As many of you know, Deschutes Brewery is a favorite around here. Although I can’t get their beer on the East Coast, I make a point to get some every time I go visit family in the Pacific Northwest. During the family vacation this year, we were out in central Oregon, and were able to make the trip to Bend and visit the Deschutes brewery as well as both brewpubs (one in Bend, one in Portland). The trip was a blast, and we got to meet some of the great people involved with crafting Deschutes’ world class beers, not to mention trying a few beers you can’t get anywhere else. I love going to visit breweries on my vacations, but this was probably the best trip I’ve had. Even my inlaws, who aren’t big beer drinkers, thought it was a great tour and enjoyed the beer. Sadly, I just missed out on a chance to catch up with my old friend Beerford, who resides in the great state of Oregon — hope to see him next time I’m out there!
Deschutes is a mid size brewery with a capacity of around 180,000 barrels a year (this translates to around 2 million pints, if my math is correct). They employ about 250 people in total, including 50 at each of their brewpubs and 100 at the brewery in Bend. The bulk of the brewing takes place at the brewery itself, although each of the brewpubs has small facilities where low volume batches are produced, including cask conditioned versions of some of their famous brews or experimental beers that haven’t yet made it to prime time. That means that if you can make it to the pubs, you can get some fantastic stuff!
The tour itself was a treat — our tour guide was knowledgeable and friendly, and we were able to spend about an hour touring the brewing rooms, labs, bottling facility, and of course the tasting room. Deschutes exclusively uses a strain of English Ale yeast that they got way back when they started in 1988 as a small brewpub. Interestingly, our tourguide mentioned that they have samples of their yeast in storage at three different universities around the West Coast in case of an emergency at the brewery, something I hadn’t considered before. This kind of thing happens at the academic labs where I work all the time, but it’s interesting to hear about a brewery contingency planning in this way. We saw one active fermentation going (I believe it was a batch of Mirror Pond Pale Ale, their best selling brand), and the bottling line was going full steam bottling some Black Butte Porter (their second best selling beer and the second best selling craft porter in the country). As a true Deschutes lover, it pained me to see the bottling apparatus get clogged and pour gallons of one of my favorite brews all over the factory floor, but I suppose these losses are part of the operation.
After the tour, we spent some time in the most important part of the Deschutes Brewery — the tasting room. There were 8 beers on tap, and as part of the (free!) tour you get to try four different beers, all in taster size. Another advantage to going to brewery tours with family who aren’t big beer drinkers is that you can take their samples – and so I got to taste all 8 beers on tap. Highlights of the tasting included Hop in the Dark (Deschutes’ Cascadian IPA) and Black Butte XXII (a limited run imperial stout made by doubling the ingredients in Black Butte Porter). Black Butte XXII was particularly spectacular, and is tough to get anywhere outside Oregon. XXII was brewed in honor of the brewery’s 22nd anniversary early this year, and is a fantastic brew made with cocoa nibs and dark chocolate, Seville orange zest, and pasilla negra chile peppers (and yes, you can expect a tasting note on this one coming sometime soon). Not only that, but it’s becoming even more scarce — the chocolate didn’t dissolve in this year’s batch, leaving the beer not up to Deschutes’ standards. All that’s left is what was brewed previously. In the tasting room, we also heard about Deschutes’ unique Hop trip ale, a pale ale made with hops that are quite literally right off the truck: each Fall, the brewers take a road trip to get fresh hops and brew the ale within 3 days or so of the harvest. This is quite different than the pellets or even the dried whole leaf hops that Deschutes uses normally and provides a unique fresh flavor. They primarily use Crystal hops fresh from the Willamette valley and say that the beer represents a celebration of harvest time, something common to all agricultural products. Check out the Deschutes video on Hop Trip if you’ve got a few minutes. I’ve put in an order with my mother in law for some this Fall, if she can find it (or perhaps our good friend Beerford will be so kind as to mail some…). Perhaps the best bit of news revealed during the tour: Deschutes is expanding! Right now they only distribute to 15 western states, but sales are better than ever and expansions are in the works. I wasn’t allowed to hear details, but keep your eyes open for news on this! I got a warm feeling in my belly after hearing the news, and it wasn’t just because i’d had 8 taster beers…
Sadly, the Abyss, Deschutes’ most famous and well rated beer, wasn’t available anywhere — not at the brewery or either of the brewpubs. I did end up with a fantastic Elk burger on a malt bun, which I’d highly recommend to anyone who is lucky enough to get one. As you’d imagine, the brewpub had a ton of Deschutes beer on tap (the full list coming in a later post). I tried a cask conditioned version of Mirror Pond Pale Ale which was wonderful, and also tried the Nitro Obsidian Stout (poured with nitrogen rather than carbon dioxide), both of which were fantastic.
One of the things I like so much about Deschutes (besides their great beer) is their commitment to sustainability. Breweries aren’t the most eco-friendly operations, but Deschutes does a fantastic job of minimizing environmental impact. They are involved with a number of recycling/waste minimzation activities that I’ve never seen in a brewery before. Here are a few examples: spent grains are sold to a cattle farm down the road in Bend. Cattle are then bought at a discount from that farm, and the meat is used in their brewpubs in Bend and Portland. Deschutes also uses spent malt to make buns for the burgers and sandwiches in their brewpubs — which means that not only is the grain not thrown away, but it’s almost all recycled as food one way or another. Fantastic! Yeast that’s recovered from the fermentation process is, of course, recovered to be used in future batches of beer (common practice for brewers). The dead yeast recovered from fermentations is also sold to local farmers as fertilizer for hops and other plants. Our tour guide also told me that they’re trying to find a way to capture and utilize the carbon dioxide that results from fermentation in an order to minimize greenhouse gases. As a chemist, I’m thinking there might be a job opportunity for me somewhere there… Deschutes is also very involved in the local community, and when we were back in Portland we got to stop by a really wonderful street fair outside the Portland pub where local food establishments had dishes paired with Deschutes beer. They also have a great blog. These are a few examples of how Deschutes minimizes waste and helps the local economy while making world class brews. It’s refreshing to see a business that is interested in giving back and strengthening the local community and economy instead of just taking profits.
So if you ever find yourself in Bend, make sure to stop by the Deschutes brewery — it was the most fun brewery tour I’ve ever had, the people are friendly, and the beers are great. In fact, I’ve been inspired by my trip to try my very own Cascadian IPA. Thanks for making great beer, Deschutes!