Bend Beer Trail: A Short Trip Away
Recently the Cycling Cicerone set out to find what the deal was with Bend - known as the city with the highest number of breweries per capita in the Pacific North West. We rode our bicycles all around Bend in an attempt to hit ten breweries in two days. After a weekend of marathon drinking, camping, and riding, is Bend all it's cracked up to be? Short answer: yes, it's pretty great.
It's worth mentioning that we are from Seattle, so we came a long way. After hearing about Bend here and there, we finally decided to load our camping gear up, stack the bikes on the back of our car and come check it out. We started our journey at Tumalo State Park, a modest state park very near Bend. It's location along the Deschutes river would make it a destination by itself, but we chose this spot because it is a short bike ride from town, and at twenty one dollars a night for a reserved campsite with fully staffed facilities and fire pits, you'd be hard pressed to find somewhere cheaper and more fun to stay. The plan was to road-trip into Bend on Friday and do a quick drive by of some taprooms on the outskirts, camp Friday night and Saturday night using Saturday to bike into town and explore as many breweries as possible, then use any extra time on Sunday to see any places we missed. If everything went according to plan, we'd see over ten of Bend's breweries, putting a sizable dent in what they had to offer before starting the six hour car ride back to Seattle. Here's how it went.
The Campsite -
Tumalo state park is beautiful. Nestled in the rural/ suburban hills around the growing city, you can catch great views of the surrounding mountains. It's a well-polished and maintained campground with large, clean bathrooms, a children's playground, and full time camp staff that take care of reservations, permitting, and firewood. We made our reservations several weeks in advance and arrived to find every spot other spot was full. It's a far stretch from roughing it, but if car camping is your style (that is, camping with easy access to your car full of all the supplies you can fit in it) then this place fits the bill. It costs a mere $21 a night for up to 8 people. Cars beyond the first cost $7 a night. We arrived late into the evening and the site chaperones were still up and ready to sell us all the firewood we needed. It got a little cold at night, so thick blankets and a roaring fire were a must.
The Route -
Our route took us down O.B. Riley Road which goes all the way from Tumalo state park to nearly into town where it briefly merges into Highway 20 before dropping us off at the first brewery of the trip: Riverbend Brewing. 4.3 miles of mostly flat riding except for one major hill. Right out of the gate at Tumalo, you find yourself climbing fairly steeply for about half a mile. Practiced riders trained on steep Seattle hills will make it up without a sweat, but even our amateur riders hailing from flat Eugene, OR and riding heavy Craigslist mountain bikes made it up with just a bit of extra time and encouragement. Coming down this hill during sunset with a great view of the mountains to the West was quite possibly the peak moment of this trip, so while you're climbing, know that you have that to look forward to. The rest of the ride is flat through the semi-rural land around Bend. It's a pleasant mix of farmland, nature, and new development. It feels like you are much further from town than you are. Almost the entire route consists of dedicated bike lane or wide shoulder with plenty of room, so it's great even for the less confident road rider. The one small roadblock is merging with Highway 20 near town where the bike lanes start to feel a little less safe among the merging cars. Keep right and stay on the shoulder; you're almost at Riverbend Brewing.
Our route took us to five breweries on Saturday. Riverbend was the first stop on the north side of town, then we rode through to the brewery-dense southern part of downtown where Immersion Brewpub, Atlas Cider, and Crux Fermentation Project were. Lastly, on our way out we hit Bend Brewing. Not really knowing what the best was, we chose breweries purely on our own personal whims at the time. The town is a combination of gentle slopes, beautiful bike paths, and well-marked bike lanes, so you can go wherever you want without much fuss. Even the town's two distinct brewery "patches", the North and the South, are so close to each other by bike that it's impossible to find yourself too far from your next destination. When planning your circuit, you may want to check the hours of some of the breweries on the north side of town, not all of them are open on the weekends.
The Breweries -
Even though we went to ten different locations during our trip, there are still another half dozen we never got to try. Because of that, I feel a bit uncomfortable trying to rank places specifically or even tell you where to go or what to avoid. I'm going to do that anyway, but just know I feel bad about it and that this is a touch away from the full story. Bend has three main varieties of brewery to visit: the brewery facilities, the brewpubs, and the taprooms. The brewery facilities are the likes of 10 Barrel and Deschutes. Their enormous breweries offer guided tours of the facility, usually with some free beer. I highly recommend either place, both of which require reserving a spot on a tour ahead of time via email. If you've been on a brewery tour before, then they don't offer anything new, but if you are like me, then they are still fascinating. The Brewpubs serve food alongside their house made beers. Deschutes and 10 Barrel own these as well, and Riverbend, Immersion, and Bend Brewing Co also count themselves among them. If you are trying to sample as much beer as you can, you might find yourself feeling a little less welcome at these places when the servers try to talk you into ordering food. I shy away from brewpubs generally, but one or two strategically placed into your route when you think you are going to get hungry is great plan. Lastly are the taprooms - the holy grail of drinking locations. They don't bother with pleasantries like food or tours, instead just offering a lineup of beers and place to drink them while you play a round of cornhole or bags. Before you know it you've had two flights and tasted their entire lineup. These are most densely located in the North part of town where Monkless, Bridge 99, and Oblivion all make their homes. Overall, Bend has a strong focus on Brewpubs, stronger than places like Portland or Seattle where breweries tend to have foodless taprooms instead. With trendsetters like the enormous Deschutes brewpub offering wide appeal to all kinds of diners and drinkers, who can blame them for trying to follow suit. When visiting breweries that have brewpubs instead of taprooms, sit at the bar so it will feel less like you are guarding a table that a hardworking server wants to flip for the next party.
