Santiam Brewing and Salem Ale Works were on our short list of places to visit, being centrally located and in fact within walking distance from one another. A friend suggested staying at the Grand Hotel in the heart of downtown but being booked solid we stayed at a serviceable Howard Johnson's up the street from Salem Ale Works.
Santiam sits in a light industrial park, a common location for small breweries. What is uncommon is the number of taps - 12 when we visited - PLUS four, count 'em four, beer engines. As a fan of cask ale, the availability of which is seriously lacking in Portland, it was refreshing to see this many. The added bonus was that two of the cask offerings had pushed counterparts, offering folks the ability to taste side-by-side the difference between the same beer being served two different ways. With all of those options ordering a sampler tray, made from a barrel stave, was the only way to go.
The third place we visited, pretty much just because it was on our way back to the HoJo from Salem Ale Works, was Sparky's Brewing. We were told that it was a combo homebrew shop/bar/brewery so I didn't hold out huge hopes but I am so glad we didn't skip it. Sparky's is primarily a bar - a bar with a great tap list that utilizes a Digital Pour menu displaying their Kilo Hops IPA, 25 other beers, four ciders, three wines and even two kombuchas. They have a kitchen and decor that was far more than expected. If I lived nearby you can bet my face would be a familiar one here.
In case you decide to recreate our trip there's something else you should know. There's a Popeye's between Sparky's and HoJo's. Not much better then ending a day of drinking than with a bag of Popeye's.
My last note on planning a trip to Salem is to visit Vagabond Brewing. We have been there a couple of times before - GREAT place - and the only reason we didn't visit this time is that they're on the north side of town, farther than we wanted to venture that night. But it's definitely worth a visit, just plan to do so either on your way into or out of town.
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