Somewhat ironically, the inspiration for Bend’s barrel-aged beer festival started not with a meditation on wood, but as an homage to iron—steel specifically, according to one of the festival’s key developers, local brewer Pat O’Shea.
O’Shea said it was the experience of seeing his hometown of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania trying to preserve its 20th Century steel culture even as steel jobs were moving overseas in the 21st Century that got him thinking about Bend’s mill history and the town’s relationship to trees and wood products.
O’Shea eventually found himself at the local historical society poring over old photographs of the Brooks-Scanlon and Shevlin-Hixon mills and piecing together the area’s early mill history.
It was around the same time that O’Shea’s then employer, Deschutes Brewery, was starting to experiment with barrel aging ales. O’Shea saw an opportunity. He envisioned a wood-themed festival with barrel-aged beers at the center of the celebration.
It took a few years for the idea to take hold, but it eventually did. And while O’Shea’s vision of a wood celebration with chainsaw carvers and lumberjack competitions never really came to fruition, the festival, which became the Little Woody has carved a niche for itself among beer drinkers and brewmasters. The festival drew about 3,000 attendees last year over the two-day event, which takes place just behind the Source office in the Deschutes County Historical Society parking lot.
“I love the Little Woody, it’s one my favorite beer festivals,” said Boneyard Beer’s Melodee Storey.
While the festival has been a success by all measures, it doesn’t approach the scope of some of the larger beer festivals and competitions, like Colorado’s Great American Beer Festival.
It’s a format and scale that puts the focus squarely on the brewers and their creations.
“Really what it’s about is stopping by and seeing the diversity of beers and what the brewers can do as opposed to catching a buzz,” said O’Shea, whose current employer Crux Fermentation does not have any beers in this year’s festival but plans to launch a year-round barrel aging program.
After undertaking a significant expansion of its operations, 10 Barrel Brewing Co. has already expanded aggressively into barrel aging. An event like the Little Woody is a great opportunity to introduce the public at large to some of those beers.
“It’s great for breweries to showcase something in an environment like that where they are truly appreciated. It’s not like going to the bar and having a pint,” said 10 Barrel’s Bobby Jackson.
Jackson’s brewery is bringing three beers to this year’s event, including a brandy barrel-aged, imperial version of 10 Barrel’s Pray for Snow seasonal.
As with previous years, beer aficionados will be able to sample more than a dozen small-batch beers, including stouts, sours, as well as beers aged in brandy barrels with ingredients like wood chips, fruits and wild yeasts. It’s a labor of love for brewers who often develop one-time recipes based on ingredients and materials available, finding beer styles to fit specific types of wood barrels, all of which have been used previously to age wine, whiskey or some other spirit.
Boneyard’s Tony Lawrence said his brewery will be showcasing a sour dubbed the Funky Bunch that combines their Black 13 ale and the popular Girl Beer. The concoction was aged with wild yeast in a bath of wood chips.
“This is kind of a junkyard project,” said Lawrence. “It’s a bunch of funk, or Funky Bunch.”
While there will be plenty for beer lovers to sample from among 14 breweries in attendance (there are also a pair of barrel-aged ciders from Oregon’s Carlton Cyderworks), attendees can also sample beers from the stage during beer talks from 10 Barrel and Boneyard.
For those looking to diversify beyond beer, there will also be a curated whisky tasting, comprising five different rye whiskeys from small- and large-batch distillers. No separate admission or tasting fees are required for that portion of the event, which will be held inside the historical society building.
Photo taken from file photo.
When: Fri, 5-10 p.m. Sat., Noon-10p.m.
Where: Deschutes County Historical Society grounds
How Much: $7 admission and glass; $15 admission, glass and ten tasting tokens