By Mark Lindner
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Where else but in Bend would a retirement community team up with the local homebrew club and a local brewery to brew a professional-amateur (pro-am) beer to benefit the Alzheimer’s Association? Aspen Ridge Retirement Community was looking to expand its recreational and learning opportunities several years ago when activities director Sandie Nowell brought up homebrewing. A young woman, who has since moved to Portland, responded to the ad the retirement community put on Craigslist and brought her kettle, burner and recipes to help them brew a few batches. The group started out using extract, but still managed to snag four awards in their first year.
In 2013, Tim Koester of the Central Oregon Homebrewers Organization (COHO) reached out to see if there was anything COHO could do to help after seeing an article in the Bend Bulletin on the Aspen Ridge Brew Crew, as they had come to be called. COHO was also in need of meeting space at the time, so the partnership worked out perfectly. COHO has regularly met at the retirement community since fall 2013, while residents are now able to attend the monthly gatherings without even going outside. Koester and Doug Jordan, also of COHO, taught the Brew Crew to use all grain, built them a stand for their 10-gallon Igloo setup and have served as an enormous resource in general. They also participate in the regular Brew Crew brew days.
Joe Reeves, a retired priest, is the lead of the Brew Crew and oversees a core group of about 12 with a few more regulars. The members range in age from 70 to 95 and have brewed 30 to 40 beers to date. Brewing duties take place in two separate rooms: one, which is kept cool via air conditioning, is their primary fermentation room; while a second, complete with sink and running water, is for actual brewing. A large room was converted into a pub complete with an always-stocked mini-fridge. While they do have a kegerator that can be pulled out for events, most of the beer is packaged, as Koester said “as a complete process.” One of the residents, Roy Eskildsen, designs the labels and they are printed in house with the Brew Crew supplying all of the bottling and labeling labor.
Despite the Brew Crew’s lack of long-term experience, they’ve brewed a host of award-winning beers. Besides the four their first year, several more were won the next few years. In 2014 their Baltic porter won first prize at the annual COHO Spring Fling and also took first at the Oregon State Fair. Their saison took second place at the Oregon State Fair, while a beer named Machine Gun Maggie took “Best in Show” at the Deschutes County Fair.
Machine Gun Maggie is an Imperial IPA that the Brew Crew brewed with Worthy Brewing on their 5-barrel pilot system. Since they wanted to sell their beer to benefit the Alzheimer’s Association, they needed it done by a licensed brewery. Tim Koester approached Worthy who had already done two beers as fundraisers — Gary’s No Quit Wit and Local 36 Red Lager — and they readily agreed. Brew Crew members and their COHO partners joined Worthy brewers and made two batches that were subsequently kegged for a couple of special-release events. The rest was bottled in 22-ounce bombers that were put up for sale. The Brew Crew does not yet have a total amount raised for the Alzheimer’s Association as they are still selling the bottles, but they are pleased with the results.
Homebrewing is a fun and mentally-challenging hobby that fits well with the Montessori approach the residents take to their activities. There are quite a few highly-successful programs and activities at Aspen Ridge and, as activities director Nowell stated, there would be no way she could run all of them. She doesn’t, in fact, need to run any of them as the residents jump in and take charge. While it may be a core group of 12 in the Brew Crew, their steady output is available to all and the residents seem to love their locally supplied beer.
Nowell has been contacted by several other retirement communities for details on the program and guidance on beginning similar projects.
Keep an eye out for beer from the Aspen Ridge Brew Crew the next time you are at a festival or fair.
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.