The Beer of Bend, OR

28 May

I am pretty lucky to live in Portland, Oregon…especially when it comes to beer.  There are a plethora of taphouses, bottle shops, and breweries to choose from any day of the week.  A trip to the coast and its myriad brewpubs is only about an hour from my front door.  The same goes for Hood River and its breweries/pubs.  It would take some time to work your way through all of them, and lord knows I have been making the effort to.

The one part of the state that I had yet to visit for a beer-related trip was Bend.  At just over 3 hours away, it’s not exactly a there-and-back day trip.  So when I was recently presented with the opportunity to enhance my professional knowledge and network with various members of my chosen field in Bend at a statewide conference, my first thought was: Hell yeah! It’s time to drink some beer!

No trip to Bend would be complete without a stop at the Deschutes Brewpub in Downtown Bend.  Miranda and I decided to have lunch here and partake in a few beers on our way into town for the conference.  I have always liked Deschutes seasonals and occasional one-offs, so this seemed like a good time to drop in and see what was available.  Alas, I was distracted by something shiny and ended up having a couple of year-round beers.  I hadn’t had the Chainbreaker White IPA yet, and it intrigued me, so I gave it a shot.  This is going to be a year-round addition to the Deschutes portfolio, and a review I read recently had piqued my interest.  This is a well made Wit, for sure.  They can call it a White IPA and market the hell out of it that way, but it really is just a Wit.  No judgement regarding how good the beer was, but this is no IPA.  It was all coriander, orange, etc.  My second brew was the Bachelor Bitter.  Apparently you can only get this at the brewpub in Bend…and they had it on cask.  What’s a man to do in a situation like this except enjoy a nice Bitter.  The way it was meant to be drank.  I love the softness of a cask bitter, and I could have easily parked it there and had 3-4 more.

Immediately following lunch, we found ourselves on a bus to Sun River…that was an error on our part, and I won’t say it was the beers that caused that little snafu, but it’s possible they contributed to us not fully paying attention.  After rectifying that mistake and finding our shuttle buses, we found ourselves on a walking tour  along Galveston Street.  The City of Bend and a dedicated group of private citizens are doing their best to leverage existing businesses and the traffic along the street to revitalize the corridor for everyone.  It was an interesting tour that was peppered with lively conversation about what makes a place a place…but enough of that planner talk.  At the end of the walk we found ourselves staring directly at the front doors of 10 Barrel Brewing.  Now my experience with 10 Barrel is limited.  I have had next to none of their beers and my lone nugget of knowledge regarding the place is that they had recently hired Shawn Kelso, formerly of Barley Brown’s in Baker City and Tanya Cornett of Bend Brewing Company to come in and work on recipe development/brewing/pub openings.

I have to say that I was fired up to taste these beers.  Everyone I know likes 10 Barrel and they have quite the dedicated following in Bend (according to the locals anyway).  It was a beautiful day, warm and sunny, and the patio was wide open for seating, so I decided to start off with their CDA.  A good place to start, right?  If a brewery is all about brewing big, unique, and tasty beers then you might as well test that against their CDA.  I gotta say…it didn’t quite live up to the hype (one of their bartenders was all too eager to tell me that this beer won Gold at GABF three years ago).  I was expecting some hop punch to balance out the roasted malts and big body of the beer…but it fell flat.  That’s ok, though.  I followed this beer up with their Palesner (I’ll give you one guess as to the mix of styles here), which I was told was a Tanya Cornett brew.  Seeing as how the day was warm and sunny, this was probably the beer I should have started with anyway.  It was a gorgeous yellow straw color and it had all the nose and taste of a good Pilsner, but with a slight uptick in the hop department at the end.  Reminded me of the Victory Prima Pils, a beer that I absolutely adore.  This was a summer patio beer if ever there was one.

We managed to make it back to 10 Barrel the next day so Michael could partake (he came into town a day later than us), and I saddled up to the bar to try their Oregon Brown.  I have always been a fan of a hoppy brown, and I assumed the word Oregon in front of Brown indicated that was what I was getting.  That’s what it was alright, but the beer was pretty aggressively hopped, and the malts were not given the opportunity to do their job in terms of balance.  It wasn’t bad, per se, but it didn’t hold a candle to the Good Life 29’er Brown Ale I had the night before (see Miranda’s post for that one).  Since the temperature was dropping outside and I had really had enough of the hops at this point, I decided to close out the night at 10 Barrel with a Pray For Snow Strong Ale.  This little heathen was aged for four months in Brandy barrels and it was a great finish to a somewhat average experience at 10 Barrel.  The beer was big, dark, and very complex.  The brandy came through at times, and as it warmed all the flavors of raisins, dates, and other wintery baking tastes came to life.  Even though it was a fairly big beer, it didn’t overwhelm in the alcohol department and I had a great feeling of satisfaction when I finished it.  Although I wasn’t blow away by 10 Barrel, I think Tanya and Shawn are really going to do wonders for their beers going forward.  I am excited to come back later this year and see how/if things have progressed.

