Beer review: 10 Barrel’s Riding Solo

10BarrelRidingSoloAmong my myriad New Year’s Resolutions for 2016 is to do more beer reviews. Between the samples I happily receive on my doorstep, beer travels that find me at different breweries across strange, new lands and just happening upon a new offering at some local watering hole, I want to ensure I’m paying good attention to what I’m drinking.

Seeing as a delivery guy just dropped off a bottle at 6:30 on a Saturday night, clearly it’s time to begin drinking. The beer is from 10 Barrel in Bend (not the 10 Barrel pub in Boise or Portland or the recently-announced forthcoming one in Denver). It’s called Riding Solo and it is, as the name suggests, a single-hop pale ale. Comet hops to be precise. Not that you’d possibly know that from the label copy. It reads: “We could talk about this single hop, but we’d rather talk about Benny, the brewer behind this pale ale. 4 years ago Benny was on the fast track working for a large brewery, and then it all came crashing down. He made a bad choice, climbed the wrong building in Bend and found himself in the clink without a job. We hired him the next day and he has been crushing it ever since. One brewery’s loss is another brewery’s gain. Cheers to the man behind the beer.”

Man is that a strange way to market a beer that theoretically has some educational aspect to it. It shows drinkers the aromatic and flavor profile of the nearly extinct Comet hop, a USDA varietal that I’ve personally never encountered. And anyone who buys this beer won’t know that they’ve had it. (Unless they are compulsive about every beer they try or read my oft-neglected blog religiously.)

Upon cracking the crown I was met with an herbal whiff and I’m only half referring to reefer. At first sip, I was struck by the spicy, dank bitter beer—like a skunk smoked a spliff cut with black pepper and dried grapefruit peel. It falls into the garlic’n’onion descriptor, too. Although they call it a pale ale, it’s orange in color and at 6.8% ABV and 67 IBUs it presents itself like an India Red Ale in malt and hop character. In fact, the spiciness makes it taste like there’s some rye malt in the grain bill, but doubt there actually is because then they’d probably have called it Ryeding Solo.

Beertown USA: Bend, OR

For the reboot the Beertown USA travel feature in the latest issue of DRAFT (Mar. 2013), they asked me to not just list and summarize the best spots to hit in the small, high desert/quasi-mountain town of Bend–a city bursting with 20 breweries for its 80,000 residents–but to gear three separate itineraries for three distinct types of visitors. It’s a bit trickier than it sounds. Especially because I think most breweries in town would appeal to most beer tourists. But still, an assignment is an assignment, and a challenge is a challenge. I ended up with dividing the beer and other destinations into those for “outdoor enthusiasts,” those with “kids in tow,” and folks who deem themselves “locavores” or just really want tasty vittles.

Ale Apothecary

In my first real contribution to Ezra Johnson-Greenough’s New School Beer Blog (Feb. ’13), I decided to sort of workshop the entry I was writing for Oregon Breweries knowing it was a rough draft for the book that wouldn’t be published for nearly two years to come. It also enabled me to publish the story long before the print magazine whose photographer severely delayed my interview with brewer Paul Arney despite my huge time crunch.

The Ale Apothecary will never be a spot on the well-trodden/sloshy Bend Ale Trail. It’s ten miles out of downtown way up in the mountains. There’s no pub. No merch wall. Founder Paul Arney is a man who, after 15 years at Deschutes working his way up to assistant brewmaster, set up his own brewery and has the finished Finnish kuurna to show for it.