My (Failed) Attempt At Conquering The Bend Ale Trail

beerThere must be someone in Bend, Oregon, who drinks Coors or Bud Light. But I imagine that this mythical, mass produced beer loving android keeps a very low profile so as not to be shunned, like an alcoholic Amish swinger, in what must be America’s best craft beer town. Bend is blessed with an abundance of natural beauty and some 250 days of sunshine a year. There are so many opportunities to hike, kayak, go trail running, white water rafting, skiing or snowboarding that one doesn’t have to feel too guilty about throwing back a few craft beers at one of Bend’s 13 breweries.

With a population of just under 80,000, Bend apparently has the most per capita breweries in the nation. Inside the city limits, there are 10 brewpubs and three breweries (Boneyard has a tasting room open to the public, Below Grade Brewing isn’t open to the public and the Ale Apothecary is by appointment only). There are two more brewpubs in the neighboring towns of Sunriver and Sisters, and I’m told there is one more brewpub set to open later this summer called Riverside and another brewery called Rathole about to open any time now. Bend also has a Cycle Pub that gives drinkers and bike enthusiasts to combine their two favorite pastimes.

But it’s not just the quantity of microbrew offerings in Bend – locals know good beer and in a place with this many breweries, brewers know that their product had better be good. And it is.

On a four-day visit to Bend, my plan was to visit each of Bend’s brewpubs, plus another brewpub, Three Creeks Brewing Company, in nearby Sisters. Tourism officials have established an official Bend Ale Trail detailing where the brewpubs are and what they specialize in. Drinkers can download an app or pick up a passport; those who get stamps from every brewery are entitled to a free mug. The mug is worth no more than about $5, but securing it seemed like a worthy quest.

deschutes brewery beerI started at Bend’s oldest brewpub, founded in 1988, the Deschutes Brewery, which is named after the river that runs through town. I ordered Bachelor Bitter, named after the towering, snowcapped, 9,000-foot peak that’s just outside town, and my wife ordered a Trees of Doom Dunkel as we listened in on a couple who told our waitress they wanted to move to Bend. In the days to come, we’d realize that nearly every visitor in town seemed to be pondering a move to Bend. And by the time I started guzzling my second pint, a malty, sweet little number called a Free Ride Cream Ale, I was ready to move to Bend myself.

In the days that followed, I hit six more brewpubs in the area; below you’ll find some observations about each place.

Three Creeks Brewery- Three Creeks is located about 20 minutes northwest of Bend in Sisters, an interesting little town with a cool, Old West flavor to it. (There’s also a great independent bookstore in town called Paulina Springs Books.) It was a hot day, so we sat outside, facing a parking lot backed by some towering evergreens, and I ordered their lightest beer, a Knotty Blonde, which they advertised as being “as light as the hair of our pistol carrying honey.” It was good but not particularly memorable, though I liked the fact that they advertise all the beer’s stats – including its original gravity (OG) of 1.039, its final gravity (FG) of 1.008, its alcohol content (4.0%) and its International bittering units (IBU) total. (I had to Google these terms to find out that the OG and FG have to do with the beer’s sugar content and the IBU has to do with how hoppy the beer is.)

10 Barrel Brewing Company- As soon as I walked into this Westside brewpub, I wanted to buy the place, or, at the very least, become a regular. There’s an inviting fire pit with benches and tables built around it and half the bar stools are outside. I ordered a “Mike Saw a Sasquatch” Session Ale, a golden Summer Ale, made with Cascade and Sterling hops and honey and 2-row pale malts. It tasted a little hoppier than its low (26) IBU rating suggested but, once again, I loved how much information was provided about the beer.

Bend Brewing Company- This brewpub is right downtown with an obstructed view of the Deschutes River. I sat on the outdoor patio with my 5-year-old son, who made friends with a 4-year-old-girl at the table next to us while I enjoyed a Maibock on a warm spring day. It was a solid choice – clean, with a nice malty finish.

mcmenamins brewery bendMcMenamins Old St. Francis School Brewery- This place was converted from a school to a hotel and brewpub in 2004. It was Central Oregon’s first parochial school, opened in 1936, and it has an incredibly ornate 102 degree Fahrenheit soaking pool that looks like one of the fancy bathhouses in Budapest, not to mention a cinema, three cozy pubs and an outdoor fire pit to drink by.

This was my favorite brewpub in Bend, both in terms of atmosphere and quality of beer. I had a seasonal English Brown Ale that was nutty, a little smoky and deliciously creamy and smooth. Something like a beer milkshake, it was the best beer I’ve had in a very long time. Next time I return to Bend, I plan to stay in the hotel.

