By Jon Abernathy
For the Oregon Beer Growler
This past November Deschutes Brewery unveiled its latest project: a new 2.4-hectoliter (approximately 2-barrel) pilot brewery, tucked into a space next door to the tasting room at the production facility in Bend. The system, a state-of-the-art, fully automated brewhouse manufactured by Esau & Hueber, of Germany, came online in May.
Diminutive by production standards — the imposing conical bottoms of the brewery’s ten 1,300-barrel fermenters loom overhead — the pilot brewery, nevertheless, is more advanced than many other similarly sized systems.
It features two kettles and whirlpools, and allows for splitting a batch of wort into two for boiling in order to compare different varieties of hops in an otherwise-identical recipe, for example. In addition, there are 12 single (2.4-hectoliter) fermenters, one double fermenter and six brite tanks.
The software that runs the system is the same that runs the main 150-barrel production brewhouse, so it’s well-suited for training brewers. And the automation reduces the amount of hands-on tinkering with a batch, as well as allowing for precise fermentation temperature control.
Deschutes spared no expense in developing the pilot brewery, according to R&D brewmaster Veronica Vega. “I'm proud to work for a company that invests this much on research,” she said.
Assistant brewmaster Chris Dent oversees operations on the pilot system. By the year’s end he estimated that they had brewed 40 batches on it, and they are brewing four times a week.
The experience has been a valuable learning opportunity. Asked about surprising or unexpected results with test batches: “I’m always amazed by the influence of vessel geometry and design on flavor impact,” Dent said. “We’ve started splitting brews into the two kettles and it’s really driven the impact of system variances home. Even very slight differences in the vessels are creating differences in the brews that we have to account for in our trial design.”
Deschutes has long used its brewpubs in downtown Bend and Portland as pilot breweries to develop recipes and test batches of beer with the drinking public. It makes sense: from a scale perspective, it’s cheaper and more efficient to trial a 10-barrel batch directly at the pub than a 50-plus barrel batch in production.
For instance, the brewery famously made 23 versions of a Cascadian dark ale between its two pubs before finalizing the recipe for Hop In The Dark. More recently, the original Hop Slice, introduced in 2016, went through eight to 10 recipe iterations before Deschutes settled on the final beer.
The pilot brewery, however, won’t just be used for recipe development; there’s a real opportunity for researching technique and the relationship among ingredients. An upcoming project designed by Vega will examine yeast and hops.
“Studies such as this one give us the knowledge as brewers to expand the horizon of what’s possible in beer from a flavor and aroma perspective,” said Dent, “and really pairs well with a lot of the more analytical research on the interaction of yeast with hops that’s being done in the industry.”
Vega has several projects she’s excited about for the pilot system: “Continued native yeast experimentation, hop aroma impact due to yeast selection and continued flavor trials in American sour beers.”
By Jon Abernathy
For the Oregon Beer Growler
“Fresh hop season ties perfectly in with prime steelhead season,” explained Toby Nolan one early morning in late August, while driving from Bend to Silverton. Nolan, the senior lead guide of tours at Deschutes Brewery in Bend, was on his way to Goschie Farms to pick up 50 pounds of fresh Centennial hops destined for a special ale that will raise money for the Native Fish Society. “The release of this beer coincides with the steelhead runs.”
Nolan is an avid angler and fly fisherman, often found casting a line over a quiet stretch of river in his free time. He practices catch-and-release and is passionate about river conservation and responsible management. “People are starting to realize we are having a negative impact (on the watershed),” he said. “Water is life.”
A first-time visit to Goschie Farms two years ago introduced him to Salmon-Safe hops, inspiring the idea for the benefit beer. The Salmon-Safe program works to keep watersheds clean enough for native salmon to thrive, and the certification process works “to provide incentives for the adoption of practices that protect water quality and fish habitat.” All of the crops grown at Goschie Farms (which, in addition to hops, includes grapes, corn and barley malt) are managed in accordance with these guidelines.
Though not a brewer himself, Nolan worked with Robin Johnson, the assistant brewmaster of the Bend Pub on the concept behind the beer. “I think I’ve been bugging Robin for two years about making this beer,” he laughed. “Finally this year Robin asked me if I still wanted to do it, ‘cause he was going to brew it anyway!” In addition to the Salmon-Safe hops, they incorporated malt from Mecca Grade Estate Malt located in Madras.
Deschutes has a long history of giving back, from their Community Pints every Tuesday to their Street Pub block parties that raise money for local charities. Environmental sustainability is also a priority for the company; for instance, they restore one billion gallons of Deschutes River water each year through the Deschutes River Conservancy water leasing program.
There’s a nice bit of synergy between the two initiatives with this latest project: a fresh-hop pale ale named “Savin’ Freshies,” which will be available at both the Bend and Portland pubs on Oct. 7. The release party at the Bend Tasting Room will additionally offer a raffle and swag with proceeds benefiting the Native Fish Society, and Deschutes is donating $1 from every pint sold.
