“New Year’s in Oregon” is the latest episode of One Pint at a Time.
With a German trip derailed by high airfares, we needed to come up with plan B. The quick and easy choice was the budding beer mecca of Bend, Oregon. Closing out 2011 in Central Oregon, we each visited our 666th brewery, enjoyed a rainy, then snowy Bend Urban Beer Hike and endured a seemingly fruitless quest for tater tots.
So enjoy our latest beer adventures in Oregon…
For all the episodes of One Pint at a Time go to beergeekTV.
With the scuttling of our New Year’s trip to Germany, Merideth and I searched for a new city to welcome in 2012. The key requirement for our new destination was lots of breweries we hadn’t visited. With almost a dozen years since our last visit, Bend, OR was a good choice. With its exploding beer scene, there were plenty of new breweries to add to The List.
With most of these breweries centrally located, Bend was excellent for a walking beer tour. The forecast for rain and chilly temperatures didn’t deter Merideth and I setting out from our riverside hotel late morning on the eve of New Year’s Eve. The day’s Urban Beer Hike would be comprised of seven stops and follow a giant loop that ended downtown. As we passed through Bend’s downtown into the Old Town Historic District, we were pleasantly surprised by the appearance of the warm sun.
Our first destination, Boneyard Beer, was located on the edge of the historic district. Boneyard was easy to pick out amongst the old bungalows, as it looked conspicuously like a former auto body shop. Arriving a few minutes shy of opening time, Merideth and I enjoyed a bit of sun therapy in the chilly air.
Walking into the tiny tasting room, the first thing we noticed was the unique beer dispensing system. The beer cooler, covered with beer stickers, was one of those chest-style freezers that opens from the top. Tap fittings protruded from the sides and restaurant bus trays served as drip pans.
After the long drive from Eugene, beer was a very welcome sight. Their first offering was Femme Fatale, which had the apropos nickname of “the breakfast beer.” A wild ale with raspberries, Femme Fatale had a pleasant sourness. Next up was Backbone, a Chocolate Expresso Stout. Merideth likened it to iced coffee. After a Red Ale, we finished with the star for me and candidate for beer of the trip. Hop Venom Imperial IPA, 80 IBU, 10% ABV, was a hop monster.
Though we would see more of them later in the day, new to us at Boneyard were “growlerettes,” 32 ounce bottles. Both Merideth and I felt we HAD to have one. I was transfixed because the half-sized growler was, in my mind, a great beer innovation. Merideth wanted one because she thought the Boneyard skull and crossbones logo made the bottle look like some old time cure-all medicine.
If Merideth had her choice, the growlerette would have been filled with the Chocolate Expresso Stout. My choice would have been Hop Venom. Showing what 22 years of marriage has taught us, we compromised and bought the Femme Fatale.
In our short time at Boneyard, the sun had disappeared and black clouds menaced in the vicinity. Our next destination was in the Old Mill District, whose tell-tale three smokestacks we could see off in the distance. A few minutes into the mile-long leg, a cold rain began to fall, causing Merideth and I to quicken our pace.
Old Mill Brew Werks was located in a series of office buildings set off from the main shopping area of the Old Mill District. Arriving slightly damp, we were happy not only to get out of the rain but also to get some food, as we hadn’t really eaten yet that day.
Old Mill Brew Werks had ten taps but only two dispensed house-brewed beer. Merideth ordered the Paranoia Pale Ale, while I, true to form, went with the Irreverence IPA. I pity the beer that followed Hop Venom and Brew Werks IPA was that beer. A nice IPA, but it paled in comparison to my early contender for beer of trip.
With some food and more beer in our bellies, we were ready to brave the elements again. Similar to our previous leg, we could see our third destination, the Deschutes production brewery across the Deschutes River. Donning our rain coats, hats and gloves, we set out again.
When we traveled to Bend in 1999, Deschutes’ downtown brewpub was one of the two breweries we visited. For the Urban Beer Hike, I was somewhat ambivalent about visiting Deschutes again. I enjoy their beer but figured there wouldn’t be anything I couldn’t get at home. Then I remembered an important Urban Beer Hike rule: always build pee stops into the hike.
