Here is the first of five posts about the eleven days I spent in Oregon this past October. After arriving in Portland the plan was to drive down to Corvallis and meet up with my friends Michelle and Andy before heading over to Bend where we had rented a house for the weekend. As I left the Portland airport in my rental car the realization that there were 83 breweries in the Portland metropolitan area, the most of any city in the world, made it difficult to stick to the plan. I was seriously tempted to make a quick stop at Cascade, Hair of the Dog, or Breakside for a tasting flight, but ultimately my desire to get clear of Portland before Friday afternoon traffic became gridlock won out. Before too long I was headed south on I-5 marveling at the warm weather and abundant sunshine. After a short detour to visit Rogue Farms in Independence, OR (more on that stop later in this series) I made it to Corvallis, met up with my friends and we headed east across the Cascade Mountains toward Bend.
The largest city in Central Oregon (pop. ~83,000), Bend sits on the eastern slopes of the Cascade Mountains. Stretching east of Bend for hundreds of miles is sparsely populated high desert plateau. Outdoor activities like hiking, mountain biking, and skiing are an integral part of the culture in Bend. Of the great beer destinations in the world you’d be hard pressed to find a location where the beer drinkers are more physically fit. Even the brewery tours here are conducted on people powered cycle trolleys.
Bend is home to nineteen breweries, with another seven located in the surrounding communities (click here for details). That’s a crazy ratio of one brewery for every 4,400 or so people! The tourist board in Bend has created something called the Bend Ale Trail. You can download a passport (or get a mobile app) and collect stamps as you visit breweries. If you get stamps from 10 breweries you win a silicone pint glass, and if you get stamps at all 14 you get a bottle opener. After minimal discussion we decided that completing the ale trail would lend some purpose to the weekend. After all who wouldn’t want to spend close to a hundred dollars to get a pint-sized polymeric drinking vessel?
What follows is an account of my weekend in Bend. In 45 hours I managed to visit ten breweries, sampled approximately 45 different beers (thank goodness for tasting flights), went on two hikes, and consumed what must have been 10,000 calories worth of food and drink. I describe the breweries in the order in which we visited them, and rate them from best (1) to worst (10). The ratings are based solely on the quality of the beer, not on the ambiance, the food, the servers, or any other non-beer factors. My companions for the weekend were Michelle and Andy, former Columbus residents and old friends of mine who now live in Corvallis, Michelle’s co-worker Wes, and his girlfriend Kayla.
The drive from Corvallis to Bend is a scenic drive that cuts through the Cascade Mountains, it’s 120 miles long, involves a 3400 feet rise in elevation, and takes about 2.5 hours, provided you don’t get stuck behind a logging truck or an RV. We arrived in Bend not long after sundown on a pleasant Friday evening.
Deschutes Brewery and Public House
- Website: http://www.deschutesbrewery.com/locations/bend
- Address: 1044 NW Bond St, Bend, OR 97701
- If you only get one beer: Bachelor Bitter
- Bend Beer Ranking: 4th
By the time we reached Bend we were all pretty hungry so we headed to the biggest (5th largest in the country), oldest, and best known brewery in Bend, Deschutes Brewery and Public House. Andy and Michelle, who make trips to Bend whenever they can get away, feel the food here is the best of any brewery in Bend, and after visiting I agree.
The feel and layout of the Deschutes Public House can loosely be described as gastropub meets ski lodge. We had to wait for about 20 minutes to get a table, but we were able to wait in the bar so no one was complaining. As you would expect there are a lot of familiar beers here (Black Butte Porter, Inversion IPA, Obsidian Stout, …), but they also offer a number of taproom only beers, including the exceptional Bachelor Bitter. It features toasty malts, earthy hops, and style-appropriate toffee sweetness, all in all one of the best examples of a British bitter you’ll find on this side of the Atlantic. I was also impressed with the Fresh Squeezed IPA, an incredibly fruity IPA made with Mosaic and Citra hops. I finished with a glass of their winter ale, Jubelale. It’s got multiple layers of malty goodness, enough spices to make it a holiday ale, but not so many that they steal the show. If Jubelale makes it out to Ohio this year I strongly recommend you give it a try.
- Website: http://silvermoonbrewing.com/
- Address: 24 NW Greenwood Ave, Bend, OR 97701
- If you only get one beer: Voodoo Dog ISR (India Session Red)
- Bend Beer Ranking: 5th
Our next stop, Silver Moon Brewing, was about a 5 minute walk from Deschutes. Unlike most of the Bend breweries, Silver Moon has the feel of a neighborhood bar. The lights were dim, the bartender friendly, and the crowd seemed to be more locals than tourists. Apparently they have live music on a regular basis, but not on the night we visited.
