Monday, July 1, 2013

The Bends! Hitting The Bend Ale Trail

Our first full day in Bend awoke with a whimper, having slept in after a long and arduous previous day.  Or perhaps that was just me.  At the McMenamins St. Francis School they freshly grind their house roasted coffee and place it in a packet outside your door for use in the room coffee maker.  I could get used to that kind of treatment!  I could also have used about three more packets this particular morning.  Feeling as if I should remove my six-guns, boots and Stetson hat, I took advantage of one of the two large claw-foot tubs in our enormous bathroom, feeling slightly sorry for the folks occupying the rooms with shared bathrooms.  But not that sorry. 

After we had again donned our human skins, Sj and I went for a walk through the quiet Drake Park and beyond on our quest to find good beer in Bend.  The city really knows what it is doing when fostering beer tourism: they have a Bend Ale Trail map and smart phone app for finding and logging in your visits to the 10 different breweries in the city.  When you hit all 10 you can stop by the visitor center and get a free mini silicone pint glass.  I'm totally handing mine out to the next person to break a glass at one of our brewclub be warned those with clumsy sausage fingers!  Our first stop that morning was 10 Barrel Brewing, known for attractive waitresses (per the Ale Trail quiz results on my app) and good food based on the Internet.  Both sources were correct.  The tasting room seems industrial and modern at the same time, using heavy woods and stainless steel with abandon.  The chairs were so heavy that even my massive physique could barely move them.  The beer sampler came in a very unique stainless steel tray that was a work of art in itself.  This place reminded me a lot of Dangerous Man Brewing back home in Minneapolis.  All the beers were good; focus on the hoppy.  Apparently the brewers made a cross between a grapefruit soda and a Berliner Weisse and called it Swill.  Hearing a waitress walk by a table in a craft brewery and ask someone, "How's that Swill treating you?" was unexpected.  I really liked that beer, but my family later tried it and thought I was insane.  They also had a great schwarzbier.  The fish and chips were nice and Sj's smoked BBQ sandwich (sauce made with the schwarzbier) was also worth a visit for lunch.  They have a big smoker out on the patio that was gearing up for the day's work.

After our very nice early lunch and beer sampler we walked across the Deschutes River, a neighborhood, and a large parking lot in the middle of desert scrubland, to find the Deschutes Brewery.  I had been meaning to just get there to take some pictures and see the swag shop, but we hit it at just the right time to sign up for the 1 PM tour.  The tasting room, and swag shop is too small for these guys!  You get 4 samples with your tour (or just if you stop by) and we were lucky enough that one of the employees cracked a bottle of the special smoked porter for us to try.  The staff here were crazy nice and helpful, I can't say enough about it!  This place has a ton of logo'd items: golf balls, hats, canoe paddles, longboards, etc.  I'm surprised I didn't see a Deschutes kayak.  I picked up a mini tap handle for my nitro tap at home and a cool hoody because I'm a sucker for merch. 

The tour itself was about 45 minutes, and very nice, but a bit long.  I've just been on too many of these I think.  We did get to hear the cool story of how the massive brew kettles required that the state police block off the entire highway through the mountains to get them up to Bend...for several nights in a row!  In the staff break room, they have taps and everyone gets a free pint after their shift is done.  Nice perk!  In the offices, they have the framed artwork from each year's Jubelale Christmas beer lined up.  One in particular had actually taken about a hundred of the previous labels and made an insanely complicated collage...I've seen that label on the bottle but never realized how much work went into the design!  By the time we were finished with the tour, we were behind on our schedule, so let go of the last few samples coming to us in the tasting room and got on our merry way.

Taking another walk across town we ended up in a shabby warehouse district near the train tracks, down a long driveway marked as "Private Road Do NOT Enter!"  Past some razor wire flapping with shredded plastic bags, chain-link fence, abandoned warehouses and a storage facility, we came upon our goal: Crux Fermentation Project.  This is the brewery where former Deschutes brewer, Larry Sidor, went after leaving.  All the beer geeks in Portland and Bend we talked to pointed us this way as the "happening" or next big thing in local brewing.  The brewery is set up to allow for decoction mashing, open fermentation, wild yeasts and barrel aging, so they are really trying a lot of techniques here.  I can see why Sidor wanted to get away from the massive batch mechanical brewing of Deschutes for a more hands-on approach.  They had 15 different beers on tap, and our sampler was served in a cool tray made of a branded barrel stave.

I love the branding (both the design of the logo and the actual hot poker branding of the wood in this place.)  All of the beers here were good, but not quite as impressive as I'd been expecting.  A mosaic hop DIPA was really interesting, but I think I just don't like that hop based on the few beers I've had that are made with it.  They had a Flanders Red, but it wasn't really sour...apparently this is the base beer that is going to go in barrels for a year.  I guess I need to go back!  Beer geeks love this place, and as a whole they do a great job. 

