High On Adventure - Featuring Photojournalist Larry Turner

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Brewing in Bloom

Brewing in Bloom

Caldera Brewing Company

Story by Lindsay Dove

Photography by Jerry Clarkson


Back in 1989 when Ashland was still a hidden gem of Southern Oregon, a college kid who’d been on a skiing scholarship discovered what was then called SOSC and the snowy slopes of Mount Ashland. “And within two weeks I knew I wanted to live here,” says Jim Mills, now owner and head brewer of the Caldera Brewing Company, which includes the Caldera Tap House at 31 Water Street in downtown Ashland and the newer Caldera Brewery and Restaurant at the end of 590 Clover Lane on Ashland’s south side. An Oregonian from the Portland area, Mills began home-brewing and realized he’d honed a skill that would allow him to work for himself and contribute to the laid-back community he’d fallen in love with.

By 2009, the Caldera Tap House becoming one of the most frequented and well-known places in downtown Ashland to buy a beer and hear live music, for decades to come. With brewing a variety of beers as his passion, Mills saw the constraints of his 6,000 square-foot-building, which could produce about 400 cases per day, and maximized his production by building a 28,000 square-foot brewery on Clover Lane in 2010 that could boost production to over 3600 cases per day.

With their new 30-barrel brew house, Caldera has the space now for over 42 beers on tap, massive grain silos, 180-barrel fermenting tanks, and a canning system that seams and cans 1200 cans-per-minute, all in keeping up with their trademark of being one of the first craft breweries on the West Coast to can their own beer since 2005. Specialty beers are aged in Kentucky bourbon barrels, pallets of incoming and outgoing cans have space to be stored and organized, and a 3,000 square-foot refrigerated room keeps cans, bottles and kegs cool. 

In addition, the new brewery boasts its own restaurant led by world-class chef Joe Stephens plus a world-renowned baker from Okinawa named Yumi Stevens who hand-bakes the pizza crusts and breads on-site. Local ingredients like Rogue Creamery’s Smokey Blue Cheese is the salivating signature taste inside Caldera’s Mogli Blue Cheese Stuffed Mushrooms, while the self-named Caldera specialty pizza is also rich with blue cheese, caramelized onions, and Mogli balsamic reduction drizzle.

Going with Ashland’s historic movement to live sustainably, Mills was sure to incorporate green features into the new building by: using scrap ash hardwood from Talent’s Sawyer Paddles and Oars for the over 45 tap handles constantly switched out at the two locations; composting spent grain, hops, and filter sheets; using steam power for all three kettles at the brew house; incorporating a hot liquor tank that reuses heat-exchanged water for the next brew; using low-energy lighting and passive solar; and recycling cooking oil into bio-fuel.

“It’s quality over quantity with us still though,” says Ray Cato, Branding Manager of Caldera and long-time buddy of Mill’s, “Beer brewing is a fine-tuning and a slow progression to get the best end-result.” Exemplary of this specialty brewing are beers like: the customer-favored Dry-Hop Orange IPA, the Hibiscus Ginger beer brewed with hibiscus flowers, the Vanilla Wheat beer made with vanilla beans, and the Toasted Coconut Chocolate Porter brewed with organic toasted coconut and natural chocolate. Adam Benson, lead brewer, explains, “the malt strain we use from Bamberg, Germany, along with the growing season, the soil, and different strains of hops, such as the whole-cone Noble hops, which are also from Germany, produce different flavor profiles, so you can end up with a smokey taste, for example.” Adding to this brewing creativity are seasonal brews like this winter’s Belgian-style Triple, and in-house teas and sodas that Jim has perfected over many years, such as the non-alcoholic ‘soda-hop,’ and a home-made ginger ale recipe that Jim adds minimal sugar to and brews with organic ginger.

A long list of awards for Caldera brews is illustrated by the mound of metals on the wall at the newer Caldera Brewery & Restaurant, alongside an astonishingly impressive collection of bottles and cans that Jim has collected since his youth that exceed 5,000 and are officially Oregon’s largest displayed bottle and can collection. “I’ve always wanted a place to display my bottles and cans,” smiles Mills, “and we also wanted to display the work of local Ashland woodworkers, glass-blowers, and artists at the new brew house.”

In Caldera’s signature purple and green, the Clover Lane restaurant is adorned with half-barrel steel sinks in the bathrooms, a bar that’s composed of one solid piece of Douglas fir, surf-board tables outside and a dog-friendly, no-smoking porch with outdoor heaters. Clear tabletops inside exhibit a history of Ashland-and-beyond underneath, showing concert tickets, beer labels, season ski passes, photographs, stickers, foreign coins, ski maps, and endless paper paraphernalia from a history of Jim’s lifetime of enjoying Ashland and the outdoors, from skiing at Heavenly to surfing in Hawaii.

Commenting about why visitors to Ashland or locals alike might frequent Caldera, Cato notes that, “We are one of few breweries to use whole-flower hops in our brews, we’re the first craft cannery in the West, and we’ve got a kick-back, family ambiance at the new restaurant with incredible views of the Ashland Hills. Our staff, cooks, and brew team are excellent, incorporating lots of local and organic ingredients. We favor cans as an exponentially recyclable resource, and with over 42 brews on-tap, we have something here for everyone.” 



Beer Cheese Soup



1 tbsp butter

1 qt carrot

1 qt celery

1 qt onion

1/2 pitcher Ashland Amber

2 qt vegetable stock

3/4 cup Worcestershire

1 cup Dijon

1/8 cup kosher salt

1/2 tbsp adobo sauce

3 qt béchamel sauce

1 cup heavy cream

2/3 bag shredded cheddar (3 lb bag)



Cut all veggies brunoise. Sweat in butter until tender, then pulse in robot coupe (food processor). Return to pot. Add beer and cook for five minutes until alcohol is cooked out. Add vegetable stock, Worcestershire and Dijon mustard. Once hot, incorporate béchamel, adobo sauce and cream. Whisk in cheddar and season.


Caldera Restaurant & Brewery

590 Clover Ln., Ashland



Caldera Tap House

31 Water St., Ashland




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