Words & Photos - Matthew Curtis. Earlier in the day I visited Full Sail and the Prodigal Son brewery, check out what I thought here.
The sun is setting over the sprawling fields of Oregon as we near our destination of Walla Walla, Washington which lies only a few miles away over the State border. My Dad and I along with our friends Mike and Laurie are driving round the small town of Milton Freewater looking for our next destination and eventually we turn down a small dirt road and drive up to an inconspicuous looking farmhouse. About thirty cats suddenly run across the field in front of us in which stands a row of poles used for growing hop bines. A man walks out of the farmhouse to greet us, this man is Adam T. Gregory, head brewer and owner of the smallest commercial brewery I have ever seen, Dragon's Gate Brewery.
Adam escorts us into the 'brewhouse' a small building no larger than your average garden shed. At the far end of the room sits the brewing kit which Adam uses to brew his beers twenty gallons at a time, on one side of the wall shelves are stacked with sacks of malt and bottles waiting to be filled, on the other there is a bar that would seat no more than three or four people and at the edge of this is a fridge that has been converted into a 'kegerator' so that Adam can serve his beers on tap as well as in bottles. The brewery is adorned with pieces of Gothic and fantasy art, including a full size replica of a suit of armour which nicely ties in with the theme Adam has chosen for his branding.
We are soon handed our first beer, an absolutely delicious Belgian style witbier which produced delicate flavours of lemongrass, clove and bubblegum. Without question it was the most accomplished beer I had drank so far that day, such was its authenticity I was shocked to hear that Adam had not yet made the journey to Belgium. Adam then produced a bottle and as soon as we had drained our glasses of the last drops of our wit he was filling them with his Belgian Strong ale. I'm not sure if Adam was intentionally trying to produce a Westmalle Tripel clone but with this beer he'd come pretty close, all of the rustic, Belgian flavours were there complete with those signature yeast esters that typify the style. The only difference between this and the genuine article was a fresh, grassy note produced by the Dragons Gate hops which are all grown at the brewery, no outside hops are bought in. Adam grows Centennial, Cascade, Galena, Mt. Hood, Willamette, Magnum, Sterling, Saaz, and Hallertauer hops all on site which adds a truly unique twist to this brewery's story.
Next up is a Belgian IPA which was another solid brew, it was probably my least favourite out of all of the beers I tried at Dragon's Gate because I like my IPAs to be huge and packed with fruity, resinous flavours. Rather than being in your face this Belgian IPA was subtle and leaned more towards the Belgian style than being an outright IPA. We had time for a couple more beers before we had to leave, the English Porter was superb take on the style with roasted coffee and chocolate flavours being perfectly balanced by the bitterness of Adam's home grown hops. Finally Adam pours one last beer straight out of the conditioning tank a honey Saison that's not quite ready and despite being well under carbonated due it being so young it's absolutely delicious.
It goes without saying that Dragon's Gate was the highlight of the drive down the Columbia Gorge and Adam proved that you don't need to be a large commercial brewer to produce world class beers. The town of Milton Freewater is well rooted in wine country but Dragon's Gate could well lead the way for a new wave of breweries in the area. Adam has big plans for his business and intends to build a larger facility and tasting room and gradually increase his output while still using hops grown on his own farm. I look forward to hopefully returning to Milton Freewater in a few years time and seeing how things have progressed. The brewery is open to the public and as well as having beers on tap you can buy bottles or growlers to take away just check the Dragon's Gate website here for the opening hours.
With the last sip of the honey Saison we bid our goodbyes to Adam and make our way towards the Washington border and onward towards more beverage related misadventure.