December 15th, 2023

Golden Valley Brewery: This family-owned brewpub, a beloved staple of downtown dining, celebrates 30 years

Three pints of beer of varying colors. They have a logo, Golden Valley Brewery.

For three decades, Golden Valley Brewery, a down to earth family-owned brewpub, has bookended McMinnville’s Third Street commercial corridor. 

Inside the brick facade, the pub’s cozy wooden booths and long tables give it a warm, community tavern feeling. Couples share plates of nachos and wings, big groups of all ages gather for birthday celebrations, and regulars perch at the bar chatting amiably with one another. Roses twine in the stained glass lighted nooks, and the big bouquets of zinnias on every surface signal that this isn’t your basic bar. It’s a beloved staple of downtown dining and a community institution. 

Celia and Peter Kircher opened Golden Valley in 1993, naming it in tribute to Celia’s native Wales. It would be a few years before Oregon beers graced restaurant menus nationwide. At the time, McMinnville was a farming community and Golden Valley was the twelfth post-prohibition microbrewery in the state. 

The Willamette Valley’s burgeoning wine scene was yet to draw tourists, but it was wine that first drew the Kirchers to Oregon following more than a decade of operating a commercial fishing operation in Alaska. A sommelier friend had introduced them to Oregon wines and the couple envisioned a plan of growing grapes and fishing in the summer. 

“We had two boys and we knew we didn’t want to live on an island,” Peter said. “We drove around the Northwest  looking for vineyard property or orchard property, we wanted a farm.” 

They bought a 60 acre parcel, sodden with rain and enrobed in fog, in the Dundee Hills.  

“We saw the microbrewery thing coming and we thought maybe we should have a brewery in McMinnville, but it didn’t look like McMinnville could support a brewery.”

Instead, they planned to buy a property in Portland, but when the sale fell through they returned to the original idea and took a gamble on a Third Street garage. 

“We built a brewery, and the kitchen,” he said, but the project was running over budget, so they bought used tables, “everything else was painted sheetrock and concrete.”

They opened with eight of their own beers, several of which, including the Red Thistle, Dundee Porter, and Third Street Wheat, they still make today.

“We were always focused on balance and complexity, traditional styles, but complex styles.”

The food has the same ethos. When they started “we were making everything from scratch. Roasted half chicken, burgers, Dungeness crab cakes; we were making sausages from scratch, we had a gal coming in at 4 am to make all the rolls, we were growing vegetables at the vineyard.”

They eventually sold the vineyard and bought a 73-acre parcel of farmland in the hills Northwest of McMinnville. Once established there, they started raising cattle, feeding them in part with the spent grains from the brewery and then having the beef dry-aged at Carlton Farms. 

They also grow green beans, swiss chard, kale, lettuce, tomatoes, beets, zucchini, peppers, herbs, and even some of the flowers that appear in the restaurant. This project was part of Golden Valley’s identity long before the farm-to-table movement became popular. 

Now, there are two locations of Golden Valley, the original in McMinnville and a second location in Beaverton. Their son, Alex Kircher, did a high school internship at the restaurant, dredging mozzarella sticks and oysters for frying. Now, he’s part of the management team. 

The thing that has seen them through the challenge of the early years all the way through the COVID-19 pandemic has been a willingness to balance the idealism of their  made-from-scratch ethos with a commitment to meeting the needs of their local community in terms of price and accessibility. 

“We just had to gain the trust of the community, and once that happened and we’d been around long enough,” he said, it started to take hold.  The ongoing challenge, Peter says, is “to get people to realize the amount of work we put into the farm and the handcrafted side of it and the brewery.” 

It’s a work of a lifetime and, judging by the busy tables on any given evening, it’s been time well spent. 

Emily Teel (she/her) is a McMinnville-based food writer and recipe developer and a food editor at Better Homes & Gardens.