Worthy Brewing One Year Review
Much has already been written about the epic brewing project that is Roger Worthington and Chad Kennedy’s Worthy Brewing in Bend. We covered it early on, and I have heard over and over how impressive the operation is, but I did not get to see it for myself until this month. It turns out this is the perfect time to review Worthy, with its forthcoming first anniversary on February 4th and new bottle releases, experimental beers, and further growth in the works. I guess the brewery is worth a few more words, so we’ll look back on the first year and see what’s in store for the next.
I was already prepared to be impressed when I visited Worthy Brewing, and yet the scope of the operation still defied expectations. From the city block-sized building–custom-built from the ground up–to the huge beer garden full of gas fire pits and strung lights to the brewery itself.
Initially launching with 12oz cans in 6-packs, Worthy has also added a line of specialty beers in 22oz bottles. A huge coup was the hiring of Chris Hodge, previously specialty brands director at Columbia Distributing, who has worked to get the brand into supermarkets and signed deals that have posted big numbers for a startup brewery in its first year. That’s 3,795 barrels in 2013, just as it has been getting off the ground. Unlike most breweries, Worthy does not seem to be concentrating on a specific market; it wants the whole thing. From the standard canned lineup of approachable beers like Pale Ale and Kolsch to slightly more sophisticated Saison, Stout, and IPA, Worthy is now reaching out to the beer connoisseur with barrel-aged beers, seasonals, and one-offs.
Dark Muse is a new Imperial Stout featuring all those desirable notes of coffee and chocolate. It supposedly brewed so thick that the mash managed to break the lauter-tun; that’s impressive, considering the equipment these guys have got. Dark Muse is now on the shelves for $7 22oz bottle, with a label reminiscent of Old Rasputin.
The next release is Black Light Porter, a psychedelic 60’s and Mucha-inspired label makes the packaging pop on this medium-bodied mahogany colored porter. Amping the flavor up is the addition of Ecuadorian dark cacao nibs. This is also scheduled to be the second Worthy beer in 12oz bottles and in six packs after the IPA. Like I said, Worthy doesn’t just want a piece of the action, it wants the whole thing, and that’s good for the consumer by offering as many ways to drink the product as possible.
Those two releases are just the tip of the iceberg. Brewmaster Chad Kennedy is very excited to finally have the Worthy Brewing pilot system up and running. This is a pretty impressive little brewhouse that may look quaint next to Worthy’s towering 30 barrel brewery, but being 5 barrels in its own right it could probably supply a small brewpub alone with a few fermenters. From this we are going to be seeing some new and exciting beers that led Chad flex his creative muscles. “Not only are we doing one off beers for the pub, we are starting to trial some new hop varieties from Indiehops/OSU. Obviously, it’s a big thrill as a brewer to make beer with a hop variety that has never seen the inside of a brew kettle,” said Kennedy. Personally, I am hoping to get back down to Bend this year to brew a pilot batch for this years Portland Fruit Beer Festival. “Now that we have our standard line up set and packaged seasonals it will be fun to really start experimenting and pushing the envelope,” continued Chad.
The Worthy Brewing Estate, as perhaps it should be called, has its own parking lot, distribution center, and bottling and canning lines, as well as the impressive four vessel 30bbl brewery with four 30bbl fermenters, two 60bbls, and one 90. The brewery is also doing its best to reduce and reuse its spent grain and treat some of its wastewater. The back of the warehouse brewing space has plenty of room to expand, including huge walk-in coolers for bottle and keg storage and the makings of a barrel-aging room. While touring the space with Chad, we tried a Doppelbock from earlier this year that had been aging in whiskey barrels that was quite smooth and rounded, and the stout also aged in whiskey barrels that was delicious, although it tasted as if bottles of whiskey were dumped in. “Yeah, that’s going to have to be blended back,” remarked Chad. Despite the booziness, which can be kept in check by adding some fresh un-aged beer, I thought it was quite delicious, and some may even prefer it that way. The handful of barrels Worthy has now is just the beginning of a larger barrel-aging and even sour beer program.
