after dinner sneeze

a lot of g says, t says

Beer, beer, and more beer (and driving 500 miles in a day)

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rch and mh say: After a fun night in Klamath Falls with friends and family, we headed up OR-97 to Bend, OR. If you look at a map, Bend seems pretty out of the way, but the place was impressive, especially for a fan of good beer. The official town visitor center features a Beer Map where you can attempt to get your “passport” stamped at each of the dozen or more breweries on Bend’s “Ale Trail.” This is now a big tourist destination, and Bend has recently moved into first place in Oregon for breweries per capita. It’s become a pretty cute, yuppified little town, something like Boulder Colorado (with similarly beautiful scenery), and we were happy to be able to check it out. Since we only had a few hours in Bend, we were limited to trying just two. First, we went to a newcomer on the Bend beer scene, Good Life Brewing Company.

 It smelled delicious in there, but we were there just to drink, not to eat. So we put the scent of good food behind us and each ordered a beer. rch got the Descender IPA while MCH got the Mountain Rescue Dry Hopped Pale Ale. The Mountain Rescue had a hoppy finish due to the dry hopping process, but was clean and a bit milder than the IPA. The Descender IPA was an IPA in all its glory – bold and hoppy, but not bitter.

We soon departed Good Life, however, to head to the anchor of the Bend brewing scene, and the biggest brewery in all of Oregon, Deschutes Brewery. Deschutes is a heavy hitter in the beer world. They are the fifth largest craft brewer in the United States, according to data from 2011 (huge points if you can name the other four without looking them up. Hint: Boston Beer Company (Sam Adams) is #1). They have also been around since 1988, making them practically ancient compared to many of the microbrews around these days. Here is a shot of some of their fermentation tanks.

Deschutes has a downtown pub in Bend (they also have pubs in Portland and elsewhere), as well as their actual brewery. We headed to the brewery for a tour, meeting up with rch’s friend who lives in Bend. What we found was a very professional operation. The tour was conducted by personnel who seemed tasked for that purpose – rather than a brewer or bartender. Also, unlike the other brewery tours we will discuss in future posts, the tour took place completely on a railed-in catwalk overlooking the actual brewing operation. That being said, it was an interesting and educational tour. The tour guide was knowledgeable and gave us a great overview of the beer-making process. rch’s favorite part was when they passed out whole hop flowers to each person for us to break apart and taste. It turns out that the crystallized sap in the hop flower is what gives the signature hoppy taste to all of our favorite beers, though I confess that, tasted alone, it gives a bit of Bitter Beer Face. Very cool element to the tour, though. The other interesting note on the tour was their story about how one of their new brewing tanks, the Lauter Tun, was so big that it wouldn’t fit down the highway when they were shipping it in to Bend. Apparently they actually worked with the state police to shut down a whole section of Highway 97 for two nights to get the tank to the brewery. Wonder if the police got paid in beer…

We even got to see the bottling operation in action, as you can see below.

 

The Deschutes Brewery gives each person over 21 four generous samples of different Deschutes beer (we got to call which beers)! So, what about the beer itself?

The Twilight Summer Ale was their seasonal. We described it as a slightly hoppier Sam Adams Summer Ale. While mh was a big fan, it had the same slightly sour taste that rch does not love in Sam Summer. The Green Lakes Organic Amber was delicious and clocked in at a low ABV – only 5.2%. It had a clean flavor, pretty mild overall. The Chainbreaker White IPA was one of the more interesting beers we tasted the entire trip. It was a white beer, blonde and unfiltered, something people tend to associate with lighter or fruitier beers, but it was also an IPA. Unexpected and great. The Mirror Pond was only slightly hoppy and a generally smooth pale ale.

Of course, the Deschutes flagship beer is the Black Butte Porter, the best-selling porter in the country. Very few breweries have such a dark and complex beer as their flagship, which is one of the things that put Deschutes on the map. It is great. It has a chocolate smell and a slightly bitter taste. After the tour, we only had minutes to spare before departing Bend, so we headed downtown with Kaeleen to the Deschutes Pub for one more beer.

We drank more tasty Deschutes beer here, but with a twist. We had a large, soft pretzel with Deschutes’ stone-ground mustard. It was delicious. That mustard is outstanding. Just wow. The pretzel was also interesting – a bit more like multigrain and “breadier” than many pretzels. It was a great snack to end our brief tour of Bend.

From Bend, we set off another 130 miles across the state to Eugene, OR. Eugene is not just home of the Oregon Ducks – it also features its own set of craft brewers. The largest of the Eugene-based microbrews is the Ninkasi Brewing Company. Founded in 2006, Ninkasi is rapidly becoming one of the largest beer producers in Oregon, if not the country. They also have a well-run marketing machine. Note how everything there is “branded” with the Ninkasi label (it was also on every glass, in giant mosaic on the floor, on the outdoor tables, on the doors and windows, etc.).

 

We met up with some good friends who recently moved from Philadelphia to Eugene and sampled some of their beers. mh had a lighter beer – the Spring Reign Ale. It is their seasonal beer and it was light and crisp. Very nice for drinking outside on a patio – which we were doing! rch had the “Total Domination” IPA. How can you go wrong with a name like that? She thought it was great, a little milder than the name sounds but tasty. We carried our beers along on the tour, and she is sure that added a little something to the flavor.

The tour itself was excellent. Ninkasi is a much smaller operation than Deschutes, so in some ways it was more intimate tour. For a fun depiction, note the slide the Ninkasi folks use to move ingredients around the warehouse!

 

Ninkasi was also fun because it was filled with the perfect set of Eugene people, almost like something out of Portlandia. There were plenty of pairs of hipster glasses, some tie-dye, and some dreads. And everyone was nice.

Written by afterdinnersneeze

14 June 2012 at 6:50pm

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