When I first pitched this to my editor, it was a beer guide to Portland, Oregon. He just laughed, said that they get so many pitches for that that they line the office toilet seats with them, then asked me if I was the type of person who still goes to Dark Lord Day, kept laughing, and then hung up.
I wrote back a few days later to try and get another assignment. This is that. So yeah, go to Bend. Drink at these places.
Photo via Silver Moon/Facebook
Right away, this place earns points for location: on an otherwise nondescript post-industrial street right across from a run-down music venue that recently hosted Andrew W.K. Because I can think of precious few things on this earth that would not be exponentially improved by live ambient noise versions of “She is Beautiful” and the Kit-Kat theme.
Anyway. You’ll still find it difficult to miss; chances are there will be a tattooed couple sitting outside with a dog or two. Actually, scratch that; this is Oregon, so that pretty much describes everywhere. Still, hey, go inside, because the décor is simple yet inviting—a gigantic mural of the surrounding mountains, complete with tap handles jutting out of one of the Three Sisters, adorns the left wall—with a renovated diner feel that extends to the enthusiastic, if a tad flighty, service. This was our first stop of the day, so I only had a couple of half-pints, the option for which was welcome. The Tropic Zombie is a super-hopped wit, and helps justify the forehead-slapping “white IPA” tag that adorns many a mediocre beer these days: juicy tropical hops, mango, orange, pineapple, and just a hint of the coriander/bitter orange peel spice that characterizes the classic wit.
My second was from their “Randall Handle,” a version of IPA 97 run through Simcoe hops, pineapple, peach, mango, and raspberry. It sounds a little nuts, and it was, but good lord was it delicious. A friend of mine was drinking a pint of the standard 97, and trying them side by side was revelatory: the raspberry stood way, way out, and was a cool, off-kilter complement to the base beer. That tap changes daily, and speaks to the brewery’s commitment to experimentation.
As a final aside, prices are freaking excellent. I picked up our tap, which included four half pints, a full pint, two tasters, and ended up totaling $17.50. Tip well.
Boneyard has been around for nearly six years now, but you wouldn’t know it from their nondescript location. They tend to get some lip service based on the strength of their product, aesthetic, and size, but remain generally under the radar east of Oregon.
So, that location: it’s only a mile or two from Silver Moon, but you’ll have to navigate a series of urban back-streets and sudden turns to make it there. You’re not an idiot, probably, but just a fair warning. When you pull in, there may or may not be a branded delivery truck in the parking lot, but the only other thing distinguishing the place is a bare-bones sign above the door to the renovated garage that serves as their brewhouse, merch stand, and tasting room.
If you’re only here to taste beers, the value is excellent: $3 for roughly 2 oz pours of five beers (they only serve tasters and growler fills). The offerings that were on tap this day ranged from decent to excellent: my favorites were Bone Light, a session-strength golden ale with Mosaic hops, and Black 13, a kinda-sorta-but-not-quite porter that packed substantial chocolate/coffee malt flavors into just 5.2% ABV. The woman behind the counter while we were there was bright, enthusiastic, and knowledgable about not just the beers, but Boneyard’s history and mission.
Go here. Absolutely go here. And for the love of god, buy a shirt or something. The branding is spot-on, somewhere between Three Floyds and Suicidal Tendencies, with the attitude and quality of product to back it up. There are at least half a dozen T-shirts, two hoodies, a grilling apron, two types of socks, a cycling jersey, hats, pint glasses, and more. Show some support, you cheap bastard.
Another stupidly short drive away is Crux. Of all the locations in Bend I’d researched prior to the trip, this was the one I was most excited about. Their website is slick as all hell, with a wide array of taps that hit all my tick-bait erogenous zones: barrel-aged sours, pre-Prohibition lagers, Mosaic double IPA, etc, and they obviously know both branding and how to take a sexy picture.
The reality of Crux, though, is something of a mixed bag. Good news first: the basic and primo shit is top-notch. Their pre-Prohibition lager is exactly what I expect from the style: a clean, gulp-able light beer that falls somewhere between a macro light and Spotted Cow. Outcast IPA, something of a flagship, enjoys a pretty classic grapefruit/orange bitterness, and is notably dry compared to a good many Pacific Northwest IPAs. Their barrel-aged selections are idiosyncratic and demand attention: Freakcake, an oak-aged oud bruin ale with cherries, raisins, cranberries, and figs—then re-fermented with brettanomyces—is a marvel of a juggling act, while their Tough Love Imperial Stout, brewed with blackstrap molasses and aged on bourbon casks, is a fudgy, fruity beast.
Downsides: the service left something to be desired. On a late Tuesday afternoon, the place is busy but not packed, and the floor staff was, to be fair, very prompt. Our server, however, knew little to nothing about the beers on offer. When I asked about Tough Love—it was only for sale in bottles, with no description provided—she said it was “like Freakcake, but a little less,” and “definitely not an imperial stout.” So there’s that. One of the bartenders was more helpful with information, but acted put out by the trouble I was causing him.
Still, there’s little to deter prospective visitors from Crux. The beer is generally of a high quality, the food was very good if straightforward, and it houses one of the downright prettiest brewing setups I’ve ever seen. Just know what you’re getting into, put your patient pants on, and you should be good.
