An Oregon town near one of America's microbrew meccas is thirsting for a piece of the action and offering incentives for the first brewery to establish itself in the community.
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In an internet presentation aimed at luring craft brewers, Madras — which sits between irrigated farmland and high desert within sight of the snow-capped Cascade Range — says it will assist in site selection and costs of architecture, engineering, permits and building renovation. It also offers expedited permitting, technical assistance and an opportunity for a start-up loan.
Consumption of craft beer in the U.S. keeps reaching new heights. Sales rose 6.2 percent by volume in 2016, to 24 million barrels, the Brewers Association said. Vermont has the most craft breweries per capita, with 10.8 per 100,000 adults. Oregon is fourth in the nation, with 8.1 per 100,000.
Madras has missed out so far in the craft beer craze. Some 40 miles (64 kilometers) to the south is Bend, which has at least 22 breweries for 91,000 residents (and many more hop-happy tourists) — among the highest number of microbreweries per capita in the United States.
Beer aficionados travel to Bend just to visit its brewpubs. Bend's establishments include Deschutes Brewery, which opened in 1988 and pioneered central Oregon's brewing revolution. But Deschutes has long outgrown its microbrewery status. Its beers are available in 28 states and Canada, and it plans to open a brewery in Roanoke, Virginia, in 2019. Another producer, 10 Barrel Brewing, was bought in 2014 by the world's largest brewer, Anheuser-Busch InBev.
Madras' 6,300 residents have been watching all this activity with a touch of jealousy as traffic along U.S. Route 97, which slices down central Oregon from Washington state to California, zips past the Black Bear Diner and other establishments, headed for points north or south.
"We want be able to stop this traffic going to Bend and say, 'Come to Madras and check ours out first,'" Joe Krenowicz, executive director of the local chamber of commerce, said in a telephone interview.
Krenowicz and a dozen other Madras residents have thought for years about inviting a brewery, with a brewpub, to Madras. Pronounced MA-dress, the town was initially going to be named after a pioneer, but had to choose an alternative because it resembled another town's name.
"The city fathers cast around. One was in somebody's store, picked up a bolt of cloth — Madras cloth — and said 'That's a pretty good name,'" Jarold Ramsey, director of the Jefferson County Historical Society, said with a laugh.
Madras offered incentives for the construction of a hotel and a multiplex theater, and they can be a template for this next step, Krenowicz said.
"We're certainly on the tail end of brewery growth, and we want to be a part of that," said Krenowicz, who envisions a family-friendly place with a sports lounge atmosphere and outdoor seating.
Madras has some of the purest water, coming from an artesian spring filtered by volcanic basalt. A brewer could use that water, and locally produced barley, Krenowicz said.
Not everyone in the town is pleased with the invitation and incentives, however.
"I don't think the city should be involved in anything like that," said Jan Six, owner of the Rialto Tavern, which is just off U.S. Route 97 and has 11 beer taps, along with liquor. "They're not supposed to be taking business away from us. We've worked really hard to build this business. It's not right."
Hundreds of residents who provided input for an Urban Renewal Action Plan wanted recruiting a brewery to be a priority, Madras Mayor Royce Embanks said.
"Madras is ready for a brewery or brew pub to call its own," Embanks said in the online appeal from the Madras Redevelopment Commission. "The vision is for a vibrant community gathering place and an inviting destination for friends, family and tourists."
The ad called Madras the "last best place in Oregon without a brewery (yet!)"
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