“How Wild it Was, To Let it Be” — Cheryl Strayed, Wild
Words and photos by Ami Melaine
July 6. Bend, OR. 12:30ish in the afternoon.
Deschutes Brewery/Public House
If you want to experience the glory of Southern Oregon without feeling trapped by desert—rather, invited into it—Bend is the place to visit. At a warm 87ish degrees, my early Monday afternoon saw me pleasantly taken by the wildflower landscaping, tall glass and stone buildings, roundabouts and pristine sidewalks. Whilst driving in some silly circles—not including the roundabouts—Mum (my traveling companion for this adventure) and I discovered a hedge-fenced, window-generous monstrosity that bore the Deschutes Brewing Company logo.
We parked in the first Visitor Parking spot we found and ducked out of the heat into the bready, crisp beer-making air that was the visiting center. Now, I walked into this place with the bold ambitions of any girl ready for lunchtime beers. The key here is that I was also ready for lunch. The further into the tasting room I walked, with its high tables barren of stools and people moving through quickly for tours and other adventures, the less confident I became about my lunch prospects. It wasn’t until Mum asked The Guy Behind the Counter if they had food. Sadly, he said “No.”
These are some of the things I learned while at the brewery:
- There’s no food.
- There is beer.
- There were upwards of ten beers on tap, not including the house made root beer and ginger ale.
- The ladies and fellas behind the bar obviously have their jobs for a reason— they know their shit.
Fortunately, we were informed that there were delightful lunch foods available at the Deschutes Public House, or pub, downtown. We resolved to head there, but not before tasting some beers and perusing the gifty area. The Guy Behind the Counter gave me a tasting card (His name is Mark, as it happens) and handed Mum little cups of ginger ale and root beer, the glorious likes of which are made in their brewery. Being a traveling writer-type but not the confrontational kind, I quietly sampled some brews and listened as Mark and the expert ladies provided tourists with all the information they could absorb about the Deschutes beers and brewing company.
I tasted several beers— and persuaded Mum to sniff most of them—including the Pinedrops IPA, Zarabonda, Mirror Pond Pale Ale, and The Stoic.
- The Pinedrops IPA is a newer expression that I’d been hearing a bit about, but that I hadn’t yet located on tap. The nose was sweet and mellow; it reminded me of peaches, apricots and young dandelions. Mum noted that there were woody notes, like that of kegged beer, and again, apricots. The taste of the beer was sharp and dry, like a clean, rushing river which aspires to be as delicate as afternoon picnic wine. The Pinedrops features Equinox experimental hops.
- Zarabonda is a Saison, the nose of which carries smokey, fired wood, almost meaty, summer-night bonfire notes. It reminded me a little of some of my favorite Isla Scotches, but in an airier, beerier way. Mum picked up some notes of lime and charcoal. The taste was surprisingly light yet robust. It brought to mind images of dark plums and fruits and rich cider. The finish was caramelly with notes of pepper from the hops.
- Mirror Pond Pale Ale is named for the Mirror Pond in Bend. The essence of this glassy, reflective pond is echoed in the nature of the brew bearing its name. Mirror Pond is actually quite red for pale ale—reminiscent of Japanese maples and autumn leaves— and has a nose full of berries, fresh-cut grass, rich smoke and a greenness that brings algae to mind—the sort health fanatics ingest. The taste holds citrusy notes of grapefruit, and is complimented by a buttery, taffy-like boldness that made me reconsider my usual trepidation toward pales.
- The Stoic—last and most fondly remembered—is a grand Belgian-Style Quad; the first one I’d ever tried. The nose on this beauty is robust and spicy, and it reminds of pure sugar, steak juices, and a fine cognac. The after-aroma is faintly reminiscent of salty ocean breezes and molasses. It has the sharp taste of a dark wine, a tangy sweetness similar to beets, sugar, and sour apples. Sadly, no description does justice to the complexity and singular glory that is The Stoic.
I would like to admit, briefly, that I have the oddest feelings about beer critiques and tasting notes. Not only do I refuse to use technically correct terms and notes (partly for fear of making every beer sound the same and un-unique) but I have a deeply-entrenched belief that good beer cannot be summarized or quantified. It must be experienced. I can tell you with certainty that there is no experience like that of tasting beer straight from the tap at the brewery from whence it is birthed.
So, after scribbling maniacally in my little notebook and savoring every drop I could of the tasty beers, and also a few drops of my mum’s remaining root beer and ginger ale, both of which captured my heart with their crisp flavor and pure, sweet notes, and wandering about the tasting room looking at clever shirts, beer glasses, bottles, patches, pens, and a dress/shoes pair made mostly of coasters, bottle caps, cartons and bottle labels, we headed toward the downtown Deschutes Public House location. I still had a keen yearning for lunch, after all.
The downtown Deschutes Public House is a rustic, yet cheery industrial brick building made up of arches and multi-paned windows and polished concrete flooring. If one ventures into the bar area, he will see giant windows on either side of a long hallway. The left-side window offers a look into the bakery portion of the restaurant—this is where all the bread and buns are made from scratch, using leftover grains from the brewing process. The hall has bathrooms near the end, store rooms, and doors to kitchens. This hallway also holds numerous awards, plaques, medals, ribbons, and news stories proclaiming the wealth of greatness possessed by the Deschutes brand. Across the hallway, through the right-side windows stand all of the old brewing tanks and machinery—the brew pub just so happens to be the original location of the brewery itself. It has been expanded since, but the building and staff have lost none of their character or comfort.
Upon Mark’s suggestion, I got the elk burger, which was on a bun baked in-house and accompanied by home-made French fries and that glorious root beer. Mum and I sat for a while and asked our waiter questions about this or that. He was also quite knowledgeable and happy to share glowing stories of brew-house triumphs and delectable feats. The man really seemed to feel like the pub was his home. I began to feel the same way. We ate there twice that day—to be fair, we didn’t have room for dessert the first time—and practically turned into Deschutes groupies.
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