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Dr. Bill Pengelly, Deschutes Brewery Brewmaster

WB: What is your brewing background and how did you get into brewing?

BP: I received a BA in Biology from Lawrence University and a MA (1974) and Ph.D. (1980) in Biology from Princeton University. After postdoctoral studies at Harvard University and Michigan State University, I served as Associate Program Director of the Cellular Biochemistry Program, National Science Foundation, Washington, D.C. In 1992, I attended the Diploma Course in Brewing Technology at the Siebel Institute of Technology in Chicago and joined the staff at Deschutes Brewery in 1993. I am currently Head Brewer in charge of brewhouse and cellar operations and quality control. Like everyone else, my interest in brewing began as a consumer, and like many, at an early age. I remember uncles slipping sips to my cousins and me at family reunions. My undergraduate career began in Wisconsin in 1966 when the legal drinking age for beer in that state was 18. Needless to say, freshman year brought with it a lot of exposure to beer. Then I spent my sophomore year in Germany where beer appreciation accelerated to the graduate level. I met my first homebrewer in 1978 in Massachusetts and realized how accessible the process was and how good the results could be. I moved to Oregon in 1982 and took the plunge into homebrewing in a big way, thanks in large part to Dr. David Thompson, a colleague in my department and the second homebrewer I met. My cell culture laboratory at the Oregon Graduate Institute served my new hobby well as I was able to efficiently propagate yeast, initiate a yeast library, and sterilize vast quantities of bottles in a single autoclave run.

WB: How did the craft of making homebrews transform into a profession?

BP: Around 1984, the State of Oregon repealed a law prohibiting the sale of unpasteurized beer. The major consequence of this change was the emergence of local craft breweries that flourished with their fresh, high quality products. So, the hobby that I (and many others) loved was fast becoming a career opportunity, and there I was at midlife interested in doing something new. So, I attended the Siebel Institute and went into brewing.

WB: What is Deschutes Brewery's philosophy on brewing?

BP: Deschutes Brewery was founded on the concept of producing the highest quality handcrafted ales and lagers. One of the key descriptors is hand-crafted, which means that even though we have grown considerably over the last 11 years, we have kept the more labor-intensive, hands-on approach to brewing. There is no automation in the brewhouse. This means double the labor costs, but we feel this is the way to brew. The question for the brewer is this: Do you want to push a mouse around a computer screen in some control room, or do you want to open valves, poke the mash, start pumps, and more importantly, evaluate and make decisions? This is what craft brewing is all about. We also strive for consistency, but achieve this through the knowledge and skill of the brewers. There is an intimacy between the brewer and the process that permits a higher degree of consistency than can be achieved in automated systems. There is no guarantee of this, but again, that is what craft brewing is all about: making it happen by hand.

WB: What kind of production do you do at Deschutes?

BP: Our brewhouse is relatively small for our size. This year we shipped approximately 86,500 barrels (31 gal/barrel) of beer, which means we produced about 93,000 barrels to include losses. Our brew length is 50 barrels, which means we must produce 40 to 50 brews per week during peak brewing times. This translates to 24 hours a day, six days a week. Certainly things would be mellower with a 250-barrel brew system and 8 to 10 brews per week. However, the small system gives us total flexibility in what we brew and in the raw materials we use. We can more easily support smaller volume specialty brands and insure their freshness. With larger brew systems one becomes dependent on the bulk handling of raw materials such as base malt and specialty malts. With a couple of our seasonal beers, we change the base malt from domestic 2-row barley malt to imported 2-row malts from Germany and England. These malts come in 55-lb bags and up to 60 bags are hand-fed to hoppers for grinding a single brew. Sixty bags are doable, but 300 are not. Hence, the smaller brew size allows us to easily use any malt that we feel is the best for an specific product, rather than adjust recipes around what's available in bulk storage bins.

Interviewed by Will Blunt.

SELECTED AWARDS

Obsidian Stout - Gold Medal Winner, 1999 North American Brewers Association Competion (Foreign Stout Category).

Black Butte Porter - Gold Medal Winner, 1999 North American Brewers Association Competition (Brown Porter Category).

Broken Top Bock - Gold Medal Winner, 1999 North American Brewers Association Competition (Bock Beers Category).


RECIPES

 

CONTACT INFORMATION

Deschutes is located in central Oregon. It started as a brewpub in 1988, but quickly began bottling its beers to satisfy the rapid growth in popularity of its brews. It is available throughout the Pacific Northwest. Contact: Deschutes Brewery, 901 SW Simpson Street Bend, OR 97702 (541) 385-8606.

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