The newest brewery to enter the Minnesota beer market is Deschutes Brewery from Bend, Oregon. For the last few days they have been rolling through the Twin Cities pouring beer from a giant barrel-on-wheels that they call “Woody.” A couple days ago Woody was set up outside the Longfellow grill overlooking the river on Lake Street. While he was there I had the opportunity to share a beer with some folks from Deschutes and talk a bit about the brewery, the beers, and their plans for the expansion into Minnesota.
Why come to Minnesota?
If you look at the states in the west where our beers have been available and then look at the states that are next them, in terms of the logical march across the country Minnesota was the next really good market where people already understand craft beer and have an appreciation for it. And there are people here, unlike the Dakotas. And they drink beer. The Twin Cities feel like Portland. We’ve had a great response here. We have been thrilled about how many people had already heard of us. And all the emails, and Facebook posts, and tweets, the whole word of mouth thing has been really cool. It’s been great to see that spread and be welcomed into the craft beer community here. We look forward to seeing where it goes.
What is planned for the Minnesota market going forward?
We’ve always launched new markets with Black Butte Porter and Mirror Pond Pale Ale, and usually just draft. But we had a lot of people on the off-premise side wanting our beer in the market so we brought in the 22 oz bottles of Black Butte and Mirror Pond. We’ll release six-packs of porter and pale and probably Twilight, our summer seasonal, in Minnesota come June. And from there we’ll probably go to our next seasonal and add Inversion IPA and Green Lakes Organic Ale. We’ll also keep throwing the Bond Street Reserve Series bombers out here because we realize that it’s an educated market and people want that sort of thing. We just finished packaging Hop Henge so we sent a couple palates of that and will probably send some more in the next truck. The next one after Hop Henge is our Hop in the Dark Cascadian Dark Ale (aka black IPA). These beers are called the bond street series because our original brewpub in Bend is on Bond Street and that’s where these beers originated.
Hop Henge is an 8.75% IPA with 95 IBUs of bitterness. We call it an “experimental IPA” because we tweak it every year to get more and bigger and better hop flavors. We also use proprietary hop products that no one else has access to. Our brewmaster, Larry Sidor, was in the hop industry selling hops for ten or twelve years before he came to Deschutes so he knows hops inside and out. He has the hop companies create specific products that nobody else has and one of those is in that beer. We also just try to innovate and keep putting the hops into the beer in different ways. For Hop Henge, hops are added at eight different times in the process. We used whole flower hops, there’s extract in there, there are pellet hops, and there are proprietary hop products, Cascades, Centennials, Citra, and some other hops. We carried 800 lbs of hops up forty-six steps to the tops of our 700-barrel fermenters to drop them into the batch. That was 800 lbs just for two tanks. There are just shy of ten pounds of hops per barrel. Being an American IPA we’re going for high bitterness and big hop aroma, but we still want a drinkable and balanced beer. If it’s too over the top with just bitterness there will be people who can drink one or maybe two, but they’re not going to come back for a whole lot more. So it’s a well balanced beer. It’s high IBUs and full bodied.
Deschutes started as a brewpub in Bend in 1988. In 1993 we opened up a production facility. We opened another brewpub in Portland two years ago. The brewpubs are our pilot systems. We have brewers at each place that get to do whatever they want. They are the ones leading the charge on developing the next brand. Our brewmaster has been brewing beer for thirty years and comes to it from the hop industry. He also owned a vineyard and made wines, so he knows what he’s doing when it comes to fermentation, hops, and beer. We started out doing English ales, but we’ve since branched out. We’re experimenting with a “wheat” beer made from spelt instead of wheat malt. We make a very limited batch sour Flanders red style beer every year.
We’re in 15 states including Minnesota. The goal is to be in all 50 states in the next ten years. Our constraint now is fermentation tanks. We may have to drop a few more tanks to increase capacity before we can open up another state. We outgrew the fifty-barrel brew house so we put in a system that does hundred-and-thirty-barrel batches. With our old brew house we were brewing twenty-four-seven almost seven days a week. We pushed passed what we thought capacity was with that brew house before we put the new brew house in. Now everything is mostly brewed on the new system with some of the specialty stuff still being done on the older system. We are always just trying to improve the process and have the best equipment that we need to brew the best beer in the world.