Redmond’s newest brewery opened last month, quietly slipping under the radar into the local beer scene: Geist Beerworks. Located near the airport on Umatilla Avenue in southeast Redmond, owners Heather and Greg Wales opened the doors on Aug. 3 and are serving up a solid lineup of beers spanning a variety of styles.
They bring brewing experience from Lake Havasu City, Arizona, where they owned and operated Copper Canyon Brewing Company. Copper Canyon was considered a “nano” brewery (usually classified as having a brewing capacity of less than 10 barrels) and Geist follows suit. Much of the brewing equipment is in fact the same, transported from Arizona.
With a brewhouse volume of 4.5 barrels, the Waleses are content at that size and view the venture as their retirement gig.
“We have no desire to grow … we really don’t,” Greg said. “Quality at the end of the day is what our goal is.”
The goal is also to have fun making beer.
“Any other job, this would be overtime,” Heather said. “We leave laughing.”
The small size allows them to stay nimble and produce a range of styles as well as experiment with recipes. Among the more experimental offerings are several fruit beers, including Sandia, a light ale infused with watermelon described as “summer in a glass.” After sampling through most of the beers on tap, Sandia is what I returned to for a full pint.
They serve it with a wedge of watermelon on the rim of the glass, a twist on the common practice of serving a slice of lemon with hefeweizen. The fruit can be a tricky flavor to work with, and I normally find watermelon beers to be problematic. Not so with Sandia.
The aroma reminded me of watermelon Jolly Rancher candy, but the taste was much more of a natural melon flavor. Light and crisp, you get the impression of biting into a slice of fresh watermelon, a combination of ripe sweetness and slightly earthy rind.
They use natural fruit extracts in the beers, rather than fruit purees, and the results are aromatic, balanced and brightly fruity. In addition to Sandia, the other two fruit beers are 4 Berries Sake!, made with blueberry, red raspberry, blackberry and red cherry; and Bluebeery Vanilla, with blueberry and Madagascar vanilla.
There are a total of 12 beers on tap: others include Phantom Pilsner, Reaper Imperial Red, Ghost in the Machine IPA and Dark Shadow Porter. They also submitted three beers to the Great American Beer Festival taking place later this month: Freedom Wheat, an American-style hefeweizen, The Bitter End, a classic English ordinary bitter, and Juan’s Yugo Black IPA.
I won’t speculate on the beer’s chances at the GABF, competing against nearly 4,000 other entries, but I did find them all to be solid, well-brewed examples of their respective styles.
The Waleses are also supportive of and active in the local homebrew community. They host the monthly meetings for Redmond’s homebrew club, Cascade Fermentation Association, and are members of both the CFA and Bend’s Central Oregon Homebrewers Organization.
Greg himself was a homebrewer before going pro in Arizona. “First and foremost, we’re homebrewers,” he said. “I believe innovation begins at the homebrew level.”
Another name you’ll hear in relation to Geist is Braveheart Brewing, which is a contract brand the Waleses are producing. The brand itself is owned by a military veteran in California, whose goal is to market a line of beers that will raise money for various veterans organizations. Ultimately, the hope is to launch nationwide.
The Braveheart beers will initially be brewed and canned on the Geist system, four barrels at a time. As the concept grows and distribution expands, they expect to contract with larger breweries around the country to brew the recipes.
Right now, you can enjoy the Geist brews at the brewery tap room located at 736 SW Umatilla Ave. in Redmond, open Wednesday through Sunday from 1 to 9 p.m. An increasing number of other locations around Central Oregon are carrying the beers as well.
And if you get the chance, try Sandia (with the watermelon slice) before it rotates out at the end of the season. If you miss out, it should be back on tap by April, but fortunately, there are plenty of other tasty beers to enjoy in the meantime.
— Jon Abernathy is a Bend beer blogger and brew aficionado. His column appears every other week in GO!