A TREK TO KLAMATH FALLS is a welcome diversion for craft beer hounds, thanks, in part, to Klamath Basin Brewing Company, which has put this Southern Oregon locale on the map with its award-winning brews. Visitors find a friendly small town with quaint storefronts and, nearby, epic hiking trails, winter sports, birding, boating and a little place called Crater Lake National Park. Klamath Falls also harbors an underground secret: It’s a sustainability hub due to its geothermal energy program. Geothermal wells beneath the city heat homes, schools and businesses, including the brewery, located right downtown.
Klamath Basin Brewing Company opened in 2005 after owners Lonnie Clement and Del Azevedo bought and restored the former Crater Lake Creamery building, a historic structure that dates to 1935. Both the brewery and brewpub reside in the old creamery. The original Blue Cow sign still hangs above the doorway, serving as a reminder of the building’s past. The barn-like brewpub has high, beamed ceilings and wooden furniture, while photos of the old creamery decorate the walls. Now a favorite local hangout, there’s a colorful array of sports team flags hanging from above, lots of big screen televisions, and even a lottery lounge. Separated from the brewpub by a windowed wall, the brewery is visible for all who are curious about what goes into crafting favorites like the Backroad Vanilla Porter and Notch Eight IPA.
The only known brewery to use geothermal brewing, Klamath Basin Brewing Company has tapped into the area’s natural source of power, which in turn leaves a much smaller carbon footprint than traditional brewing methods that rely on natural gas. Klamath Falls happens to be in a place where hot rocks are close to the earth’s surface. Water flows underground from the Cascade Mountains and feeds the city’s geothermal wells. The combination of hot rocks and water, like those that created Yellowstone’s geysers, heat not only buildings, but also pools, greenhouses and city sidewalks, a great perk during winter. There are many geothermal wells in the Klamath Falls area which are metered and sold to businesses as a utility. Besides saving energy, it is economical. Using geothermal heating is nothing new here. According to the Geothermal Energy Association, Klamath Falls began piping hot spring water to homes as early as 1900.
According to Klamath Basin Brewing Company’s head brewer, Corey Zschoche, geothermal water comes in at around 190 Fahrenheit. “We use it for our brewing water,” he says. “For instance, geothermal energy is used during the mashing process, when you combine your grain and hot water. We also use geothermally heated water for cleaning tanks and heating the building during winter.”
Does all this improve the taste of his beer? “Well, since our beer comes from the mountains, it’s extremely pristine, so that probably helps,” says Zschoche. “We really try to be as green as possible.”