Arriving at Goschie Farms the morning of his hop run, Nolan met with owner Gayle Goschie and explained the concept behind his beer. Goschie Farms was the first hop grower in the country to become certified as Salmon-Safe, and their efforts to responsibly manage water use to protect wild salmon habitats meshes well with Nolan’s enthusiasm for fishing and conservation. Upon hearing of his efforts to benefit the Native Fish Society with proceeds from the beer sales, Goschie offered to donate the fresh hops to the project.
Partnering with the Native Fish Society was the natural choice for Nolan. The organization’s mission is to advocate for the recovery and protection of wild, native fish as well as the rivers these fish inhabit. Their River Steward Program spans 42 watersheds in Oregon, including the upper and lower Deschutes River, with volunteers working on initiatives such as suction dredge mining reform, hatchery steelhead management and more.
If Savin’ Freshies is well-received, Nolan imagines the possibility of additional similarly themed beers. “If this project goes well, I’d love to see more of these, maybe for each season,” he mused. “It would be a big project, but it would be great to have a lineup of conservation beers added to our bottled series.”
In the meantime, he’s focused on making the release of Savin’ Freshies a success. “I’m really thankful Deschutes has given me the opportunity to do this, and I’m a guide, not a brewer!” he said. “That support has made this a great, gratifying experience.”
By Branden Andersen
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Prineville gets a bad rap. Sitting just more than 35 miles northeast of Bend, most people would rather take that time to visit nearby Redmond, Sisters or Sunriver. But the city wasn’t always the least glamorous of the Central Oregon children. Until the early 1900s, it was the economic hub of the region. In fact, according to Jon Abernathy’s research for his book “Bend Beer: A History of Brewing in Central Oregon,” the small town had the region’s first brewery, which stood from 1882 to 1890.
The city lost popularity as railroads were built around Prineville and not through it. The two breweries in town closed by the early 1900s and industry moved southwest, where large mills were built across from each other along the Deschutes River in what was then the small town of Bend. However, Prineville remained economically stable as a logging town.
But Prineville doesn’t have the mountains just a short jaunt away like Bend does. There’s not a lazy river flowing right through the middle of the city. It’s not nearly as close to other Central Oregon cities and activities. So with the decline of timber came the decline of Prineville.
Joseph Barker saw the people living in his town and realized they needed something to rally around — a place for Prineville citizens who are proud to be part of the community. That’s when he opened Solstice Brewing in 2009.
“After a few years it was clear that Prineville had enough craft beer enthusiasts to keep a brewpub alive,” Barker said.
Solstice largely kept its presence in Prineville, aside from some brew fests and specialty accounts. But with names that poke a little fun at its outsider status, like Prinetucky Pale or Crook Lite, Barker has given Prineville an identity they can be proud of.
Last year, Barker decided to rename Solstice to Ochoco Brewing, to honor both the natural forest near Prineville and the first brewery in the city, which shared the name. The rebrand seems to have reignited the brewery, which got a lot of media attention and a boost in tourism, a bartender at the pub said.
“As our brewery and pub began to grow, we discovered a lot of other Solstice-related businesses in the state and we did not feel like we really stood out,” Barker said. “(After the rebrand) We had a lot of fans tell us that they really thought we had earned the right to use (Ochoco Brewing). It really does root us locally and we plan to brew beer here forever.”
The restaurant space is very different from most Prineville restaurants and bars. The bright dining area is accented with lightly stained wood with bright exposed metal, and an enlarged topical map covers one wall. Live music plays in the corner every Tuesday and Wednesday, and for a more casual dining experience, there are couches near the large window looking out toward North Main Street.
“This building has a deep history here in historic downtown Prineville. It was previously the home of several ‘knife-and-gun club’ type establishments. It has a lot of natural historical elements and themes throughout,” Barker said. “That gave us a lot to work with from the get-go.”
The brewery holds most of the 16 taps, but reserved a few for Central Oregon-brewed guest beer. The brewers seem to be having all the fun, with styles across the spectrum. Also, the brewery bottled its first beer this past year: the Winter Schnocker that had been aged in Oregon Spirit Distillers CW Irwin bourbon barrels. The 22-ounce containers received wax caps.
“We are a very nuts-and-bolts brewpub,” Barker said. “Our goal is to provide an array of beers that appeal to a broad audience all at once — partly because we have to in our size market; partly also because we have limited capacity.”
The locals, Barker said, have been more than receptive. There is now a Facebook data plant in Prineville, which helped boost the local economy, and being a well-rounded food-and-beer spot, Ochoco has become a top destination for the industry growing there.
Point Blank Distributing gets Ochoco’s product to three nearby counties — Deschutes, Jackson and Crook. The business will have even more beer to send out to customers with its new brewing facility. Barker is happy with the company’s growth as well as his ability to brew his own beer according to his own philosophy.
“Our company mission statement is: ‘Love God, Work Hard, Drink Beer’” he said. “If we do these things well we will surely love our neighbors as ourselves.”
[a] 380 N. Main St., Prineville
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.