Deschutes’ location on the road to the ski slopes guaranteed a large crowd. And crowded it was. The somewhat large tasting room and gift shop was packed with vacationers, some tasting beer while others milled around waiting for a tour. Large groups would disappear into the back for the tour and instantly be replaced by an equal number or more. Merideth and I grabbed a tiny corner of the bar in the corner of the room to enjoy our taster set.
I was hoping for some special one-off brews, but as expected, it was the standard Deschutes lineup (which was not a bad thing). We drank brewery-fresh versions of old standbys such a Mirror Pond Pale Ale and Black Butte Porter. One of the treats of the stop was Red Chair IPA, a really nice IPA that we don’t often see in our neck of the woods. Plus, I got a glass of the much-sought-after The Abyss, probably my last taste of this year’s version.
Leaving Deschutes, the rain had slackened but we noticed that it had gotten markedly colder while we were inside. The walk to Good Life Brewing was one of the shorter segments of the day but halfway there, it began to snow. And I had my first panic attack of the Bend Urban Beer Hike.
From the street, I couldn’t see anything that looked like a business in the industrial looking building. I really didn’t see any cars or people either. I began to curse my douchephone for leading us astray in the cold and rain. The main cause of my anxiety was that I was wearing shorts and didn’t want to get stranded out in the elements. Then I noticed an interior courtyard and Good Life was located on the backside of this, well hidden from the street.
The bar area only occupied a small portion of the large space that housed Good Life. A number of windowed garage-type doors gave the area a really open and airy feel despite the gray weather. Good Life must be a great place to hang out on a warm day when they have those doors open.
Good Life was full of refugees from the slopes. We sat at the last two seats at the bar and ordered a taster flight of their four beers. For me, the best of the four was Descender IPA, maybe the best regular IPA of the trip.
It was another short walk through a residential neighborhood to our fifth stop of the day, 10 Barrel Brewing. Unfortunately, this location was just a pub. Since no brewing was done on-site, we couldn’t count 10 Barrel on the brewery list.
10 Barrel’s small restaurant and bar were both packed and we struggled to find space to put down our ten beer sample tray while we waited for a table. Precariously placing the tray on the top of a barrel, we tried to get through each beer without feeling too harried.
We met some Monterey area friends for dinner at 10 Barrel. And, as often is the case, we got very distracted by “friend time.” In short, my recommendation from 10 Barrel is Apocalypse IPA, a brew with nice citrus and pine flavors. Merideth’s favorite was, oddly, the India Session Ale, a light-bodied, hoppy brew.
It was dark when we left 10 Barrel and headed back across the Deschutes River. Our final two stops on the Urban Beer Hike were in downtown Bend, thus completing the loop that we began at 10:30am that morning.
First up was Bend Brewing, the other brewery we visited on our previous trip in 1999. Funny thing, when Merideth and I sat down at the bar, we kind of gave each other a perplexed look. Maybe it was the dark lighting, maybe it was all the beer we drank that day, but neither of us remembered the place. It’s on The List, though, so we must have been there.
At this point in our Urban Beer Hike, another ten beer sample tray was not necessarily a welcome sight. But that’s what we got. We each just should have ordered a pint at called it a night at Bend Brewing.
Our last stop, Silver Moon Brewing was a short walk up the street from Bend Brewing. Our previous four stops were all crazy busy so it was nice that Silver Moon was comparatively mellow.
Mercifully, there were only eight beers in the Silver Moon sample tray. The requisite IPA and Black IPA were nice but I’ll give a shout out to their Bridge Creek Pilsner as the perfect finishing beer for a Bend Urban Beer Hike.
The new fallen snow crinkled under our feet as we trudged back to our hotel. Despite the rain and snow, getting distracted and losing steam at the end, we covered a little over seven miles and visited seven beer stops. Our Urban Beer Hike was a great re-introduction to Bend.
Have you ever started a hobby that became a beastly obsession? Of course you have. You’re a beer geek. I’m not one to talk, though, because Chris and I certainly can’t deny that our brewery list has become anything less than an obsession of beastly proportion. We had no idea back in 1992 when we started visiting breweries that today we’d be boasting about having visited more than 670. And you don’t get to brewery #674 (#675 for Chris) without first reaching the devilish number of the beast: 666.
Well, let me tell you about how Chris and I each hit brewery #666 on the first day of last weekend’s trip to Portland.
