The Ale List: New brewer and blueprints reshape Big Horse

BREWERS of the Gorge members, including Big Horse’s Neil Brent, second from left, trade recipes and brewing notes — be they recorded in electronic tablets or old-school ledger books.

Photo by Kirby Neumann-Rea
BREWERS of the Gorge members, including Big Horse’s Neil Brent, second from left, trade recipes and brewing notes — be they recorded in electronic tablets or old-school ledger books.

A new brewer and blueprints are reshaping things at Big Horse Brewery.

Neal Brent started three weeks ago, after three years in the lab at Wy’east Yeast Lab in Odell. It’s his first full-time brewing gig but he’s a long-standing member of Brewers of the Gorge homebrewers club. BOG members toasted Brent in the brewery last week, with intriguing concoctions including a mole (as in Mexican chocolate cooking sauce) stout and pomegranate ale.

“I’m stoked to keep doing what Big Horse is known for and add my own stamp to the beers,” said Brent, who succeeds Derrak Smith, who spent four years at Big Horse.


Brent sizes up a test snifter of his new pale, Lazarus, in the brewery overlooking Second Street.

Brent, 26, said he is already used to lugging the kegs down the stairs, but he looks forward to the day when he won’t have to do as much of that: owners Randy and Susan Orzeck gained City of Hood River approval two weeks ago to expand the 28-year-old brewery, Hood River’s oldest, adding more brewing space and storage for bags of grain and malt, and for a new barrel aging program. Brent, who studied microbiology at Oregon State University, looks forward to adding cider to the tap line once the new digs are completed.

Brent’s been brewing from fermentations Smith had started, and marshaling the Pale Rider, MacStallion and other house standbys, but has also rolled out his first own-creation: a smooth and juicy pale ale he calls Lazarus — so named because his new gig is “kind like new life for me.”

Brent said he trained for years on the science of yeast, but his passion was always the making of beer, and when Smith’s departure happened, he jumped at the chance.

“Brent is an experienced brewer, and we had a number of good people apply,” Randy Orzeck said.

Meanwhile, the Orzecks are proceeding with their first major expansion plans since their founding in 1987. They will push the brewery area out to the edge of the sidewalk retaining wall at State and Second streets. The floor above will be expanded, too, allowing for increased storage, and no further need to stack bags of grain in the pool room seating area. Improvements are also planned upstairs in the restaurant/bar area.

This has been a busy week for Double Mountain Brewing, with the long-awaited opening of its southeast Portland taproom. Thursday brought a soft opening of the pub at 4336 Woodstock Blvd.

Meanwhile, visit the home base brewery in downtown Hood River for a special release: Rye IPA. In the spirit and memory of his father, Doug Byers, brewer Chris teamed up with Ales for ALS to brew this IPA (7.7 percent ABV, 58 BU).

Ales for ALS formulated a special hop blend that was used in the later kettle and dry hop additions. A portion of the proceeds will benefit ALS research. “There was a whole lotta love put in to this brew, from start to finish,” notes Double Mountain’s Anneke Ayers. She writes that it is “well balanced, tropical, dank and dry, you’ll definitely feel the love in this one.”

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