Each fall, craft brewers in the Pacific Northwest, where most American hops are grown, descend on local farms in search of coveted strains. Most hops are kiln-dried for storage, but a few choice varieties go from bine (not vine) to vat within hours. Beers brewed with these so-called "wet hops" don't preserve well, so you won't find them at the local liquor store. To try these distinctly aromatic brews, beer lovers should head to the Deschutes Brewery in Bend, Oregon, where America's fifth-largest craft brewer stays true to its local roots.
Knowledgeable guides walk curious drinkers through Deschutes's process, from the refrigerated hops vault to an automated bottling system that spits out a six-pack per second. Brewing takes place in a huge and complex system of kettles, filters, and tanks – internal ladders let workers climb inside for cleaning – imported from Bavaria. Beers are fed various strains of yeast ("forbidden fruit" must be the most tantalizing fungus name ever) and aged in vats shaped like grain silos. Some specialty beers spend time in oak casks that once held Four Roses Bourbon, Maker's Mark Whiskey, or Templeton Rye.
The free tours start and end in the tasting room. Sample Deschutes standards like Black Butte Porter or Mirror Pond Pale Ale, or taste experimental brews such as the Green Monster, which was rescued from a botched batch of organic ale. Just remember that this is the season for wet-hops beers like Chasin Freshies, an IPA dense with piny complexity, yet lighter in color, more citrusy, and more refreshing. Tellingly, it's on tap in the employee break room.
"Everybody's equal over a pint of beer," says Aaron Calihan, 32, a cheerful guide with eyebrow piercings and a 6-inch beard.
Tastings are an integral part of the brewery's research and development process. Wet-hops beers that perform well here find their way into the Bond Street Series, served on-site and downtown at the Deschutes Bend Public House. The most popular dry-hops brews end up in mass production. Deschutes values local opinion because it is so reliant on local products.
"If you have a burger at Deschutes," Calihan says, "it's made with the cows that ate the grain that made the beer that lived in the brewery."
More information: Make it a beer weekend in Bend. Three hours from Portland, 14 breweries serve just 79,019 residents. Crux Fermentation, led by a former Deschutes brewmaster, takes an experimental approach. Boneyard Beer was built with its competitors' leftover parts. 10 Barrel Brewing has a well-founded reputation as the brewpub with the best food.