This year, the vote for Best Brewer gives particular insight to Bend's brewing scene because it so accurately reflects the two directions the industry is going right now. The runner-up: Tony Lawrence, brewmaster and co-founder of Boneyard Beer, a man whose IPAs flow in seemingly every bar in Oregon and Washington. And, the winner, by a nose: Paul Arney of The Ale Apothecary, which produced only 150 barrels of beer in all of 2014.
"Everything was pretty unexpected," says Arney, who worked at Deschutes Brewery and Seattle-based Maritime Pacific Brewing before opening the Apothecary in 2012. "I had been trained and worked as a beer brewer for so many years, and I learned a lot of things, but it was mostly about brewing. I didn't really know how to run a business. I wasn't really able to write a business plan because I didn't know what the outcome would be."
With 20 percent of all beer sold in Oregon produced in Oregon (the largest percentage of any state) and 28 breweries operating in Central Oregon (from the mammoth Deschutes to two-guys-in-a-basement nanobreweries like Monkless Belgian Ales), craft beer around Central Oregon and across the state is no longer a rising trend; it is the status quo. It's a huge industry—big enough for both places like Boneyard, which launched in 2010 and aims to eventually produce 40,000 barrels per year, and boutique operations like the Apothecary, whose wild-fermented, barrel-aged ales boast a small but passionate fan base.
"I'm not so sure the beer or breweries are much different here," Lawrence observes. "It's just that, with Bend, the breweries and their beer as a whole make the scene simply ridiculous. The Northwest has a long history with craft beer, but Bend just seems to be stealing the show."
Both breweries are responding to the overwhelming demand: A year ago, Boneyard opened up a 40-bbl production facility to keep up with the intense statewide demand for RPM IPA, their flagship, but now, they're taking a moment to catch their breath. "Our focus currently is in-house," Lawrence says, "staffing, mechanicals, consistency, and so on. We've purposely pulled back on the growth curve to regroup internally, and that's the best long-term investment we can make."
Arney, meanwhile, has pulled back distribution in Portland in order to focus on Bend and his long-anticipated tasting room (tentatively named "The Joint"). "Right now we've got this tiny brewery," he explains, "and we have to do everything in that [government-]approved space—barreling, bottling, and brewing. This new taproom space will let us use the brewery just for brewing beer, and that'll let us eventually double or triple our production without adding any infrastructure."
Arney uses only one hop for nearly all of his beer, and relies on the oak-barrel aging, using exotic yeast like Lactobacillus to produce the tart, woody, and addictive flavors seen in beers like Sahalie, El Cuatro, and The Beer Formerly Known as La Tache.
And, Arney believes that there is still room for more beer, and more breweries in Central Oregon—as long as it's backed by something truly unique.
"Talking about breweries like Pfriem or Boneyard," he said, "I have an affinity for them because I know their story and the people behind their beer. I think what we need are more brewer-owned-and-operated breweries like that. Those are the kind of businesses who can drive the craft forward. If you have a board of investors getting into it because they think beer is profitable, they aren't going to make as interesting a product." (KG)
2nd Place:Tony Lawrence, Boneyard Beer