I was asked to author my 10 favorite beers of the year for Bend Source Weekly. My first draft clocked in at 1,500 words because I gave a fair amount of thought (and background info) on each one. But my word count is a firm 700. After a couple rounds of edits, I got it down to 1,050 words, meaning I’d shed 350 but still had 350 to go. While those first 350 are now lost to the ether, I’m re/pre-printing the list here at the mid-way point just so folx could see I didn’t just write 60 words per phenomenal beer.
By my best guesstimate, each of Central Oregon’s 27 breweries released, on average, at least dozen beers in the past year, meaning we had no fewer than 350 local beers to choose from. I confess, nay, lament, I did not try them all. (That said, drinking a new beer each day in 2023 is quite a tempting challenge.) So take this list of my 10 favorite Central Oregon-brewed beers with a grain of salt (that’d be right at home in Spider City’s Kaffir Lime Sea Salt Gose or Cascade Lakes’ Salted Caramel Porter)
- Funky Fauna Artisan Ales, Thought I’d Something More to Say (Wild Saison). While saison is possibly the world’s most elegant beer style—it’s simultaneously rustic and cosmopolitan—the big tent style is woefully overlooked and under-represented among Central Oregon brewers. That was, until this Sisters-based brewery went all-in on them when it launched a year ago. Funky Fauna has released nearly 50 versions of “wild saisons,” meaning they’re fermented with a native cultivated and propagated yeast strain. Some of the beers feature colorful fruit, one even featured butterfly pea flowers that turned it a gorgeous shade of purple, but there’s no beating the delicate complexity of an oaked saison that conjures notes of wild grasses, tangy herbs, and the terroir of locally-grown and malted grains embodied in a beer like …More to Say. It’s only 4.5 percent alcohol yet packs a tremendous amount of flavor that, like many a saison, may be the ideal beverage to pair with gourmet or quotidian meals alike.
- Deschutes Brewery, Experimental 1320 (Fresh Hop IPA). Late summer hop harvest is arguably the best season for beer drinking. It’s not that every fresh hop beer is delicious, but therein lies the beauty and wonderment because they are difficult to hit the bull’s eye but when you do, they’re phantasmagorical. When Source Weekly contributors blind taste tested a slew from this year’s crop, Deschutes Experimental 1320 struck my taste buds as smacking of fresh pineapple veering into POG (pineapple orange guava) territory with that tell-tale freshie finish like chewing on flower stems (in lieu/luau of a tiny parasol.
- Spider City Brewing, Spicy Goat (Serrano-Pineapple IPA). Spider City’s line of hazy IPAs in its “deer” family and clear, West Coast IPAs in its “goat” family are solid hop-delivery vehicles. But Spicy Goat is also a capsicum delivery vehicle courtesy of serrano peppers. It’s spicy but not spiiiicy. To temper the heat, a sweet, juicy wave of piña, which brings out the tropical fruit note from the hops, conveys enough dank and juicy vibes as if swept up in the Pineapple Express current. Chili beers may be a tough sell but IPAs aren’t so this beer was a welcome way to bring the heat to a nice, cold beer.
- Bevel Brewing, Black Ace (Cascadian Dark Ale). Every time I sit around thinking how much I miss Cascadian Dark Ales, locally dubbed CDA and colloquially dubbed Black IPA, I perk myself up with a trip to Bevel. Perk is an apt verb considering CDAs drink like an stout-IPA combo proffering espresso notes from dark roasted malts and piny notes from PNW hops. As Bend’s rare yet typically year-round CDA, Black Ace (7.6 percent) is par for the course.
- Cascade Lakes Brewing, Resurgence (Gin-barrel-aged IPA). Gin barrels are difficult to come by for brewers (because most gins never see the inside of a barrel). Courtesy of Redmond’s gin-centric Gompers Distillery that produces an Old Tom (oaked gin), Cascade Lakes obtained an empty cask and, instead of filling it with a more expected sour ale or imperial stout, ameliorated Revival IPA by maturing it in an Old Tom barrel for seven months that playfully married the gin’s botanical top notes with Centennial and Idaho 7 hops’ resinous flavors for a fascinating result that would be equally welcomed by hop heads and G&T fanatics.
- 10 Barrel Brewing, Gindulgence (sour ale). At brewery behemoth 10 Barrel, the niche imprint TinyHaus serves as a creative output for brewmaster Tonya Cornett. This sour beer was imbued with peach, chamomile tea, and—most critically—gin botanicals (primarily juniper berries) to create a refreshingly complex, slightly sour ale that scratches the itch of a fruit beer, a hard kombucha, and a gin gimlet.
- Van Henion Brewing, Schwarzbier (black lager). Before even turning one, Van Henion illustrates what a wide world of flavors—and colors—Germanic lagers encapsulate. Schwarzbier simply translates to black beer and this sub-five-percenter expertly pulls off boasting a light body while bursting with dry, astringent, dark roasted malts that lend burnt toast notes atop clean, noble hops. It’s a rare sipper that works well in brisk winter or on warm summer days.
