For the Oregon Beer Growler
It’s difficult to set yourself as a craft brewery in Oregon these days, especially in Central Oregon, where there are more than two dozen.
But Bend’s Craft Kitchen & Brewery is starting out with a very different formula. As breweries across Oregon have their sights sets on eventual growth and expansion, Craft is focused on just having a great pub serving quality food in an atmosphere that makes locals feel at home.
“I want us to be what a BBC (Bend Brewing Company) or Deschutes was like 15 years ago — a place where you can come and say ‘OK, they have something new on draft this week and I want to try it,’” Craft co-owner Courtney Stevens said recently at her pub overlooking the Deschutes River. “Our business plan is never to mass produce our beer. We’re always going to stay a small thing. But we want to self-distribute. We want to keep our beer, you know, craft beer. And I hope that will set us apart.”
Craft is taking staying small and Bend-centric to another level. The pub seeks to cater to locals and families with a kids’ room, board games and a communal vibe. (That’s not to say that visitors won’t be swayed to visit because of the pub’s scenic view and wide selection of beers.) Craft tries to source ingredients for its brewery and restaurant locally when possible. And the pub even donates some of its proceeds each month to local charities.
Craft has its roots in the now-shuttered Old Mill Brew Werks — the brewpub is in the same space, has some of the same owners and even features the same brewer. But Stevens and the other owners, which include her husband Mark Stevens and chef Jon Calvin, have in many ways started from scratch. The restaurant was gutted and replaced with an open, vibrant and friendly space with custom-made tables featuring beautiful pieces of wood.
And they built a new brewery — located across town — run almost single-handedly by brewing veteran Michael McMahon. He manages to keep an amazing amount of beer on tap in the pub with Craft’s 3.5-barrel system (you’ll see the “3.5” number in the brewery’s logo). During a recent visit in November, there were 14 beers on tap that included everything from a lambic to a weiss to an Indian pale lager.
Above all, Craft embraces being a small brewery that’s nimble and flexible enough to make a lot of different beers.
“We wanted to do craft beers, a true 3.5-barrel system, with all different grain profiles,” Stevens said. “And Michael is really good at experimenting with different types of beer. We let him do whatever he wants basically. And our beer reflects it.”
On a recent visit to Craft’s brewery across town, McMahon resembles a whirling dervish, turning knobs, running hoses and making sure the next batches of beer will come out like he wants them to. McMahon speaks excitedly walking around his domain, to the point you might believe he’s just a homebrewer on a much bigger scale.
“I’ve done a lot of production brewing, and that’s just work,” McMahon said. “This is fun and creative.”
He pulls out some recently procured Azacca hops, smells them and relays his plans for what type of beer it will be used in, saying most of what he and Craft do is ingredient-driven, rather than making “x,y and z” styles of beer.
“For me, writing a recipe and making a beer is finding how to bring the best out of the ingredients,” McMahon said. “I kind of let the product tell me what it wants to become.”
And what the hops and malt become from Craft’s brewery is amazing in terms of both volume and diversity.
“It’s pretty rare for a brewery this small to do this many beers,” McMahon said. “But we kind of had that in mind when we built the brewery, so I could do a lot of different things.”
Another way Craft diverges from the competition is the food. Kansas City native Calvin, a veteran of the Bend restaurant scene, puts together a menu that doesn’t look like the typical burgers and nachos you’ll find at many brewpubs. Offerings include a variety of tapas style dishes (like shrimp and grits or pork belly lettuce cups) to brisket that is made fresh daily.
Will Craft carve out a niche in the competitive Bend brewpub scene? If it does, it might have a recipe worth replicating elsewhere.
Craft Kitchen & Brewery
[a] 803 SW Industrial Way, Bend