Old Mill Brew Werks- This is a neighborhood brewpub in the Old Mill District that serves good food and has some tasty beers. We sat outside and I had another English Brown Ale that was outstanding, though perhaps a notch below the version I drank at McMenamins and a bit pricey at $4 for a small 10 ounce glass. But our waitress was friendly and her story – she has a masters degree in Science but doesn’t mind working in a brewpub because she wants to live in Bend – reinforced my impression that this is a place worth rearranging one’s life for.

Crux Fermentation Project- Located in an industrial area adjacent to downtown Bend, this place is Bend’s newest brewpub, at just a year old. It was full of happy drinkers, many of them parents with their kids in tow, like us, on a warm, sunny, Tuesday afternoon. I sampled the Marzen and an On the Fence NW Pale Ale, and couldn’t decide which one I like more. They were both outstanding.

There was a large group gathered for a birthday party, and the birthday girl gave my sons her leftover cupcakes. Another couple, who were watching a game of horseshoes on the patio, told my wife that they moved to Bend from San Francisco eight years ago and haven’t regretted it for a moment since.

I asked our waiter why the place was called a project, rather than a brewpub, and I thought his answer was a perfect metaphor for the city itself.

“We call it a project because it is like a project,” he said. “We’re constantly tinkering, trying to make it better. The place will always be changing.”

Conclusion- I’m a little ashamed to say that I didn’t make it to several breweries that were on my to-do list, namely Cascade Lakes Brewing Company, GoodLife, Boneyard, Worthy Brewing Company, and Silver Moon, but I think that subconsciously I wanted to miss a few, so that I have a good excuse to come back to Bend.

Bend Ale Trail

Culture Shock In Green California, Where Even Homeless People Drink Craft Beer

homeless drinking beerI live in a very left-leaning community just outside of Chicago, a city that would sooner elect a Martian than a Republican to office. But even though I’m accustomed to mingling with people who listen to NPR’s “Car Talkin order to feel like honorary members of the proletariat and cast stink eyes at people who fail to bring their own bags to Whole Foods, traveling to California, the state that invented cool, still presents a kind of culture shock.

We went to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, traveling in a carpool lane for much of the way, and noticed that all the best parking spots were reserved for hybrid cars. On our Africa tram ride at the park, our driver gave us a lecture on how to drive (slow down, come to complete stops, use proper tire pressure) in order to help us be more green. Afterwards, we repaired to a nearby mall to get my sons, ages 3 and 5, slices of pizza and noticed a Caucasian family all eating with chopsticks in the food court.

I approached the mother and told her I was impressed that her children, who ranged in age from 4 to 15, were using their sticks so deftly.kid eating sushi“They’ve been eating sushi and using chopsticks almost since they were babies,” she explained. “The trick is to tie them together with rubber bands for them to practice.”

My son, James, is such a bad eater that he actually nibbles around the exterior of McDonald’s chicken nuggets so as to avoid eating the stuff that is supposed to resemble chicken in the middle. If we can’t find pasta, pizza, mac-n-cheese, grilled cheese, McDonald’s or peanut butter, my kids are in trouble, but these kids eat sushi for God’s sakes?

In Laguna Beach, we had dinner at a fast food Mexican place called La Sirena Grill and when I asked the cashier why the food was so good, I got another dose of eco-California.

“Everything is all natural,” he said. “The fish is wild, sustainably caught. The mixed greens and the rice and beans are all organic. The meats are humanely raised and even these containers are made out of corn.”

We stayed at my brother’s home in North County and noticed that he has three cans for different types of garbage and recycling provided by the city. And if you’re anywhere near the Pacific, you’ll see legions of surfers, cyclists using bike lanes and nary an overweight person in sight. (Although there are a startling number of people in this state who supposedly need medicinal marijuana for various health problems!) Chain restaurants in California are required to display the calorie count next to menu items and many other restaurants do so as well.

waterless toiletIn San Diego, our hotel encouraged us not just to keep our same sheets and towels but also to decline housekeeping altogether. And in a La Jolla cupcakery (organic, of course), we encountered an eco-friendly waterless toilet. Is it any wonder that 7 of the country’s top 30 greenest cities are in California?

And if you’re looking for a psychic, a tarot card reading or some kind of eastern style wisdom seeking, California is certainly the place for you. In Encinitas, I saw this enormous complex with golden domes (see photo) and a sign advertising “Self Realization Fellowship” and thought, only in California.