In terms of beer there were about a dozen beers on tap, all of them very solid with about half being of the hoppy variety. The Hop Nob IPA stood out, but my favorite was the Voodoo Dog India Session Red (ISR). I didn’t even know there was such a thing as an ISR, but basically it’s just another name for a hoppy amber. Simcoe and Centennial hops share top billing with caramel malts, leading to a hop-forward but eminently drinkable beer with unbelievable lacing and a manageable 5.5% abv. Before long the beers, the early start, the big meal at Deschutes, and the time difference started to catch up to me. So we turned in for the night with two breweries down and twelve to go.
It would be a pity to spend a weekend in Bend and not take some time to enjoy the outdoors. So after breakfast at the Sparrow Bakery, which I highly recommend, we headed into the Cascades for a hike up the Tumalo Falls trail. About a mile up the trail we came across these two guys walking a slack line across the river in front of one of the many falls on the trail. It was a little nerve wracking just watching them. If you go to Bend take some time to get out and enjoy the beautiful scenery in the Cascades.
- Website: http://boneyardbeer.com/
- Address: 803 SW Industrial Way, Bend, OR 97702
- If you only get one beer: RPM IPA
- Bend Beer Ranking: 3rd
Rested, fed and invigorated by the mountain air we were ready to get back on the Ale Trail. Our first stop on Saturday afternoon was Boneyard. The taproom here is a small no frills place. You can fill a growler or try a tasting sample of any of the five beers on tap, but they don’t sell pints nor do they serve food. The tasting samples are kind of expensive for what you get, roughly 2 ounces for $1. On the other hand, if you are looking to buy apparel adorned with either a skull and crossbones or a snake you’ve come to the right place. It was the only stop on the Ale Trail where there were more styles of sweatshirts than styles of beer. On the day we visited they were pouring RPM (their flagship IPA), Black 13 (a black IPA), Rojo Diablo (a hoppy amber ale), Hop Venom (their DIPA), and Orange is the New Jack (a spiced pumpkin beer). The variety of beers is not very wide but the hoppy beers here are worth seeking out, second only to Crux among Bend breweries in my opinion. So if you are a hophead, a pint of RPM or Hop Venom is a mandatory experience for any visit to Bend. The taproom on the other hand is nothing special.
10 Barrel Brewing
- Website: http://www.10barrel.com/agegate
- Address: 1135 NW Galveston, Bldg. A, Bend, OR 97701
- If you only get one beer: Cucumber Crush (or whatever sour is pouring)
- Bend Beer Ranking: 6th
Before drinking too much beer we decided it would be wise to get some more food in our system, so we headed to 10 Barrel Brewing which has a menu which features a nice selection of salads, hand-crafted pizzas, and burgers. The brewpub is housed in a fairly new building with garage-style doors that open up to a large outdoor patio filled with tables and a fireplace. We sat on the inside, right by one of the open doors so that we could soak up some afternoon sun.
10 Barrel operates brewpubs in Bend and Boise (with a Portland location under construction). On the weekend we were visiting they were having a contest to see which location could make the best fresh hop IPA. I love the idea of a bar running a blind taste test so I didn’t hesitate to order a flight with two fresh hopped beers from Bend and two from Boise. Unlike a normal flight the identities of the beers were not revealed, and after sampling them you could send a text to vote for your favorite. I later learned from the internet that the Boise beers won the competition 53% to 47% (my favorite was also a Boise beer). Fun contest, but to be honest the beers were nothing to write home about.
One of the more intriguing beers on the menu was a Berliner Weiss called Cucumber Crush. The menu claimed it was“more refreshing than tap water” which makes me think they need to hire a new person to write the prose on the menus, but it was enough to hook me. I’m happy to say it was one of the most interesting beers I had on the trip. The cucumber flavors were delicate and worked well with the wheat malts and lactic acid tartness of the base Berliner Weiss. At 4% abv it was sessionable and refreshing, appropriate for what turned out to be an unexpectedly warm day. When I checked the results from the GABF the next morning I was surprised to see Cucumber Crush had just won the gold medal in a style category called Field Beer (a beer that uses one or more vegetables as an adjunct).
Editor’s Note: While writing this article I learned that 10 Barrel Brewing had been acquired by the brewing conglomerate ABInBev. So if you like to rail against “the man” this means that 10 Barrel is now officially sleeping with the enemy. It also probably means that their distribution is about to get wider.
