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The Ale List visits Parkdale: Solera satisfies sweet demand for the sour science

— The Locavore spirit comes in liquid form, too, thanks to beer makers such as Jason Kahler.

Kegs empty quickly at Hood River County’s newest old brewery, Solera of Parkdale, where Kahler crafts beer, and the space to drink it in, with a firm sense of what, and who, is in the neighborhood.

“The only issue is limited brewery space,” said Kahler, who left Hood River’s Big Horse brewery in 2011 to establish his own brewery in the former Eliot Glacier Brewery, which had been dark since 2010.

(One of Kahler’s sour beer drinking companions is his friend Derrak Smith, the new brewmaster at Big Horse.)

Kahler and co-owner John Hitt spent months refurbishing the pub (originally a theater built in 1936), repainting and redoing the floor and removing the east bar to make room for more seating. They opened Solera in February.

What stays the same are the mezzanine, the free popcorn and the sense of community in the pub.

“There’s a lot of the old here, still,” Kahler said. “I wanted the community to make it their own, and I think that’s happened.

“From the beginning I wanted it to be a community center for the upper valley, because that’s the hole that was left when Eliot Glacier closed. It’s still there. The same group of orchardists who came in every Tuesday and Friday night 12 years ago, still coming in every Tuesday and Friday 12 years later.”

Also unchanged from the Eliot Glacier days are the line of old beer cans which came with the building purchase, and the south deck and patio. It has the best view of any brewery in the county, which Kahler and Hitt plan to embellish by leasing the property just to the south. They’ll take in land about 40 yards out to the orchard, for more seating and event space, and parking.

Plenty of beer is being consumed on premises, and pub owners are continually calling for Hedonist and other Solera specials.

“If I’m down to two or three kegs I won’t let it out,” Kahler said. “Having a tap handle out of town is good for getting your name out, but it’s not that profitable to sell those kegs. Essentially nine out of 10 times I tell people no when bars and restaurants ask for kegs. I flat-out say I can’t. I need to have enough beer for the pub side.

“We are definitely selling a lot more beer than I was anticipating at this point in the game, seven barrels; can only brew once a week,” he said.

“It’s been good, the demand is definitely there; we just gotta build up the supply side,” Kahler said. He’s arranging to rent cooler and basement space at a nearby building to keep up with cellaring rotating beers and the growing supply of solera sour.

For now, look to the taps for the new low-alcohol oatmeal pale ale and Kahler’s signature Hedonist IPA (the name belies its restrained hoppiness).

There is a similar counter-intuition with the oatmeal pale, for it is “really low-alcohol; plenty of oats and late-hop additions,” Kahler said. It will debut Saturday at an art show by Kahler’s friend Nate Chavez, and has the same name as the exhibit: “Personal Demons.”

“Nate asked me to make a beer just for that, and I jumped at the opportunity,” Kahler said.

He recently temporarily ran out of Short Stop, his twist on the IPA style, one he calls “India Session Ale” for its low alcohol level.

“I don’t know that it’s a recognizable style, but it’s something that’s popping up all over the Northwest; but we’re essentially trying to get a session-able, full-bodied ale, with low alcohol. That’s where the trick comes,” Kahler said.

As the brewery evolves, fruit beers and sour beers will largely define Solera, named for a particularly time-consuming sour beer process (more on that in a moment).

One of his first sour beers out of the gates was a Berliner Weisse, which he showcased at a national homebrewers convention in Seattle.

“We have a lot of fruit beers coming up; that’s kind of what’s been a little bit of the bottleneck with keeping up with production — tying up all of the tanks with all this fruit,” Kahler said.

“We’ve been picking up lots of cherries, we just haven’t done anything with them,” Kahler said. “But we will after I free up the tanks (by early August). We’ve got a sour peach, low-alcohol on the way, in about four weeks.

“I plan to let it sit on the fruit at least a couple of weeks: the fruit is in the tank with finished beer and then transferred to another tank with 300 pounds of peaches.

“Last week I decided to blend in a couple of other beers to give it a little more acidity, make the peaches pop a little more,” he said. “I though it was nice the way it was but the peaches really benefit from having some acid on them; some tart.”

The peach beer will be the first fruit based out of Solera. Kahler said he is “really adamant about not using canned fruit, especially up here.

“It’s a little silly otherwise. There are lots of good fruits, and lots of orchardists coming up here so we have good ways to get good fruit, including trades for beer,” Kahler said.

Meanwhile, those cherries are in a friend’s orchard cooler and are also destined to be a “low-alcohol, tart, light effervescent beer,” he said.

Meanwhile, the namesake solera sour beers are biding their time. The first solera style beer will be ready in about 18 months.

“It’ll be a little while but it’s worth waiting for,” Kahler said.

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