A Brewery’s Growth Reflects a City’s: Oregon City Brewing at 5

The patio at Oregon City Brewing. Photo courtesy Oregon City Brewing

When Oregon City Brewing opened its doors five years ago, downtown Oregon City was a different place. Just a few years before their opening, the Blue Heron paper mill in Oregon City had shuttered, taking jobs and leaving a wide-opened landscape of abandoned and rusted buildings and structures surrounded by the natural falls. In the ensuing years, plans were released to redevelop the falls, while the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde recently announced plans to purchase the Blue Heron Mill site and develop it. 

Since then, the Downtown Oregon City Association (DOCA) was awarded the Great American Main Street Award last year in its efforts to revitalize Main Street and its downtown core.

Which is to say, downtown Oregon City is thriving. Within those five years, much has changed for Oregon City Brewing. When they first opened their doors, they didn’t allow minors since food wasn’t being served (nowadays Olympia Provisions cooks up meals for hungry families ), there was a battle with the city to have food trucks on the premises, and family members were doing the brewing with a three-barrel electric brew house and unjacketed fermenters and tanks. 

Photo courtesy Oregon City Brewing

Their first full year in 2015 they brewed 177 barrels. In 2018 it was a little over a thousand. Nowadays, they employ a professional brewmaster, David Vohden, who has led the brewery to a Bronze at GABF for their barrel aging program, a Bronze at the Oregon Beer Awards, and Silver at the Best of Craft Beer Awards. The building, which they now own, has helped make a long-term play for stability for the brewery. 

“I think we took a very different business perspective on what you typically see in the brewery business where some people start off with a great deal of capital, many investors, many different loans with a lot of work and time and effort and capital to open on day one,” says owner Bryce Morrow. “For us, it was the exact opposite, from coming from my garage and having all of our permitting and state stuff already done. We had the bare minimum to open.” 

Morrow, who was born and raised in Oregon City, remembers Main Street as a kid being derelict, with empty storefronts. In fact, the building that houses the brewery had itself been vacant for long stretches of time. And now, with new businesses popping up (like the successful Grano Bakery down the street), taprooms and other breweries and restaurants thriving nearby, many of the older buildings along Main are being retrofitted, with downtown Oregon City being positioned as a destination. 

“I think that’s part of a reflection of Portland continuing to grow and the outlying suburbs having all grown as well,” Morrow says. “Portland is our number one group of customers outside of Oregon City. A lot of them are coming in for a weekend, for a cheaper, quick day trip, or to come explore.” 

Photo courtesy Oregon City Brewing

Indeed, for those visiting downtown Oregon City, you can walk from Oregon City Brewing to Arch Bridge Taphouse, Highland Stillhouse, a bevy of food places, or take a quick car trip to Feckin Brewery, The HiVe Taphouse, or Coin Toss Brewing.

“Our timing was great and the community has been really receptive. We’re happy with where we are in year five and are super excited to see where we’re going to be in another five years,” says Morrow.

Morrow says plans include expanding the outdoor patio seating with a stage and fire pits and outdoor covered area; adding more restrooms; and doing some interior renovation to add more interior space. Plans also call for consolidating into one central location to free up additional space so they can add a more fermenters or brite tanks early next year.

“We should be able to increase the capacity probably by another 20% to 30%. It’s time to continue to push it forward to the next step,” Morrow says. 

Oregon City Brewing is located at 1401 Washington Street in Oregon City. 

John Chilson
John Chilson

John Chilson writes about Portland history and architecture at Lost Oregon. He's also written for Neighborhood Notes, Travel Oregon, Portland Architecture, Askmen.org, San Diego Reader, and Portland Food and Drink. Follow him on twitter at @LostOregon for local history nerdism; for beer tweets he's at @Hopfrenzy. Shoot him an email at hopfrenzy@gmail.com if you want to get in touch.