- Website: http://goodlifebrewing.com/
- Address: 70 SW Century Drive 100-464, Bend, OR 97702
- If you only get one beer: Mountain Rescue Dry Hop Pale Ale
- Bend Beer Ranking: 7th
Our next stop was Goodlife Brewing, which is located not too far from 10 Barrel in a light commercial space. The tasting room was a standing room only crowd when we arrived and the staff were struggling to keep up with the orders. After a few minutes the crowd thinned a little and we managed to get a seat and some beer. I had a pint of the Mountain Rescue Dry Hop Pale Ale (5.5% abv, 40 IBU) which was balanced, flavorful, and easy drinking. Everyone in the party seemed to like their beers, although I will say that Wes’ pint of 29er Brown Ale had more sediment than a glass of Willamette river water. I can imagine the B-vitamins are just now clearing his system. The highlight of our stop at Goodlife was an order of doughnut holes, made with Descender IPA and served with salty caramel frosting. They were absolutely delicious, and handy for soaking up the beer still to come. On the downside they only have a single unisex bathroom, so be prepared for a wait when it comes time to use the facilities.
Crux Fermentation Project
- Website: http://www.cruxfermentation.com/
- Address: 50 SW Division St, Bend, OR 97702
- If you only get one beer: Half Hitch DIPA
- Bend Beer Ranking: 1st
In any beer destination there are breweries that are fun to visit, and then there are breweries that are worth seeking out. In my opinion Crux Fermentation Project is Bend’s destination brewery. Co-founded in 2012 by Larry Sidor, who was head brewmaster at Deschutes for eight years (and before that at Olympia), Crux is located in an old AAMCO transmission shop that sits on a small hill that affords gorgeous views of the Cascade mountains to the west. We hit Crux an hour or so before sundown, perfect timing. The hop vines that cling to the trellises in front of the brewery were that vibrant shade of green that you only get in the light of the setting sun.
All of the tables inside were full so I ordered a tasting flight and went outside with my companions to lounge on the lawn and watch the sun set behind the volcanic peaks known as the Three Sisters. People were playing cornhole, children and dogs were running around playing in the grass, in short everyone was enjoying life. I was tempted to try something from the taco cart that had set up shop on the side of the building but I was still trying to digest the donut holes.
While the vibe was laid back, and the view was beautiful, the main attraction at Crux is the beer. If you are looking for an education in different hop varieties this is the place. The IPAs are like a tour through the world of hops—Half Hitch DIPA (Mosaic), Outcast (Galaxy), Crystal Zwickel (Crystal), and Off Leash (Citra & Centennial). They were pouring one of the better pilsners that I’ve had in a while, the saisons were solid, and there were sours and barrel aged beers as well. In total there were 17 beers on tap. If you only go to one place in Bend this is the place.
- Website: http://oldmillbrewwerks.com/
- Address: 803 SW Industrial Way, Bend, OR 97702
- If you only get one beer: Sisters Session Ale
- Bend Beer Ranking: 8th
For our next stop we made the half mile trip to Brew Wërks, a somewhat upscale brewpub located in a strip of shops that overlook the Deschutes River. The vibe here is definitely more restaurant than bar/pub. We were now visiting our fifth brewery of the day so my ability to appreciate and recollect the finer qualities of the beer was rapidly degrading. Andy who was our designated driver for the evening had good things to say about his half pint of Sister’s Session Ale, so I’m going to recommend that one.
For us the main attraction of Brew Wërks was the fact that Wes and Kayla’s former roommate Ben is a brewer here and was tending bar that evening. It definitely gets my vote for best service of the weekend, but I apologize to Ben that the most memorable part of our stop was a long discussion about whether the use of an umlaut over an e was humorous or pretentious. It was also at this point in the evening that Kayla switched from beer to flaming cocktails.
- Website: http://www.ratholebrewpub.com/
- Address: 384 SW Upper Terrace Dr, Bend, OR 97702
- If you only get one beer: ?
- Bend Beer Ranking: 10th
At this point any sensible person would have turned in for the evening, maybe watch a movie or some college football and drink some water to rehydrate, but it was only 9 pm and most of us were enthusiastic about knocking out some more stops on the Ale Trail. A check of the map showed that we were only half a mile from Rathole Brewing so we headed off in search of more beer.
Rathole seems like an inappropriate name for a brewery located in a newish commercial space that looks like it could house an orthodontist office. Some post-facto internet research shows that they started as a nanobrewery in an old barn outside of Bend, so the name starts to make more sense.
