10 barrel brewing

Brewer/Brewery Profile: Bend Brewing & Tonya Cornett

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Tonya Cornett and new Bend Head Brewer Ian Larkin

Bend Brewing’s location in the heart of downtown Bend is surprisingly empty during the weekday happy hour. This is strange, considering it is one of the first breweries I think of when considering this beery city, right behind Deschutes. Brewmaster Tonya Cornett really put the small brewpub on the map with all the medals she has racked up from GABF and World Beer Cup. You get the sense in other areas of the country that she is a celebrity, but here Bend is just another brewpub in a small city chock full of them.

While Bend Brewing chugs along supplying beers to the brewpub, Tonya Cornett is ready for something new. Earlier this year news broke that she was to be leaving Bend Brewing for the quickly growing upstart 10 Barrel Brewing, also located in Bend. The news caught many by surprise, and Tonya was quick to point out that she would still keep some of her duties at Bend Brewing, mainly focusing on administration and special projects, while her longtime assistant, Ian Larkin, will move up to take over day to day duties.
Why the move to 10 Barrel Brewing?

For a while now it has seemed that Bend Brewing’s special experimental releases have been Tonya’s true passion. Many of these beers barely see the light of day in Portland, and I imagine fly somewhat under the radar in Bend. Take, for example, a beer called Ching Ching that recently won a Bronze Medal at the GABF. It is a tart Berliner-Weisse made with hibiscus and pomegranate and appears a light pinkish hue. I was pleasantly surprised to find it on tap at the pub, as it is a beer that beer geeks would be falling over themselves to drink in Portland.

Trying a glass of Sexi Mexi, a year old collaboration with the Homebrew Chef

Also of note is the annual collaboration beer Tonya brews with the renowned Sean Paxton, aka the Homebrew Chef. Every Thanksgiving Mr. Paxton visits Bend to collaborate on a unique experimental brew, not surprisingly often something very food-friendly. Ching Ching was based on one of these collaborations called Desert Rose, and the latest, Sexi Mexi, was brewed in 2010 but still has not been released. Tonya, being the perfectionist that she is, has still not seen it fit to release the Sexi Mexi, a beer inspired by Great Divide’s Chocolate Yeti and a spicy Mexican hot chocolate, which has an incredibly heavy body (even uncarbonated, which was how I tried it). The beer clocks in at 10.6%abv and has a complex blend of spices. It

“has a rustic chocolate sweetness. Its spicy flavors reveal hints of cayenne, cinnamon, vanilla beans, and orange peel underscored by smokey ancho chili. It finishes with a touch of heat. You have to laugh at the spicy little trick thats been played on your tastebuds.”

Cornett is clearly still proud of the beer and is just hoping to improve it’s drinkability with age.

“Normally I shy away from spiced beers. It is so easy to over-spice and end up with a medicinal mess. Sean did such a great job with the spices. It is a big beer with deep complexity, as it warms you can peel away the layers of flavor. I am so proud of this beer and so happy we pulled it off.”

I think it’s telling of an experienced brewer that she is concerned with how heavy the beer is, especially when I think beer geeks will probably embrace it even further this way. Often it is considered a compliment for a beer to pour like motor oil, just look at the hype surrounding beers, like 3 Floyd’s Dark Lord or even Deschutes’ The Abyss.

To be honest, after having a taster tray with all of Bend’s house beers, all of them well-made examples of their respective styles, balance is the thing that stands out most. Take the most award-winning beer of the bunch, the double IPA called Hop Head. It has wowed judges at the GABF, but when you sample it, it is almost tame when compared to the big, hopped up, overly bitter, and sweet examples of the style that are the norm these days on the west coast. Bend’s are the kind of beers that win medals but not necessarily the adoration of the hardcore beer geeks likely reading sites like this. It is the more extreme beers that catch our attention, and with Tonya’s new gig at 10 Barrel we will likely find more of these types of beers, though I doubt we will see the sacrifice of balance and craftmanship.

As 10 Barrel Brewing completes construction of its new brewery and the relocation of the current 10 barrel system hopefully by January, Tonya will get to move over and take over duties brewing one-offs and developing new seasonals, as well as being afforded more time and more resources. I suppose there were a few things she found lacking in the current cramped quarters of the small 7 barrel brewhouse at the Bend Brewing brewpub. One of the new luxuries her new job will afford?

“I am looking forward to aging and blending beer. I have only had the luxury of aging beer for extended periods a few times. I am so excited about the barrel aging and sour aging cellars that we will have at 10 Barrel. Blending is different than just brewing a beer with one chance to get it right. It offers the same control that a Vintner has over his end product.”

So we can all look forward to more sours and experiments that we love, and hopefully more special beers will be sent to Portland and further. The jump to a new brewery is a major one with its own challenges, especially at a new facility, dealing with new owners and working environment.

“I am a little nervous but extremely excited about the move to 10 Barrel. I will continue to over see the Bend Brewing Co. brewery. It is my baby and I’m not ready to let it go completely. I am looking forward to working with the 10 Barrel guys. They have a phenomenal creative team put together. I will be doing most of the Research and Development, so the pressure is high but the creativity and the rewards will also be high. I feel I have been given the chance of a life-time and I am determined to make the most of it.”


Founder of The New School and most frequent contributor Ezra Johnson-Greenough has worked in the craft beer industry for almost 10 years, doing everything from illustrating beer labels to bartending at renowned beer bars and breweries like Belmont Station, Apex, Laurelwood and Upright Brewing. He has also had a hand in creating events like the Portland Fruit Beer Festival, Portland Beer Week, and the Brewing up Cocktails series. He is available for freelance consultation in marketing, events, graphic design and branding. Contact: [email protected]

5 Comments

  1. siefmanj

    November 21, 2011 at 4:46 pm

    You make two good points. I am in bend all the time and I have never been. I also have yet to make it to Boneyard, which I also think is amazingly delicious. That lil town has a vast number of amazing breweries. Also Ching Ching is mind blowing, so good. I have yet to crack my bottle of Hop Head, it is first on my list for later this week when I can have carbonated beverages again.

  2. Jeff D. from The Big

    November 22, 2011 at 4:31 am

    Tonya Rocks!

  3. MaryD

    December 1, 2011 at 11:43 pm

    and she has BBC in good hands with the talents of Ian Larkin who graciously is in her shadow but stands on his own with his commitment to excellence and brewer knowhow

  4. Hoppy

    December 2, 2011 at 4:36 pm

    Yeah Tonya! She is totally awesome!

  5. Anonymous

    January 5, 2012 at 10:15 pm

    I’ve been. It’s average there, at best. Their Outback X is outstanding, however; I wish it were more-available.

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