Bend, OR

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Bend is a town in central Oregon, about three hours from Portland and two-and-a-half from Eugene. It was originally called "Farewell Bend" in 1904, referring to a certain point along the Deschutes River; the US Postal Service decided this name was too long and made them shorten it to "Bend". Historically a lumber town (the last mill along the Deschutes closed in 1993), Bend's current major industries are tourism, retirees, unemployment, and beer.

Despite a population of around 150k total, Deschutes County (which includes Bend) has 20 breweries, running the gamut from enormous factories to one-barrel operations. Several of these are world-class, and four of them won medals at the 2012 Great American Beer Festival. The majority of the important ones are all within easy walking/biking distance of each other, making Bend a great weekend trip for beer nerds.

Getting around

A bike, or your feet, are all you really need to enjoy the scene. Speed limits are generally low around Bend and motorists are aware of bicycle traffic, making it a very convenient bike town overall. If you want to drive anyway, don't overdo it, and for God's sake don't try to DUI your way out from downtown, because nabbing people that do this is pretty much all the Bend PD does on Fridays and Saturdays.

The local tourism board has a thing called the Bend Ale Trail, a self-guided pub crawl covering ten breweries. Collect a free pamphlet at any participating brewery, get it stamped everyplace you visit, and earn a free pint if you visit every stop. There's an associated smartphone app with maps and things.

The Bend Brew Bus will drive your group around four breweries over half a day, beer/appetizers/tours included, for $45 per person. The Cycle Pub runs those goofy 14-person bike things around downtown so you can look like the drunken idiot you are in front of the entire city. It's BYO too, so you don't even need to stop drinking while pedaling. It costs $300 for a two-hour rental, or about $21 a person if you fill it up.

Also worth noting is Sober Dudes -- if you got too drunk for your own good, call them and they'll drive both you and your car back to your destination for pretty much the same price as a taxi.

Breweries

God tier

  • Deschutes Brewery (brewery: 901 SW Simpson Av; brewpub: 1044 NW Bond in downtown): The original, started in June 1988 by Gary Fish back when Bend was still a podunk lumber town. They flirted with bankruptcy for a couple years before they began distributing to Portland; now their enormous complex by the river in southwest Bend puts out up to 325,000 barrels a year. Despite being by far the largest brewery in Bend, Deschutes still has a lot of street cred in its hometown, chiefly because the quality's never suffered much despite the expansion. They also sponsor all kinds of shit around town and run cyclocross races behind their brewery.

    The brewery's open every afternoon for tastings and tours (starting every hour 1pm-4pm), but if you're bored of touring big brewery sites, your time would be better spent at the downtown brewpub, which has its own pilot system and always offers three or four beers exclusive to the location. It's also pretty much the biggest bar in downtown Bend, having been expanded to about double the size in February '12.

    Notable: Black Butte, The Dissident, The Abyss, the assorted sour/smoked stuff usually available at the brewpub

  • Boneyard Beer (37 NW Lake Pl, maybe a 15min walk from downtown): Opened in 2009 and headed up by Tony Lawrence, who worked for Deschutes Brewery for 13 years and then collaborated with a number of outfits, including Three Floyds, before starting his own with equipment cast off from other breweries.

    In a seemingly abandoned pre-fab warehouse on a dead-end street in the middle of the old part of town, you are all but guaranteed to have trouble finding it at first. However it's absolutely worth it because Boneyard is generally agreed to be the best IPA maker in town and arguably the entire Northwest. Their base IPA is available at every bar in Bend, but go to the brewery to get their more exotic varieties.

    The tasting room isn't big and gets packed in the weekends. Also, since Boneyard only has a "tasting room" license, they only sell growlers and $1 taster-size beers at their brewery; no pints. However, it's still worth visiting because of the cool atmosphere, the fantastic beer, and all the crap and beer stickers on the wall. Another disadvantage: The brewery is far, far over capacity (a brewer told me that they're basically an "RPM IPA factory" right now and that one beer is 95% of their output), so the tasting room can often seem oddly short-supplied.

    Boneyard is working on a new brewing facility in the northeast part of town, due to open spring 2013. Once online, they plan to start canning, at which point they'll probably become the new darling of BA nerds for their IPAs.

    Notable: RPM/Hop Venom/Notorious, their line of IPAs. People compare Hop Venom favorably to Pliny the Elder, and Notorious is their 11% IPA monster that's better than Younger (yeah I said it). Also: The Suge Knite imperial stout and whatever else they've got on tap at the brewery.

