"I like a beer and pizza and to have a good time. Drinking beer is a social enterprise, and making it can be one, also."A
mong the beers that have graced Bend's Growler Guys fill station is Machine Gun Maggie, an IPA clocking in at about 10 percent ABV. That heavyweight beer is the creation of John Reed and the rest of the brewing team at the Aspen Ridge Retirement in northeast Bend.
At age 95, Reed doesn't fit the stereotype of the bearded Northwest brewer—but that's not stopping him from being a champion in the local beer scene.
"As a young guy, I drank a lot of beer," Reed says. "It was a warm weather thing when I was mowing the lawn." In those days, Reed says he mostly drank Rainier and Blatz.
Somewhere around the age of 90, Reed decided it was time he learned how to brew the stuff—so he joined the brew team at Aspen Ridge, where he's lived since relocating to Bend in 2013.
"I knew nothing about brewing until we got here," Reed admits.
Four or five people are usually working on the Aspen Ridge brewing team at any given time, following the recipes and "cleaning the pots," Reed says. "We make different beers each time," usually in 5- and 10-gallon batches. One of their brews, Mistaken Identity, won best of show at this summer's Deschutes County Fair. Other Aspen Ridge beers include Aspen Kickin' Stout, Grumpy Grasshopper Stout, Old Tart Cream Ale, Cherry Kiss Stout and Aspen Stinger Cream Ale.
"It's not the first one, but it's the best one," Reed says of Machine Gun Maggie. "It's won the most prizes." The beer has been brewed in collaboration with different Bend breweries, including Worthy, Oblivion and Silver Moon, and is distributed to different taps around town, with a portion of the proceeds going toward Alzheimer's research. The Aspen Ridge brewers appear to have quite a bit of support from the local brewing community. The Central Oregon Homebrewers Organization even meets at Aspen Ridge once a month.T
he brew room at Aspen Ridge is nothing fancy just a kitchen countertop and stove. On brew days, the team brews in the morning, pausing for a Costco pizza at lunchtime. That combination is "kind of hard to turn your back on," Reed says. "I like a beer and pizza and to have a good time. Drinking beer is a social enterprise, and making it can be one, also."
For retired folks with lots of time on their hands, Reed says the act of following the recipes and putting together the ingredients is good for people who need something to occupy their time. "When you can get something going, it keeps your mind going, and you like to take advantage of it." However, Reed laughs, "I don't see a career of making beer."
The team's equipment came from The Brew Shop above Platypus Pub, according to Reed. Asked if he has a favorite style of beer, Reed offers, "I'm not a connoisseur; I kind of like them all." The brew team has even made a mead, he says. "It's almost like a dessert wine, quite potent and quite delicious, but it sure doesn't taste like a beer." The team also has brewed an IPA aged in a whiskey barrel.
The team gets out to sample the local goods from time to time, venturing out in the company van to a local brewery for lunch. "It's nice to get out, and the merchants are always really nice, even though we're kind of a motley crew with wheelchairs and such. I know we're not the easiest group to deal with because we can't always hear everything, but they put up with us."
During his younger years, Reed occupied his free time with gardening, woodworking and traveling. Before that though, he served in the Army infantry in Germany during World War II, where every little town had a brewery. He and his fellow soldiers were used to beers with a 3 to 5 percent ABV, while the German beers were closer to 12 percent, he says.
The Midwest-born man was raised mostly in Portland, where he lived until 1975 when his job with the United Airlines reservations department transferred him to Seattle. Reed retired in 1983, eventually moving to the area to be closer to his daughter and her family, who live in Prineville.
Reed attributes his longevity to good genes and clean living. "If you're lucky, they (genes) stay in the family," he says.
Apparently, "clean living" can include the occasional beer.