How Did Bend, Oregon, Become a Craft Beer Powerhouse?

Bend, Oregon_Imbibe

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For the latest issue of Imbibe magazine, I attempt to suss out just how Bend became such a national player on the craft-beer scene. Back in 1988, the town's timber industry had collapsed. The population hovered around 18,000. Downtown was a ghost town.

Then along came Deschutes, which helped jumpstart a stunning revitalization. A quarter-century later, the brewpub has blossomed into America’s fifth-largest brewery, and Bend has undergone a night-and-day revitalization. The town has swelled to around 80,000 residents, who have been lured by a family-friendly lifestyle highlighted by outdoor recreation, a thriving walkable downtown, an abundance of sunshine—and boatloads of craft beer.

Today, there are 17 breweries in Bend (and another half dozen in neighboring towns), each one unique, and together offering an impressive range of beers. If you favor hop bombs, then try Boneyard10 Barrel and Below Grade. For wood-aged elixirs, tryAle Apothecary’s funky fermentations, while Crux Fermentation crafts a kaleidoscope of styles, from an unfiltered pilsner to a peaty Scotch ale. Bend Brewing Company pairs pub grub with medal-winning porters and sour ales, and GoodLife and Worthy Brewing specialize in that crucial companion to hiking and fishing: canned beers.

Care to read the story? Check out "Around the Bend" over at Imbibe.

What's the Deal With White IPA?

Fashion codes dictate that you can wear white only from Memorial Day till Labor Day. But this summer, several brewers are demanding your beer be snow-hued too.

Last month, Oregon’s Deschutes Brewery and Kansas City, Missouri’s Boulevard Brewing released the fruits of their collaborative labor, a white IPA. I’m sure you’re scratching your skull. You’ve only now begun to wrap your brain around the concept of black IPA, which mate piney, citric bitterness with complementary notes of cocoa and java. Deschutes and Boulevard have taken that concept to the opposite end of the color spectrum, creating a white IPA that’s the offspring of each brewery’s specialties.

Curious how Deschutes' hoppy brews pair with Boulevard's beautiful wheat beers? Check out my full story at Food Republic. Drink it up!

Will Bike for Beer

In this month's issue of Imbibe, I examine the intersection of bicycling and beer. At first blush, these two pursuits may seem as incompatible as oil and water. But peek beneath the handlebars, and you'll notice that the two pursuits are driven by equal parts passion and commitment. The article hops from New Belgium to Deschutes, to Portland, Oregon's Hopworks to Pittsburgh's East End Brewing. As an avid cyclist, this was a personally fulfilling story to report. The issue should be on the newsstands soon or, if you're trapped before your computer, check it out over at

Back in Black

Heavens to Betsy, you know I love my bitter beers. Give me hops, or give me death! Well, don't give me death. But lately, hoppy beers have begun displaying a most peculiar pigmentation: black. While this color usually signifies a beer as dark and menacing as Darth Vader, these bitter brews remain remarkably light and nimble, with just a lick of coffee, cocoa, roast and toast. I touch on this trend in my most recent Food Republic post. Curious? Drink it up! And welcome to the dark side.

Deschutes' Jubel 2010 - Beer of the Week


Though the clock has just struck 10:19 am, I got the thirst. It was a long night at work, my chickadees, and when I work till 3am, I fantasize about drinking a beer as soon as possible. This'd be a good one. Jubel 2010 is Deschutes' once-a-decade seasonal, a dreamboat of a winter ale that's aged in oak pinot noir barrels for upward of 13 months till it's nicely marinated.  Strong, nuanced and oaky, with hints of dark fruit and hops, it'll take the edge off any day. Or night. Or morning. Curious? Read my full review here at Slashfood.

Wild As the Yeasts


Wild as the Yeasts Why invasive airborne fungi make for great beer.

Vinnie Cilurzo, the brains behind Russian River Brewing Company in Santa Rosa, California, fashions the maniacally hoppy Pliny the Elder and Pliny the Younger, the gold standards for double and triple India pale ales. But they’re as conventional as Coors when compared to Cilurzo’s pet creations, which are so dangerous they’re brewed in isolation behind closed doors.

“I like making beers with bugs and critters,” says Cilurzo of his sour, Belgian-style ales fermented with Brettanomyces, a particularly potent type of yeast that he has experimented with since 1999.

Brettanomyces (often informally called “Brett”) imbues beers, such as barrel-aged Belgian lambics, with mild sourness and an earthy, barnyard funkiness (often considered defects in wine) that’s as foreign as your first bite of gamy goat or stinky durian. “We’re making creative beers with lots of personality,” Cilurzo says. His innovations include the woody Temptation, made by adding Brett (in addition to Lactobacillus and Pediococcus bacteria) to the raw wort and aging in oak Chardonnay barrels; and the sour-cherry Supplication, made by adding Brett and aging in Pinot Noir barrels. For the tart, 100 percent spontaneously fermented Beatification, Cilurzo doesn’t add yeast at all—it is simply floating in the air (the result of brewing Brett beers for a number of years in close quarters), and it colonizes the wort on its own.

Unlike normal beers, which ferment predictably with the addition of brewers’ yeast and can be drinkable in as few as two or three weeks, Brett beers “aren’t even tasted until they’re six months old,” Cilurzo says, adding that they are often aged for more than a year. “The beers tell us when they’re ready, and they work at their own pace. You can’t think like a brewer; you have to think like a winemaker.”

This challenge has attracted brewers at Allagash, New Belgium, and Jolly Pumpkin, which exclusively manufactures unfiltered, barrel-cured wild-yeast beers. Still, these sour ales remain a niche within the microbrew niche for several important reasons. “The wooden barrels require tons of space, and there’s a huge risk involved if the wild yeasts infiltrated other beers,” Cilurzo says.

“If Brett got into our regular production beer while it’s fermenting, it could be devastating,” says Gary Fish, owner of Deschutes Brewery in Bend, Oregon, explaining that the invasive spores would impart unwanted sour flavors. So “we were absolutely fastidious with our cleaning process” when creating a sour brown ale that’s aging in barrels containing mashed cherries (the beer, which will be called The Dissident, is tentatively scheduled for a September release).

Cilurzo takes safety one step farther by embracing kosher-style cleanliness methods: duplicates of every brewing gasket and tube—one for Bretts, one for normal beers. A costly headache? Not to Cilurzo. His complex beers have proven so popular that he’s ramping up production sixfold at his new brewery, slated to open this spring, with more than 400 oak barrels for aging.

“We make funky, challenging beers we like to drink,” Cilurzo explains, “and thank God, there are people out there who like them.”