First look (and taste) of Bend’s Monkless Belgian Ales

Monday I had a chance to meet with Kirk Meckem and Todd Clement of Bend’s newest brewery, Monkless Belgian Ales, find out a bit about their plans, and taste a couple of their beers. I wrote a short introductory piece about them two weeks ago, which outlined the basics: one-barrel brew system, all Belgian-styled beers, to be on tap primarily at Humm Kombucha in Bend. Now I have more details to share.

Monkless Belgian Ales - brewing system

Monkless is located in the basement of Clement’s home—the second (and very likely last) Bend brewery to be thusly situated. (The first was Below Grade Brewing, Dean Wise’s one-barrel system he built in the basement of his west Bend home.) And it is quite literally a basement brewery, down the stairs and adjacent to the garage, which had to undergo the special build-out to accommodate the brewery and kitchen requirements (including a grease trap). The room itself is a few hundred square feet, equipped with the one-barrel system (seen above) consisting of hot liquor tank, mash tun, and kettle.

However don’t expect to see any more of these type of unique brewing situations, at least in Bend: Meckem told me he’d heard the City of Bend won’t license any more “basement breweries” apparently due to the unique situation (which I take to mean, it’s a laborious process from a paperwork and licensing issue, particularly when you start considering zoning requirements).

Monkless Belgian Ales, basement brewery

Monkless Belgian Ales, fermenters

It’s a small space, and right now they only have three fermenters (pictured above), 15 gallons each into which they split a one-barrel (31 gallon) batch for primary fermentation. They have a bit of room to expand (there was talk of a conical fermenter) and I believe they will need to, but for the short term they are happy with the smaller-scale production as they (like so many of the new small brewers) are still working their day jobs and want to stay small initially.

“Small” also means they are constrained to production, both by the fermenter space and the longer time they are fermenting and aging their Belgian-styled ales (particularly the stronger ones). They are currently brewing about once every three weeks, and I imagine as beer starts selling they will need to up this schedule somewhat.

Currently they have two beers that will be available initially, with two more upcoming:

  • Belgian Dubbel, which I believe is named “Dubbel or Nothing.” This is something like 7.7% abv and one of the ones that I sampled (from a bottle): malty, fruity (dark fruits), nice esters and slight phenolics, very drinkable—pretty much what I expect to find in a Belgian-styled Dubbel.
  • Belgian IPA: This is the obligatory nod to the IPA-centric beer culture we find ourselves in these days, while still sticking to their Belgian-styled roots. This particular beer ferments more quickly than the others (so I could see this becoming more of the production beer, depending). It has a similar alcohol level to the Dubbel, and is another easy-drinking beer that I think will satisfy the “IPA itch” without straying into American IPA territory: nice spicy-ish bitterness, non-citrus aroma (I got a woody character I thought, though that might have been the Pine Sol cleaner in the room).
  • Tripel: This will be in the 8% range.
  • Strong Dark: The biggest so far, will be in the 9% numbers for abv.

The yeast strain they are using is (I think—I neglected to write it down exactly) Wyeast 1762, the Rochefort strain. They step the yeast up through their brewing lifecycle, four generations of re-use which will look like: Dubbel -> Tripel -> Strong Dark -> IPA.

Here’s the good news: they are on-track to be available for sale at Humm Kombucha in Bend this Friday, November 28 (Black Friday!). The Dubbel should be on tap, and Meckem and Clement may even be on hand in the late afternoon to meet and talk about their endeavor. (Maybe—this isn’t set in stone I don’t believe.)

In addition to being on tap, they are planning on a special event for next Thursday, December 4, in which the Bend Maker’s District (the neighborhood where Humm is located) holds a “First Thursday” type event, and then for Friday the 5th for downtown Bend’s First Friday they are talking with The Wine Shop downtown about possibly have a keg of beer for that evening.

Those are the details I have, so if you are interested in trying out Bend’s newest brewery (Bend’s 19th), be sure to visit Humm Kombucha this Friday for the first taste.