As we are wont to do, we left on Thursday at an ungodly (or beastly, if you will) hour in order to take an early flight out of San Jose. After arriving in Portland, we drove 50 minutes south to Silverton, OR, where we hit Seven Brides, our first brewery of the trip.
Seven Brides is a large family-friendly establishment offering the usual range of beer styles. The name stems from the reason the brewery was started in the first place: 3 dads and 2 uncles needed a way to pay for the future weddings of their 7 daughters who currently range in age from 4-17 years old.
One of the fun things about the brewery is that each beer is named after one of the daughters in the family. After a taster set, Chris ordered the Lauren’s Pale Ale, a solid flavorful beer. Much to our delight, the pint was $1 off in honor of it being Lauren’s birthday week. Becky’s Black Cat Porter and Frankenlou’s IPA also went well with our lunch of carnitas quesadilla and chicken tacos. And no, Frankenlou is not the name of one of the daughters. It’s a combination of the girl’s nickname (Lou) and a desire to make a monstrous IPA.
The hospitality at Seven Brides was everything you’d expect in a small rural brewery. One of the owners, Jeff DeSantis, stopped to chat with us at the bar. And in a very motherly way, our server expressed concern when we told her about our plan to drive over the mountains to Bend the next day. The forecast was for rain at lower elevations, so you know what that means higher up. She even went so far as to offer a less treacherous route than the one we planned. “You drive safely now,” she told us when we left.
An hour and a half later, we arrived at our second stop: Oakshire Brewing in Eugene. It was Chris’s 666th brewery. Getting to Oakshire (pronounced oak-shyer, not oak-sure), feels a lot like getting lost, as it’s located in between a criss-crossing of railroad tracks on the outskirts of town. It’s a beautiful sight when you do finally arrive and does not disappoint.
Oakshire only has tasting hours on Saturdays from noon-4pm, but Monday through Friday 3-6pm, they’re open for “dock sales,” where you can taste a few samples before making your purchase. During our visit, most people made quick stops to fill up their growlers, pick up kegs and purchase bottles to go.
Our hostess was friendly and knowledgeable and best of all, she didn’t even ask about the devil horns Chris sprouted while drinking the Watershed IPA, a crisp tasting brew with 75 IBUs. From their single batch beers, we liked The Nutcracker, a spiced imperial porter, as well as the year-round offering, Overcast Espresso Stout. Both were dangerous, however, as The Nutcracker was an easy drinking 8% and the stout provided the equivalent of one jolting espresso shot per pint. There was no resisting the beer altogether, though, and we bought a few bottles to bring home.
Chris’s horns quickly disappeared as we drove the short distance to Ninkasi Brewing and mysteriously grew out of my head as we arrived.
Ninkasi was the perfect brewery to be my 666th. We walked through a very goth looking wrought iron gate into the courtyard and approached the building with bright green walls. The ambiance inside the decently-sized tasting room felt dark and slightly sinister. It was already full, but not over crowded, when we arrived around 4pm, so we set ourselves up in the corner with our taster set. I now donned the devilish horns, but no one even seemed to notice. I tried to act cool, like I didn’t notice them either. Eventually we were able to make our way up to the bar to continue drinking our sampler set.
Many of the beers were familiar to us–Total Domination IPA, Tricerahops Double IPA, Oatis Oatmeal Stout. But there were also a few we had never seen, which is yet another reason to visit breweries. They often have brews only available there. For me, the overwhelming standout was their brand new release, Sterling Pils, a snappy German-style pils. Who knew they even had one! They also had these tasty mixed nuts that we ate while finishing up our taster set.
And that was that. We’d each reached the number of the beast and had a devilishly good time doing it!
We were excited to return to Portland for our ninth Oregon Brewers Festival. But with two previous beergeek.TV episodes covering the West Coast’s best beer fest, we needed to do something different. After much thought, we decided a road trip to Portland would be new and exciting.
At noon, I picked Merideth up at work for the long drive north. Crossing over from the coast to the Central Valley, we hopped on I-5 at Santa Nella. The plan was to drive almost half the interstate’s 1,381 mile length before stopping in Corvallis, OR for the night. Along the route, we had a few beer stops.
