Steens Mountain Brewing

OH, THE TRIALS and tribulations of looking for fresh beer in Portland. If you don't have a brewpub within 10 blocks of your house, you deem the neighborhood "underserved." Imagine if all of Southeast Portland didn't have a single brewpub. Now, imagine if all of Southeast Oregon boasted nary a brewery. The fact of the matter is, until Rick Roy—with assistance from his wife and some of his 10 kids—opened Steens Mountain Brewing in Burns in October 2014, the entire quadrant was dry. Now it has a lineup of 14 homegrown beers, including two pale ales, two Scottish ales, two stouts, and a hopless beer called LEO, which we'll get to later.

Yes, there's Beer Valley Brewing in Ontario (Malheur County), but it's far to the east near the Idaho border. There's also 1188 Brewing in John Day (Grant County), but it's 70 miles north of Burns (Harney County). And don't get Roy started about Grant County since their sheriff, Glenn Palmer, is the one law enforcement wackadoodle who sided with the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge occupiers, who weren't even from Oregon, let alone Harney County.

"Harney County doesn't like anyone from the outside to tell us what to do," says Roy.

He's not just the town brewer. He's a federal employee. Roy oversees 1.5 million acres for the Bureau of Land Management. In other words, just like the federal employees of the wildlife refuge (who, after nearly two months, can finally get back to work), Roy found himself on the opposite side of the line drawn by gun-toting thumbtacks. I use that word because of something Roy said.

"I don't know if we'll ever get back [to normal]," Roy said. "Some [local] people drank the Kool-Aid. Not exactly the sharpest tacks in the drawer. Ninety-five percent of the community wanted nothing to do with this shit. None of the ranchers signed on to tear up their grazing permits."

The siege at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge—it actually falls in Harney County, not neighboring Malheur County—disrupted the entire area and its largest city, Burns, population 2,806, which meant no one was going out to restaurants. No one was going to the store to pick up beer. It was, quite literally, a sobering event. On a good month, Steens Mountain brews three barrels of beer. That's less than 550 22-ounce "bomber" bottles. During the separatist circus sideshow, Steens didn't even sell a barrel's worth. Then again, Roy only brews three-quarters of a barrel at a time. Some of Breakside Brewery's fermentation tanks hold 120 barrels apiece. Oh sure, Roy has a lofty, five-year plan to expand production and even distribution (Hello, Bend!), but to do that, he'll need to launch his Kickstarter campaign.

"I planned it prior to the idiot parade that came here," says Roy. Burns is 30 miles north of the wildlife refuge, but both the militia's supporters and the ensuing show of law enforcement mostly made Burns their home.

Roy likens the so-called militia members to Flat Earthers, and describes certain media outlets' descriptions of these militants and their actions as "peaceful" thusly: "Full of shit." It's not that he's afraid to talk about the countless acts of intimidation he's witnessed, just that he respects the ongoing investigations. He insists he's a big supporter of the First Amendment (freedom of speech) as well as the Second Amendment (right to bear arms). So naturally he's gung ho on the 21st Amendment (which repealed Prohibition).

That brings us to his forthcoming beer called LEO. It's an acronym for Law Enforcement Officers. Unlike the crowdfunding campaign for the dingbats' wintry provisions (remember those bags of dicks?), someone set one up to buy LEO and FBI beer.

Roy will make a beer called Harney County Strong IPA and one called LEO, which will be a hopless beer called a gruit. As for hops—through Roy's job in land management—he forages wild hops that've survived over the decades since the area's first homesteaders. He believes, since many were German immigrants, that these heirloom hops are from Germany's Hallertau region.

The LEOs and FBI agents are now leaving Harney County, but if there's one thing Roy wants to encourage more than buying his beer, it's that the best way to show your support for the people of Burns and the area is to just visit this summer. Or plan a trip mid-September for the Burns Brewfest. Of course they have their own beer festival. It's still Oregon, after all.