By Michael H. Kew
"BANDON?" AIN'T NO brewery there!”
Leaning against the yellow-cedar beam bar he made, sipping a pint of ale he made, Jonathan Hawkins laughed at the memory, a quip from the 2017 Great American Beer Festival, one month after Hawkins first brought his Portland Kettle Works 5bbl Hopmaster online.
“It’s a great little system,” he told me, gesturing at the shiny steel tanks behind us. “A Cadillac for its size.”
A lifelong beer lover, Hawkins, 43, spent much of his time between Gold Beach, Ore., and Lake Quinault, Wash., where his mom ran a resort. In April 2013 he moved to the quaint seaside village of Bandon (pop. 3,200) “chasing Nicole,” his wife and business partner who he originally knew from high school. Years later, they were reacquainted at a mutual friend’s party in Portland.
With his background in professional construction, Hawkins launched Rock River Resources, now R3 Construction. In 2015 he and his wife bought the historic 9,500-square-foot McNair Building as a new home for Bandon Vision Center (Nicole has been a local optometrist for 13 years) and briefly shared walls with the pizzeria Hawkins bought. In September 2016, R3 broke ground for the vision center on one side, brewery/pizzeria on the other.
“I told Nicole that if I was going to take on a restaurant and do pizzas, I wasn’t going to do conveyer pizzas. I was going to do wood-fired pizzas, and I was going to make beer. She was gracious enough to agree with that, and away we went.”
His first taste of hands-on commercial brewing occurred via weekly trips to Labrewatory, run by Portland Kettle Works, where he tested and refined his recipes before hopping head-first into Oregon’s coastal craft beer scene. “It’s been a phenomenal experience,” he said. “Brewing has been the most collaborative industry I’ve been a part of. So many people have been encouraging and supportive, showing me their operations, offering advice and suggestions.”
Bandon Brewing’s grand opening was September 8, which coincided with the 71st annual Bandon Cranberry Festival. The reception was “fantastic,” Hawkins said. “I feel fortunate I got to be the one to do this here. Residents and visitors have really embraced us.”
Near the mouth of the Coquille River, at the entrance to Old Town Bandon, near the big, nautical-themed We Hope You Are Enjoying Bandon sign arced over the road, the cedar-shaked McNair Building originally was a hardware store, then many phases through the years. In recent times it was managed by Bill McNair of Gold Beach. “We called Bill and asked him if he’d be interested in talking about a sale,” Hawkins said. “Nicole and I met him at Redfish (a restaurant in Port Orford) with the intent of just discussing some possibilities, but three-and-a-half hours later, we walked out of there with an agreement. We wrote out the terms and everything right there in Redfish. It happened fast. Totally unexpected.”
On being the Oregon Coast’s newest brewery amid the nation’s craft beer boom, he viewed the building’s current ambiance as natural progress. “There used to be churches and taverns,” he said, “and they competed and tried to put each other out of business, basically. You had the diabolically opposed on each side, and taverns kind of opened that space up. I call (brewpubs) the new churches, places where people from all walks of life can get together and discuss ideas, art, jokes—whatever. It’s a great environment. And I don’t know of a single town I visit where I’m thinking, Damn, there are just too many breweries.”
So far, Hawkins has made instant classics like One-Eyed Jacque IPA (named for his one-eyed schnauzer), Pacific Puffin Porter, Camp 7 Coffee Porter, and Rogue River Red. From this year’s harvest, he has plans for a cranberry saison, a tribute to Bandon’s large cranberry industry. Ultimately Hawkins aims to offer nine taps of in-house beer, plus five guest taps. “Having guest taps is awesome camaraderie,” he said. “I’m not asking anybody else to carry my beers, but I’ll always be happy to carry other beers from Southern Oregon.
To help with brewing and imminent expansion, Hawkins hired James Petti, who, after five years at Karl Strauss, launched Wavelength Brewing in Vista, Calif. “I’m gonna put him right to the fire when he gets here,” Hawkins said with a laugh.
From the copper-covered Wood Stone oven, my pizza emerged. Hawkins and I took seats in the airy south-facing dining area, warm with golden midday autumn sun that radiated off the brewpub walls, all coated with gorgeous reclaimed wood from Redmond’s Barnwood Industries. Out on the street, a horseman rode past.
“The Bandon area has some phenomenal coastline,” Hawkins said, sipping some Camp 7. “From Brookings to Florence is some of the prettiest coastline anywhere. Being in the Navy and also having sat on the back deck of a crab boat, I’ve seen the whole coast, from Cape Flattery all the way down to San Diego. And guess what? We’re right in the middle.”
Bandon Brewing Company
395 2nd Street SE, Bandon