One of the other things a traveler can’t help but notice in California is that there are homeless people everywhere. A 2011 study by the National Alliance to End Homelessness put the total population of homeless in California at 135, 928, while other estimates put the figure at closer to 200,000.

self realization center encinitasAs a traveler who covers a lot of ground on foot, I’ve encountered dozens of homeless persons every day so far in my travels around Southern California and it isn’t possible to help them all. Southern California’s mild climate makes it about as good a place as any for homeless people in the United States but it’s hard to know if most of the homeless here are native Californians, people who moved here on a wing and a prayer to follow a dream that didn’t work out, or people who were already homeless and moved here to take advantage of the warm climate.

Whatever the case may be, at least some of them apparently still retain their good taste in beer. I saw a young, heavily tattooed and pierced homeless man drinking early in the morning in San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter and at first I thought he was drinking some kind of cheap 40-ounce beer. But upon closer inspection, it appeared to be a 22-ounce bottle of Rogue’s Dead Guy Ale.

Along that same brighter culture shock angle, it’s practically illegal to drink Bud Light or other bland, mass-produced beers in San Diego and other parts of Southern California. In hipster circles around the country these days, it’s socially acceptable to drink either very, very bad cheap beer, like PBR or Old Style, or craft beer, but certainly not Bud, Miller and the like. There might be people drinking bad beer in San Diego, but I certainly haven’t noticed them.

Last night in San Diego, I was in the mood for some good beer, so I did a quick Google search of brewpubs in the area and found that there were at least 32 to choose from. It’s no wonder that Men’s Journal named San Diego the best beer town in America. I ended up at the Coronado Brewing Company, which serves up a pretty damn good English Brown Ale, but the dizzying selection of places almost had me feeling nostalgic for the days when cities had just a handful of places to drink good beer and it wasn’t so hard to figure out where the hell to go.

[Photo credits: Dave Seminara, eyeliam and Darin Barry on Flickr]

Special Saint Patrick’s Day beers and where to get them


Special Saint Patrick's Day beers and where to get them


With St. Patrick’s Day quickly approaching, many microbreweries around the United States are starting to release their special Irish-inspired beers. Red ales, cream ales, and chocolate- and coffee-flavored stouts are making their annual debut, going head-to-foamy-head with the traditional St. Paddy’s Day libation Guinness. Here is a roundup of some of the nation’s St. Patrick’s Day beers and where to get them.Location: Boston
Brewery: Harpoon Brewery
Special Beer: Harpoon Celtic
What It Is and Where to Get It: The Boston brewery’s popular Harpoon Celtic has been brewed since 2000 and is the de facto seasonal brew for spring. Available in 27 states and counting, Harpoon is best enjoyed at the brewery’s Boston Tasting Room.

Location: Frederick, Maryland
Brewery: Flying Dog Brewery
Special Beer: Lucky SOB Irish Red
What It Is and Where to Get It: This brewery north of Washington, D.C., claims to brew its Lucky SOB Irish Red with “real four-leaf clovers handpicked at the brewery last St. Patrick’s Day.” Ahem. Look for their beer on draft only at pubs in Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, and Washington, D.C., throughout March.

Location: Durango, Colorado
Brewery: Steamworks Brewing Company
Special Beer: Irish Car Bomb
What It Is and Where to Get It: Blended with Irish cream and Jameson whiskey during its second fermentation, Irish Car Bomb is “named for the beer’s effect not as a political statement.” Yeah, right. At any rate, the first cask of 2012’s Irish Car Bomb brew will be tapped at 3 p.m. on March 16.

Location: Lake George, New York
Brewery: Adirondack Pub and Brewery
Special Beer: Mocha Stout
What It Is and Where to Get It: Adirondack Brewery uses organic cocoa and ground Caffe Verro coffee in its rich stout. Look for Adirondack beer at restaurants throughout the Hudson Valley.

Location: Cleveland
Brewery: Great Lakes Brewing Company
Special Beer: Conway’s Irish Ale
What It Is and Where to Get It: This eco-friendly Cleveland brewery makes the “malty” Conway’s Irish Ale for the St. Patrick’s Day crowd. Great Lakes Brewing Company beers are available throughout Ohio and in 13 other states.

Location: Brooklyn
Brewery: Brooklyn Brewery
Special Beer: Dry Irish Stout
What It Is and Where to Get It: Brooklyn Brewery’s unfiltered Dry Irish Stout is brewed the traditional way, meaning that they use flaked raw barley rather than nitrogen to give the beer its foamy head. Dry Irish Stout is on tap at the Brooklyn Brewery’s Tasting Room as well as a few other restaurants and pubs in NYC and Brooklyn.

