to put a third-story taproom right here so we can all have this epic view. Yachats is beautiful in the sun—and in the rain and wind. It’s great for stormwatching, too. People will sit and watch the chaos around them.”

It’s pronounced YAH-hots. In 2015, from Hood River, Van Meter and Steward (both 28) moved here at the wish of Yachatians Nathan and Cicely Bernard. In 2012, with salvaged Oregon wood (old-growth bar tops, posts, beams, floors) and wine barrel furniture, the Bernards flipped the old bank into a farmstore hub, selling local meat and produce and fermented food and all sorts of cool garden gear. A bright, helpful space. An intersection for this tranquil community.

“We’ve got a ‘coast time’ outlook on things,” Van Meter says, exhaling, admiring the view. “It’s Yachats Time, like ‘island time’ in the tropics. A nice, relaxed pace.”

Unfortunately, the Bernards are not here today. Likely eight miles upriver, tending to their sunny permaculture homestead. Here at the brewery, they’ve left the proverbial gate ajar for their young yeastmaster; he and Steward (with assistant brewer Aaron Gillham) are taking full advantage. New additions to their seven-barrel brewhouse include a six-head bottling line for 500ml glass for “limited release sales, hopefully by Thanksgiving,” Steward says before pointing at a roof next door. “And over there is the proprietary wind machine that’s going to power our glycol chiller.” (The machine was conceived by hardware design engineer/inventor Steve Burkle of Yachats-based EiP Technologies.)

Van Meter is a freak. Just a few years into his wort-wrangling, he stood onstage at the 2014 Great American Beer Festival, fist-bumping Charlie Papazian and sporting a shiny silver medal. Why? A peach saison he helped brew at his (now) alma mater, Logsdon Farmhouse Ales in Hood River. But that happened after he’d dovetailed jobs at Portland U-Brew and Uptown Market into his first pro brewing gig at Sasquatch in Hillsdale. This was in 2012, the birthyear of Yachats Farmstore. Logsdon’s Chuck Porter—colleague of Van Meter and an old friend of the Bernards—then cameoed to mash a few farmstore ales with Bernard’s 20-barrel pilot system.

But the system had to grow. Logsdon again pollinated the Yachats fold, this time via Van Meter/Steward.

They clicked.

“Yachats is an eclectic collection of people who very intentionally decide to live in this town,” Van Meter says. “It has a weird magnetism. People with all kinds of crazy skills and backgrounds end up here. I like to say Yachats is a collection of wizards.”

It’s getting hot here on the roof. More Kölsch, anyone?

On draught downstairs in the bustling eatery/store/bar are 13 house beers; per autumn, four are fresh-hop, including two saisons and a sour. There’s an IPA or two, a sour wit, a dry stout, a pale ale. There are three kombuchas, seven guest beers, two guest meads, three guest ciders, and two guest wines. There’s a saison with Szechuan peppercorns, a saison with plum and lavender, a saison with sage, a saison with lemongrass and rosebud….

“We like to keep it fresh, keep it new, keep it tasty,” Van Meter says over the din. “Farmhouse ales are close to my heart—probably my ‘traditional’ beers. They capture my imagination in terms of the history of the style and the romanticism of oak and its charms and attention to the simple ingredients.”

How so?

 “Simple grain bills and hop bills. A lot of the stuff I make is just a little bit of pilsner malt, a little bit of wheat, and combinations of yeast and adding fruit or spices to it. There is so much you can do with a small palette, like a painter’s palette. You can make a lot of things within the saison/farmhouse category with only a few ‘colors,’ if you will. It’s complex, yet it can be refreshing. There are lots of subtle flavors to come out of these combinations of yeast. Brewing is like being a yeast shepherd. You try to give it its ideal conditions and food and let it take care of itself. You’re just there to help it get into a package.”

I gape at the long wooden tap wall, a palette of choice in a place that is nothing but.

“This brewery is its own living thing,” Van Meter says, handing me a glass of his Fresh Hop Amarillo Sour. “We’re just letting it grow to what it wants to be.”

 

 

Yachats Brewing & Farmstore

348 Highway 101 North, Yachats

541-547-3884

yachatsbrewing.com