- Porter Brewing, Infamous (Extra Special Bitter). The “bitter” family of ales have become endangered, but even its strongest member, ESB, is far less bitter than IPA. At 5.8 percent ABV and 39 IBU (International Bitterness Units), Porter’s Infamous ESB is a delectable platform for English malts and hops. Its malt sweetness and floral bitterness packs toffee bottom notes, woody, floral top notes, and comes wrapped in a warming—but not “warm” cask-conditioned ale.
- Deschutes Brewery, Kanpai Crispy (Rice Lager). Forget the olden days when craft breweries shaded macros for using corn or rice in their lager grist; these adjuncts have gained traction among most breweries and perhaps never showcased better than in Japanese-style rice lagers. This 4.8 beer is dry, refreshing, and crushable AF. I dare say it’s the best beer for floating (and great for aprés ski or, if you’re one of those who can’t wait til you’re off the lift, during).
- Crux Fermentation Project, Yaamco (spiced winter ale). While Crux’s Bochi Bochi vied for my vote as best rice lager, the fermentation project’s 6.7 percent Yaamco—it’s a yam beer brewed in a former Aamco station—ran away with my vote for best winter warmer. Picture a malty brown ale like Crux’s Dark Snap, then augment it with roasted yams (over a pound per barrel), orange peel, and the holy trinity of baking spices: cinnamon, ginger, and clove. Suck it, egg nog, winter has a new snowy sipper.
Every devout beer geek I know is polyamorous when it comes to beverages. As such, I cover the wider world of drinks–usually the adult type–whenever I can. And when I heard about a thin silver lining that climate change wrought when it came to this year’s grape harvest, I got to tip locals off as to what they can expect when the 2022 vintages hit shelves including from Central Oregon’s first/oldest vineyard, Maragas up near Terrebonne.
Not sure how aware most people are, but the people who write news stories always suggest headings, but those proposed headlines are rarely used. Case in point: this story I’d pitched about a truly acquired taste in beer–rauchbier, aka smoke beer–which I knew was a perfect fit for The Takeout’s “Aquired Taste” feature focusing on food and beverages that are popular in certain sets or regions without wide awareness or appeal. The headline ran called it “America’s most hated beer” style. C’est la vie. But when it comes to smoky beers, which get very little press, the old adage must be true that there’s no such thing as bad publicity.
Smoke ’em if you brew ’em.
I hate listticles, but do love doughnuts and getting paid. So when I was asked to write a list of the best doughnuts, I got to work on a list so air-tight, it could be be impeached, reproached, are in any way argued against. Take a look at my suggestions for the best baker’s dozen, found in The Takeout, and realize I’m 100% right.
Of all the trips I’ve taken or will take in my self-appointed role as a doughnut ethnographer, Detroit may not be the most touristy destination or have the most exotic-sounding treats, but I’d say visiting Hamtramck to explore the larger-than-life world of Polish pączki (“poonch-key”) had me drooling the most. For one, I love jelly doughnuts. For two, pączki are unlike typical jelly doughnuts and they can even be enjoyed spiked with a shot on what others call Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras but in the Upper Midwest everyone knows it as Pączki Day, which I got to write about for TheTakeout. Take that, other immigrant doughnut styles.
New breweries usually means new IPA factories. Which, TBH, is part of the story of Bend’s Van Henion Brewing, the first new brewery in town since way back in 2019. But the real driver behind the new brewery (which is housed in an old brewery and founded by its old brewers) is that they’re focusing on German lagers like Munich-style Helles. What’s German for huzzah?
Many months ago, someone mentioned hearing about a new brewery in the works. I had no details other than it would be opening in Sisters, about a half hour outside of Bend, and that it was from someone who’d briefly worked at Spider City Brewing, which does a good job of brewing beer styles from around the world. Except, from what I’ve seen, Belgian saisons. So imagine my delight, as a devout saison lover who has precious little in the way of locally brewed examples of the style to choose from, that Funky Fauna Artisan Ales would be a saison-centric brewery. Here’s my profile on ’em in Bend Source Weekly.
The concept of “Dry January” took off a decade ago and finally landed on my radar a few years ago, but as a beer writer, what use have I of non=alcoholic beverages to write about? It turns out, when these soft drinks are hopped, I’ve got at least two occasions to cover ’em. The first was in Drynuary 2020 and then again Drynuary 2022 with a local (to Bend) twist. Here are some great hoppy N/A beverages for a thirsty nation via The Takeout and here’s some available to Central Oregonians via Bend Source Weekly.
It seems every month offers something new I’m completely pumped about getting to experience for the “first” time as a full-time Bend resident. Certainly, even in Portland, Bend breweries are well represented so it’s not like these are all new to me, but whereas Portland winters are usually dreary, Bend winter is cheery. There were snowmen on every block until the snow turned back to rain these last couple of days. But I won’t let that rain on my parade. Or my batch of favorite “winter warmers.” I tried to limit this round-up to just five, but I sorta snuck in a pair from five different local breweries. Sue me.