Worthy Brewing Co. continues to provide one of the more interesting brewery destinations in the region. Beyond the brewery, pub and beer garden, visitors are treated to the sights of growing hops (in the summer), the greenhouse and Garden Club, and, completed this year, the domed observatory. At its core, however, Worthy is still about the beer, and this year the brewery has been bustling with several notable projects.

The brewery showcased a new hop variety, Strata, with the release of the eponymously named Strata IPA early in the year. Worthy has a special connection to the development of this hop, as owner Roger Worthington also owns hop supplier Indie Hops. Indie Hops collaborates with Oregon State University’s hop breeding program to develop new strains of hops.

Strata is the first to emerge from this program and make the leap to a commercially grown brewing variety. The strain was developed from Perle, a German aroma hop developed and released in 1978, which typically exhibits earthy and spicy herbal characteristics, such as black pepper and sometimes even mint.

Worthy began experimenting with Strata, then known as X-331, late in 2016. It was a hit with the brewers, and after four trial versions, the brewery officially launched StrataSphere IPA in January. The name was shortened to simply Strata IPA, and in September, following this year’s hop harvest, Worthy released it in 22-ounce bottles.

The defining aroma characteristic of Strata is tropical fruit — including notes of pineapple, mango and orange marmalade, with what the brewery describes as an underlying “whiff of herbal dankness.”

Fruit carries into the flavor as well, highlighting pineapple and citrus along with some spicy herbal notes hinting as to the hop’s heritage. The malt base is clean and bready and gets out of the way to highlight the hops.

Overall, it has a nice “moreish” quality to it that I would also describe as appetizing; you take a sip and immediately want more.

The 2016 acreage for Strata was limited, with only 9 acres harvested. Indie Hops planted an additional 60 acres, and Worthy plans to release Strata IPA in cans late next year with the increased availability of the hops.

More recently, Worthy’s X-Hop experimental tasting series returned, a similar project to a series of beers they offered in the spring. In a comparable manner to how the brewery released Strata, it brews beers utilizing new, experimental hop varieties, and solicits public feedback on each beer. The current release lineup runs through the end of December.

The hop varieties are designated by letter and number combinations, such as C7-9-1-499 (the first hop used in the series). At some point, if the popularity and development of that strain matures to general brewing use, it has the potential to be named and cultivated for commercial use. On the other hand, strains that fare poorly in the trials are likely to be abandoned.

The X-Hop beers are available on draft at Worthy for two weeks until the next beer is tapped. Its second beer in this experimental series is on tap now, and the third beer will be released Dec. 15.

Finally, just before Thanksgiving, Worthy released the latest vintage of its annual imperial stout specialty, Dark Muse, along with 2016 Dark Muse aged in bourbon barrels.

Dark Muse is a hefty 10.1 percent alcohol by volume, though it hides the alcohol well behind layers of rich chocolate and sweet toffee.

The barrel-aged version aged for 13 months in Woodford Reserve Bourbon barrels, a long contact time that tends to impart highly potent wood and bourbon character.

The brewery’s description of the process reads, “We blended in a small amount of 2017 Muse to balance the intense bourbon aromas and flavors. This vintage picked up a pleasant amount of oak and adds a small amount of dried fruit and hazelnut.”

Its time in the barrels allows the beer to gain an additional percent of alcohol by volume, and though boozy, the strength is well concealed.

I found it to have a subtle aroma with essence of chocolate, vanilla and bourbon with a hint of maple syrup.

In flavor there is a nice expression of the bourbon with elements of charred wood and vanilla, lightening up the body of the base beer with a pleasant alcoholic heat that’s present but mellow.

With deep background notes of chocolate this is an excellent dessert beer that would pair equally well with chocolate desserts as with a cheese tray or a mixed-berry cobbler.

All of these beers are currently on tap, so if you find yourself visiting for one of the brewery’s other highlights, make sure to take the time to grab a pint.

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