Up the street from 10 Barrel—much more on them later—is Good Life Brewing, a local staple that makes a habit of churning out some of the state’s most deceptively simple beers. The seating area was pretty lively early in the evening, but our group of four was escorted to a high-top table with little fuss. It was our final stop of the day, so we only ordered a pint each, but made sure to sample all around: Jay Bird, a pale wheat ale, was clean, mildly hoppy, and made for great hot-day quaffing; Comatose IIPA made good on its name, offering a backhand-slap of hop bite to temper the 9.5% ABV; a draft-only selection, the single-hopped Comet pale ale featured a neat swerve on the classic pale ale profile, with a startling combo of peach and weed. Of them all, though, the Pacific As Ale stands out as not just the best beer of that visit, but quite possibly of the whole trip. The winey, melon-like New Zealand hops marry the light, caramel-accented malt bill to a tee, and the dryness aka drinkability factor here isn’t even fair. We even bought a six-pack of cans to swill during the following night’s Cards Against Humanity marathon; no one made it out alive.
Photo via Deschutes
Okay, look: Deschutes is the New Glarus of Wisconsin, the Boulevard of Missouri, the New Belgium of Colorado, the Hill Farmstead of the Eighth Dimension. Of course you’re going to go here. To be honest, I probably can’t tell you much that you don’t already assume about this place: spotless and efficient, top-notch beer on the cheap, and really solid food. If you were going to New York City and asked me for travel advice, I’d be like, “Have you heard of Central Park?”
Should you still go? Well, yeah. The beer is still some of the best in the country—seriously, have you tried Black Butte Porter? Mirror Pond Pale Ale? What the f*** is wrong with you? And there are several wrinkles to the home-base operation that make it even more worth your while: two cask ales on at all times (I drank a Twilight Ale on my visit), and the occasional one-off. To wit, the brewery tapped a strawberry lambic aged on pinot barrels and rosemary while I was there, and it was pretty spectacular: vinous and just a tad acidic, with jammy strawberry forever.
To hear some people tell it, you’d think that since 10 Barrel was bought out by AB-InBev last year, the place has gone from a local institution making stylistically on-point beers to a scarab-infested death chamber that only serves sadness in a tulip and resides somewhere in Satan’s butthole. I have mixed feelings about the reality. Follow me here…
First of all, yes, the place is the Abercrombie & Fitch of brewpubs. Most of the staff is impossibly good-looking; those that aren’t are mainly burly dudes who nevertheless sport the type of full beard I wish my tears would get caught in every time I read DC Comics’ “Final Crisis.” Since the corporate takeover, it also seems to attract more tourists and general out-of-towners than locals—during our visit, someone at each table behind and in front of us asked, “What do you have that’s like Stella Artois?” If you’re a local brewpub and someone asks you that, your one and only answer should be a Hulk smash.
But it’s a cool spot—open concept, giant garage-type doors that opened up to their patio right beside our table—with enthusiastic, knowledgeable staff and, wouldn’t you know it, pretty good beer. The Apocalypse IPA and Sinistor Black Ale were solid and enjoyable, and the can-only (you’re not allowed to ask for a glass, and if you do, you definitely don’t have a moustache tattooed on your index finger) Pub Beer is actually one of the better pale lagers I’ve had.
The two beers I ordered, though—we shared, like you do—do a fair job of summing up the dichotomy of this place, in that they represented one of the best and worst beers of the trip. The first, Lemon Crush, was outstanding: a berliner weisse with lemon peel added, it was tart and wheat-heavy, the fruit component absolutely dialed in. The other…just, no. It was a bourbon barrel stout blended with a framboise-style ale, and I am the angry villager that wants to murder this Frankenstein’s monster with a pitchfork. Sappy and syrupy, no hint of bourbon, and tasted like a Robitussin dumpster fire.
Obviously it’s not fair to judge a brewery based on a single misstep—hello, Three Floyds Alpha Kong, New Glarus Apple Ale, O’So Bourbon Coconut Night Train—so don’t. The food is pretty great (oyster shooters!), the staff is, all jokes aside, really friendly and welcoming, and about 99% of the beer they make is very, very good. That 1%, though…
About a 90-second walk from 10 Barrel, Oblivion is one of the newest additions to Bend’s intimidating brewery pedigree. They only just opened last year and, while there are a few kinks to work out, the space, service, and beers show promise. Like many breweries in the area, Oblivion features a fair stylistic range—stout, golden ale, red ale, etc.—but it’s the hoppy stuff that’s of particular note. Polar Star Pale Ale is soft, piney, and bright; the India Session Ale, underscored by Citra hops, is crisp and refreshing, and offers a juicier take on what Evil Twin is accomplishing with Citra Sunshine Slacker; Reciprocal IIPA, a Bend Brewing collaboration, is nice and juicy, with a pleasantly astringent finish that helps to cut the alcohol.
Service was prompt and helpful all around, even if the food saw mixed success: the pickled veggie plate was great, highlighted by house-made kimchi, but the onion rings—much-pimped by the staff—were bland, due mostly to a lack of salt. Still, it’s a fairly minor quibble; if Oblivion can figure out the food, they’ll likely find a niche as a solid late-afternoon hangout.
This place is weird: a combination bike shop, coffee bar, bottle shop and tap room, it’s the kind of place that really could only exist in Bend or Denver. Located between a thoroughfare that runs along several local restaurants and the Bend River, it’s by far the most picturesque location that we visited. The tap list is varied and ridiculous, featuring locals like Boneyard and De Garde, as well as Vanberg & Dewulf Lambickx, Rodenbach Grand Cru, and more. The bottle selection is small but well-curated, and on our visit included Etienne Dupont Normandie Cidre, two Ale Apothecary beers, and a selection of Pfriem offerings, which we settled on.
Crow’s Feet Commons’ website advertises this as the best-kept secret in Bend, and I wouldn’t disagree. The vibe is chill, the setting is tranquil despite its proximity to foot traffic, and whoever is buying the beers for this place knows what the hell they’re doing. I can only think of few things I’d rather be doing than spending an afternoon here, staring at the river, and sipping on something sour.