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Madras Wants Beer 

One town's plan to bring beer to Jefferson County

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Madras, a little under an hour from Bend, is a prospering town. Its population has grown to around 6,700 people, it's cheap to live in, it's conveniently nearby Indian Head Casino, and it hosted nearly 100,000 visitors during the solar eclipse in August.

Despite that, to many Bendites, it's known simply as some place to grab gas and a fast-food lunch along Hwy. 97 on their way to or from Portland. The local government would like to change that. One major part of that plan: Getting a brewery.

This week, Madras launched a website (brewitmadras.com) and released information on the incentive and assistance package it's offering to potential brewers who wish to open in the city's urban renewal district, located downtown along the highway. The pitch is being led by Mayor Royce Embanks and the Madras Redevelopment Commission.

"When hundreds of community members provided input on our City's Urban Renewal Action Plan and said that recruiting a brewery is a top priority, it was clear—Madras is ready for a brewery or brew pub to call its own," Embanks said. "The vision is for a vibrant community gathering place and an inviting destination for friends, family and tourists."

Madras is home to New Basin Distilling, making vodka and light whiskey since early 2016, but the area is still bereft of local beer—the "Last Best Place in Oregon without a Brewery (Yet!)," as the website puts it. Along those lines, the city is offering a wealth of assistance and incentives to potential business owners, including site development and renovation costs, expedited permitting, and technical assistance with things such as wastewater disposal.

"The brewery project in Madras is a one-of-a-kind opportunity," says Pratt Rather, a local brewery consultant who's helped open places including Everybody's Brewing in White Salmon, Wash.. "Madras is an underserved market, and the city's incentive package alone is a game-changer for anyone thinking about doing this."

The MRC is also quick to bring up the presence of a potentially killer local partner—Mecca Grade Estate Malt, an eighth-generation farm based in Madras whose 1,000 acres of artisan grain is used in beer from Deschutes, Worthy, and The Ale Apothecary. "Madras offers such a unique opportunity for a brewer or brew pub," owner Seth Klann noted, "because we're one of the few towns that can supply a completely local brewery, from amazing water and locally grown and malted grain, to local produce, beef, pork and dairy. It could be a celebration of our whole community, which is pretty cool."

Similar efforts from other small towns across Oregon have resulted in breweries opening up in places such as Burns, Pendleton and John Day. Will Madras be next? Judging by the outsized presence of beer tourism in Central Oregon, it seems likely.


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