Our next walking stop was Boneyard Brewing.  Located in an older neighborhood at the end of a street near the highway, this brewery is located in what looks like a 1960's house with attached garage.  The brewery is in the garage and the fermentation is inside the main building.  The garage door was open and I could see the cobbled together ghetto system inside.  The tasting room is the size of a household guest bedroom, walls coated in nick-nacks as well as the black, red and white tattoo style artwork for the beer labels. There is a tiny bar where you are served samples and pay by Square on an iPad.  The two folks working the counter were a bit goth/hipster and really nice.  When we first arrived, there was a beer-bus full of college guys taking up the entire tasting room but luckily they were on the way out.  The beers here were of amazing quality despite the ramshackle appearance of the brewery, including one of the best IPAs I had in Oregon.  Proof that all you need is a good brewer who knows his system to make amazing beer.  One of the best beers I had on this trip was the Diablo Rojo, a habanero infused version of their hoppy red ale--so hot but so flavorful.  I had also had their incredible triple IPA at Apex in Portland, so I think these guys are the ones to watch.  They seem to strike the same hard-nosed metal pose that Surly has done so well with, and also put out a suitably impressive line up of beers.  I'll be shocked if they haven't expanded into a larger brewery within a year or two. 

Now we were in a time crunch, could we hit one more brewery before my cousin tied the knot?  Of course!  We walked to Silver Moon, a brewery located not far from Boneyard along a highway.  Walking in, the place feels like an old sports bar (TV's on the walls, pool table, truck-stop style counter) but with some hop and brewery murals on the walls.  I like the reflective tap handles a lot.  The beers here were all decent, but not stellar.  The best ones they had on this visit were the extremes:  the kolsch was spot on; and the bourbon barrel aged strong ale Demolition Man was one of the only barrel aged beers I had in Bend.  Most of the hoppy beers in between just didn't stand out enough for me after being to so many breweries on the trip so far.  Not a bad place, and probably overlooked by the serious beer traveler. 

After our lightning trip to Silver Moon, we walked briskly back toward our hotel, but discovered a very cool bead shop on the way back.  Since Sj had been so patient with all my beer travel, we made sure to stop here for a bit and stocked up on some local artisan glass for future earring projects.  We made it to the site of Ladd and Jennie's wedding, at a small park alongside a pretty pond.  The weather was getting a bit chilly and overcast and poor Jennie was shivering during the ceremony, but at the exact second that they were pronounced married a warm ray of sun broke out and highlighted the two of them.  Very cool special effect Ladd, how did you do that????    In proper homebrewer fashion, Ladd had three of his own beers on tap, and the session Wedding Ale wonderful.  I enjoyed it more than many of the other "session IPA" beers I had all over Oregon, and probably need to steal the recipe from him.  We appreciate being invited to this special day and getting such a good excuse to finally travel out to Oregon again.

Arty shot of the wedding location!

After the fairly short wedding and dinner at the park, we dragged my cousin Brian to Bend Brewing with us.  This brewery has won several awards at GABF in the past, so I was excited to try it out.  The place certainly had a late 80's or early 90's brewpub feel to it.  The brewery itself is visible through some smudged windows on the second floor and is quite small.  We shared the sampler of 10 beers between the three of us.  All the beers were good, with no stinkers, but none of them really stood out to me.  The favorite of the group was the red ale.  Overall I was a little disappointed, but this was far from the worst brewery we were to visit in Bend.  I can't speak to the food here since we were still full from our free dinner.

Finishing up at Bend brewing, we walked back toward our hotel and stopped in for a drink at the Deschutes Bond Street Brewpub since Brian hadn't been there yet.  I ordered a pint of the Fresh Squeezed since I had already tried all the beers there yesterday and that one was my favorite.  I really like this pub and would spend a lot of time here if I had the chance!  After our brief stop here, we headed to our home base and settled into their bar.  Once more we split a beer sampler to finish up the night.  The McMenamins sites are a bit of a joke around the brewing and beer geek community as having poor service and mediocre to lousy beer, but this sampler was good!  The IPA and porter especially stood out to me, and both were better than all the beers we had at Bend Brewing.  Whoever is brewing for this particular McMenamins knows what he is doing.  Our server also knew a lot about the beers and was able to give good descriptions of them.  The next day we took a trip into the basement and took a look at the tiny ghetto brew system there.  Rather than the usual boring stainless steel, the kettle and fermenters are all painted and trippy looking, but I couldn't get a great picture through the window down there. 

And that is one day in Bend.  I'm sure there is other stuff to do in or around town...but why bother when there are so many great breweries to visit?  Stay tuned for my final day in Bend and details on even more breweries!

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