Bend’s newest brewery is one you may not have heard of, even though they have been officially selling beer for nearly a year: Crooked Jay Brewing. This low-key presence on the local beer scene has been intentional; as a small operation with limited output, it has spent the past year testing the market and gathering feedback.
Owners Josh Arment and Christy Davenport still maintain full-time jobs while they run the brewery out of their southwest Bend home. The native Oregonians also focus on family as a cornerstone of their venture.
“We hope that we can show our children that we took a risk to do something we loved and that as they grow, it can be something they can love and be a part of, as well,” Davenport said.
The main beer they offer is their flagship, Crooked Jay IPA, though they occasionally brew Oregon Punch, classified as a strong ale.
Brewer Arment crafts the beer on a one-barrel system, brewing roughly twice a month. Before launching Crooked Jay, Arment homebrewed for 10 years, honing his skills and immersing himself in the processes and science of fermentation. When he and Davenport made the decision to launch the brewery, they knew they would start out slowly and deliberately, with a limited production schedule.
For marketing, they have relied primarily on social media and word of mouth, and while eager to expand their footprint, they are opting not to rush. This also gives them a chance to test the waters with their beer. The one location where they maintain a dedicated tap is Pisano’s Woodfired Pizza in Tumalo.
Arment and Davenport already knew Pisano’s owner Ed Barbeau, and when they approached him about carrying their beer, they trusted that he would give honest feedback. “Ed’s the kind of person that, he’ll give it to you straight,” said Davenport. “If it’s bad, he’ll tell you it’s bad, and why.”
To their relief, the reception was positive. “The feedback I’m getting is amazing,” Barbeau said. “It sells well! I’ve had it on for close to a year, and it’s on my permanent rotation.”
This has borne out at Market of Choice, as well. Though intermittently available, 5-gallon kegs of Crooked Jay IPA have sold out within one to two days of being tapped. In the coming weeks, they plan to sell kegs to The Vault Taphouse in Redmond and Broken Top Bottle Shop in Bend.
Crooked Jay bills its IPA as a hybrid between West Coast and East Coast styles, meaning it balances the familiar hops and citrus, pine and grapefruit fruitiness, with low bitterness and a malty profile. The West Coast influence accounts for the hops, but what is an East Coast IPA?
There is no formal definition or style category for East Coast versus West Coast IPAs, but I believe there are regional differences. IPAs brewed on the East Coast tend to have a complex malt body and a focus on bittering hops with earthy, spicy characteristics. The resulting ales exhibit more caramel and sweetness than their West Coast counterparts, along with a balanced bitterness that lacks the fruity, flamboyant finish that you would find in a Fresh Squeezed IPA from Deschutes Brewery, for instance.
These IPAs draw inspiration from the English style, for a couple of reasons. First, and particularly during the early years of craft beer, East Coast drinkers and brewers ironically had better access to beer from across the Atlantic than from the West Coast.
Shipping across the country is expensive, prohibitively so for small breweries. As breweries in the West experimented with American hop varieties in their IPAs, very few reached the opposite coast. Readier access to excellent European beers in the East influenced brewers’ palates and recipes toward the Old World styles.
Another reason was a man named Alan Pugsley. Pugsley was an English brewer who arrived in the United States in 1986 to help launch the D.L. Geary Brewing Co. in Portland, Maine. He went on to help launch many other Eastern breweries including Gritty McDuff’s Brewing Co., Wild Goose Brewery, and Shipyard Brewing Co.
Pugsley was so influential that he was even dubbed the Johnny Appleseed of craft brewing, and his English-trained brewing influences characterize much of the East Coast brewing scene even today.
Arment has infused Crooked Jay IPA with this East Coast sensibility.
“I wanted to create something that people haven’t really had,” he said. “It’s kind of something that’s got the hops, but then, you have more maltiness. And then the non-ish bitter IPAs; the thing about the IPA is that, you still have to have a little bit of bitterness.”
Davenport agrees. “Yes, it’s hop forward, but it’s not bitter. We wanted our original to be something very different, because everybody and their mother has, you know, five IPAs.”
Expect to see more out of this brewery in the coming months. “Right now we are just taking it one step at a time,” said Davenport. “It’s really just about making the best beer we can each day, and getting it out there.”
— Jon Abernathy is a Bend beer blogger and brew aficionado. His column appears every other week in GO!