Looking out above the brewery and the pub, on the 3rd (!) floor of the facility are the offices where everything happens. Here the brewery’s in-house graphic designer/branding artist has his own private work space next to a board room, copy room, offices for the brewer, owner, and sales staff. It’s almost like I was in Deschutes Brewery or something. From out the back window you can see the huge grain silo, which provides the brewery with a less expensive base malt for its beers, and the young hop bines and herb garden. From here, owner Roger Worthington, who also co-founded Indie Hops, will be able to both grow up fresh Worthy estate hops and fresh herbs for the brewpub, but also maintain a greenhouse for hop experimentation and crossbreeding. With Roger’s connections to hop research and development, Chad will have access to new, experimental and hyped hop varieties that new young and small breweries like Worthy rarely have.
It’s a bold statement, but Worthy Brewing just may be the best brewpub in Bend. I took my family there and they are as hard to please as anyone, from my mom who hates beer to stepdad who is not a big fan of typical brewpub food,, to my vegan brother and his girlfriend and my alternative nature-balanced-diet father. Then you come to me, who can deal with standard pub grub but am not likely to sing you any praises, and I pay special attention to those who go beyond the typical burger and fries.
At first glance the Worthy Brewing menu is all about the pies. Pizza is not exactly original in a brewpub, but it is a sure bet, and to Worthy’s credit, the pub has taken them to the next level. Of course, there are the standards for meat lovers like “The Smokehouse” with sausage, pepperoni, and shaved romano, and vegetarian pies like the “Homegrown” with wild mushrooms, mozzarella, garlic, red onions, and spinach. I love the more creative combos, though: Irish pie with crispy pancetta, thinly sliced gold potatoes, roasted garlic, ricotta, and garlic herbs. Or how about a “Prosciutto Fig” with extra virgin olive oil, organic arugula, romano, and a balsamic reduction. Or, and this is my favorite, the “Argentine” with roasted prime rib, house made chimichurri, mozzarella, and marinated onions. Each option has a well-considered suggested beer pairing, too. There is more than pizza, though; staple sandwiches like a reuben, hamburger, turkey, chicken, and meatball go up against the rarer Steelhead Sando with broiled steelhead filet, pepperjack, avocado, lettuce, tomato, red onion, and chipotle aioli on a potato bun. Full platters also lean toward the seafood, with halibut tacos, steelhead tacos, and a steelhead filet. There are also five different salads plus chili, clam chowder, and a soup of the day. Somehow my entire family, after entering the brewpub being skeptical of it as a dinner option, all left satisfied.
What else is in store for Worthy Brewing that will make year two even better than a phenomenal year one? Says Chief Worthy Beertopian, Chris Hodge: “We will continue to tinker with Belgian, German, English, and American Hybrid styles, plus dozens of “yet to be determined” releases that will continue to delight the curious craft consumers for years to come.”
Increasing the already high production numbers in 2013, Worthy Brewing is about to expand its distribution footprint outside of just Oregon and Washington. “The next phase of Beertopia expansion will begin in late February when we will cross the Snake River and launch our portfolio in Idaho. We are excited to partner up with Hayden Beverage who will be distributing the Worthy beers throughout the potato state,” said Hodge. With all of the growth, Chad Kennedy expects to brew upwards of 10,000 barrels in 2014.
Celebrate Worthy’s 1st Birthday
On February 4th, Worthy will celebrate its first anniversary. They kick off a week’s worth of festivities on Super Bowl Sunday (Feb. 2nd) and keep the vibe alive through the Year One Bust-Out Birthday Bash on Saturday February 8th.
There will be a heated tent in the beautiful Bier Garten. In the tent? Rock and Roll! KC Flynn and Amanda Sarles will open at 5pm for the GBots and The Journeyman. Free! Fun, flames and flights for all Beertopians and lawn games for future Beertopians.
For a schedule of Worthy birthday specials, including their toast to the first tap, the Go Time Pale (GTX), and food and drink specials all week, please click here.