Deschutes Obsidian Stout

Deschutes Obsidian Stout - a photo of a six-pack of this stout from Deschutes Brewing is shown over a graphic of 4.5 Green Stars, representing an ethical rating (on a scale of 1-5 green stars)

I picked up a six-pack of Deschutes Obsidian Stout at the Grocery Outlet last week. Beer is not sold at such a steep discount at the Grocery Outlet compared to wine and food – it was $8.99 compared to the normal supermarket price of $9.99. But The GO has started stocking a pretty good selection of beers, and I’ll be featuring some of them on this site in the coming weeks. And a 10% discount isn’t bad, in any case.

I haven’t yet been to Bend, Oregon, home to Deschutes brewery (hoping to make it someday) but I’ve been to the Deschutes pub in Portland and recommend getting a beer flight if you’re in town after things return to normal. At the moment, during lockdown, they’re limited to pick-up and delivery but they’re also selling bake-at-home pretzel kits!

Here’s a little clip about Deschutes from the craft brewing documentary, Pints:

Deschutes Obsidian Stout- review

Deschutes Obsidian Stout gets good ratings on the popular beer review sites, Rate Beer and Beer Advocate. On the latter site it’s ranked 8th on their list of the best American stouts. Really, it’s one of the few stouts in the top 50 on that list that you’re likely to find in a regular supermarket. The chocolate stout from Rogue Ales (another Oregon brewery) is ranked 13th and Sierra Nevada stout is ranked 50th on the Beer Advocate list.

I’m from Ireland, home of good stouts, so my standards are pretty high. On top of this, stouts have become more complex since Obsidian was first released, with ingredients like coffee and chocolate and post-brew aging in bourbon barrels becoming quite common. Having said that, I like Obsidian Stout as a good example of a simpler stout that derives most of its flavor from roasted malts and black barley. At 6.4% alcohol, it’s fairly strong but obviously nowhere near the alcohol content of barrel-aged stouts. It’s a little more bitter than some stouts, so if you don’t love it then rethink what you are eating alongside it 🙂

I also usually just wait until I’m in a bar before I have a stout because most of them are better on draught (often with nitrogen) but circumstances are different this year. A nice thing about Obsidian is that it pours well from the bottle, forming a good-sized coffee-scented head, and overall I think it’s a good comforting beer for this time of year.

Deschutes Brewing – sustainability

In 2016, Deschutes Brewing was recognized as a global sustainability leader for practices such as restoring water in the Deschutes river, minimizing waste, and offsetting energy use with renewable energy credits. You can read more about Deschutes’ efforts on sustainability on their site. I’ll summarize that info along with a few other facts I found online in the ethical review, below.

Deschutes Brewing – social impact

One nice thing about Deschutes is that they are still independent and have an employee stock program. Researching the company just now, I was half expecting it to be owned by one of the mega breweries by now. Not the case!

Deschutes Brewery has always been family owned and operated. An Employee Stock Ownership Program (ESOP) was set up in 2013 so employees now own a percentage of the company.

Deschutes also has a Community Pints program to support any eligible non-profits that apply. How it works: For every pint sold on each Tuesday of the designated month, the non-profit will receive $1.

The Deschutes mission statement might look like standard blurb, but it becomes all the more important in the wake of the protests and unrest in Oregon over the summer:

Since 1988, one thing has not changed – Deschutes Brewery is still a community gathering place. We are here to perpetuate a sense of belonging, and believe that everyone is equal over a beer. We commit to supporting people of all races, ages, genders, orientation, socioeconomic status, beliefs and backgrounds.

Is Deschutes Beer Vegan?

As you may know, beer and wine often undergoes a fining step that involves clarification by adding an agent that helps remove suspended yeast and protein. Gelatin and a kind of collagen from fish (isinglass) are commonly used as fining agents. However, Deschutes uses Irish moss for clarification of most of their beers. They clarify this (haha) on the Deschutes website:

We do not use animal products in the cellaring or brewing process. The clarifying agent we use in our brewhouse is made from Irish Moss, a red algae. However, experimental beers brewed at our pubs sometime use lactose, isinglass, honey or other specialty ingredients, but we call it out in the description listed on the menu.

So Deschutes’s bottled beers, such as Obsidian Stout, are in fact vegan.

Deschutes Obsidian Stout - a photo of a six-pack of this stout from Deschutes Brewing is shown over a graphic of 4.5 Green Stars, representing an ethical rating (on a scale of 1-5 green stars)

Ethical rating for Deschutes Obsidian Stout

Overall, I think that Deschutes Obsidian Stout deserves 4.5 Green Stars for social and environmental impact, based on these factors:

  • Deschutes Brewing was recognized in 2016 as a global sustainability leader for conservation of energy and resources in various aspects of the business from building efficiency to waste minimization.
  • Water conservation: Deschutes funds the restoration of one billion gallons of water into the Deschutes River every year to offset the company’s water usage through the Deschutes River Conservancy water leasing program
  • Carbon Footprint: Deschutes works with the EPA’s Green Power Partner to reduce energy use and also purchases renewable energy through the Blue Sky program.
  • A note on the last point: in 2016 it was reported that Deschutes Brewing offset even more green energy than they actually used but the Deschutes Brewery website now states that 30% of power used by the main brewery is offset by wind and solar. So I’m not sure which is correct. Are they just bad at reporting on their own sustainability metrics or has their percentage green energy use dropped significantly since 2016?
  • Bottles are made form 70% recycled glass, as far as I know. Again, this info was found in an article on Deschutes Brewery but the company website makes no mention of this.
  • It’s a family and employee-owned business, with a stock program for employees.
  • Employees rate Deschutes Brewing at 4.1 on Glassdoor, a high score for that site.
  • Deschutes contributes to various local charities and plays various roles in the community including the support of local conservation organizations and ingredient suppliers.
  • Deschutes Obsidian Stout (and virtually all of Deschutes’s bottled beer) is vegan, relying on Irish moss for clarification.

Summary scores (out of 5) for Deschutes Obsidian Stout:

  • 4 gold stars for quality and value.
  • 4.5 green stars for social and environmental impact

If you have a different opinion, please share your rating! Until next time, stay safe : )

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