They come to hike, bike, sail and kite the Gorge’s natural assets – the mountains, the waterfalls, the Columbia River, the warm winds, the incredible views. But after all that, it’s beer-thirty.
“People who love the outdoors come and do their favorite sport … maybe once. The rest of the time, they are sitting right here, drinking beer and eating,” said Kerry Cobb, who was contracted to market the area’s assets for the Hood River County Chamber of Commerce. By “here” she meant the Columbia River area’s eight breweries – six on the Oregon side of the river (Full Sail, Double Mountain, Pfriem, Solera, Logsdon Farmhouse, Big Horse) and two across the toll bridge in Washington (Walking Man, Everybody’s). Specifically, we were sitting in Ale Alley, which includes several downtown Hood River breweries, taphouses and even Andrews Theater, where you can watch a movie, drink beer and eat pizza. Even more specifically, we were downing Molten Lava, a delicious Imperial IPA, at Double Mountain’s newly-expanded restaurant and brewery. Even on a weekday afternoon, the place was crowded.
Tourism is growing in the Gorge, and though there are still summer spikes, these are spreading out, Cobb said. In the past few years, the visitor’s center has seen a 59 percent increase in visitors, and income from the transient tax, which helps support tourism marketing for the area, has seen a 15 percent increase.
In addition to the nature-lovers who top off their hikes with a beer, there are more visitors who are coming to Hood River specifically to enjoy the beer and the activities surrounding beer. The region that is famous for its 40 wineries is now becoming a bit of a beer-Mecca, Cobb said. “People want to be in Hood River. Once they come, they begin to discover other stuff, like beer.”
Downtown businesses have tapped into the business beer brings. For example, what began as a parking lot drinking party on Fourth Street nearly 9 years ago expanded to 5,000 revelers celebrating fresh hop beers after the Chamber got involved in 2011. Last year, Hood River’s Hop Fest drew more than 10,000 people for 6 solid hours of tasting 50 fresh-hopped brews from more than 30 breweries. “That effectively doubled the population of Hood River,” Cobb said.
This year, the Hood River Hop Fest is from noon to 9 p.m. Sept. 28. Reserve your room or couch space now, Cobb suggested, as the town fills up fast, as do all of the rooms, RV parks and local camping spots in the Gorge. Other Gorge festivals are including local beers in their line-up. The Harvest Festival and the Blossom Festival are incorporating brew tents, Cobb said.
If crowds are not your thing, off-season brewery visits are always fun. Most of the breweries have, at the minimum, a tasting room or tours of the brewery available if you call ahead. Many of them have taprooms and restaurants, too. But beer is a blissfully portable beverage.
“Pack a picnic lunch and take some beer with you. Get down on the water,” Cobb said.
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.