Go here too

  • Crux Fermentation Project (50 SW Division St, 5min walk from Boneyard): Opened in June 2012 in a former AAMCO by Larry Sidor, who was head brewmaster at Deschutes Brewery for eight years and got his start brewing Olympia beer in the '70s, back when it was allegedly good. His role in growing Deschutes is such that they had to create two positions to replace him. Partnering with him is Paul Evers, the guy responsible for the marketing campaigns of Deschutes, Odell and 21st Amendment. His 10-hectoliter system was purchased lock, stock and barrel from a Japanese brewery that went out of business, and you can see the shiny copper tanks right inside -- the place is set up so that all work operations are viewable from the tasting room/restaurant.

    Started slow, but now has something like 15 of its own beers available on tap. IPA fans will dig this place, because there's usually 4-5 on tap and they're all pretty powerful ("life begins at 25 Plato," as Larry put it), although the other beer varieties aren't bad either. Larry likes experimenting with exotic hops and other ingredients, and the resulting beer, while sometimes hard to define, is always good. The food is top-notch too, and the location offers greats view of the Cascade mountains to the west right from the bar. (Drink specials take place every day before/after sunset.)

    Notable: Pilsner (open fermentation), Hefe, Triskel (imp. IPA), Nitro Stout, Double Cross (Belgian dark). Crux is getting heavily into barrel aging as of this writing and their first bottle distribution will be for a bourbon barrel aged imperial stout.

  • 10 Barrel Brewing Company (1135 NW Galveston Av, 10min or so walk from downtown): Founded in 2006 by Jeremy and Chris Cox, originally under the name Wildfire Brewing before a lame steakhouse franchise in Illinois forced them to rebrand. Their current brewmaster is from Deschutes Brewery (this is a pattern you're going to see a lot) and their new R&D brewer is Tonya Cornett, ex-brewmaster at the BBC and winner of "small brewmaster of the year" award at the 2008 World Beer Cup. They're aggressively expanding and will have another brewpub opening in downtown Boise, ID in summer '13.<p>They distribute their IPA and Sinistor Black Ale all over Bend supermarkets, but as with Deschutes, it's worth going to the brewpub itself for all the one-off stuff they produce. The pizza's good too. The place gets slammed on non-school nights, and parking can often be a pain in the ass, so bike/walk over.

    Notable: Hop Rye'It rye IPA, Apocalypse IPA, dopplebock, whatever sour stuff they have on

  • Bend Brewing Company (BBC) (1019 NW Brooks St, right downtown): Bend's second brewery, founded in 1995 and working out of the same building ever since. They've won a lot of awards mainly thanks to the work of Tonya Corbett. A pretty generic sports-bar atmosphere, but the beer's generally of very high quality. They sell bottles at the brewery and a smattering of places around town.

    Notable: Ching Ching (one of the best Berliner weisses I've ever had), Hophead (imp. IPA), Scottish Heart (Scotch ale)

If you have time

  • GoodLife Brewing Company (70 SW Century Dr): Founded June 2011. They have a pretty big space and have announced plans for a canning line, but considering that, they don't seem to produce a lot of varieties of beer. Their food is also generally bad. It's still worth going to for the music, the atmosphere (especially in summer), the locals deals, and the pool table. Bottles generally available everywhere. It's worth noting that if you get sick of this place, it's right next to Cascade West, a Cascade Lakes-owned honky tonk joint with 32 taps, the most in Bend as far as I know.

    Notable: Pass Stout, 29'er (brown ale)

  • Silver Moon Brewing Company (24 NW Greenwood Av, just outside of downtown): Founded 2004. Another place that's perhaps better known as a music/pool venue than a brewery. Small and easily overlooked, their beer is about as good as the BBC's -- in any other town they'd be the best local brewery, but here they're right on the average. Bottles generally available everywhere.

    Notable: Snake Bite (porter), Purgatory's Shadow (oak aged stout)

  • McMenamins Old St. Francis School (700 NW Bond St, downtown): One of the "good" McMenaminses, in that although the beer is unmemorable, the venue (an old Catholic boarding school now outfitted with a music venue, a couple bars, a movie theater, a hotel, and an indoor bathhouse) is fantastic and well worth exploring. If you're new to Oregon or have never been to a McM before, go.

    Notable: I forget

  • Worthy Brewing Company (495 NE Bellevue Dr, far east side of town): Bend's newest, having opened up February 4, 2013. They started huge, with a system capable of producing 60,000bbl a year, and their custom-built facility is visually impressive and reminds you of "destination brewery" places like Stone and Odell. Too early to tell if they're capable of high quality; the beer is the sort of uneven thing you'd expect from a brand-new brewery. Pizza is good, though.

