Tackling Bend, Oregon’s Ale Trail
If no one in Bend, Oregon, can give you an exact number of breweries in or near town, it’s because no sooner do they have a head count than another brewery opens up.
Set against the Cascade Mountains in Central Oregon, the high desert town of Bend has a population only a hair north of 80,000, but the brewery population currently stands at 15 (counting one opening in two months, but not counting one set to open a few months later that has already broken ground.) And lest you think one brewery for every 5,500 residents is too much and they must be oversaturated, almost half of the breweries have just completed or are in the process of expanding, sometimes more than five-fold.
Oh yeah, Bend is gorgeous and quaint as can be. You could come here and never drink a drop of local brew and still start scheming about moving here.
Cradled between the Cascade Mountains and Eastern Oregon’s high desert, Bend is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts like rock climbers, rafters, hikers, mountain bikers, skiers, and fishermen. But make no mistake about it—brewery hopping is its own sport here.
The largest and oldest brewery in town is Deschutes (1044 NW Bond St.), founded in 1988. It began in the Old Town area as a brewpub that has grown into the sixth largest craft brewery in the country with a production plant located not far away on its namesake river (901 SW Simpson Ave.). Free tours are offered (and I highly recommend them).
Until its recent expansion, long lines were commonplace at the Deschutes Brewpub in this town where families flock to places like this. The best part, aside from the wide-ranging menu that’s agreeable to carnivores and vegetarians and even those who are gluten-free (including some of the brews!), is you can enjoy plenty of pub-only offerings too. I loved trying a Pinot barrel-aged rendition of their winter seasonal, Jubelale, a wonderful “big” beer. I loved even more that their old British-style Extra Special Bitter—Bachelor ESB—is still available despite having fallen out of their production portfolio.
Incidentally, a two-minute walk west of the pub is Bend Brewing (1019 NW Brooks St.). It’s right on the river, making the back patio the place to be in the summer. It’s open and brewing year-round and visiting in colder months necessitates quaffing the bone-warming (and medal-winning) Hop Head Imperial IPA.
But I’m jumping ahead. My wife, Half Pint, and I actually saved Deschutes for last. Our first stop before even checking into our hotel—Mt. Bachelor Village named for its proximity to the local ski mountain/volcano—was Boneyard Brewing (37 NW Lake Pl, Ste B) in the industrial part of town. There’s no pub, but there’s a tasting room where you can sample, drink a pint, or take home a refillable growler. Hurry in while you can because, despite only opening nearly two years ago (making them veterans, I joked to two of the partners), they’re already moving into a bigger brewhouse to meet demand from outside the area.
Most of Boneyard’s beers are “big” in that they’re high in alcohol a la Hop Venom, a super hoppy Imperial IPA (8% alcohol by volume) and Shug Knite, an Imperial Stout that vacillates between 12-14% ABV. But they’re not all strong, bitter beers. The tongue-in-chick named Girl Beer and Femme Fatale are lower alcohol wheat beers with fruit flavors like cherry and raspberry, respectively. The latter is still 6.5% (hence the fatale). And I’m man enough to have enjoyed them immensely.
In need of some grub to wash down our beers, we visited 10 Barrel Brewing(1135 NW Galveston Ave.) for dinner. This family-friendly (and dog-friendly, provided you sit in the patio replete with fire pit) brewpub is so popular, it’s actually expanding into a 50 barrel brewery (a name change is not forthcoming).
Many of 10 Barrel’s regular beers can be found in 22-ounce bombers such as their Apocalypse IPA and a lower-alcohol version I’m partial to called ISA (an IPA is an India Pale Ale, so an ISA is the new name for India Session Ale, meaning it has all the hops and a portion of the booze content). So Half Pint and I both opted for pub-only offerings. You can find their “S1n1st0r” Black Ale in bottles (and draft of course), but I ordered the Lavendar-infused S1n1st0r. It’s a difficult beer to pair with food, but has a very intriguing flavor—not unlike drinking a roasty Schwarzbier sitting in a tub filled with bath oil. My wife ordered the Triple Chocolate Stout, an insanely tasty chocolaty beer further ameliorated by a nitro tap, meaning instead of having large carbonation bubbles, it has smaller nitrogenated bubbles lending a ceaselessly smooth mouthfeel, without being too sweet. As for supper, we each went piggy: me with the flatiron pork topped with ISA apple chutney and her with the BBQ pork using their S1n1st0r Black BBQ sauce. Alas, we were too stuffed for dessert.
