We're always curious about how people got involved in the drinks industry—and we always wonder what the pros drink at home. Today, we chat with Cam O'Connor, the brewmaster at Deschutes Brewery in Bend, Oregon.
What are you drinking these days, Cam O'Connor? Deschutes River Ale and Twilight Ale are nice on a hot summer day.
What beers (not from Deschutes) do you love and admire?
Belgian sour ales: I love the complex aromas, flavors, and tartness of these beers.
German Wheat beers: I really enjoy the banana and clove you get out of a traditional German Hefeweizen. I also like the bigger malty German wheat beers like Aventinus Weizenbock or Eisbock.
Sierra Nevada Pale Ale: To me this is a classic American Pale Ale. I love the Cascade hop aroma and flavor. I also love the fact that every time I buy one of these it is going to be the same high quality and consistent product.
Tank 7 Saison from Boulevard Brewing: This beer is just outstanding. I has a great aroma of citrus, fruit, and a little bit of clove. The flavor is full and beer finishes smooth. It is also a great beer to pair with food!
When did you know you wanted to be a brewer? After graduating from college with a bachelor's degree in biology and a minor in chemistry, I was living with a friend who had just started to home brew. Watching him, I was instantly intrigued. I started home brewing and was hooked. Also, I think part of what got me hooked was that living in Oregon allowed me to try all these commercially made craft beers that were outstanding. Home brewing and trying to make beer like the craft brewers was exciting and challenging. My homebrews at that time never made it to those standards. I moved around a little bit working seasonal jobs for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. I liked working the ODFW jobs, but didn't really see it as a career path I wanted to go down. Around this time I found the Master Brewers Program at UC Davis in California. I had the pre-requisites for the program. so I applied and was accepted. After the program I was hired by Sierra Nevada Brewing Company as a cellar operator.
How did you get to Deschutes? Growing up in Oregon I knew about Deschutes Brewing. I worked at Sierra Nevada Brewing for 3 years as a cellar operator and brewer. One summer my sister, who lived in Bend at the time, sent me a help wanted newspaper clipping that Deschutes was looking for a brewer. I really wanted to come back to Oregon and thought this would be a great opportunity. So I applied, and was offered the position in the summer of 2004.
What's going on in the Oregon brewing scene? There are a lot of new breweries opening up all the time. Breweries are still growing so I think craft beer is still sustainable in Oregon. I think many brewers in Oregon are starting to get into barrel aging beers. This is great to see—brewers are creating complex, flavorful, and delicious products using different barrels.
What can we look forward to from Deschutes? Any cool new projects coming up? We will always be pushing the envelope with our Reserve Series beers. We have a couple of new ones coming out next year. Mirror Mirror Barleywine (last released in 2009) will be released in the 1st quarter of 2014. We increased the used wine barrel aged portion of this beer from ~30% to 50%. It should be very interesting! Not The Stoic is a Belgian Dark Strong Ale that we are aging in used wine and used rye whiskey barrels. That will be released in the 2nd quarter of 2014. Also, we are developing a couple of new IPAs at each pub that you could see in 2014! We are really expanding our barrel aging program. We are up to approximately 1800 oak barrels in our inventory. We are working on releasing our yearly sour beer, The Dissident, in 2014. We are also working on another sour beer project that will release in 2015.
What's next in craft beer, in general, do you think? The sky is the limit for now. There are breweries opening up all across the country and craft still has a very small share of the overall beer market. It truly is going to be fun to see what happens going forward.