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Saturday, March 14, 2015

In Search of Great Beer on the High Desert

There''s always been something about Central Oregon's grubby John Wayne motif that appealed to me. Familiarity breeds comfort, I suppose. See I was raised in Eastern Washington, an intellectual desert flush with rattlesnakes, rednecks and cowboy politics. Not necessarily in that order.

My first trip to Bend/Sunriver was in 1993, a ski trip that included a visit to the Deschutes Public House. It was a heavy snow year and the area's desert character was obscured by white stuff. That wasn't quite the case last week.

A friend who lives in Bend told me they're caught in a sort of political DMZ. Visitors from liberal Portland see the area as cowboy conservative. Folks visiting from the eastern part of the state see Bend as a haven of limp-wristed socialists. "We're stuck," he says.

I was wresting with that thought as we headed back to Portland Thursday morning. About that time I spied a birther sticker on the back of a junk pickup. Central Oregon: Love it or leave it, I guess. But never mind. On to the beer.

Sunriver Brewing
I last visited Sunriver Brewing roughly a year ago. At the time, they had made the transition from having their beer contract-brewed by the now defunct Phat Matt's of Redmond. What they were pouring at the time was pretty solid, I thought.

There was evidence of more progress a few weeks ago when I tasted Vicious Mosquito IPA at Belmont Station. It held up well next to some pretty good beers. Word got out and people were lining up to order this stuff. The keg kicked in a hurry.

So it figures that these guys have experienced rather steep growth over the past year. They brewed less than 1,000 barrels in 2014, according to OLCC stats. But they expect to triple that in 2015, having added fermenters and staff that will allow for full-time production.

Bottling commenced in late 2014 with the IPA and Shred Head Winter Ale, another solid beer. Their SUP Summer Ale will replace Shred Head in the next mobile bottling cycle. They hope to begin canning two brands later this year.

The packaged beer isn't widely available at this point. Some grocery stores in Bend and Sunriver have it. Here in Portland, I've seen it only in bottleshops. A bottle of the IPA (bought in Portland) did not come close to matching the draft version of the beer. I have no idea why. Maybe it wasn't fresh.

Regardless, Sunriver Brewing is kicking some serious ass. The pub has established itself as a destination in Sunriver Village, once a virtual beer desert. Hopefully, we'll be seeing some more of their beers on draft, bottles and cans in Portland.

Deschutes Mountain Room
When you think of Deschutes, you think of a gigantic craft brewery whose beers are sold everywhere. They are, in fact, a lot more than that, at least in my view. Their specialty beer program produces some spectacular results. Beers like The Dissident, Mirror Mirror and The Abyss, for instance.

Since that first visit so long ago, I had stopped by the Public House numerous times. The Mountain Room didn't exist for a lot of those years and I had never visited until this trip. The place is an illuminating example of high-end marketing.

They offer tours of the Deschutes production facility, but I arrived late and without a reservation. That left me to hang out in the tasting room with a hoard of tourists. The Deschutes folks are quite accommodating, providing four complimentary tasters. They got even more accommodating when I saw they were pouring The Dissident and Jubel 2015. Both are fantastic.

The Mountain Room strikes me as a bit of a tourist trap. There's a lot of schwag for sale and the prices aren't the best. I spoke to some folks who had really no knowledge of Deschutes beers beyond the standards and were confused about those. Clearly, I'm too used to hanging out with beer geeks in Portland.

I was surprised to hear the beertenders telling customers that bottles of specialty beer could only be had in this shop. That clearly is not the case. Beers like The Abyss, Jubel 2015 and others can be had at many bottleshops. I later saw bottles at a store in Bend. Negative style points.

Platypus Pub
I arranged to meet up with friend and fellow author/blogger Jon Abernathy Wednesday evening. After looking over the online tap lists at some Bend watering holes, I suggested the Platypus Pub. This was going to be a chance for us to talk about all the money we've made writing about beer. Oh boy!

The Platypus, if you don't know, is located in a building that was apparently once a church. I'm not sure what happened to the church because churches don't close in Bend...they expand. An Italian restaurant occupied the space prior to it becoming a combination pub (downstairs), homebrew supply store and bottle shop (upstairs).

We enjoyed some fantastic beers as we talked about which investment firm to entrust the millions we've made on our book projects and blogs. I had Double Mountain Kriek, Boneyard Notorious and Hop Valley Alpha Centauri. Jon had some other equally impressive beers. Good times.

As things wound down, we found ourselves looking for something light. An order for Trummer Pils was placed and shortly regretted. I approached the bar and asked the beertender to deliver two PBR pounders, instead. No problem, she said.

That was my last of many beers on what was a decent beer and ski vacation. Photos were taken and posted to social media, completely overlooking the fact that a number of quality beers were consumed that evening and during the trip as a whole. Oh well. Until next time...

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