When Tyler Reichert originally started Bend’s Silver Moon Brewing, he bit off far more than a lot of young entrepreneurs would be willing to chew; a huge and focus-pulling mouthful of Iconic Brewery, just across the pond and up the hill, where Deschutes Brewery hunkers down, there on the corner of Simpson and Colorado, in picture-postcard Bend, Oregon. They’re only two-three blocks from Deschutes’ landmark Bond Street Pub and taproom, which, predictably, ate up a lot of SM’s potential customer base. Tyler embraced this struggle and, when I wandered into Silver Moon for the first time, on a sunny, frigid afternoon in November of 2009, I was slapped sideways by what was issuing from their tanks and taps. My wife, the Fabulous Judye, fell flat-damnit in love with their fresh-hop seasonal, “Hoppopotamus“. I was instantly seduced by the “Badlands” Bitter (I LOVE a great ESB!), the near-perfect “Snakebite” Porter, and their complex and engrossing “Hop Knob” basic IPA. They even had one of the first NW pumpkin ales, “Pumpkin Head“, that managed to avoid the “pie slice in a blender” syndrome that afflicts most American breweries. Everything we tasted, in fact, was delicious and well made. Yeah, we left Bend, that trip, most impressed with Deschutes. But tied for a strong second were Bend Brewing and Silver Moon…neither of which was then available in Seattle.
Little did I know, back when I was writing my first impressions of Silver Moon and heaping praise on Tyler Reichert, that he had already had the most pivotal conversation in the history of his young brewery. Silver Moon, as most folks do not know, was originally started as an attempt to establish Bend’s first really comprehensive beer shop, an effort which gradually morphed into a tiny nano-brewery and then into where and what they remain to this day: a solidly modern, expansive brewery facility that shares space with a fully functional nightclub, arguably the best music venue in Bend. This high profile attracted interest from potential buyers and, late in 2009, Reichert ran into local businessmen, Matt Barrett and James Watts, who were regular and enthusiastic customers of SM and had dreams of – someday,. maybe – owning their own brewery. That first conversation got all three thinking and, three+ years later, Barrett and Watts bought Silver Moon and gradually started putting their imprint on its image and operations. They hired two talented young guys, brewmaster Jeff Schauland and lead brewer Alex Sarames, who immediately set out, with the new bosses, in deciding what would stay and what would go. Schauland and Sarames brought a decidedly bi-coastal aesthetic to the beer challenges – Schauland from California, Sarames from Northern Jersey; Schauland a Coldplay(!) and death metal fan, Sarames a DeadHead – and that frisson worked in ways that none of them could have expected.
My recent tasting of five of their 2017 offerings was a Revelation…and I already liked Silver Moon’s established beers. These were different, more polished, more balanced, just generally…more in almost every aspect. The pleasing “Hop Knob” was replaced by “IPA 97“, a basic, year-round IPA that expresses the “More” attitude as well as anything SM produces. Weighing in at a strappin’ 75 IBU (a DIPA for a lot of breweries), 97 strikes a gorgeous balance of creamy, caramel-drenched malts and a tornado of hops that make their statement in complexity and the floral/citrus/spice end of the hops continuum, soft-peddling (a bit) the Same Ol’ herbal/grapefruit bittering that many brewers can’t resist because they think we all equate that aggressive bitterness with “IPA”. In Schauland’s capable hands, this ale reminds me very much of the pFriem, Sound Brewery, and Ninkasi basic IPAs. with that hallmark seamlessness and user-friendly appeal. There are flavor elements all over the map: light caramel, sugar cookies, pine resins, baked apple, black tea, subtle Asian spices, wildflowers, stone fruit, melon, and mixed citrus, heavy on the tangerine. This is a fine, classic Northwest IPA that richly deserves a broader audience, something which it may actually get, now that SM is being distributed outside the immediate Oregon/Portland market. 96 Points
97’s big brother is called “Crazy Horse” Double IPA, an unbridled, deep, almost aggressive DIPA that delivers the sort of bitch-slap to your palate that the young HopHeads seek the way wolves seek rabbits. In its way, Crazy Horse is as devious and subversive as its namesake. The full-frontal hop-slam that this ale delivers masks a complexity and completeness that most of the 100+ IBU ales don’t. At 110 IBU, Crazy creates an aromatic spume that saturates the nose, with a sleek wash of sweet herbals that integrate so well with its underlying citrus/floral/spice notes that you might well miss the background, if you’re fixated on the foreground of uber-bitterness. All these IPAs that register so powerfully in the (mercifully dying) Hops Arms Race push those bitter herb notes to the fore, often with not a damned thing to support them. Sometimes, that can work. I am an avid, if occasional, fan of Moylan’s “Hopsickle”, a beer that still, well over a decade after its debut, serves as a template for making the ultimate Hophead beer. Moylan’s was absolutely unapologetic about it. They made a beer with hops that would pummel your tongue and let it take on all comers. There’s a beauty in that…once or twice. But beers that were not as well-made as Hopsickle sprouted up everywhere and the DIPA became all about this test-of-manhood thing of seeing who can stomach the most IBUs and still act like they aren’t fazed by it.
