“Good beer brings people together.”
That was the sentiment of Gary Fish when he founded Deschutes Brewery in Bend, Ore., 35 years ago. And it remains the foundation of the family- and employee-owned beer manufacturer.
The odd thing is that I would have sworn Deschutes existed the summer I lived in Bend—1987. Wrong. It took going on the tour in July to correct my memory.
When Deschutes started, the thinking was to have a light (Cascade Golden Ale), medium (Bachelor Bitter), and dark (Black Butte Porter) beer.
The dark beer market was not what it is today. Fish was told it might be the route to distinguish his brewery from others. It worked.
“Black Butte continues to be our flagship. Even though beers like Mirror Pond Pale Ale and Fresh Squeezed outsell it. Black Butte is the best-selling porter in America and a significant point of pride for our team. It has successfully dispelled the misconceptions of dark beer. It is particularly successful at that task with novice craft drinkers,” Fish says on the brewery’s website.
Apparently, I’m a slow learner because it took me yeeeaaarrrsss to figure out I like dark beer.
One of the great things about this tour is that I learned Deschutes has more options than Black Butte Porter.
The tour finishes in a bar of sorts where beers not found in stores are on tap and sold in four and six packs. There I enjoyed a glass of Black Butte XXXV.
“To celebrate our 35th anniversary, we sought inspiration from a rich and bold German confection—the Black Forest cake. Black Butte Porter lays the framework for a perfect fusion of flavors with cocoa, tart cherries, vanilla, and a hint of warm bourbon. Savor a special occasion with layered decadence,” is how the website describes it.
While my palate is not sophisticated enough to describe it this way, I will simply say it was yummy. It was also a good thing at 11 percent alcohol that I was not driving.
Plus, this was my second beer of the day because at the get-go everyone on the tour is given a choice to have one of four beers. It’s a wonderful way to start things off.
While I had the choice of a “regular” Black Butter Porter, I opted not to because I knew I could get it in most stores. So I went with the King Crispy pilsner. I had never heard of it, which intrigued me. Good, but not great.
While the components of most beer are the same—water, hops, some type of grain, and yeast—it is still a bit of a science project from start to finish. The Deschutes watershed, where the water comes from, brings a volcanic aspect to the beer. When zinc is added; this affects the texture, the mouth feel, according to Cody, our tour guide.
With there being hundreds of kinds of malts, well, that adds options for the brewmaster. Most are sourced in the U.S., with some coming from Germany. Most of the hops Deschutes uses come from within driving distance. One to 3,000 pounds of hops are used every day.
At the end of the day the left over grain becomes cattle fed.
All of this was part of the tour—and then some. It really was a great tour that I recommend to anyone—even non-beer drinkers. This is because there is so much to learn about the beer-making process. It’s part science, part innovation, a bit about entrepreneurship, it touches on climate change, economics and changing taste buds.
Today, Deschutes is the 11th largest independent brewery in the United States. (Sierra Nevada in Chico is No. 3.) What I learned is that an upside down bottle on the label indicates this is an independent brewery.
While Deschutes built a new bottling line in 2015, today 60 percent of its product is canned.
The brewery is constantly coming up with new “flavors” through its pilot program. Sometimes those are on tap at the brewery.
What I’m left with, though, is reflecting back on the founder’s original belief that good beer brings people together. My friend who took me on the tour, well, she and I have different tastes in beer—but had no problem finding a Deschutes (or two) to toast with. On this same trip to Bend I shared a meal with other friends at the original downtown facility and toasted with different brews. Then later I shared some of my purchases with another friend at her home in Sonoma County.
Good beer really does bring people together.