Luna Jo is our new Spring seasonal. Its flavor profile, backstory, and collaboration details with Riff Cold Brewed Coffee are sensational. So, we invited a beer writer, Jeremy Storton, a Certified Cicerone® to help us write this unique beer story.
“I remember doing those. That was us… and that was us.” Paul Evers spent many years creating and directing the look and feel of Deschutes Brewery. He reminisced while looking through the brewery’s old logos and labels he designed. Old bottles were on display as if in a museum, a homage to what got them where they are today. I paid my respects to one of my old favorites, Buzzsaw Brown and the rest of the once glorious Bond Street Series. I first visited Deschutes Brewery in the early 90s when it was nothing more than a microbrewery with dark beer in a sleepy ski town. I moved to Central Oregon about 10 years later, just in time to watch Deschutes go from small brewery to top ten craft breweries in the country. For me, there was a personal pride, like watching a local kid grow up and make something of his or her self. Paul was the creative force behind Deschutes’ rebranding when it took off with the Craft Beer Rocket of the 2000s to become a major player on the national craft beer scene. Watching Paul look over his past body of work was like witnessing a musician recount stories of this Grammy and that Gold Record.
Paul loved craft beer and branding so much he co-founded another beer venture in town. Once that turned successful he went on to yet another. This time it was coffee. Artisanal, cold-brewed coffee. That’s what he came back to Deschutes Brewery to talk about, coffee.
We were just outside the tasting room at the main brewery. The tasting room is the bar/ gift shop combo where visitors and locals come together for tours, free beer samples, and swag. But, instead of expensive tchotchkes that break the day after you return home, this gift shop is filled with some amazing and innovative beer. In some cases, it is verifiably filled with the best beer in the world. Just outside, three-story-tall fermenters holding 31,000 gallons of beer welcome guests as they enter. Nothing about Deschutes Brewery is small anymore, not even Bend, the city in which it resides. It’s hard to remember bare land where the main brewery now sits, once a high desert landscape giving way to an alpine forest as one ascends to Mt. Bachelor for a day of skiing on the red chair.
I followed Paul and his son Bobby, both co-founders of Riff Cold Brewed, up the stairs into the brewery. Veronica Vega lead us down the catwalk and waved one of her co-workers over for a quick meeting to tidy up one last detail on another project. Now the Director of Product Development, she is a brewer who rose to prominence from a part-time tour guidepost. Before that she tracked raptors for the forest service. She is petite and with a humble demeanor that puts people at ease. But, in her position, not only at Deschutes Brewery, but in American Craft Beer, she occupies an aether that few brewers will ever experience. Running R&D for an international brewery is a bit like brewing special forces and she has the grit and grace of a commander. On any given day she balances the resources, the freedom and the pressure of being under a microscope, but you’d never know it by watching her. She is a mom, after all. Everything after that is all just gravy.
We followed her to the brewer’s conference room. Evidence of beers that once were, or would have been, were scattered around the room. The smell of hops in a boil kettle permeated throughout like sea air at the coast. Kyle Mathias joined us there. He is the head brewer of the pilot brew system, Vega’s Lieutenant Commander of R&D. I listened as they reminisced about Deschutes back in the day, the beers loved and the beers lost. They also bantered as only close friends can do. I thought it was lovely. As a fan of beer and Deschutes Brewery, I had dreamt of being a fly on these walls, listening to the brewers discuss new ideas and argue over labels. But these were busy people. I launched in with a question, “What is the origin story of Luna Jo,” I asked.
Ideas for new beers can come from anywhere. Some are a new take on an old style. Some are inspired by a chef’s desire for interesting flavors. Luna Jo is yet another in a series of cutting edge collaborations between Deschutes Brewery and Riff. But, this beer began with good friends who shared a story that sparked an idea.
I expected to hear something along the lines of data points, marketing jargon, and demographics. I figured, as big as Deschutes Brewery had become, that behind the curtain there was no wizard, but a machine in a wizard’s cloak. Paul, Bobby, Kyle and Veronica surprised me. They smiled at my question and began talking about relationships, of unexpected flavors, of doing projects because they were different, fun and good for building community. Then, they talked about Luna Jo and the Sobremesa.
There really isn’t an English word that accurately translates the Sobremesa. It’s, “the Latin American tradition of lingering over coffee after a big meal,” Veronica told us. Think of it as a post-dinner happy hour where people spend time around the table talking, drinking and gesticulating wildly when the story really gets going. These are the times when memories are made and relationships are either built or solidified. Veronica recounted the times when she would head to Deschutes Brewery after work, before working there, knowing the very act of ordering a pint would conjure good friends to spend the evening with. It was a way to find a sense of profound warmth on a cold night. These are the Sobremesas she had in mind when her team concocted the idea for the brew. “The pubs and people meeting us and connecting with us, that is where I’ve landed on what makes craft, craft,” Veronica continued. “It’s about relationships,” Paul chimed in. “It’s about relationships,” Veronica agreed.
Paul nodded as Veronica spoke, but he had another take on the matter. To him, the collision of cold-brewed coffee and beer was more than a collaboration between old friends. He talked about being disruptive and challenging expectations. While coffee is a common addition to dark stouts, rarely does one experience the complex flavors of dark chocolate, toffee and coffee in an Amber Mexican-style lager. The opposition is like night and day but, if well balanced, the synergy could be as thrilling as a good conversation, like on a first date that is going very well.
As kids, we tried to squeeze the positive side of two magnets together because that made sense. After realizing it doesn’t work we learned not only that opposites attract, but they can form a powerful bond that is difficult to break. I thought about this when Paul explained that this beer is about those opposites and about the powerful synergy of the light and the dark. The rich flavors of Peruvian coffee, dark chocolate and toffee, usually promise a good start to the morning. We often book-end our day with a coffee or beer that serves to celebrate the struggles and triumphs of work while we prepare for the evening ahead. Luna Jo is a dichotomous beverage meant for inviting a state of social flow during these times. It facilitates the balance of opposing forces such as the excited calm an athlete feels before a game, or the nervous adoration before we say, “I do”. Luna Jo celebrates these experiences when opposites collide to create something far more interesting.
“A lot of stuff is obviously happening politically, and there’s a lot left to be desired.” Kyle spoke up and added a more pragmatic approach to a beer meant to bring people together. He may not be the first person to have offered a beer as a means to reach across the proverbial aisle, then again, those beers may not have been as interesting or diverse as Luna Jo. “That’s where this beer has its roots for me, these unexpected things, on any given day you might not think pair well together, and then you bring them together, it turns into this really cool thing,” he said.
“That’s what this is about.” As if on cue, Bobby Evers put a bow on the sentiment in the room. “The gathering or bringing together, that’s where ideas generate and relationships are grown,” he said. Many people love coffee, many love beer. Within those beverages we have preferences. To him, Luna Jo offers up different approaches to ultimately arrive at the same point.
Our culture is a creative melting pot that sometimes resembles a Star Wars Cantina. We are all different, each with different stories to tell. Our heritage is that our opposition brings us together. This is our strength. Even though combining cold-brewed Peruvian coffee with cold -fermented Mexican lager in Bend, Oregon seems a bit cutting edge, when it’s done with friends who love and respect each other, the connection becomes apparent. This is who we are. We collaborate. We try. If we fall, we laugh, get back up, have a beer, then try harder next time. This is our Sobremesa. This is our story. I suggest you grab a pint of Luna Jo and linger around the table, because now it’s time to tell us yours.
Thanks, Jeremy, for capturing the Luna Jo story!