The Mirror Pond is as pretty as you’d expect, its glassy surface perfectly echoing the snow-capped peaks that tower above Bend, Ore. As you stand on the prim brick paths that circle the lake, it’s hard not to see the Mirror Pond through the same lens as the artist who drew the label for Deschutes Brewery’s flagship Pale Ale.
Named for the river that feeds the pond, Deschutes became the first craft brewery in Bend in 1988. It’s since grown to become one of the largest in the country. The company still names nearly every brew for a local landmark: Red Chair is a local ski lift, Black Butte is an extinct volcano north of town, Green Lakes are swimming holes. (If there’s an Abyss, I’ve been lucky enough not to find it.)
These days, Deschutes is far from the only game in this sunny, high-desert city on the dry side of the Cascade Mountains. Bend’s beer scene has built up around its marquee name. A city of only 75,000, it now boasts 10 breweries and some of the better beer bars and bottle shops on the West Coast.
Bend is a very beery place, as should be expected given a brewery is one of the city’s largest employers. Craft brew rules here, and you’ll have to scrounge to spot a mass-produced lager. Most brewpubs don’t even bother with guest taps from other craft breweries. You won’t mind.
The Brew Shop and Platypus Pub
The Brew Shop takes up the cavernous sanctuary of a former church. It’s a massive homebrew shop with a wide selection of hops, barley and yeast along with around 500 bottles, the largest selection within 100 miles. It still looks very much like a church from the outside, but a painting of Michael Jackson hangs where Jesus should be. The church basement houses a small, dark pub, which you can skip unless you’ll be in town for a few days.
Broken Top Bottle Shop
Opening earlier this year in a space that formerly housed another beer-centric pub, the Broken Top bar and bottle shop hopes to someday have 700 bottle offerings to go with its 12 taps. Right now, selection is limited to only a couple well-curated cases. Look for Anthem’s hopped apple cider and a large selection of Oregon beers.
Brother Jon’s Public House
Known variably as an “Alehouse” and a “Public House,” Brother Jon’s is an upscale bar on the main downtown drag. Jon’s is the type of place that charges $13 for a dozen Buffalo wings and has televisions showing European soccer matches. (Note: They’re good wings.) Everything inside is wood and brick except for the pressed-tin ceiling tiles. The three-year old pub usually keeps Northwest beers flowing on all 10 taps, favoring Bend’s own brews and hop-bombs from Hood River’s Double Mountain.
McMenamins Old St. Francis School
McMenamins is an Oregon institution, operating bars, breweries, theaters and hotels in historic buildings all over Oregon and Washington. Many of the McMenamins locations brew on site, with some brewmasters following the time-tested recipes for the stalwart Terminator Stout and Ruby Ale (the first post-Prohibition American ale to legally contain fruit) better than others. Bend’s Old St. Francis School is one of McMenamins’ true gems, a former Catholic school built in 1936 and now converted into a hotel, bar and restaurant with soaking pools, a movie theater, a brewery and several pubs. (Yes, you can bring beer into the theater.)
Bend Brewing Co.
The smallish Bend Brewing got a lot of attention by winning a mash tun of medals. The brewmaster responsible for the glory, Tonya Cornett, has been working part time since she started making experimental new brews for ambitious upstart 10 Barrel Brewing earlier this year. Her recipes, including the widely lauded Ching Ching, a Berliner Weisse made with pomegranate, remains at Bend Brewing’s humble brewpub near the bridge over the Mirror Pond.
10 Barrel Brewing
On the west side of Bend, 10 Barrel Brewing is loudly building its own little empire. The brewery will expand into Boise, Idaho, soon, and has been poaching talent from other Oregon breweries to man the kettles. The rustic-chic tasting room (including chairs made of steel beams) and welcoming outdoor patio built around a large fire pit wouldn’t look out of place in Dwell. Budget extra time to get through their oversized sampler tray, but skip their straightforward styles and head right for their biggest and most exotic beers, like the Pray For series.
Cascade Lakes Brewing Company
Sitting on the road from town to Mt. Bachelor Ski Resort, the Cascade Lakes Lodge is one of five pubs owned by a brewing company of the same name. This is the biggest and best, with the full lineup of the Cascade Lakes beers on tap in a rugged, two-floor mountain lodge. The light, golden Rooster Tail Ale is a local favorite.
GoodLife Brewing Company & Bier Hall
The cavernous bier hall is as big and loud as GoodLife’s IPA-heavy menu. In the summer, seek reprieve on the biergarten patio. Try the 29’er India Brown Ale, named for the oversized mountain bike tires you’ll see rolling around everywhere in the mountains west of town.
Newport Avenue Market
Anyone in Portland (162 miles northeast of Bend) will tell you Newport Ave. Market is IGA’s shameless knockoff of a New Seasons store. That’s OK. Newport carries fresh bottles from all the locals and many of the state’s best breweries and, more impressively, also has its own line of beers contract-brewed with local breweries.
Deschutes is test-marketing the new slogan “base camp for beer fanatics” along with a web commercial featuring a couple driving from Portland to drink a bottle at the landmarks on Deschutes labels. It’s too precious for words, but it’s also a better way to spend your day in this scenic city than doing a standard brewery tour. ■