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Bend Beer's Virginian Outpost

Inside Deschutes' brand-new Roanoke taproom

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DESCHUTES BREWERY
  • Deschutes Brewery

Charles de Gaulle, war hero and president of France, once said, "how can you govern a country which has 246 varieties of cheese?" If he were American, he would probably say something very similar about beer.

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hat's true here at home, and it's true over in Virginia as well, where groundbreaking on Deschutes Brewery's second production facility is due to begin in a year or two. That plant won't start producing beer until 2020 or so, but last week, Deschutes opened the doors on a new bar and tasting room right in downtown Roanoke, a city of some 97,000 in southwest Virginia.

"It was almost 30 years ago when my wife and I moved to Bend to open a small public house," said Deschutes founder Gary Fish, who personally tended bar during the opening rush on Monday. "[It] was, in the old meaning of the term, a gathering place for the public. Now, the next big step in our journey is coming to Roanoke to establish essentially the same thing."

And establish it they have. The line to get in at the 5 pm opening time extended across two blocks of downtown, with local patrons quickly filling the bar area and small patio space to maximum. It showed how much demand there is for Deschutes' offerings, from old standbys such as Fresh Squeezed and Black Butte to seasonals including Hopzeit and their passionfruit IPA. (This is all shipped in from Bend for now, but a 20-gallon taproom brewing system is in the works.)

"This is the largest investment that the company's ever made," CEO Michael LaLonde commented, "so it's a big deal for us. We just go slow, methodical; we've done that for the entire 29 years. We want to take a smart approach to the business."

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t's this approach that has already made Deschutes a household name in the region. Their beer has been available in Virginia for a while now; Fresh Squeezed is on shelves everywhere from the Barrel Chest beer market in Roanoke to the Target off I-81 to the north. The presence of the Interstate was one reason why Deschutes picked Roanoke; it's integral to their plan to eventually distribute to all 50 states, letting them join craft giants like Stone and Lagunitas that have done the same.

But even with this nation-sized dream, Deschutes is still focused on being a good neighbor in the Blue Ridge community—something well-appreciated by Roanoke's local breweries. "The state government is very proactive for beer in general," said Mike Pensinger, general manager of Parkway Brewing in the adjacent town of Salem. "The current governor has said he wants to go to every brewery in the state before his term is over. Deschutes wants a certain quality of life for their employees, and in Roanoke, they have that."


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