This is one in a series of occasional 7 Sips interviews, where we sit down for a pint and seven questions with someone active in the local craft beer community. Today we catch up with Orlison’s Bernie Duenwald, a former barley grower and salesman for Great Western Malting who launched an all-lager brewery called Golden Hills in Airway Heights in 2009. Rebranded as Orlison in July 2013 behind new investors, it has boosted production and distribution throughout the Northwest, with ambitious goals for bigger growth.
Q: OK, I’ll start you off with an easy one – why lagers?
A: That’s probably my favorite question. First of all, when I started the concept for this brewery, which was eight years ago, there were a lot of good ales around already, but there was a real dearth of lager breweries. To take the plunge financially, to enter the brewing industry at that time, I wouldn’t have been brave enough to do ales, there were too many good ales in the Northwest already. The goal over time was to be a production brewery with sizable sales, not just a brewpub or something local, but something that had potential to grow. And on top of that, I’ve always had a bias toward lagers, because they’re more drinkable. One of the hurdles we’ve found with lagers is that way too many people out there think they have to be watery and light, like the mainstream lagers. We’re living proof that’s not the case. You can take any flavor combination you’re looking at in the different ale-style beers and ferment them with lager yeast at (cooler) lager temperatures and you get a different beer. … Take Underground as an example, it’s got all the characteristics and the flavor profile of a true American stout style, it has all that at the front end but at the back end it just kind of goes away, it’s easier to drink. It’s crisper and drier. Lagers can be various things, but there’s a very, very innate tendency for lagers to be crisper and drier and ales to be sweeter and fruitier.
Q: You were a barley grower and a malt salesman before opening the brewery. How do you think that’s influenced you as a brewer?
A: Well, I think the biggest thing – and I challenge you to find another brewmaster at a brewery operating in the U.S. that actually started out as a farmer growing malting barley – but a lot of the smaller breweries around today are very, very hop-centric. We understand the importance of hops, and we don’t slight them, but we’re way more malt-centric with our beers. I have the advantage of having a really deep understanding of the contribution you’re going to get in the beer from the malt side of the equation, and I think that helps us put out beers that are pretty interesting. Brunette is a prime example – it has five different malts in it, and you get a sense of all five of them. Some of the beers in the marketplace you’re going to notice that basically, although they may have several malts involved, there’s going to be one that’s fairly predominant and that’s the only one you really get a sense of.
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