A late-night stop at Silver Moon Brewing was fairly uneventful on the beer-side of things.  I ordered the Hopnob IPA and was underwhelmed by its aroma and flavor.  It could have been that it was the end of a really big beer day, or it could have been the incredibly terrible band that was playing.  It might have even been the hippie girls dancing without any shoes and then casually walking back to the bathroom without a care in the world.  Whatever the case, Silver Moon didn’t impress and the place felt more like a weekend dive along Sandy Boulevard than a brewpub.  In hindsight, if I had read their website before going, I might have anticipated the live music and been more prepared for the screeching that greeted me.  I realize that one trip does not make for a good sample size, so I will give them another shot the next time I am in town.  They had an ESB on the menu that I would like to taste, but that was blown at the time.

We managed to make it to Bend Brewing both Friday and Saturday.  On Friday it was for lunch, and on Saturday we received a full brewery tour.  Michael will have a post regarding that tour and some of the beers up later in the week, so I won’t go into too much detail about it here.  Suffice it to say, I enjoyed a Metolius Golden Ale with my lunch there on Friday and a TNT Russian Imperial Stout during the tour.  I finished it all up on Saturday with two pints of Ching Ching, their Gold Medal Winner in the American Sour Category at the 2012 World Beer Cup.  I am sure Michael will have something to say about Ching Ching, but I just wanted to quickly give it a huge thumbs up.  The beer was an intense pink-red color (from the hibiscus and pomegranate used in the brew) and was incredibly balanced for a sour.  Most sours just smack me in the face, but this started off gently on my palate and worked its magic over a longer period of time in my mouth.  I ended up buying six bottles before I left, as the brewery is sure to be running out of this beer soon.

Finally, I spent a little time at Boneyard Brewing before leaving town.  Boneyard is really all about production, as they only have a small tasting room that has limited hours.  The place is tucked back into a residential neighborhood and has a really cool feel to it.  The vibe was a bit like I expected: kind of punk rock with a good dose of Boneyard branding mixed in everywhere you looked.  They also had a lot of 3 Floyd’s Brewery stuff up on the walls, so I’m not sure what the connection is there.  The servers behind the tasting bar were extremely friendly and accommodating of all the people that were trying to squeeze in for a sip or two.  The flight of tasters was $3 for four 3 oz pours, which I thought was a deal.

They had four beers on tap, the worst of which was the first one I had, The Girl Beer AKA “The Beermosa”.  They bill this beer as a Cherry Wheat, but all I tasted was the wheat.  What a bread bomb.  Michael said he could detect a slight hint of Marachino cherry, but I think he was just being generous.  This was not a beer I would drink again.  Maybe some girls like it, but if this is what you are marketing to the ladies, then I think you do them a disservice.  The second beer was their Black 13, which was labeled as a Black Ale.  More like a hopped-up Porter to both Michael and I, it too was not all that great.

We moved on to the RPM IPA next, which was one of the two best IPAs I had on the trip.  I have always liked this beer and order it often when they have it at the Horse Brass on Wednesday nights.  The smell was all piney and sticky and the flavors just backed that up.  A solid west coast IPA.  And the final beer in the series was, of course, the Hop Venom.  This is a serious Double IPA.  One of the better ones in Oregon, in my opinion.  Big, bold, and a total hop bomb.  I love this beer…of course, I can usually only love one imperial pint of it before being overwhelmed, but I love every minute of that pint.  So 2 for 4 at Boneyard, which was not a complete loss.  Plus the conversation with one of the bartenders was lively and engaging as we discussed the merits of cider and Bushwhackers here in Portland.  They clearly love what they are doing at Boneyard and some of their beers are world class.  I recommend everyone check out the tasting room if they have the time to seek it out.

All-in-all, I have to say that I was really impressed with the beers and breweries in Bend.  I might have gone in with some Portland bias, but I am glad I got a chance to experience most of what the beer scene has to offer.  From the old guard of Deschutes and Bend Brewing to the newbies of Good Life and Boneyard, there are many talented people brewing beer in Bend, and apparently many more to come.

With about 9 breweries in the greater Bend area, there is talk that the number could swell to 19 by the end of the year.  19!  Bend clearly supports craft beer, and with numbers like that you have to think Portland can also continue to support more breweries in the coming years.  I guess we’ll see if we can keep up!  3 hour drive or not, Bend is worth your time if you want to try some great beer in another part of the state.

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