Location: Bend, Oregon
Brewery: Three Creeks Brewery and Silver Moon Brewing
Special Beers: O’Cosci Stout from Three Creeks Brewery; Shamrock Green Bridge Pilsner and O’Shawnigan’s Irish Red from Silver Moon Brewing
What It Is and Where to Get It: The central Oregon town of Bend has no fewer than 10 microbreweries along its Bend Ale Trail. Two of those breweries, Three Creeks Brewery and Silver Moon Brewing, produce St. Patrick’s Day beers, which are available on draught from the breweries’ tap rooms.

Location: Chico, California
Brewery: Sierra Nevada Brewing Company
Special Beer: Knightro – Celtic Festival Beer
What It Is and Where to Get It: Sierra Nevada beers are sold throughout the United States but you can only get the brewery’s small batch Knightro stout – and 14 other limited-edition beers – at its Chico Taproom and Restaurant.

Location: Ann Arbor, Michigan
Brewery: Arbor Brewing Company
Special Beer: St. Pat’s Strong Stout
What It Is and Where to Get It: Arbor Brewing Company brews St. Pat’s Strong Stout, which has a “chalky, Turkish coffee palate” for the holiday. Also available each March at the ABC Brewpub are Espresso Love Breakfast Stout and a vegan-friendly Blackheath Sweet Stout.

Photo Flickr/miamism

October is American Cheese Month!

cheeseIt’s amazing it took this long, what with national hot dog month, ice cream month, and clogged artery month (okay, I made that one up), but now we have a new reason to check in with our cardiologists.

The American Cheese Society ACS) has announced the launch of American Cheese Month, an annual celebration of America’s artisan, farmstead, and specialty cheeses, and the farmers, cheesemakers, distributors, retailers, cheesemongers, chefs, and educators who make up this growing community. And I joke about cardiologists; cheese consumed in moderation is an excellent source of protein, calcium, phosphorous, and vitamins B12 and D, and an important part of maintaining bone and dental health.

American Cheese Month will be held annually each October, with special events, farm tours, and promotions in cities across the country. The goal of the month-long celebration is to raise awareness about the quality and diversity of American cheeses (from the milk of cows, goats, sheep; even water buffalo), as well as to increase support for family farms, traditional cheese production methods, and sustainable production and farming methods. Proceeds from select American Cheese Month events will support the American Cheese Education Foundation.

In the last decade, North American artisan cheesemakers have become serious contenders with those in Europe, and the excellence of American artisan cheeses is now recognized worldwide. The American public’s passion for cheese is also booming, as evidenced by the increase in cheese shops, books (Shameless self-promo moment: I’m currently co-authoring Cheese for Dummies in collaboration with Culture: the word on cheese magazine and its co-founder Lassa Skinner. It will be out in March, 2012) classes, workshops, and festivals.

ACS will kick off American Cheese Month in its home base of Denver, at the Brewers Association’s 30th Annual Great American Beer Festival (sold out, alas). Beer and cheese pairing is the hottest thing going in both industries, so look for more cross-promo events in the coming year. Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper has shown his support by issuing a proclamation declaring October as American Cheese Month in the state (which has its own growing–and impressive–artisan cheese scene).

For listings of national and local events, go to the American Cheese Society site. Cheese lovers can also network on the American Cheese Month Facebook page and on Twitter (#AmCheeseMonth, @CheeseSociety).

[Photo credit: Flickr user ex_magician]

How to Understand Cheeses with Dean Max McCalman at Artisanal

Connecticut Beer Trail holds second official “Bikes and Beers” tour in Granby July 31st

connecticut beerFar be it from the People to not abide by the Constitution. On July 31st, Granby is holding its second “Bikes & Beers” tour along the Connecticut Beer Trail (it’s the Constitution State, FYI. Yeah, I didn’t know, either).

Connecticut seems obsessed with food and drink-themed pathways: there’s the new Hot Dog Trail, the Ice cream and Sundae Drive (cute), and the Wine Trail. Why the fixation? Who cares? It’s a cool idea, especially when partnered with pedaling.

Bikes & Beers is a collaboration with Connecticut’s Pedal Power bike shops. Riders will get to enjoy beautiful views along the 17.2-mile loop, as well as some cold ones at the Cambridge House Brew Pub, an award-winning producer of craft beer. It’s just one of 10 craft breweries featured on the Beer Trail, a social media organization dedicated to promoting local breweries, the craft beer community, and related tourism (how cool is that?) statewide.

Better look out, West Coast and Colorado–Connecticut’s craft brewers are gaining on you.

The Connecticut Beer Trail and Pedal Power are planning future rides; click here or go to Pedal Power’s site for updates.

[Photo credit: Flickr user roboppy]


The Right Way to Pour and Taste a Beer