By Branden Andersen
For Oregon Beer Growler
Wendi Day is perched at the bar wiping down laminated flight cards that carry her brewpub’s award-winning beers to curious customers when I find her for our interview. A wall behind her — and not a small one — is packed with awards from the World Beer Cup, Great American Beer Festival and North American Brewers Association among others.
She leads me out of the bar area with all the awards and to the River Room, where we sit in a wooden booth with years of obvious use: nicks taken out of the corners, random indentation and discoloration. But it’s not unsightly — it’s home.
“The ride has been amazing,” she said as she sat down. “It’s always been about quality, not quantity. We’ve stayed true to that for 20 years now.”
Bend Brewing Company, the beer-centric city’s second-oldest brewery, has hit that point where they are looking back and trying to figure out where the time went. The business marked its 20th anniversary with a party in February. But a huge amount of medals, including five in the past year and more than 50 since the opening in 1995, have been the only other indication that time has been passing.
“If anything, the medals are evident that we haven’t sacrificed who we are,” Day said, adding that she purchased the company from her father in 2000. “We are still keeping it small and family owned with the best brewers.”
From 1995 to 2002, Bend Brewing Co. had great brewpub beer that didn’t make it out of the brewpub walls. It wasn’t until the company hired a young brewer from Indiana named Tonya Cornett in March 2002 that Bend Brewing Co. started entering competitions. Coincidently, they started making a name for themselves, starting with a gold in the highly-contested American-style India Pale Ale at the Great American Beer Festival in 2006 and followed that by winning the Champion Brewery and Brewer awards in the “Small Brewpub” category at the World Beer Cup in 2008. From there, it was off to the races.
Cornett left her brewing role at Bend Brewing Co. in 2011 when she handed the reigns to Ian Larkin after amassing a couple handfuls of awards and creating a nationwide name for Bend Brewing Co. in the brewing community with recipes like Ching Ching American Sour, Hop Head Imperial IPA and Lovely Cherry Baltic Porter.
“She’s still a part of BBC to me,” Day said.
Larkin took over the brewing role without missing a beat. More awards started flowing in for recipes old and new, including their most award-winning beer to date: Outback X. All of this happened while they maintained their brewpub feel.
“Just because you’ve got medals on the wall doesn’t mean you can coast,” said Josh Harned, assistant brewer and sales representative for Bend Brewing Co. “It’s a feeling here that you can’t fake.”
Working off of the same 7-barrel system that the brewery opened with, nearly 1,000 barrels come through the tanks each year. Being that their fermenters are packed into the upstairs brewery, with little to no space left to grow, Harned said they are about maxed out with no plans for expansion.
“It’s quality over quantity,” Harned said. “Even if we wanted to, we don’t have the space, so we’re going to keep doing what we’re doing.”
The only change coming down the pike is a new barrel-aging program, said Harned. Bend Brewing Co. has used an off-site bottling and storage facility for a while, but they are putting plans in motion to get some local barrels.
Beer aside, Day said it comes down to the values she inherited from her family, and hopes to pass them along. Day is now watching as her daughter joins the Bend Brewing Co. team.
“She was 6 months old when I decided to buy it from my dad,” Day said. “It’s the best decision I made — I’m very thankful for my family through the years.”
And, without saying it, Day makes it clear that her definition of family goes far beyond blood — it’s also about the 35 other employees that have made BBC one of the longest-running and most-respected breweries in town.
Bend Brewing Co.
[a] 1019 NW Brooks St., Bend
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.