It’s that time again: first Friday of the month, time for The Session! This month the theme is Local Brews, hosted by Gastronomic Fight Club, with the goal "to create a guide book of tasting notes to drinking local":
The idea here is to be as helpful as possible for visitors to your area. What is the beer/brewery/brewpub that you feel is quintessential to your city? What do the locals drink? What could a tourist drink that would make them feel like they’ve found something special; something that they’re going to miss when they go home?
I’m very fortunate to live in Central Oregon in the Pacific Northwest, and have six microbreweries or brewpubs here in Bend alone. For all that, though, the quintessential brewery to Bend is, without a doubt, the Deschutes Brewery. Not only is it the largest brewery in town, it’s been here the longest, and among locals is simply known as "The Brewery." And their beers? Sublime.
Founded in 1988, Deschutes bottles and distributes six year-round beers, at least four regular seasonals, and a variety of special 22-ounce "Bond Street Series" beers. In addition, their Public House in Downtown Bend also has at least eight or nine other specials on tap (a mix of the current seasonals and specialty batches).
Since The Session is about the beer, I’ll hold off on doing a longer review of Deschutes (the Brewery) for another time. As for their beers, though… it’s going to be tough to limit myself. I’ll cover what I consider to be their four "core" beers—three regulars and one seasonal—then I’ll cover a few of the others.
The absolute first beer you should drink when you visit the Brewery is Black Butte Porter. This is Deschutes’ flagship and best-known beer, brewed since their founding in 1988. The bottled version is good, but the tap version is unmatched; inky black with ruby edges, creamy smooth, with rich notes of chocolate, coffee, charcoal, and rich dark malts, it has an acidic tang and balances sweet and dry without veering into harshly astringent. Its body is firm yet drinkable and refreshing, and it’s a wonderful session beer at 5.2% alcohol by volume.
It’s garnered a slew of awards, deservedly so, and if you visit the brewery and find yourself drinking only the Porter, you’ll still walk away satisfied. It’s that great and that drinkable. My all-time favorite Porter.
If you’re looking for lighter beer, then Mirror Pond Pale Ale is a must-try. An exemplary American Pale Ale, Mirror Pond is malty and flavorful, full of caramel and bready grain notes, with just the right amount of Cascade hops—you know this is a Northwest ale for sure, without the puckeringly bitter hop character that many "extreme beers" are trending for these days.
I find that it complements almost any meal very well; it neither overpowers nor is overwhelmed by the cuisine—it’s Just Right. In fact, when I go out to eat locally, I almost always select Mirror Pond when I’m drinking beer, unless they have something on tap unusual that I want to try. Even though Black Butte is Deschutes’ flagship, I think Mirror Pond is better represented on the local dining scene.
The next beer is a seasonal, but in many ways I consider it to be the seasonal: Jubelale. It was the first beer bottled by Deschutes (the regulars were only available on tap at the time), and each year’s bottle features a label created by a local artist.
Jubelale is a traditional Winter Warmer style of ale—darker, maltier, and stronger than the regular lineup, with a hint of spice and a rich, warming character. Dark crystal malts give the beer a roasted-but-sweet malt flavor, and this is well-balanced by a generous use of hops.
I consider it one of their core beers—as do the locals—but since it’s a seasonal, you can only get it from October through January. (Their site says December, but you usually see it hanging around a bit longer.) You’ll need to time your visit just right to try this one.
Once you’ve worked your way through the core brews, you might want to tackle some of their other regulars—in particular, Cascade Ale if you’re looking for a very light session beer, and Inversion IPA for the signature Pacific Northwest offering—but you should definitely try one or more of the other seasonals or specialties that you’ll only find on tap at the Public House downtown.
Current seasonals you’d enjoy are the Buzzsaw Brown and the just-released, ever-popular (particularly with the locals) Twilight Ale. Buzzsaw is a traditional English Brown Ale that’s tasty and easy to drink, and Twilight is a summertime Pale Ale with an extra hop kick.
As for the specialty, brewpub-only batches? They rotate all the time; check out the Brewery’s Now Pouring page to find out what’s current and drool over the choices. If you’re not sure what you’d like, they’re happy to bring you tasters. Just to give an idea of what they offer, I’ve had a Saison, a Pilsner, various types of session ales, fruit beers, barleywines, and more.
Hopefully I’ve been a good tour guide/evangelist for Deschutes for this month’s Session. However, if you have time to visit more than one brewery while you’re in Bend, then I have some more recommendations for you…