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Ale Apothecary’s Breath of Fresh Air

Last weekend I was able to make the trip from Portland to Bend, Oregon, and spend some time visiting Isaac and some other friends. Isaac, who moved out there a couple months ago, has been quick to visit all the breweries in Bend and has established some friends in the industry. It was fun to visit places like Crux Fermentation Project, which I’ve watched intently since I first heard that Larry Sidor was leaving Deschutes to start the brewery. The beers were fantastic and absolutely worth talking about.

There are all sorts of other great breweries popping up around the state, including the Logsdon Farmhouse, near Hood River, but I haven’t been able to visit that one yet. There was one brewery that I just can’t not mention. Ale Apothecary is a rustic little brewery on a patch of four-ish acres, west of Bend, as you begin to head into the mountains. The property has a river that runs through it, and it sits on a hill in a forested area, very close to, possibly even located in, a national forest. The brewery is a small space attached to a house, where brewer Paul Arney allows the landscape to affect, and infect, his beers in a most exciting way.

On the Ale Apothecary property

The beers all receive an open-barrel-fermentation picking up the bugs in the oak barrels, as well as whatever is floating around in the forest. Paul said that last year there was a forest fire about 6 miles away and the fermenting beer picked up some of that smoke.

For me this was very exciting because, as you all know, I am interested in thinking about beer as some type of local portraiture and I love when breweries consider their physical and social surroundings to influence what they make. Paul is interested in doing Beers Made By Walking sometime in the future, although really, he’s already doing it and doesn’t need a program like BMBW to help out. His beers use plants, yeast, and wood that grow and sit in his property.

Perhaps you’re already as excited about Ale Apothecary as I am, just by looking at their property and knowing that they are basically a Farmhouse Brewery…but in a forest, so more of a Foresthouse Brewery. But, check out the above picture. That lovely hollowed out log is a kurrna, a lauter tun, built from a tree on the property, and filled with spruce branches that will filter the wort from the grain for Paul’s next beer. The tun is about ten feet long and is especially impressive. In the future, Paul can use juniper, pine, or other fir as a filtering agent. The wort will inevitably pick up some of the aroma and flavor from those plants and they’ll add to the complexity of the beer.

Speaking of the beer, Ale Apothecary has about three or four different beers that I saw around town. Each beer will change slightly from batch to batch as the barrels evolve, the seasons change, and the weather affects how the different plants grow. This inconsistency is something that Paul truly values and welcomes. To me, this is a beautiful thing, it is a purposeful move away from the process of consistency that many people say they need in a beer that they love. I only got to try one of their beers, but it was funky, tart, and absolutely lovely and complex. It was called El Cuatro and was aged for a year in Brandy barrels and then mixed with another beer. Luckily their beers are available near where I’m staying in Portland, so I can easily pick up bottles. I’d really like to try their Sahati, which is made with spruce in the kurrna. I’d also really like to pick up their Spencer when it’s available, it’s base is from the 12 month aged flagship beer but with an addition of blackcurrant for an additional 8 months. That sounds amazing.

Paul at work in the brewery

One of the things that I most appreciated about Ale Apothecary was a brief conversation I had with Paul about slow-ness. It grew out of our talk about consistency and inconsistency and how it may be strange to expect consistency when you’re using agriculture. We talked about what it means to sit still and enjoy beer, to enjoy being outdoors and not enrapture yourself in consumerism and busy activity. I believe that this brewery wholly regards a slowness mentality. What a breath of fresh air!

Special thanks to Paul for letting us visit!

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Written By

Eric teaches art, loves being outdoors, and organizes beer events around the country. He founded Focus on the Beer and Beers Made By Walking.

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