Note: This profile originally appeared in issue 71 of BeerAdvocate Magazine
Bend, Oregon is something of a beer drinker’s paradise. It is home to over a dozen breweries, and with one brewery for every 9,111 people it boasts the most breweries per capita. One of the staples of the Bend brewing scene is 10 Barrel Brewing Company.
The production brewery, which opened in 2006 under the name Wildfire Brewing Company before trademark issues forced partners and brothers Chris and Jeremy Cox forced them to change it. It was originally opened as a place for experimentation and celebration of beer, and has evolved into something of a brewer’s playground. But instead of monkey bars and swing sets, the brewing team at 10 Barrel gets to mess around with hop backs and expensive German grain mills.
Spirit of Experimentation
The brewery was founded with one 10-barrel brewhouse, which worked well for a small startup, but its output was quickly reaching its maximum potential as the brewery’s popular Apocalypse IPA and other mainstays were dominating the production schedule. In order to continue its growth, 10 Barrel upgraded to a 50-barrel system.
But instead of discarding the old system, 10 Barrel decided to keep it and install the two brewhouses side-by-side. The brewery coupled the brewhouse expansion with a move to a larger facility, and by March of 2012 was pumping out large batches of their IPA on the large system and toying with more experimental recipes on the 10-barrel system that can supply the brewery’s nearby pub with small-batch beer.
“For us it’s not about barrelage,” Chris Cox said. “We don’t have a number that we want to do. We don’t really want to be a real large brewery. We just want to produce really cool and really good beers. I think that’s why we’re okay with all these small 10-barrel brewhouses is because we have a lot more fun brewing on those brewhouses. The 50 just allows us to brew our production batches.”
What that means for the brewing team, headed by brewmaster Jimmy Seifrit, is more room to play. Seifrit is something like a playground supervisor, where he watches over the playful experiments of R&D brewmasters Tonya Cornett and Shawn Kelso—the latter of whom has moved to Boise, Idaho, where 10 Barrel is opening a brewpub with a new 10-barrel system of its own.
“For lack of a better word I’m an enabler,” Seifrit said. “When I look at my job it’s to facilitate the ideas that the brewers have, grow those ideas and hopefully see them come to fruition in the bottle. I do that either by providing them with the materials to work with, the knowledge, or the guidance.”
In addition to having the freedom to experiment with recipes, the 10 Barrel facility also contains a climate-controlled barrel cellar and a dedicated sour cell to keep the funkier microorganisms in their proper place.
“I’m trying to get away from just being bourbon,” Seifrit said of his collection of barrels. “I do have some brandy barrels that are tucked away in there. We’ve got some cab barrels tucked away, we have some pinot barrels tucked away – all these different things. I’m always trying to find new, cool stuff to work with.”
The Main Attraction
As screaming children flock to a good playground, so too have brewers found their way to 10 Barrel. The brewery opened with Paul Cook, now with Ninkasi, but continued forward with several brewers before Seifrit recently took the helm. Prior to that, Seifrit had been a brewer at Deschutes for 15 years, where the task of brewing Mirror Pond and Black Butte Porter over and over again was beginning to wear on him.
“When these guys came to try to pry me there, I told them no multiple times because Deschutes is a great company to work for,” Seifrit said. “They take care of their employees and it really did allow me a lot of freedom. But what I liked about it was being able to recreate what I had at Deschutes.
“I liked the prospect of being able to be small again and feeling like you’re gaining customers again one customer at a time.”
Cornett also praised the creative environment at 10 Barrel as a major draw that helped her leave her post at Bend Brewing Company in January.
“I love recipe development,” she said. “In my last position at Bend Brewing Co. I could brew what I wanted. However, I found between the mainstays and seasonals the time to be creative was dwindling each year. The focus of my position at 10 Barrel is research and development. I also mentor the junior brewers in recipe design.”
Along with Cornett, Seifrit and Kelso, 10 Barrel also has a team of junior brewers in Bobby Jackson, Ben Shirley, and Marlowe Hoffman. Hoffman, unlike the others who were recruited from other breweries, had interned at 10 Barrel and turned down other opportunities to stay there.
That is exactly the kind of environment Chris Cox and his brother tried to foster with 10 Barrel. It doesn’t hurt that the ownership team was more than willing to supply the brewers with the kind of brewing technology that makes the job easy and appealing.
“The 10 barrel system has a few upgrades over others I have worked on,” Cornett said. “It is a luxury on a small system to have rakes and a jacketed mash tun. I also benefit from being tied to the 50-barrel brew house in that I have a 4-roller mill, hot liquor that never runs out, a PD pump, fork lift, kegs that are washed and filled for me, a barrel room, a sour room, and space for projects like barrel fermentation.”
In the Bottle
Creativity is fine, but brewing is still a business. It wouldn’t do much good if the brewers got to play around all day but never put out a drinkable product. Fortunately for 10 Barrel, that hasn’t been a problem.
10 Barrel’s Apocalypse IPA is the brewery’s best seller, and according to Seifrit is a good example of what the brewery aims for with its beers.
“When we moved to the new facility it was also a chance for us to take a fresh, new look on the IPA and we really brightened that beer up,” Seifrit said. “We stripped out the biscuit malt out of it, added just a little bit of crystal malt, and used a little bit of Maltose Dextrose to dry it out and we just doubled the amount of hops we put in the beer. The doubling effect came in the back end of the beer and dry-hopping of the beer. We coupled that with a hop back we added to our system, and in the hop back we use whole-leaf hops, which I like because it adds a little more of a hop complexity to our IPA. We didn’t want an IPA that smashes you in the mouth and leaves you hurting. We wanted an IPA that has a little more dexterity and a little more complexity, and I think we got that with Apocalypse.”
That falls in line with the other mainstays of 10 Barrel, such as S1NIST0R Black Ale, which Seifrit describes as a “drinkable dark beer” and the ISA – an India Session Ale. Both beers bring a straightforward approach to the drinker without bringing anything crazy. A simple, yet elegant malt backbone and a boatload of hop flavor and aroma on the tail end.
Those beers fill the tanks at 10 Barrel, and help pay the bills – which gives the brewing team the ability to experiment on the smaller system. The experimental beers occasionally find their way into production as seasonals, but are most often sent to the pub or to favorite accounts as a special offering.