Beer and bubbles go together like peanut butter and jelly, or like Sonny and Cher. But peanut butter is delicious on its own, and look at how well Cher did without Sonny.
So it goes with Ale Apothecary's Red Echo.
Red Echo is a flat beer. And not, like, a barely bubbly beer—it's a totally non-carbonated wheat beer. It's made under the towering Ponderosas of Bend, in the garage of Paul Arney. The pine needles that surround the former Deschutes brewer's spread are crushed and aged with the bubble-less brew using Old World techniques.
It's exactly what we've come to expect of Arney and this odd little six-year-old brewery, which makes just 400 barrels per year and sells most to customers direct. Ale Apothecary's bottles retail for $20 and up, and it's not uncommon to see one pushing $40. Arney makes beers for geeks, and all of his offerings are interesting, testing the boundaries of what we understand beer can be. In 2013, we named Sahalie, his blondish, barrel-aged mix fermentation ale, among our top 10 of the year.
Red Echo is actually the work of Ale Apothecary brewer Connor Currie, who acquired wheat-whiskey barrels for aging from Oregon Spirit Distillers. He knew he wanted to make a wheat wine, but leaving it non-carbonated wasn't the original intent. That all changed after a pre-bubbled tasting by Currie and Arney, who realized they shouldn't try to fix what wasn't broken.
"We looked at each other and went, 'let's just leave it still.'" says Arney. "We felt like it didn't need anything else. It was good the way it was."
They were right. Red Echo wowed our tasters, several of whom tend to be skeptical of flat beers. Arney says there's been virtually no complaint about the missing carbonation. Sold in a corked, half-liter bottle, it doesn't even look like beer. One could easily mistake it for wine even after sipping. This is a beer with nuanced layers of stone fruit, herbs, earthiness, wood and yeast. The pine needles are subtle, but suggest a distinctive terroir in a way rarely seen in beer.
"It's been a very big success for us," Arney says.
Finding a bottle from the first batch can prove to be a challenge on this side of the mountain. Luckily, a second batch is quietly aging on the westside of Bend, where Arney opened a 5,000-square-foot brewhouse in 2015.
Based on the favorable responses to Red Echo's debut batch, he predicts the second will be an even bigger success—even if non-carbonated brews in general don't quite catch on. "Still beers might not be the next big thing," he says. "But we intend to keep making them. We believe in art over industry, and that's what Red Echo is all about."