Come see Bend’s newest production brewery tonight (Tuesday August 16) at White Water Taphouse in Bend, where they will be releasing their new imperial wit.
By Branden Andersen
The Beer Detective
Todd and Robin Clement stand in a packed warehouse space in Northeast Bend, where the brewhouse they now call home is shining in the hot Central Oregon morning. Looking around, they’ve made considerable additions since Old Mill Brew Werks forfeited the space earlier this year – a grist case, brighter lighting and a garage door with large windows, to name a few. But, he doesn’t mention the elephant in the room, namely the fact that he took a 1-barrel brewhouse with niche Belgian-style beers and created a brewery popular enough to make the leap from a hobby to profession.
“It’s exciting,” Todd said. “It’s a big step — it makes all of this feel real.”
Monkless Belgian Ales, the (formerly) small Belgian-only brewery (formerly) operated out of the Clement’s basement, has evolved to production scale after two years of dipping toes in the market.
“The 1-barrel system was a test,” said Todd, who handles brewing responsibilities for Monkless. “We wanted to see how well the beer was received.”
The results, he said, were overwhelmingly positive. Bend, with its mix of die-hard locals and experimental tourist, was the perfect testing ground to see if a Belgian-only brewery could survive in Oregon as a whole; the town serves as a microcosm to the state.
Brewing on a one-barrel system, production constraints would inevitably be an issue. The real positive sign was the amount of consistent accounts that would reach out and ask for Monkless beer, rather than having to go out and sell every day.
“We got a lot of positive indications that we were doing things right,” Todd said. “We got the chance to scale up and we took it.”
About two years ago, Todd and his neighbor Kirk Meckem bonded over their love of classic Belgian style beers. Todd, a process chemist, traveled to Belgium frequently for work, and noticed the lack of options if someone wanted a fresh Dubbel, Saison or Golden Strong. Belgian styles, which were largely reserved for barrel-aged batches from Deschutes and Crux, had been ignored in the beer-thirsty city, where patrons opted for hoppier styles.
“There are palates that don’t prefer hoppy beers,” said Robin, who handles marketing and sales for Monkless. “We’re that other option when people either get sick of hoppy beers or want to mix up what they’re drinking. [Belgian Styles] have a very unique flavor.”
Belgian beers are yeast and malt driven beers, with most displaying strong esters — like banana, apple and dark fruit — and phenolics — like black pepper, clove and corriander. Malt flavors are usually rich and grainy, with wheat used to add sweetness. Many Belgian beers benefit from fruit additions, like orange peels and cherries. In fact, Monkless is so tied to the Belgian styles and resistant to American styles, they produced one IPA and named it “Accomodation IPA”.
“People kept asking us if we make an IPA; that’s the first question they have for us,” Robin said. “Most of the time, we don’t have it available. For the most part, that’s not what we do.”
The two retrofitted Clement’s basement area to become a fully functioning brewery, complete with a one barrel, two vessel system that have produced, up to this point, all of Monkless’ beers.
Meckem and the Clements parted ways amicably before moving into the new location, Todd said.
The new system is a JV Northwest 10-barrel brewhouse, across the street from Columbia Distributing’s warehouse and down the street from 10 Barrel’s, Crux’s, Boneyard’s and Oblivion’s production facilities.
“I love it,” Todd said about his neighbors in Northeast Bend. “People take you serious now. When I was brewing on the 1-barrel, it was a second job. Now, people see us in a serious light.”
The 1-barrel system is still licensed and operational in the Clement’s basement, and will likely be used for pilot or experimental brewing.
Don’t expect Monkless to show up in grocery store aisles just yet; Todd and Robin are focused on building a consistent draft customer and fan base in Bend and, more importantly, in the Willamette Valley.
“We’ve got a small following at the Abbey Bar in Portland,” Robin said. “Once we have the inventory, we are going to try and get into the great bars up there.”
According to the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, Monkless has sold four barrels of beer year-to-date, making it the 230th on the list of 243 beer, cider and mead producers in Oregon. Even starting halfway through the year, that number will inevitably jump to bring Monkless potentially up to Oblivion’s rank, at 188th.
“Coming from a process chemist background, I love scaling up,” Todd said. “Most of it is the science of brewing, then it’s dialing in the system.”
As far as anything new, don’t expect too much for the first months. Todd and Robin are going to focus on getting their flagship recipes down before diving into experimental recipes or starting with seasonals.
For Monkless, the new challenge is figuring out how to manage growth and scale up to create a name for themselves in the competitive Oregon beer scene as the preeminent Belgian-style brewery.
“The word hasn’t really gotten out there yet,” said Robin. “We’re a family-run brewery who is just trying to make the best Belgian beer possible.”
Monkless New Brewhouse Celebration
(Celebrated during Taco Tuesday)
4 – 7 p.m.
White Water Taphouse
1043 NW Bond St.
Bend, OR 97701
Monkless Brewing Company
20750 Northeast High Desert Lane
Bend, OR 97701
If the sign is out on the street or the rollup door is up, stop by, check out the brewhouse and get your growler filled.