Despite nonstop drinking, we weren't able to hit everywhere we wanted. Boneyard, Oblivion, and Silvermoon which all came highly recommended by other local brewers, and places like Craft, North Rim, and Sun River that we haven't yet seen will all need to wait until our next visit.
I can't recommend visiting these places enough. All of them are overflowing with hospitality and good beer. Food trucks and other food options are usually not too far off. Here they are in the order I'd rank them, though I have to say what you really want to do is go to all of them.
This taproom is a small, homegrown affair. The owners are a husband and wife combo that also ran the place, pouring beers and running tables. Fantastically intimate. Their beer was fantastic as well! Their take on Belgian beer styles is very approachable and very delicious even if you've never enjoyed Belgian beers before. They highly recommended visiting the nearby 99 Bridge and Oblivion, but this place takes the Cycling Cicerone's first prize trophy for sure.
The outdoor area is to die for. Fire pits, cornhole, and food trucks. They have a great array of eccentric beer styles, so it's hard to pick what to try. Tons of German, French, and Belgian styles are represented. I could have stayed here all day hanging out in the sun. The bathroom situation was a little grim on the crowded, sunny day I was there, but there were some extra porta potties to pick up the slack. I had to move on before I could drink all I wanted.
Goodlife has a huge outdoor area including the longest cornhole range I've ever played on, so it was pretty tough. On a sunny day, you could lounge here forever. Their space is shared with a distillery, so you can get a glimpse of that neat equipment. Their entire facility is visible through their garage doors and everyone inside was just jamming out and having a great time. I could have listed it with the brewpubs for their indoor seating area, but their food menu is pretty lack luster. They fare much better on the taproom list.
This place is great; another intimate, homegrown taproom. The head brewer and his buddy were both there on the Friday I went to hang out. They have the tiniest brew system ever, a whopping 15 gallon setup. Hopefully they are expanding soon. They are very near a few other breweries including Monkless, Bridge 99, and Oblivion, and the 10 Barrel Brewery facility. They aren't open on Sunday, so plan this into your trip on Friday or Saturday.
Hilarious, chatty bartenders, great eclectic art vibe, and wonderful ciders. They have just a few on tap, but also serve blends resulting in tons of delightful combos. Arcade games and free popcorn are hidden in the back, but when the sun is out, they are rightly ignored. Their patio area is pretty great, boasting tons of seating and cornhole. They are right next to Immersion Brewing and Crux fermentation project so it's the perfect addition to a Saturday drinking circuit. It's on the bottom of my list here, but if you are a cider person, bump this to the top. It's truly top tier.
Add one or two of these to your route if that's your style but don't bother trying to hit them all unless you have a bottomless stomach. Here are the ones I visited in the order I'd rank them. Top of the list are must visit locations.
Bend Brewing Company
Some great Berliner Weisse here! We sat at the window right next to the bar and had plenty of chances to chat with the bartender even though it was pretty busy. Great service, plenty of space, fairly intimate. It's a brewpub which isn't usually great for extended drinking periods, but the window seat made for great people watching, and before we knew it we'd been there for 2 hours.
Good service and food on the south side of town. This brewpub doesn't quite have the environment for an extended drinking session, though. All I wanted to do was get up and explore around the place, but as with most brewpubs like this, its restaurant vibe will shut down your plans to wander. They have some gorgeous copper brewery equipment that I simply had to intrude on the server’s private space to go take a look at. With its proximity to other breweries and Atlas Cidery, it's a great addition to a binge brewery circuit.
This place was packed. We put our table request in and wandered around downtown where this place is located. The food comes in huge portions and is rather expensive. Great prices on growler fills and you won't find a place with a larger variety of Deschutes Beer.
This is a sports bar and brewpub. This isn't a taproom, so only come here if you are interested in getting food too. They serve flights of pretty good craft beer, but nothing mind blowing except for a suspiciously out of season Pumpkin beer they keep on their permanent lineup. If it's spring and you are missing pumpkin beer already (I find it takes me the whole year to get psyched up for them again), then this is your place. There was a back room with some slot machines and games that fill the dining area with electronic coin noises that could have been a bit more pleasant. Overall, worth stop on your way into the rest of town.
10 Barrel was the only facility I went on a dedicated tour of. Email them to book a tour here and see the whole place. Their new brewpub doesn't offer the total experience. I had three wonderful tour guides, one who really knew her stuff and a couple of trainees, and they really loved what they did. Don the safety goggles and high visibility jacket and see the inner workings of this giant brewery. If you're lucky, you'll get a couple free beers out of it. It was a great visit!
Start planning your trip to Bend right away. It isn't hard to get a reservation at Tumalo state park, but you have to reserve a fair amount in advance. Set out a rough route of the taprooms and brewpubs you want to visit, but know that once you get to Bend, your plans aren't that important. There are so many options and places to go within such a small distance, you can fly by the seat of your pants and wind up on an awesome adventure no matter how it goes. It's impossible to drink Bend beer wrong, but it's best with a bike.
Ride fast and drink slow
-The Cycling Cicerone.