Top 5 Beers of the Week

Broken Top Brown from Bridge 99 Brewery

OG Kush Hoppy Pale Ale from Cascade Lakes Brewing

Big Black Jack Imperial Chocolate Pumpkin Porter from Oakshire Brewing

Worthy IPA from Worthy Brewing

Beak Breaker Double IPA from Pelican Brewing

Craft Kitchen and Brewery in Bend recently tapped a beer that caught my attention: a special version of its Sweet Potato Imperial India Nut Brown ale aged in Oregon Spirit Distillers’ C.W. Irwin Bourbon whiskey barrels for two years.

That’s an impressive amount of time to age any beer, and the result was remarkably smooth and well-balanced, even at 11.5% alcohol by volume. But really, it was the sweet potato that piqued my interest. While similar to pumpkin as an ingredient, relatively few sweet potato beers are commercially available (though it can often be found in gluten-free beers).

Once you get past the bourbon barrel notes, there are caramel and toffee flavors with hints of sweet potato casserole and a touch of lightly roasted malt.

Starting with a base of the brewery’s India Nut Brown ale, it was brewed with 24 pounds of sweet potatoes (for a 3.5 barrel, or about 110 gallon, batch), roasted, peeled and added directly to the mash.

This wasn’t the first potato beer Craft has brewed. Mashed Out was a stout brewed with potatoes that was a staple of the brewery’s original pub location on Industrial Way. These days, Craft maintains its brewery and taproom on Layton Avenue in northeast Bend, and runs it as a mom and pop operation, according to owner Courtney Stevens.

“We do like to merge kitchen and brewery any chance we can,” said Stevens via email. She was referring to the potato beers, but this philosophy extends into other beers and the brewing process overall. Such as the Granola Porter, brewed with golden oats, coffee and cocoa nibs to evoke a “deconstructed granola bar.”

Honey Raspberry Pilsner is another example, brewed in conjunction with the Central Oregon Beer Angels organization earlier this year as a fundraiser for Soroptimist International of Bend. Craft brewed it with locally sourced raw honey and Oregon fruit.

Stevens’ husband Mark is the head brewer, though it didn’t start that way.

“We have had three brewers (from founders Firestone Walker and Hop Valley) in our short period of existence, and have plenty of great recipes to play around with,” Stevens said. “My husband is still getting his feet wet so to speak, but we have plans to do some of those recipes this winter.”

There are original recipes developed by Stevens as well, including Layton Lager and Brown Imperial Lager, both currently on tap. Layton Lager is light, grainy and crisp, while the Brown Imperial Lager has a lightly spicy hop presence with toasty toffee notes and finishes clean.

“We also want to do a Kolsch and some other darker styles and some bocks and of course more barrel-aged,” said Stevens. “With our small system we want to play around some more for sure.” The small, 3.5 barrel system allows Craft to stay nimble and offer a wide variety of beers at any given time. Stevens sees that as a niche in the local beer scene that she hopes she and her husband can occupy.

Craft opened in 2015 in the restaurant space on Industrial Way formerly occupied by Old Mill Brew Wërks. After two years, the brewery closed that location and opened up its east side taproom early in 2018, and also added a food truck. The food menu focuses on smoked meats and Southern fare such as brisket, burnt ends and po’boy sandwiches.

Ten taps showcase a variety of beer styles, from lagers and pale ale through IPA and barrel aged specialties.

Unfortunately the Sweet Potato Brown ale was quite limited and may not be available by the time this column is published. However, don’t let that stop you — Craft offers an interesting and varied lineup of beers worth checking out, and if you haven’t been to the taproom, now is a great time to visit.

— Jon Abernathy is a beer writer and blogger and launched The Brew Site (thebrewsite.com) in 2004. He can be reached at jon@thebrewsite.com .

24350418