Come morning, we headed straight to the Victorian Café (1404 NW Galveston Ave.) known by all in town as “The Vic.” A general rule with breakfast spots is if there’s a line, it’s worth it. There was a long line.
Once seated, I spotted the Benedict special of the day (delectably gluttonous duck medallions on a potato pancake with Dubliner cheese with a bed of house made pineapple chutney, topped with eggs and a roasted onion Hollandaise and housemade apple sauce on the side). When I asked if I even needed to open the menu, our charming waitress responded, “Negative Ghostrider.” Half Pint’s Greek-style potato dish was equally incredible.
From there, we waddled with the wild geese around Harmon Park along a bend in the river. It’s right at the foot of Old Town and we did some window shopping along Wall and Bond streets, the two main roads with shops and cafes aplenty.
There are a few more breweries on the Bend Ale Trail, as well as a few that don’t have public tasting rooms that aren’t on it, but I wanted to save some for our return visit (as soon as possible). So last on the brewery-hopping agenda was the newly-opened GoodLife (1355 SW Commerce Ave.) Replete with a bierhall inside and a biergarten outside (weather-permitting), there are many taps but only five house beers. Yes, they’re happy to serve other quality beers from friends in the industry.
I opted for the tasting flight and was impressed that all five are pitch-perfect representations of their style. My favorite was Mountain Rescue Pale Ale, their flagship beer, and an easy-drinking 4.5 percent alcohol by volume. Borrowing a technique called “hop bursting” popularized by lauded brewmaster Matt Brynildson from Firestone-Walker in Central California, the beers are imbued with smooth, even, Goldilocks-style hop character. As for the food options, while it’s heavy on Germanic munchies, the hummus plate was awesome, in no small part thanks to the generous dousing of creamy hummus with house-infused olive oil, where Galaxy hops are the infusion. Finally, a hummus for hop heads.
A Favorite Restaurant-of-All Time
Based on many jaw-dropping recommendations, that night for dinner we splurged at Ariana (1304 NW Galveston Ave.). It immediately catapulted onto our favorite-restos-of-all-time list. They could do no wrong, including the very attentive and friendly staff swearing that our mildly fussy baby wasn’t a bother. In fact, even our fellow patrons were hospitable.
Ariana offers fancy food without an ounce of pretension. Half Pint ordered the ravioli special and I got the NY steak, perfected with caramelized onions and escorted by truffled frites and bacony Brussels sprouts. We compelled ourselves to save just enough room for the killer molten chocolate cake. Ariana offers a stellar wine-list because man cannot live on beer alone…unless you give it a good effort.
Our last day in Bend, we drove “far to the other side of town” for breakfast at McKay Cottage (62910 O B Riley Rd., #340). We went, in part, because of its reputation for cinnamon rolls, but once inside, we were greeted by a bakery case that boasted a carrot-cake muffin (cream cheese frosting and all) and devoured that as our “appetizer.” Apparently I had an appetite for the tri tip hash because there wasn’t a speck left on the plate. It came topped with chipotle Hollandaise (if you’re on vacation or a beercation, don’t count calories!). Undoubtedly, our next trip to Bend will command an encore visit to this breakfast goldmine.
It’s a four hour drive back to Bend, but considering the previous days had a fair amount of wind and snow, I couldn’t let the sun-drenched peak of Mt. Bachelor go appreciated merely from afar. Armed with a day pass and a pair of fatboy skis from the demo shop that lured me into believing I could ski ample fresh powder, I giggled down the slopes, incredulous at such a perfect day on the mountain. Well, I giggled some and I grunted some—the powder makes you work for each turn, but the glorious vistas and healthy fun made it more than worthwhile. The mountain truly offers terrain for all skiing levels from bunny slopes to double black diamond runs across the entire backside. And with tree-lined runs at the bottom and spacious bowls atop, I was smiling in my sleep as Half Pint took the first shift on the drive home.
– Story and photos by Brian Yeager, RFT Contributor and Beer Expert
For more information about visiting Central Oregon, check out www.visitcentraloregon.com
Read about Brian’s beer adventure in Astoria too.