Monday, July 15, 2013

MY BEND, OREGON BEER BLOWOUT (AND OTHER TRAVELS)

Last week the family and I completed a much-anticipated trip up the Northern California and Oregon coast and then eastward into Bend, Oregon. We love Bend. If there were jobs there for me, we might even live there right now. It's a beautiful, clean, healthy, safe, active town, with great restaurants, cultural amenities, terrific weather and every outdoor activity known to man - from skiing in the winter to biking, running, boating, whitewater rafting, rock climbing and on and on and on. More germane to Beer Samizdat readers, it has the highest per-capita number of breweries in the United States, and possibly on the planet. 80,000 people live in Bend - and there are barely any suburbs - and yet there are 14 (!) breweries. Good beer is woven tightly and inextricably into the culture and fabric of this place.

When we came here in 2011 I was just starting to understand how rich a beer town this place was; I bought several bottles to take home at the Newport Avenue Market; drank some good ales at dinner wherever we happened to be, and got taken to the Deschutes Brewing pub by my wife and son, bless 'em. This time I did my homework, and was more, uh, "deliberate" in my beer-related activities. Here are some of the highlights of my spelunking, both in Bend and up and down Oregon and California:

THE BEND BREW BUS

One of the things every article about Bend mentions is its beer culture; the other is the fact that you can reserve a spot on the daily "Brew Bus" via Wanderlust Tours, and they'll come pick you up at your hotel or home and drive you around to four different breweries in town, complete with tours, instruction and plenty of beer. Naturally, I planned my trip wisely so I could take a sojourn on one of these, and it was a heck of a good time. The trip lasts 4-ish hours, though the breweries are sort of determined ad hoc, like that week, based on who's open, who's brewing and who's accepting tours. 

We were taken to, in order, SILVER MOON BREWING; CRUX FERMENTATION PROJECT; CASCADE LAKES BREWING and McMENAMIN'S HOTEL & BREWERY. Each visit had its purpose. At Silver Moon there wasn't a bunch of drinking (I tried little glasses of a decent IPA, amber and pilsner), but it's where we got to get some instruction on how beer is made from our guide, a sharp and knowledgeable home brewer and pro tour guide whose name I'm blanking on right now. Let's call him "Kyle" - he looked like a Kyle. Anyway, even this old hand learned a few things, especially about the malting process. I was a little bummed, however, that this wasn't looking like much a "drinking" trip so far......thankfully I was wrong.

CRUX FERMENTATION PROJECT was started by Larry Sidor, former head brewer at Deschutes. I reckoned this place was going to be the highlight of the day, and without question, it was. A beautiful brewery, basically an open warehouse and tasting bar with a stunning view of the snow-capped mountains, with an attentive staff and fantastic beer of all stripes. The samples they gave us were terrific, and we had enough time here to order our own beers and sit & gab. I had an outstanding imperial IPA called "The French Connection" - supremely thirst-quenching (it was nearly 100 degrees outside) while being a pleasing tongue-bruiser as well. Not easy to pull off.

CASCADE LAKES BREWING was where we snacked and cooled off; I've had their beer before, and it's "decent enough". We ended with a tour of a hotel operator by McMENAMIN'S BREWING, who operate similiar hotels throughout the northwest; this one ("Old St. Francis Pub & Brewery") was housed in an old schoolhouse, and was decorated with tons of antiquities and quirk. The beer wasn't half bad either; the picture you see here are two of their beer tanks. I'd probably rate their beer second-best of the day, but it was Crux that stole the day, hands-down. I walked out of the latter with two bottles as well, with "special labels that are only on bottles purchased at the pub". Wheee!

INDIA PALE ALE MANIA

Maybe it was the weather, maybe it was being back in the Northwest - sort of - which is where I discovered the IPA in the late 90s when I lived in Seattle - but man, I was just in a mood for the India Pale Ale on this trip. Other than the aforementioned Bend Brew Bus, I limited myself to a single ale per night during the trip, and most of those nights were filled with IPAs. My first was the pictured REDWOOD CURTAIN IPA, consumed in the hippie town of Arcata, CA, where it was made, and where we spend the first night of the trip. It's a frothy, hoppy, quite excellent drink that I was proud to score an 8/10

Next was a BONEYARD BREWING "RPM IPA", which was a little sweeter than I usually like but was a nice tongue-coaster in any case. That's from Bend as well, and rated a 7/10. I loved one that you and I can get pretty easily now in bottles and on draft, but which just came out this summer - DESCHUTES BREWING's "Fresh Squeezed IPA", which was so good I drank two big pints of it bang-bang (honey, you mind driving tonight?) at a restaurant in Bend, where it was made, of course (Deschutes is the original and most famous brewer in town by a mile). 8.5/10

There was that bottle of CRUX FERMENTATION PROJECT's "Insider IPA", an aromatic, highly carbonated hop bomb with pineapple flavor and tons of juice, along with a perfect dry backbite. Oh - and 9% alcohol. I'd already had their Double IPA back at the pub, and this delicious tropical "single" was just as good. 8.5/10 as well. Finally, there was the bottle pictured at the very top of the post from Sister, Oregon's THREE CREEKS BREWING - a rye IPA called "RAPTOR RYE IPA". A bit of a letdown after the wallopers I'd had earlier on the trip; mellow and thin, heavy on the barley and much thinner on the rye than I'd hoped and expected. Too plain to be anything special. 6/10.

THE BROKEN TOP BOTTLE SHOP


I won't go into any detail on the mediocre honey pale ale I had on the way home from California's FEATHER RIVER BREWING, nor the halfway decent hefeweizen I had in Florence, Oregon from ROGUE BREWING. Instead, I'll tell you about the coup de grace of the Bend portion of the trip, my trip to the BROKEN TOP BOTTLE SHOP, a superb beer store and bar a la my local City Beer Store in San Francisco. I chose not to drink there - it was 1 in the afternoon, and I'm not an alcoholic - but I certainly lightened my wallet. I almost started crying when I got to the coolers. There were things on, on, on, on - my list! My "beers to find" list! Beer from The Commons Brewery; Logsdon Farmhouse Ales; 10 Barrel Brewing and more found their way to my cart, and it was only common decency and fear of shaming by my wife and son that kept me from buying more. It's the sort of bottle shop Bend needs and deserves. I hear there's actually another beer store in town that's nearly as good. 

Hey, listen, I'm not sure I want everyone to discover Bend just yet, because it's sort of our secret, but if you promise to be good out there and "leave no trace", then well, I reckon you probably ought to visit it too. Tell 'em Beer Samizdat sent ya.

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