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.
For people who cut their teeth on the early styles of craft beer such as British bitters, can you believe that in late 2021 there are SIX such bitters–the trinity is ordinary, best, and extra special or ESB–on tap or even better, on cask, in Bend right now? Even if you’re an IPA lover, or especially if you’re an IPA drinker and want to taste the original bitter (that’s actually not all that bitter by comparison), order an imperial pint and you’ll see why I’m ESB-Til I Die. Click the link for my latest in Bend’s Source Weekly.
Among 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.
Opinions are like assholes AND beer: Not only does everyone have one but some are industrially large while others are artfully crafted.
The news is still sinking in that adorable, warm, fuzzy 10 Barrel Brewing, the homegrown brewery in the quaint, high-desert town in Central Oregon, has been acquired by beer behemoth Budweiser (ABI). The name 10 Barrel had already become outmoded considering the company ramped up to a 50-barrel system in Bend while keeping its original 10-barreler for R&D, added a 10-barrel pub in Boise, and will soon open the doors to its Portland pub* with a shiny new 20-barrel system thereby brining the total to 90 barrels already. Combine this with AB-InBev’s and it’s something on the level of 10 Million Barrels (give or take a few hundred million in overall volume).
Whether you, dear reader, personally take the “Sellouts!” side or fall into camp “Good for them,” and whether your BuyLocalism will lead to you never buying a drop of beer from this brewery now under the Bud-brella or you think that crowd’s just butthurt and it won’t affect your purchasing decision since good beer is good beer no matter who cuts the paychecks, one thing is clear: Oregon beer will never be the same again. Exactly the way it was never the same again when they bought a 30+% minority stake in Widmer Brothers and the Craft Brew Alliance. In other words, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Just ask the folks who worked at and drank beers from Chicago’s Goose Island, New York’s Blue Point, Hawaii’s Kona, Seattle’s Red Hook, and, undoubtedly, Anywheresville, USA’s next AB takeover.
*Even more than my curiosity how this will impact the forthcoming Portland outpost, I’m more curious how other brewers in the tight-knit community of Bend brewers will handle this in the short and long term. Naturally, in the now, they’re all ShockTopped, er, shocked. But will it really have any implications for them, financially? The original and graddaddy, Deschutes, is already tracking to brew 2 million barrels by 2020. Worthy just opened with a hefty pair of deep pockets. Add in Boneyard and those four already factor into Oregon’s 14 largest brewing companies. The money’s already there. We still call it “quaint,” but beer is already big business in Bend, also home to a few others.**
**Ale Apothecary, Below Grade, Bend Brewing Co., Bridge 99, Crux Fermentation Project, Good Life, North Rim, Oblivious, Old Mill Brew Wërks, Old St. Francis (McMenamins), Platypus, Rat Hole, RiverBend, Silver Moon, and soon a few more, not counting their neighbors throughout Central Oregon.
In the end, unless the guys from St. Louis, er, Leuven, Belgium, er, São Paulo, Brazil decide to expunge the firepit, revoke the welcome sign to dogs, stop serving kids meals on frisbees, and turn the beer from delicious to disastrously flaccid like some others in their portfolio, this game-changing news will, ultimately, result in a collective yawn like the one yawned every time a beer geek gets his mitts on one of the various bottles of Bourbon County Stout. Or, locally, Widmer Bros. Marionberry Hibiscus Gose.
Y’know what else this means? The Big Boys are really, really paying attention to what Oregon breweries are up to. And they, like us, like what they see.
I’m not re-posting every single story I did for Willy Week’s blog in the Oregon Beer News column, but this one, in hindsight, is something of a gem. It talks about a PDX Beer Week event, “Billed as “Meet the new faces of 10 Barrel Brewing,” Apex hosts Bend’s 10 Barrel and all five of its brewers: Jimmy Seifrit, Tonya Cornett, Shawn Kelso, Bobby Jackson and Ben Shirley.” Then goes on to mention that, “Mellow Mushroom, the pizzeria chain headquartered in Savannah, Georgia, “officially” opened in the Pearl last week, although it has actually been operating for eight months. The Portland franchise has 51 taps—mostly brewed in the PacNW.”
The retroactive irony is that 10 Barrel Brewing would go onto make big “OBN” when it sold to AB-InBev (Bud) and that its once-long-awaited-now-meh impending Portland outcrop is going into the now-vacated Mellow Mushroom!
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.
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.
Wherein I review Lisa “The Beer Goddess” Morrison’s (full disclosure: we’re friends) guidebook to the luscious craft beers of the Pacific Northwest. The narrative is friendly and reads more like behind-the-wheel banter rather than an outdated, second-hand field guide.