The drive through the Central Valley was certainly not the most exciting, but mile after mile of expansive farmland finally gave way to some hills after Redding. Soon after that, Mt. Shasta loomed in the distance, the namesake for our first brewery stop of the day. We pulled into the parking lot of Mt. Shasta Brewing Company in Weed, CA a little over six hours after we left Salinas. Besides being home of a brewery, Merideth has a personal connection to Weed. Her Mom was born in this tiny Northern California town.
Mt. Shasta’s brewery and pub is located in an old creamery. A warm day, we walked in through the pub’s big rolling door and grabbed a couple of seats at the bar. After six plus hours on the road, we were ready to try some legal weed. The sight of the bartender placing a taster set in front of us had never been so welcome. Our seven beer set included four regular beers and three seasonals.
The Golden Ale was perfect for the day, a very refreshing brew. Their IPA, a brew I have had before, was really solid. The most intriguing beer was the Strawberry Ginger seasonal. I love anything with ginger but unfortunately, this wasn’t the ginger-bomb I was hoping it would be.
Mt. Shasta Brewing would have been the perfect spot for a relaxing game of Scrabble but we still had the other half of our drive ahead. So, after finishing our taster set, we pressed on.
Crossing the border into Oregon, our next stop was in the Bard’s town, Ashland. Shakespeare aside, Ashland is also home to a pair of breweries. On our road trip plan included hitting one on the way up and one on the way home.
Caldera was the brewery we were going to hit on the way up. Unfortunately, Caldera wouldn’t count on the brewery list as the actual brewery is located across town from their downtown tap house. This violated rule #1, the beer must be brewed on premise.
Grabbing a table on the main level of their multi-deck patio, we quickly ordered a taster set and some dinner. On the five beer paddle, I picked three that I would like and two that I thought Merideth would like. As they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Turns out one that I picked for Merideth, the Dry Hopped Orange, was not an orange flavored beer that had been dry hopped. It was actually an IPA that highlighted citrus hops. I loved it, Merideth not so much. However, the best beer on the now hopbomb heavy sampler was the Rauch ür Bock, a wonderful smoked beer.
Caldera Tap House was another short stop as we still had three plus hours to drive to our final destination of the day, Corvallis. Quickly eating our meals and drinking our samples, we were back on 1-5 heading north in under an hour.
After over twelve hours on the road, we rolled into Corvallis at 12:30am. Corvallis was a ghost town at that early hour but we hoped that Block 15 Restaurant & Brewery might still be open. In all our road weariness, we managed to find the brewery. A couple of staff remained inside, but the stacked chairs indicated that they were closed. That was probably for the best as “Miss Cranky Pants” was tired. The brewery could wait for the following morning.
Late Thursday morning, we were at the doors of Block 15 waiting patiently for them to open. While we only had another hour on I-5 before reaching Portland, we didn’t have all the time in the world. We were meeting a friend at Oregon Brewers Festival in a few hours. Another quick sample set it would be.
We got to chose five beers from their selection of over a dozen. What jumped out at Merideth and I were the number of session beers available. Three of our five beers, the Kölsch-style Summer Knights, Glo Golden Ale and Hop-a-long Amber were 5% ABV and under. The star was the Hop-a-long, a hopped up brew that came in at 4% ABV. On the hoppier end, the One Hop Tomahawk was an excellent one hop IPA. As the name implies, it is hopped with just the Tomahawk variety of hops.
We had one more stop before arriving in Portland. Located a short distance from Corvallis in the nearby town of Albany, Calapooia (Cala-poo-ya) Brewing Co. was our next stop. Situated on a quiet side street along the railroad tracks, the pub looks more like a quaint cafe from the exterior. The interior has a similar feel but the extensive beer list revealed the pub’s true identity.
And in our speed dating version of brewery tours, we only had time for yet another sample paddle. Of the eight samples, we got to choose two, the other six being their regular brews. My standout was the Big Aft Pale Ale while Merideth liked River Dog ESB. However, we both agreed that the star was Devil’s Hole Stout, a wonderful roasty, chocolate brew.
In what was the running theme for the drive up to Portland, Calapooia Brewing Co. was another cozy brewpub where we could have relaxed the day away playing Scrabble. But that wasn’t the plan. We were out the door in twenty five minutes and on our way to Portland.