By Branden Andersen
For Oregon Beer Growler
There is something for just about every taste profile in Bend’s beer scene. From the perfectly hoppy Boneyard to the classic Deschutes, all the way from Crux’s experimentation to Ale Apothecary’s funky creations, beer drinkers from every corner can find something within the city limits.
Except for Todd Clement and Kirk Meckem, founders of Monkless Belgian Ales, who thought Bend was missing one particular branch of the beer tree.
“If there ever were any Belgian-style beers, they were limited release,” Meckem said. “We were trying to keep beer on our kegerator rather than buying a bunch of bottles.”
Around 2006, Clement and Meckem met while living in Bend’s west side Mt. Washington neighborhood. After discovering they both had a passion for Belgian-style brews, they started going in together on beers. Like many Bend-ites do, Clement and Meckem decided if they wanted to have Belgian beers all the time they would have to take matters into their own hands and start homebrewing.
The two friends didn’t waste any time chasing their goal. Their first brew was an extract Belgian tripel, a style known for its copious amounts of malt flavor and alcohol.
“We knew what we wanted and we just decided to go for it,” Clement said.
After that, Clement and Meckem did two more batches — a Belgian dubbel and tripel — before they decided to switch to all grain. And at that point, they say, it was only a matter of time before they started looking toward selling their beer commercially.
“Every time we had friends over trying our beer, they would tell us we had to start selling it,” Meckem said. “You hear that enough times, and you start to seriously consider it.”
The process started in 2011, when Clement and Meckem started taking the suggestions seriously. They turned Clement’s former sub-garage into their future brewery, purchased a 1-barrel system, and started brewing while working through the maze of the Oregon Liquor Control Commission and Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau licenses and regulations. Clement, a former process chemist, worked to make sure that the beers they made on their smaller system translated to the 1-barrel system.
“Every batch we put through has come out better than the beers we made on a smaller scale,” Clement said. “We’re still working the kinks out, but we’re really happy with the beer we’re making now.”
While Clement, now a software product manager, handles the quality control of the business; Meckem, a financial insurance representative, will take care of the sales and business building.
“We saw a need,” Clement said. “From our perspective, we see the success of (Crux’s Belgian-style ale) Double Cross as a data point that Bend wants Belgian beers.”
“It’s daunting,” Meckem added. “But everyone tasting our beers says we have to sell it. I really think there’s room for it.”
The addition of Monkless Belgian Ales makes 27 breweries in Central Oregon, 19 of which are in Bend proper.
Monkless is looking take handle space at local businesses for their first beer, “Dubbel or Nothing,” a 7% ABV drinkable Belgian dubbel. Meckem said the most consistent place to find their beer is on Humm Kombucha’s taps, but they hope to expand.
Right now, Clement and Meckem are working on draft-only to keep from complicating the process. But don’t count out bottles for their age-friendly styles.
“It’s going to be one step at a time,” Meckem said. “We’ve got to make sure we put one foot in front of the other, because we’ve got a lot of ground to cover. But we feel that we’re putting out good, unique beer and Bend will respond to that.”
Being in their garage, Monkless Belgian Ales’ tasting room is not open to the public. For more information, refer to the brewery’s Facebook page.
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.