Fresh off a tasting event at the Foundry, Deschutes brewmaster Brian Faivre is happy to be back in Missouri for a glimpse of what his life might have been. Eight years ago, Faivre was preparing to accept a position with the Saint Louis Brewery, maker of Schlafly beer.
"We had driven the U-Haul to St. Louis and left it packed," Faivre says. "When we pulled up at the rental house, the cops were there because the current tenants' vehicle had ended up in the Meramec River. Maybe the universe was pushing us toward Bend."
The universe had help getting Faivre to Oregon: Larry Sidor, the Deschutes brewmaster who left the Bend-based company in December to launch his own microbrewery (which is expected to open in Bend this summer), had done the job for eight years. Now he'd chosen his successor.
Faivre wasn't unknown to the company. He has family in Bend and had previously met Sidor. And he was already a fan of the Deschutes label.
"They were doing all these unique things at Deschutes — beers with great flavors and characteristics," Faivre says. "I had a few offers. One was at Schlafly. One was at Anheuser-Busch. But I had the opportunity to work closely with Larry [Sidor], and that was the best decision I made."
On a sunny Tuesday in January, he sits pouring distance from a bottle of Black Butte Porter, the flagship beer of the brewery that he has captained for the past month. Kansas City already has 22-ounce bottles of Mirror Pond Pale Ale (Deschutes' No. 1 seller) and Black Butte on shelves, and the beer has started to flow from area taps. Beer fanatics may also luck into a bottle of Hop Henge IPA (which Faivre says has 11 different hops), the Abyss, or Black Butte XXIII (the 2011 version of an annual tweak on Black Butte Porter, this one flavored with orange, chilies and chocolate nibs).
"We'll be at beer festivals, and people will ask for the lightest thing we have. So we hand them this jet-black porter," says Deschutes' digital marketing manager, Jason Randles. "We tell them to drink with their mouths, not their eyes. And they fall in love because it is such an easy beer to drink."
Missouri is the 18th state that Deschutes has entered, and Kansas is set to follow this spring. The company is now the fifth-largest craft brewer in the country. The Deschutes rollout in Missouri was initially slated for last summer, to coincide with the release of the brewery's alliance with Boulevard — the Collaboration No. 2 White IPA — but demand for the brewery's hop-forward beers made that impossible.
"We were out of stock in our backyard, so we weren't ready to expand," Randles says.
And while it was Sidor who headed up the collaboration, Faivre had a chance to come to Kansas City and learn about Boulevard over the course of the IPA's development.
"I met Steven [Pauwels] last year. I fell in love with [Boulevard's] beers," Faivre says. "And I was really surprised by how different Kansas City is than St. Louis. There's bits of Colorado and hints of the Northwest."
There will be more of the Northwest in the coming months as Deschutes expands its offerings in the city. Mirror Pond and Black Butte arrive in six-packs next month, along with Red Chair NWPA and Inversion IPA.
As wheat defines Boulevard, hops are at the center of Deschutes' identity. Randles estimates that 80 percent of the hops used by the company come from the nearby Yakima Valley. It's why Deschutes uses primarily whole-flour hops instead of pellets — and why Labor Day is the brewer's Christmas. When Faivre gets the call that harvesting season is under way and the hop vines are being picked in Oregon, he fires up his brew kettle. Within four hours of being picked, those hops are being made into beer.
"We started with onion sacks of hops," Faivre says. "Today we have a refrigerated truck. It's the best day in the brewery. Everyone finds their way down to us because of the smell."
The fresh-hop brews, which include Hop Trip and Fresh Hop Mirror Pond, won't arrive until fall, but Hop in the Dark is coming in May. Deschutes calls it "Cascadian dark ale," but the rest of the world tastes a black IPA.
"We use a cold steeping process with the grains," Faivre says of the brew, which has roasted malt and citrus hop notes. "We then brew a more traditional IPA behind it. You've got this dark Belgian with candied sugar, and it's pitch-black, with this reddish head."
After that is Twilight Summer Ale, a summer seasonal made with Amarillo hops, and Black Butte XXIV in June, produced for the brewery's 24th anniversary. Deschutes anticipates an Amarillo hop-crop shortage, so its staff is playing with different versions of hops. The goal is to find the blend that matches the hoppy nose and bright fruit flavors that define Twilight.
"All of our beers start as experimental beers," Faivre says. "We're on our 43rd revision of a gluten-free beer."
Deschutes is charting a rapid expansion, like many players in a U.S. craft-beer market that saw 15 percent growth in the first half of 2011 (according to the Brewers Association). By adding five fermenting tanks, Deschutes will be able to increase its total capacity to more than 300,000 barrels a year. (Boulevard's recent expansion of its original cellar bumped its annual capacity to 200,000 barrels.)
"We have five year-round [beers]," Faivre says. "But the key to our success has always been the ability to experiment." Let the KC experiment begin.