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NW palate meets Belgian style

In July, Hood River News began its series, The Ale List, profiling the producers and purveyors of beer in Hood River County, as part of Oregon Craft Beer Month. July is past but the tour continues, with Hood River County’s newest brewery, Pfriem Family Brewing, which opens Aug. 4.

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Toasts will certainly vary, but if Hood River’s long-awaited newest brewery had an official one, it would be “Op uw gezondheid” — Flemish for “To your health.”

Pfriem Family Brewery will officially pour its first pints and serve its first meals starting at 11:30 a.m. Saturday.

“We’ve been turning people away,” said General Manager Ken Whiteman, as word has spread that Pfriem is about to open. Turn to Entertainment, page A3, for details on Saturday’s opening party.

Brewmaster and holder of the name is Josh Pfriem, formerly of Full Sail and Bellingham’s Chuckanut Brewery, which won Best Small Brewing Company of the Year in 2011 at the Great American Beer Festival.

Located at 707 Portway Ave., in the LEED-certified Halyard Building, the brewery is pronounced “freem” and to emphasize the silent “p” the company logo reads “pFriem” and “pF.”

The brewery specializes in Belgian-style ales made and poured on the premises, which are designed to go with a range of Belgian- and French-influenced dishes including mussels and frites, burgers, vegan bowls, flatbread plates and others.

Josh Pfriem explained his background and brewing philosophy this way:

“We use primarily all Northwest ingredients and a lot of old-world ideas and techniques, but we definitely have newer brewing technology to bring the three things together. Also, I have a palate that’s grown up in the Northwest; it grew up on hoppy IPAs. So definitely my palate, though it’s more subtle than most other folks’ — I like find the nuances in beers — but there’s definitely an assertive edge and a cleanness and a freshness that Northwest beer drinkers expect and I expect.

“I started as a home brewer, studied brew science, and have never stopped home brewing, and took everything I learned professionally and brought it home and tried to bring it to another level,” Pfriem said, “and so I have always made my little brew system better and better.

“Everything we’re brewing here is a culmination of my favorite beers and the ones people like the most and I tested everything, all the new techniques, on a small-batch system and implemented them on a larger batch. Lots more stuff will be coming out in the future after years of tinkering and playing and having fun,” he said.

Pfriem said he uses a Belgian strain and house American strain in a 15-barrel system and while there are “some overlaps in some of the brewing techniques, an ebb and flow,” he said the IPAs and Belgian ales “are pretty different styles” of beer.

“So we made sure we built a brewery that can handle the diversity of beer we want to do and there wouldn’t be any compromise in the styles. It’s important that we not only do Belgian beers super well but we do the IPA beers well.

“Because if you don’t design a brewery to do all those things, you’re just going to get narrowed into one style or a couple of different things and it’s hard to balance the two (styles).”

In the spacious tap room are a bar and furniture made from repurposed barn wood. Even the tap handles are made from an old hop-drying barn near Woodburn. The large windows look out on Hood River Waterfront Park, across the street.

The interior has a unity unlike any brewery around: The tap room and brewery are a single, high-ceilinged space with no walls on the main floor. The tap room seating is dominated by a long communal table designed to bring strangers and friends together in conversation. An elbow counter looks directly into the brewery itself. (Upstairs are offices and a room that can be used for meetings and private parties.) The tap room is family-friendly, with a corner for kids to play, complete with chalkboard.

“At our soft opening for friends and family we had about 10 kids hanging out watching Josh making beer,” Whiteman said. He joked that “the soft opening was kind of hard.” Tap room manager Bob Clark and chef John Levinski are getting both menu and service into shape, emphasizinglocal ingredients transformed into “food that works with beer,” Whiteman said.

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Pfriem Brewery will be open Wednesday through Sunday, 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.

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