Upon arriving at roughly 9:15 pm we found the doors locked, which surprised us because closing time was listed as 10 pm on their website. Further addling our beer soaked senses we noticed that there were several people (employees I guess) sitting at the bar and drinking. Assuming there must be some kind of mistake we made like zombies in Shaun of the Dead and started looking for any possible way to gain entrance into the bar. Wes and I scaled a 3’ high cement pad and jumped the patio railing to try and gain access through the patio door. Andy knocked at the front door, and Michelle and Kayla went looking for a back door. The good news is that no brains were eaten, the less good news is that we were not successful and were asked to leave.
McMennamin’s Old St. Francis Pub
- Website: http://www.mcmenamins.com/OldStFrancis
- Address: 700 NW Bond St, Bend, OR 97701
- If you only get one beer: Terminator Stout
- Bend Beer Ranking: 9th
Not content to let our evening end by striking out at Rathole, we elected to make one more stop before calling it a night. Someone suggested that we head to McMennamin’s Old St. Francis Pub, so that’s what we did. The McMennamin brothers own over a hundred pubs spread throughout Oregon and Washington that date back to 1983. While their beer is not that remarkable in my opinion, the historic buildings that house many of the McMennamin pubs are very cool. The Bend location, housed in an old Catholic school, is one of the most interesting. In addition to the main pub and restaurant this location features two additional outlying bars, a 19 room hotel, a movie theater and a Turkish bath. If I get a chance to go back to Bend I would seriously consider staying here. There was some talk of soaking in the baths, Kayla fresh off two flaming cocktails at Brew Wërks was particularly keen on this idea, but the lack of swimwear and the presence of a couple sober people in the party put the kibosh on that ill-advised plan.
With the possible exception of Kayla we were in decent shape on Sunday morning. After spending a half hour or so on a futile attempt to recover the small notebook containing my tasting notes, we headed for a smallish neighborhood restaurant called Jackson’s Corner for a much needed breakfast. By the time we finished it was just past noon. Using the flimsy excuse that my tasting notebook might have abandoned ship at Crux we returned for a second visit in less than 24 hours. The crowd was much smaller and the atmosphere was not as magical in the light of the noonday sun, but the high quality of the beer was not a mirage that disappeared at midnight like Cinderella’s horses. At this point Wes and Kayla left the party and headed home, while Michelle, Andy, and I decided to drive out to Devils Lake to dip our feet in the lake and take in the mountain scenery.
Bend Brewing Company
- Website: http://www.bendbrewingco.com/
- Address: 1019 NW Brooks St, Bend OR 97701
- If you only get one beer: Ching Ching Sour Ale
- Bend Beer Ranking: 2nd
As we drove back into Bend from Devils Lake we agreed that we only had enough stamina for one more brewery visit. Among the breweries that we had yet to visit Bend Brewing Company (BBC) seemed the most appealing to me. Founded in 1993 Bend Brewing Company is located downtown a short walk from Deschutes. The pub is fairly large and has a sort of ski lodge feel to it, with a restaurant area in front, a bar area in back, and an outdoor patio off the rear of the building. We took a table on the patio and I ordered my last flight of beer of the weekend.
The beer here was like a wakeup call for my fatigued palate. All of the beers here were very good. My favorite was the Ching Ching Sour Ale, a Berliner Weiss made with pomegranate and hibiscus that took home a gold medal at the 2013 GABF. The Hophead Imperial IPA and Lovely Cherry Baltic Porter were also former medal winners at the GABF. The latter beer is aged for 3 months on Montmorency cherries and then barrel aged for an additional 3 years. It’s a rich, decadent cherry-chocolate dessert beer.
In case you are still counting the denial at Rathole means that we only visited nine breweries, coming up one short of our silicone pint glass. That’s OK because the tourist office was closed when we left town anyway.
If anyone is still reading this post, thanks for your persistence. If you’ve skipped ahead to the end here is a summary of the top things to do while beercationing in Bend.
- Take in the sunset at Crux
- Eat dinner at Deschutes
- Order a sampler tray at Bend Brewing Company
- Get a growler of RPM IPA from Boneyard and enjoy from the privacy of the hot tub at your vacation rental
- Drink a pint of Voodoo Dog ISR with the locals at Silver Moon
- Try the doughnut holes at Goodlife
- Soak in the Turkish baths at McMennamin’s Old St. Francis
- Go on a mountain hike
If anyone else out there has spent time on the Bend Ale Trail I’d love to hear about your favorite spots. Look for the next post my Oregon breweries series, Wild on the Coast – A visit to De Garde Brewing in Tillamook.