….wearing helmets and toting bottles of water, we steered our bikes down Bend’s brick-paved road in search of Beervana.
With 300 days of sunshine a year (as many as Arizona, even India!) in the high desert country of Central Oregon, Bend is an ideal place for fair weather bike riders like myself.
Further enticement to self-power is the allure of beer refueling stations. Biking along Bend’s Ale Trail, with seven craft breweries (and counting) within easy pedaling distance, makes for a fun weekend of sipping, sampling pub fare, and sightseeing around the bike-friendly city of Bend.
Even better: you don’t need to bring your own bike. Guests who stay at the Oxford Hotel (see “Travel Planner: Where to Stay”) can check out one or more of the four loaner Townie bikes, with comfy seats and fat tires for a smooth ride and easy pedaling.
We made sure to eat between sips along the way, as we were warned buzzed bicycle riders face the same road rules as motorized vehicles when it comes to DWI (driving while intoxicated).
It’s a quick ride from the Oxford over to the offices of Bend’s Visitor Center, where we picked up an Ale Trail map and “passport.” Visiting all the breweries on the Ale Trail and having the passport stamped at each place will entitle the bearer to one limited-edition, commemorative “Silipint”—an unbreakable silicone pint glass perfect for taking out on the road—upon said passport’s return to the Visitor Center.
The cartoon-style city maps the center hands out aren’t easy to read or seemingly accurate, so if you don’t have GPS you might consider picking up a copy of Bend Brews, the book written by André Bartels and former Bend mayor Bob Woodward, which is available for purchase at the Bend Visitor Center. In addition to a better map, it contains information about Bend’s beer history, plus profiles of all the area breweries.
For our first stop, we pedaled over to Bend Brewing Co., where the beers are made by award-winning brewster Tanya Cornett (see our January/February 2011 issue for a profile of her in “Beervana’s Brewsters”). Most of the beers are only available at the brewpub, so make sure to try the seasonal brews. In early summer, the Ludwig Pilsener and Ching Ching (a sweetly sour ale made with pomegranate and hibiscus) were both refreshing ways to start. Order one of the fresh sandwiches or salads, eat half with the beers, and pack the rest for later.
It’s about a 20-minute bike ride through some of Bend’s quaint neighborhoods and Drake Park (a beautiful place to picnic) over to 10 Barrel Brewing Co., where the volume might verily ratchet up to 11 when the place is packed—and that’s often the case. The brewpub has a massively popular outdoor patio with fire pit, plus sizable main dining room and a tap room in the back corner with roll-up garage doors that spill onto additional alfresco bar-side seats.
The taster tray is 10 (appropriately so) beers deep, and the brews are amped up in flavor too. The S1nist0r Black Ale is a meltingly smooth blend of toasted malts and hops (it won a gold medal at the 2011 World Beer Championships), while the Apocalypse IPA (a winner of silver) is awash with citrus aromas. Wash them down with one of the small pizzas. For the grain averse, personal pies are also available in a 10-inch gluten-free crust and there’s a decent selection of wines by the glass.
“We like to see cycling cleats,” says Chris Justema, who along with Ron Kutella, owns Cascade Lakes Brewing, where we arrive after another leisurely 20-minute ride and the next stop on the tour. The brewery, based in Redmond, has an outpost in Bend called The Lodge, which Kutella envisions as a place where “cyclists go on their way home or to their overnight accommodations and talk about their days on the roads or trails.”
Their sampler tray offers an introduction to the always-on-tap “Big 6” beers—Blonde Bombshell, Rooster Tail Ale, Monkey Face Porter, Pine Marten Pale Ale, 20? Brown, and I.P.A. (22-ounce bottles of these beers can also be found in stores across the Northwest). I couldn’t pass up the pit barbeque ham sandwich topped with crispy onion rings, a supremely salty and saucy affair that made memorable the full range of big beer flavors.
Turning back toward town, we stop in at the grand-daddy of them all, Deschutes Brewery, the name most synonymous with beer in Bend. The main brewery opened nearly 25 years ago, and its Public House brewpub is a mainstay (currently getting a façade makeover) of downtown Bend. Today, Deschutes Brewery is the largest craft brewer in Oregon.
Tours of the brewery are held daily and their on-site brewpub can be as busy as Grand Central Station, but it’s the only place to sip such landmark brands as Black Butte Porter and Mirror Pond Pale Ale at the source.
Next up, McMenamins Old St. Francis School was once the home of Bend’s first parochial school; in 2004 it was renovated by the McMenamin brothers (whose holdings include 60 such historic buildings across the Northwest) into a lodging, dining, movie-going, and beer drinking complex.
Inside, the building is replete with the artistic flourishes that define McMenamins properties, and on a clear day the beautifully landscaped and decorated grounds provide a park-like setting to enjoy a pint of one of their signature beers or seasonal offerings.
A little off the beaten track is Boneyard Beer, which calls home what looked to be a former auto body shop—check out the old airport limousine (which, it’s rumored, Jay Leno would desperately love to buy and add to his collection of antique cars) and the vintage delivery truck.
The rock-and-roll, custom culture sensibility of owners Melodee and Clay Storee and brewmaster Anthony Lawrence permeates the small tasting room.
Boneyard might be small, but they’re thinking big. Tall-boys of their R.P.M. I.P.A. are soon to be released on the Northwest market. (Boneyard doesn’t serve food, so now’s a good time to munch on that other half-a-
sandwich we saved from our earlier stop at Bend Brewing.)
It’s a quick ride over to Silver Moon Brewing, the seventh and final stop on our Tour de Bend breweries. Offering a hearty menu of pub grub, free pool, and a diverse lineup of musical performers, Silver Moon appeals to locals and tourists alike.
And the beer shines too. The seasonal André le Géant, a Belgian-style tripel ale, was (like its namesake) strong, yet had a gentle
caramely side, while the Bridge Creek Pilsner was crisp but not too bitter.
The up-and-comer on Bend’s brew scene is GoodLife Brewing. Open since just this year, the brewery isn’t currently on the official Ale Trail, but expect them to be added next year. Their indoor Bier Hall and two-acre alfresco beer garden are quickly attracting a following.
With the addition of GoodLife, the total number of breweries climbs to nine for the surrounding area. Incidentally, that’s about one brewery for every 11,500 people, more per capita than Portland with about one in 16,600.
Extended Ale Trail
Heading out of Bend via US-20 East, you’ll pass Bendistillery, where you can sample their famed Cascade Mountain Gin and other hand-crafted spirits on your way to Three Creeks Brewing Co., located a little more than 20 miles away in Sisters, Oregon. The bonus stop on the Ale Trail, Three Creeks Brewing is soon to become a mountain biker’s hot spot, with a planned-for trail that will connect the brewery directly to the Peterson Ridge trail system.
And just when you thought there were no other beer trails left to blaze, here comes the Cycle Pub of Bend. The so-wacky-it-works combination of bike and beer worlds is an “only in Oregon” phenomenon, a rolling tap room on wheels powered by the pedaling bar patrons themselves. Believe it.
By Peter Szymczak. From our September/October issue of Northwest Palate magazine.
Printable Bend Travel Planner—the beer trail map plus where to stay, shop and eat in Bend and Central Oregon
Slide photo by Bryan Roe / Graphic by Vanessa Duff
Bend Brewing photo: André Bartels
Map photos by André Bartels and Peter Szymczak