    Notable: TBD

  • Cascade Lakes Brewing Company (1441 SW Chandler Av): Founded over in Redmond, OR in 1994. They own a few places in Bend and Redmond, but the "Cascade Lakes Lounge" is their flagship joint of sorts. On the far SW side of town and mainly caters to locals and ski vacationers. Beer ranges from just okay to pretty good.

    Notable: 20" (brown), IRA, House (stout)

Please don't go to

  • Old Mill Brew Wërks (384 SW Upper Terrace Dr): Brew Wërks stays in business for two reasons: tourists who see them in the Ale Trail pamphlet, and the Cycle Pub guys who stop there because it's nearby Boneyard and Crux and their clients are so drunk by that point that they don't care about the quality of what they're drinking. Nobody who actually lives in Bend goes there. You shouldn't, either.

    Notable: The fact they're still a going concern

Distribution-only breweries

  • The Ale Apothecary: Founded 2012 by Paul Arney, a crazy ex-Deschutes Brewery guy who now lives in the mountains and makes similarly crazy wild-fermentation beer. Bottle distribution only; bombers generally available at Broken Top Bottle Shop (see below). Expensive, but really fantastic if you like heavy Brett-laced flavors.
  • Below Grade Brewing: A 1bbl system in a basement somewhere in west Bend. Bombers available at Broken Top Bottle Shop. Pretty okay but generally overshadowed by the competition. If you're here in the summer, visit their booth at the Northwest Crossing Farmers Market.
  • Phat Matt's: Small outfit in Redmond that produces seriously forgettable beer. Also the contract-brew home for Shade Tree in Bend (they produce a good IPA) and Sunriver Brewing Company near Mt. Bachelor (crap).
  • Rat Hole Brewing: A 1bbl system in an outhouse out in bum-fuck southeast Deschutes County, run by a guy whose Facebook is almost nothing but freeper c+p's. Originally announced 2 years ago; allegedly distributing soon.

Bars

Somewhat surprisingly, there isn't a real "nerve center of craft beer"-type bar in Bend, similar to Falling Rock in Denver or Toronado in SF; instead the scene is centered around the breweries themselves. There are still a few good bars around town though. Plus you can go to the shittiest, smelliest, video slots-laden craphole in Bend and they'll still have Boneyard on tap.

  • Brother Jon's: Opened 2009. Brother Jon's Alehouse (1051 NW Bond St) is right downtown (across the street from the Deschutes brewpub); Brother Jon's Public House (1227 NW Galveston Av) is two houses down from 10 Barrel. Both have 12 taps that rotate OR beers in and out very rapidly. Really good soups and sandwiches. The downtown one is British-style in decor and menu, while the other one is basically a converted private residence and is a lot more "local community" in atmosphere as a result.
  • Crow's Feet Commons (875 NW Brooks St): Opened late 2012. A bike shop/ski shop/coffee shop/beer joint located in a 110-year-old former mayoral residence in downtown Bend, run by an ex-Alaskan ski guide who looks like Borat. Oozing with atmosphere and just a very, very awesome place to hang out day or night. Taplist leans toward IPAs and Belgian-style stuff. Overlooks the river, which is great for summer.
  • Broken Top Bottle Shop & Ale Cafe (1740 NW Pence Ln): Opened February 2012, in space formerly occupied by a generic neighborhood bar. They've doubled the size of the joint. They also have 12 rotating taps, but also have a massive bottle selection, available for takeout or for drinking on the premises. Great food, regular music, lots of brewer-oriented events.
  • The Brew Shop / Platypus Pub (1203 NE 3rd St): BTBS' main competition, out on the east side of Bend. Basically the same sort of selection as BTBS, but also sells homebrew equipment. Generally, whenever a keg of something rare and valuable (like Pliny or Sucaba) makes it to Bend, it either gets distro'd to BTBS, Platypus or Crow's Feet.

Places to buy beer

Thanks to Oregon relaxing the relevant laws and "tasting room" licenses now being trivially easy to obtain, growler-fill joints are now all over the damn place in Bend.

The Growler Guys (2699 NE Hwy 20, in a Shell gas station two blocks from Worthy) was the first and is still the most well-established; they have 34 taps and almost everything is around ten bucks for a fill; if Boneyard doesn't have something you want at the brewery, you might find it here more often than not.

There's also Gorilla Growlers (20425 Empire, in a car wash), Growler Phil's (across the street from 10 Barrel), and High Desert Growler Room somewhere in west Bend.

As for regular bottle shops, in addition to BTBS and The Brew Shop above, Whole Foods (2610 NW Hwy 20, by Worthy) and Newport Avenue Market (1121 NW Newport Av, by downtown) also have quite extensive selections.

I only have a day!

Start at Crux, proceed to Boneyard, then while away the rest of your time downtown at Deschutes/Crow's Feet/etc. All completely walkable.