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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Review - Three Creeks Brewing

Brewer: Dave Fleming
721 Desperado Court
Sisters, OR 97759
(541) 549-1963

Sun-Thu, 11am - 9pm, Fri-Sat 11am - 10pm.

Beers: A modest range of
well-selected NW-style ales.
Sisters is one of those towns, like Cannon Beach and Joseph, that flourishes because of what surrounds it. In this case, it's the stunning Three Sisters Wilderness Area, with Alps-like peaks and roaring wild water. (When we visited, the snow was still a foot deep over the pass.) Like Joseph and Cannon Beach, it has a historic strip of restored buildings and is home to a high density of artists and galleries. There are only a thousand residents, but nearby are "cabins" with world-class views that are anything but rustic. Just down the road is Black Butte Ranch, an established resort studded with expensive real estate. You sense that Sisters is the locus of some substantial cash.

The owners of Three Creeks Brewpub must have known this, because this is no duct-tape and bailing-wire project. It's obvious not only in the size and beauty of the pub, but the carefully branded beers and merchandise. Central Oregon still maintains a cowboy ethos, and Three Creeks plays on that with western touches. The beers have pistol-toting blondes, and you pass into the bar through wild-west style swinging doors; a fire blazes in a large, showy fireplace. But these are just evocations; like Black Butte Ranch, Three Creeks isn't the real frontier, but a comfortable, plush space that merely nods to the distant past. It achieves character and fits in nicely with the restored, slightly boutiquish town.

Of course, ambiance is (for natives of Beervana, anyway) a secondary consideration. We want to know how well the ales are designed, not the building. If the beer sings, we may look up and take note of the surroundings. And indeed, brewer Dave Fleming's beers do sing--and with a more indie, Portland rocker beat than the surroundings would suggest. The range is relatively small, but obviously well-considered. Just six regular beers and a seasonal, and they track along a familiar continuum: Knotty Blonde, Anvil Amber, a rye, a pale, Firestone Red, and the requisite IPA. And for spring, when we visited, a dry stout. I sampled four of these, and they were all accomplished and enjoyable. One was excellent and one was fantastic. I should probably have tried either the blonde or amber, which I surmise are the offerings for non-beer patrons, but I couldn't bring myself to do it. I started with the Rye, which was the big winner.
  • Stonefly Rye. The difficulty with rye is that it's a husky, ornery grain, and has been the ruin of many a young beer. Fleming wisely pairs it with wheat here--he actually seasons a wheat beer with rye--and the result is a light, refreshing beer with a lively spicy note. The beer is made for summer, and is bright and tart (lemongrass?) but not assertive (4.6%, 28 IBUs). Don't try the IPA or pale and expect to detect the tasty subtleties this has to offer. Rating: A-
  • Old Prospector Pale. Both the pale and IPA are at the upper reaches for style, and the pale, to judge the palate, anyway, is halfway down the road toward an IPA. In my notes I called it a "whallop of hop," and the brewery describes it as a "hammering." Your mileage may vary, but you get the point--it's resinous and sticky, not unlike some of the Lucky Lab beers Fleming used to brew. Although strong, it's a damn fine beer, and hits a mark I like, the petit IPA, all the flavor with a slightly less punishing level of alchol (5.3%, 48 IBU). Rating: B+
  • 8 Second IPA. This seems like the latest victim of strength creep. It is only 6.6% alcohol, but a towering "85+" IBUs (I believe it). The result is a top-heavy beer that is sort of the inverse of the rye--whatever subtlety might otherwise be present was laid waste in the nuclear blast of alpha acid. There is a segment of beer drinkers who love this kind of beer, and to them I say, enjoy. (If you're like me, the pale--or red, which I didn't try--should be your last stop.) Rating: B-
  • Irish Stout. This was just a near miss. A very dense, bitter stout with loads of dark malt, I think the goal was an almost coffee-like roasting. In fact, that's how the waiter described it. For me it was like Starbucks, though--too roasted, almost burned. This note didn't overwhelm the otherwise tasty, creamy stout, but if it were scaled back 25%, the beer would have been a winner. Rating: B-
I only had one meal there, so it's difficult to judge. The menu is typical for brewpubs--sandwiches and burgers and a few meaty entrees. I tried an ahi sandwich that was a bit limp; the sauce had no wasabi I could detect. The fries were crisp and not greasy, and everyone at the table seemed to enjoy their burgers. The waiter was a bit slow to return with beer, but he was helpful and knowledgable. (Jon's review is complimentary, and he's a local, so there you go.)

Most towns of this size can't expect to have a brewpub, never mind a good one. Three Creeks is that and more. I hope we see some of the beer make it across the mountains so folks here can get acquainted. On the other hand, as road trips go, you could end up in worse places.

Image: the Brew Site


  1. Sadly, I found their beers to be lacking the time that I visited. Tried three different varieties and they all seemed to have a 'thin' mouth-feel. Just didn't do much for me.

    Thought the food was very overpriced, even for a tourist town.

  2. I had high expectations from Dave based on his beers at the lab, and was very disappointed. From the strip mall location to the terrible service, overpriced food and mediocre beer I'm unlikely to ever go back.

  3. Curious--was the 8 Second a standard IPA, or was it (as it originally was) their "IBA", "India Black Ale"? (You can tell I haven't been back recently...)

  4. I'm surprised at the negative reactions to the beer. I wonder if the early batches were the product of a brewery learning on new equipment. Three Creeks' debut was not quite as stellar as a couple of recents--Ninkasi and Double Mountain spring to mind--but the beer is accompished and distinctive. I find the criticism mystifying.

    The food was expensive for Central Oregon perhaps, but was pretty similar to Portland prices. I think my ahi was 13 bucks.

    Jon, dunno about 8 Second's lineage. It wasn't particularly black, and was pretty IPA-y (though strong).

  5. I was there a couple days after they opened and couldn't get over the PCR-type feel of the interior--all sterile and polished. But I did like the IBA enough.