Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Playing Catchup - Summary Summery Brewery Encounters

Still playing catch-up with some point-form highlights of this summer's brewery visits...

Bend Ale Trail and Deschutes

  • Bend, Oregon is a must-visit for any who loves good beer and great outdoor activities.  It's sunny, a true outdoors mecca in the eastern foothills of the Cascades, and has at least a dozen craft breweries within city limits - though the population is only 80,000!  Very highly recommended - you can stand-up paddle board or float on a tube down the lovely Deschutes river through the middle of town, parks and walking trails on both sides, and be in a craft beer pub seconds later.
  • Mrs. Hoplog and I completed the Bend Ale Trail - a list of 10 craft breweries in Bend (one is in nearby Sisters), which is a great way to visit the beer highlights in the area.  All are walkable from downtown (except for Three Creeks Brewing in Sisters, which is well worth the drive for their excellent beer and great food).
  • Deschutes Brewing, the fifth-largest craft brewer in the United States, is located in Bend (just across the river and up the hill from REI).  It has the best brewery tour I've yet been on: an hour long, decently in-depth without being overwhelming, knowledgeable and enthusiastic guides, free samples, and a wonderful, laid-back, inclusive feel while viewing the gleaming, bright new facilities.  Oh, and the beer is fantastic, as is their large brewpub in downtown Bend.  Deschutes is a large craft brewer that has it 100% together in my book.
Tasters at Deschutes' pub in downtown Bend

Huge bales of whole leaf hops at Deschutes.  They ship something like 3 million bottles of beer per week, yet quality remains excellent

  • Bendistillery, a well-recognized craft distiller, is midway between Bend and Sisters.  It's worth a stop. The smell of fresh habaneros and bell peppers steeping in vodka is certainly unique.
  • Trailerable meat smokers are a big thing in town.  This one is parked (somewhat permanently) outside 10 Barrel Brewing:

  • Bend is also home of mobile, pedal-powered craft beer bars.

Rogue: Brewery and Farm

  • First, Rogue makes some excellent beer, and good on them for being craft beer pioneers.
  • Having said that, after visiting Rogue, I came away with a worse impression than before I visited.  Why?  Many little things, but I think it can be summed up as "attitude." 
    • Rogue cultivates an image of being independent and going their own way.  Unfortunately, that seems to extend to customers - if you're not happy to receive mediocre service and pay a significant premium at their brewery or Newport brewpub, you can take a hike, because Rogue is independent and you're either with that or against it.  I guess I'm supposed to feel privileged to give them my money?
    • The attitude also seems to permeate employees, who seem less helpful and more unhappy than at most craft breweries I've visited.
    • If, after visiting the Newport headquarters, you give them the benefit of the doubt and take the time and expense to go all the way to Rogue's farm (where they grow many types of hops, among other crops - good for them!), you'd better hope you know what their very limited guest hours are, otherwise the employees will let you wander the grounds and avoid even waving hello, let alone offers of directions or any sort of communication or welcome.  It's a working farm, and was not well set up for drop-in guests, despite what the marketing literature suggests.
  • In my opinion, if you want to skip a major brewer in Oregon, Rogue is a good candidate.  It's way off the beaten path, you'll pay much more for samples (yes, they charge for all samples) and pints than nearly anywhere else, and why risk spoiling your impression of them if you already like them?

Rogue Brewery main entrance

Rogue Hops!

Portland Highlights

  • Recommendations from this visit:
    • Upright Brewing as usual - their Levinator (barrel aged bock) was astounding, and the Flora Rustica a fantastic summer drink.
    • Grain & Gristle is possibly one of the best-value meals in Portland, and that's saying a lot.  My meal was further improved with a totally amazing Commons Brewing "Fleur De Ferme".
        Commons Fleur De Ferme - possibly the best beer I had all summer

        Merguez sausage; looks good, tastes even better
    • If you're a dog lover, or if you just appreciate extremely drinkable beer and tasty, reasonably-priced food, the Lucky Labrador brewpub is for you.  Our very kind server even gave us our first pint free because it was our first visit.  Go there!
      One of the many four-legged patrons on the patio
        • If you can navigate the hipsterish bikers lining the benches, and the potentially long lineups for beer, Apex has one hell of a beer nerd tap list, and is worth a shot.


      Though Crannog is near to my hometown, I had never dropped by until this summer.  It has a classic Shuswap-hippie vibe, a commune-farm feel which is very relaxed.  Brian has some Irish roots, and did all of the Gaelic art on-site.  There were event photos from Belfast in the tasting room.

      The brew house

      I love Crannog's organic production, and their zero-waste, all-from-the-farm mission.  If they can grow it on-site, they do.  Their hops, potatoes and fruit all make it into their beer.  Brewing leftovers get composted or used as feed.  Very self-sufficient and homey.

      Crannog hop vines

      Black pigs, fed by among other things, spent grains from the brewery

      Our tour guide and Crannog's wee mash tun.  No wonder Crannog only sells kegs and growlers - they'd have to build a new brewhouse building if they expanded production. 

      Barley Station

      No photos - but if you're travelling through Salmon Arm and have a hankering for an incredibly tasty pilsener, you're in luck.

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