Crazy Horse is made every bit as well made as Hopsickle and goes beyond that classic in its firm backbone of mellow, unobtrusive malts that shape the beer as much in texture and mouthfeel as in flavor. Crazy Horse is creamy, a term seldom applied to DIPAs. All the flowers and spices and tropicals and tree fruit of 97 is amplified here and lends this beer a degree of interest that I have found matched only by a handful of DIPAs like “Daisy Cutter“, “Heady Topper“, Ninkasi “Tricerahops“, Fort George “Vortex“, Reuben’s Brews’ “Blimey” and “Gobsmacked!“, and a small handful of others. Its closest spiritual cousin may be Laurelwood “Workhorse” and that is no small feat. This is a Major League DIPA and one that hits all the right notes, both for HopHeads and crusty old beer writers. 97 Points
Silver Moon Casual Ale rides the crest of a trend that is sweeping breweries practically everywhere on the planet: easy-drinking ales that weigh in with modest alcohol and a level of hoppiness that amounts to a collective sigh of relief from our decade+ mania for hops and bitterness and boundary-pushing. Not exactly a Pale Ale, not quite an APA or a NWPA, Casual Ale is a Beer, stripped of all artifice and as eager to please as an old Bassett Hound. These beers are cropping up everywhere: Deschutes has “River Ale“, Reuben’s Brews makes “Daily Pale“, Fort George offers up “Sunrise OPA“, Ninkasi recently debuted “Pacific Rain“…and on and on. Silver Moon’s Casual stands toe-to-toe with any of these. It’s fresh, lively, edgy but not pushy, and delivers just enough hops to keep it from flabiness but not quite enough to evoke that reflexive wince from your craft newbie pal. Judye is my litmus test for these beers, as my palate has always been resolutely weird and exploratory, and Judye’s reaction was instantaneous and definite: “Can we get more of this?” Casual is the perfect name for this ale. Those who are intrepid enough to seek this out will, I promise you, never plan one picnic for spring-thru-fall 2017 without at least thinking of this beer as the house pour. It’s immaculately made, refreshing as all git-out, and yet has a richness and rib-sticking quality that belies its lightness. This is Substantial Beer, despite its name, and is, in the beer culture of the Pacific Northwest, here in 2017, a minor masterpiece. 94 Points
Silver Moon “Get Sum” is already approaching NW Fave status and it hasn’t been out all that long. In a city in which what is arguably one of America’s truly iconic Pale Ales is made – Deschutes “Mirror Pond” – you had better have an ass-kicking Pale if you hope to even sell it locally. Get Sum is that beer. This aptly named little gem easily belongs in the stratum of Mirror Pond and Sierra Nevada Pale and, in some ways, provides a dash more interest than those two classics. All three have smoothness tucked in at all corners but Get Sum tosses in a few tricks that the other two don’t. This is not to say that Get Sum is a better Pale than those two icons but we have all had literal oceans of Mirror Pond and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. There are no surprises left for us in those two, so Get Sum had the leg up of being whatever Schauland and Sarames wanted it to be. And what they wanted was depth, grace notes by the fistful, bright citrus and tropical notes galore, chewy malts, floral and citrus hops, with a fine tinge of spruce tips and rosemary. And a lovely, viscous texture that paints the tongue and makes its flavors liiiinger, lazily metamorphizing into a finish that is a little spicy and a little apple butter and even some faint cloves. As PNW Pales go, this is surpassed by the barest handful and definitely ranks in my own Top Five for its balance and concept and wild drinkability. Just simply an emerging PNW favorite. 94 Points
Silver Moon’s website states that their new “Mango Daze” Pale Ale shows “traditional fruity northwest hops and a perfect hint of tropical mango“. Liars…I say that because I am the sworn enemy, as I’ve now written about 10,000 times, of beers that are claimed to be infused with this or that and leave you searching desperately for that thing when you taste them. There is no ambiguity at all with Mango Daze. One sip and you get MANGO!!, in all caps, meshing perfectly with fruity NW hops to become a summer beer that is very nearly undeniable. Fans of fruit beers are going to go all warm and runny for this stuff. It’s a little exotic, even though, to a lot of people, mango tastes very much like oranges and is often taken for such. But in combination with the right, citrus/floral hops, mango’s true flavor emerges from the Orange Impasse and lights up this madly refreshing stuff. The bitter edge on the finish is the perfect foil for that mango aura and keeps the whole from becoming cloying and tiresome. This beer is a new idea altogether, for Silver Moon, and Schauland and Sarames built just the right resiny framework for that fruity intro. This is going to be a great pairing for any foods that lean toward Asia or with a fancy green salad, maybe with seafood or poultry. And as just something to sit and sip? Well, as Sarames would undoubtedly say, “Fuggedaboudit!” Mango Daze may just come to describe a buying compulsion, as more and more people sample this, and it’s only going to get stronger as the weather turns warmer. 94 Points
My last little fanboy observation about the new ‘n’ improved Silver Moon is not simply the window dressing you may think it is. Their graphics have been similarly slicked up and polished to a high sheen, by Seattle’s amazing Blind Tiger Design, and the result is that these eye-popping cans really snag your attention on shop shelves, among the blizzard of artwork that staggers from pedestrian to museum-quality. It gives the brewery and these sublime beers a newer, hipper, more modern appeal and perfectly reflects the emergence of this New Moon in the PNW brewing firmament.
LOTS of great stuff is happening now at Bend’s third-ever craft brewery. If you’re traveling to Central Oregon, yes, by all means, see the John Day Painted Hills, the Mirror Pond, Mt. Bachelor, and Deschutes – and Boneyard and Crux and Worthy and Cascade Lakes and Bend Brewing and Below Grade and Immersion and Riverbend and Oblivion and Monkless and, if you can swing it, DO NOT miss The Ale Apothecary…but also DO NOT miss Silver Moon. You may not have heard of them, as loud as the acclaim wafting off of Bend has become, but they are definitely a Silver Moon that’s rising and very, very full.