The Week’s Featured Beer

F ans of The Ale Apothecary, one of Central Oregon’s most distinctive breweries, take note: The new tasting room on Bend’s west side is open for business, two days a week. Patrons visiting the tasting room can purchase bottles of the specialty beers to go or for consumption on premise, or single pours of select bottles. Previously, bottles were available only in various retail markets or through the brewery’s ale club, which is limited to 200 members.

When owner and brewer Paul Arney was developing the concept for his artisanal brewery in 2011, he wrote, “My plan is to utilize a very small home-built brewery to develop a beer that has existed in my mind only. Develop a process that produces the desired flavor profile, and then, build a brewery around the process. This brewery will combine age-old techniques alongside modern ones, and we will not be brewing to satisfy bulk consumption.”

The Ale Apothecary officially launched in 2012, and Arney has held fairly true to this vision. He converted the garage of his house off Skyliners Road into a small, one-barrel brewery and developed a line of mixed- and spontaneously fermented beers. The brewing process featured a notable departure from other commercial breweries, in that nearly every stage of the brewing process occurred in wood.

Visit most other breweries, and the standout detail is metal: stainless steel and copper tanks and kettles. Not so with The Ale Apothecary. Aside from the kettle used for boiling the wort, nearly everything takes place in wood. Modified barrels serve as mash tuns (containers that hold the crushed grains and hot water needed to produce the sugar-rich wort) and fermenters, and extended fermentation and conditioning takes place in various other barrels.

The wood exerts an influence on the beer through each stage of the process, and yields beers quite unlike any others brewed in Bend — or elsewhere for that matter. With the mixed cultures of wild yeasts and bacteria for fermentation, the beers require longer aging periods before bottling, typically at least three months and frequently longer.

Because of this time-intensive process and Arney’s dedication to small-batch brewing, the beers were initially only offered via the limited membership ale club. As The Ale Apothecary grew, bottles were offered at select outlets, such as Crow’s Feet Commons, Broken Top Bottle Shop, The Brew Shop, and The BeerMongers in Portland.

Although slow, the brewery’s growth has been deliberate and sustainable. The original one-barrel kettle has been upgraded to three barrels in size. To manage the inventory of barrels used for aging, Arney acquired space in town in the building next to the Century Center (home of GoodLife Brewing Co.) for storage and finishing. The beers are brewed and fermented at his brewery off Skyliners Road, then transferred to the barrel house to age and finish fermentation. Bottling occurs at this location, as well.

It is at this barrel facility where the new tasting room is located. It had been in “soft open” mode for several weeks before an official debut during Central Oregon Beer Week, accompanied by a specialty bottle release. It’s open from 2 to 7 p.m. on Thursdays and Saturdays.

The tasting-room experience is more akin to that of a winery than of a brewery. Patrons can purchase a full bottle (prices range from $25 to $50) or 4- or 8-ounce single pours ranging from $5 to $12. There is no beer available on tap.

“I tell people if you want RPM (IPA, from Boneyard), Cabin 22 is right across the street,” said Arney. And GoodLife is next door, opposite the courtyard.

The space is beautifully decked out with handmade wooden and barrel furnishings, eclectic artwork, and brewery and (real) apothecary memorabilia. In one corner resides the original kuurna used in the production of Sahati, Arney’s take on a traditional Finnish beer called “sahti.” The kuurna is a hollowed-out trunk of a spruce tree, which would be lined with spruce boughs and used as a mash tun to produce a decidedly spruce-infused wort.

The resulting beer exhibits a pungent, pronounced essence of spruce — think of cola with a touch of mint — and a lightly sugary sweet character tempered by a resinous tree-sap note. The wild yeasts and barrel conditioning impart further layers of funk and complexity.

Bottles available include the flagships Sahalie, La Tache, and El Cuatro, as well as older vintages of these beers; other finds include Ralph, brewed with white spruce, and Carpe Diem Mañana, heavily hopped and brewed in wine barrels. Arney is planning a new release of Sahati in the near future, brewed with a larger kuurna harvested from his property.

The tasting room is at 30 SW Century Drive, and is sure to be a popular stop for people seeking more than the usual brewery fare.

— Jon Abernathy is a beer blogger and brew aficionado. His column appears every other week in GO!