After our brief trip to Walking Man Brewing and a stay overnight in Stevenson on Friday night, we were up bright and early to make the drive down to Bend on Saturday. Coming from the Hood River area, it was quickest to take Highway 197/97 all the way down to Bend, which was a beautiful drive. Seeing all of the whitewater guide companies headquartered in the small town of Maupin makes me want to go back sometime when I can hop in a raft. In addition to being heaven for outdoor enthusiasts, Bend is widely known as the location of Deschutes Brewery, where they first started out as a small brewpub back in 1988. While Deschutes has grown into the large (and still awesome) brewery that it is today, there are several other small breweries in town that are giving central Oregon beer drinkers more choices than ever. It was a busy weekend in Bend, with ski season still in full swing, a large annual event called Winterfest in town, and the statewide Zwickelmania going on.
I’m a huge fan of Deschutes. I believe they execute their business model of continually expanding and improving a base lineup of solid beers in addition to working in widely-distributed special releases as well as any other brewery. When you look across their whole lineup, they are one of my favorites. Our first stop was a brewery tour at their main production brewery, which they moved most production to back in 1993. How about starting off the tour with samples of Jubel 2010, Hop Henge, and Red Chair? Yeah, not a bad way to begin. Our tour guide led us first through their 50-barrel brew house, where they brew many of their special release batches, and then on to the 131-barrel Huppmann brew system from Germany where they do most of their heavy lifting. As it was Zwickelmania weekend, there were several brewers on hand to kindly answer questions, and we were also treated to samples of the most recent batch of Abyss. Another highlight of the tour was their break/lunch room and every brewer’s favorite part of the facility: the “Shifties” room. This is where employees grab a beer at the end of their shift. I’ve been on plenty of brewery tours at smaller facilities, but it is always impressive to do a tour at a facility as large as this. If you ever head to Bend, make sure you take the time for a tour.
After exploring the town a bit, we headed out to 10 Barrel Brewing Company to see what they were doing for Zwickelmania. 10 Barrel opened as Wildfire Brewing back in 2007, and they changed their name as a result of a trademark infringement in 2008. They have purely been a production brewery with no retail tap room or brewpub, but they are now less than a week away from the grand opening on Feb 24 of a retail pub in Bend where they will pour their wares. On this visit, there was a small crowd of people speaking with one of their brewers, and…that was about it. There were no samples available (they said they just didn’t have anything to pour), and no one really said a word to us as we wandered around the brewery. Seemed a little unorganized for such a big day in the Oregon brew industry, but I guess they were probably a bit busy working on opening their new place. The most beneficial aspect of the visit was having someone point us in the direction of The Brew Shop, which is a homebrew shop that also boasts a wide-selection of bottled beer for sale and a few choice beers on tap. We were able to find the 10 Barrel “S1NISTOR” Black Ale and Apocalypse IPA in bottles there, as well as bottles from Three Creeks Brewing, which is located in Sisters, OR, and some other gems from OR that we don’t get up here in Seattle. We haven’t cracked the bottles open yet, so I still have no opinion of their beers at this point.
Next up was a trip to Bend Brewing Company, where Brewmaster Tonya Cornett was hard at work giving tours to eager Zwickelmania participants. Tonya is one of the most accomplished female brewers in the industry, and I’ll look forward to meeting her someday; she just had her hands full on this visit. Their pub was the type of place I could hang out for a whole afternoon: sports on TV, an ample list of house beers, and what looked like good food. Jeanne & I snagged a table to enjoy a sampler tray of all of their current offerings, and we were pretty impressed with the lineup. The Hop Head Imperial IPA, Elk Lake IPA, and Big Eddy Bitter were my favorites. The Outback X Old Ale and the regular Outback Old Ale were both really nice as well, and Jeanne was impressed with the Metolius Golden Ale, which is a style she doesn’t usually enjoy. This seems like a great locals bar, and you could easily kill a couple of hours here.
The perfect way to finish off our first day in Bend was to head to the original Deschutes Brewpub for dinner and beers. This is the original pub they first opened with back in 1988, and it’s got to be the busiest restaurant/bar in Bend. The place was packed with people grabbing their après-ski drinks, families with children waiting for tables, and couples cozied up to the bar. In addition to all of the usual Deschutes brews, the pub also still brews small batches in-house and there were some exciting things on tap. Of course, we ordered ourselves a sampler tray. My favorite was their Northwest Brown Ale, which is exactly what it sounds like: a very hoppy brown ale. With 71 IBUs and 6% ABV, it was the perfect mixture of slightly sweet roasted malts and big citrus hops. The combo was amazing and came out somewhere between your typical Black IPA (Cascadian Dark Ale, if you prefer) and a regular low ABV IPA. Others that impressed included the Super 7 Nitro Chocolate Session Stout made with Theo chocolate from here in Seattle, Hop in the Dark Cascadian Dark Ale, Trees of Doom Dunkel, and Plumb Bob, which was made with Willamette Valley plums. The Deschutes pub was a great experience overall. The varied selection of house beers to go along with specialties like Jubel 2010 and Hophenge was almost too much too choose from, and the food was excellent.
The next day (Happy Valentines Day!) after a worthy breakfast at the McKay Cottage Restaurant, we decided to drive up to Mt. Bachelor and check out the place out. We had thrown around the idea of skiing, but we opted not to on this trip in the end. For locals though, it must be freaking awesome to have a quality ski area just a 20 minute drive from town. After coming back down from checking out the mountain, we stopped at the Cascade Lakes Brewing Company Lodge to sample some beers. They had several seasonal beers on tap, but they limit their sample trays to just their six standard house beers, unfortunately. Of those, the 20″ Brown was probably our favorite, and the Pine Marten Pale and IPA were drinkable. But, we were far from impressed with the rest of the sampler. Overall, the beers (at least the ones we tried) just seemed uninteresting and dumbed down for mass consumption. That said, I have a sample bottle of their Imperial Stout in my fridge that I’ve been meaning to open for some time now, and I’ll hope for the best. We thought about ordering small glasses of some of their seasonals, but after not even finishing the standard lineup we decided to save our sobriety.
After visiting Winterfest and heading out for a beautiful hike (once again, very close to town) near Tumalo Falls, we made a visit to Silver Moon Brewing, which is a small brewpub located in downtown Bend. The pub was a very unassuming place inside and out, but the sampler tray we split was pretty impressive. They had a version of their Snake Bite Porter brewed with chocolate for Valentines Day, and it was one of the best chocolate beers I’ve ever had. I’m not sure how they imparted the chocolate in the brew, but it felt like I was drinking porter mixed with chocolate sauce. The 4.5% ABV Hounds Tooth Amber is an impressive session beer that manages to pack in a good dose of hops for such a low ABV. The Hop Knob IPA was a solid NW IPA that was more balanced than big. The only beer that I wasn’t a fan of was their Badlands ESB.
Later that night we headed for a special Valentines Day dinner at Zydeco, which turned out to be a perfect place for a memorable evening. In addition to an enjoyable meal, they had a small but solid tap list and I snagged a stout that was either from Silver Moon or Bend Brewing, but it was a beer that we had not seen at either pub in our earlier visits.
If you have not visited Bend yourself, I’d highly suggest taking the time. If you are into outdoor sports, you could go any time of the year and make a great trip out of the beer and sporting options available.