Weighing in now at nearly 20 breweries, Central Oregon is emerging as Oregon’s middleweight brew champion contender. Deschutes, Bend Brewing, Silver Moon and Cascade Lakes have long delivered premium craft brews locally and statewide. But new breweries in recent years have responded to local and visitor increased demand for craft brews from Central Oregon. And the region’s associated businesses, hard-hit by the recession, have followed suit, providing beer tourists with services that make this place unique.
“Central Oregon is a mecca for innovators,” said Matt Mulder, of Phat Matt’s Brewery in Redmond. “Brewers make what they love to drink.”
Innovation is not confined to Central Oregon’s brewers. Today, you can catch a ride on one of several tours ranging from horse-drawn carriages to more luxurious shuttles. You can visit a basement brewery appropriately named Below Grade, or see beer brewed in a hollowed-out log at the Ale Apothecary, follow the Bend Ale Trail app on your smart phone, or tour breweries and gorge yourself on pub food as you walk around Bend to the dozen breweries within two miles of each other.
The Central Oregon brewery scene has its own brand: desperados that have farmed and ranched this lava soil since the mid-1800s. But today, cowboy hats are replaced with tuques and chullos decorated in skulls and crossbones; horses have turned into snowboards, skis and mountain bikes; and the village blacksmith is now a brewer who can turn a ton of barley into a delicious beverage.
The tourists are drinking it up. This year, 40 percent of Bend’s visitors went to a brewery or destination involving craft beer, a whopping increase from 2009’s 28 percent.
“It’s taken on a life of it’s own,” said Tawna Fenske, communications manager for Visit Bend, the city’s center to promote tourism. The region has long been a draw for outdoor recreation – biking, hiking, fishing and boating in the summer, and skiing and boarding in the winter.
But beer tourism is slowly taking the giant spikes out of the seasonal visitor count. “People are now coming to Central Oregon year-round for our beer,” she said.
Visit Bend took on beer tourism with its native creative energy. Two years ago, the non-profit’s CEO Doug LaPlaca and Tyler Reichert of Silver Moon Brewery, were having a beer after a day of skiing when they came up with an idea. That idea, The Bend Ale Trail, has morphed into a fold-out “atlas” that maps out all breweries over a year old and informs users of services along the way. The 2013 map will include even more breweries on the trail: Crux, which opened last year, will be featured, as will Worthy Brewing, which has been hugely under construction on Bend’s East side for six months and is scheduled to open in February.
Beer tourism in Central Oregon is not likely to slow down anytime soon, Fenske and LaPlaca suggest. Central Oregon is expanding the Zwicklemania celebration Feb. 16 this year – last year it included 11 stops. Summer concerts and community festivals are now including the region’s breweries. Bend now has it’s own Craft Beer Week in May, a Fermentation Celebration in July, the Bend Brewfest followed by the Little Woody Brew and Whiskey Festival in August, and the Bend Oktoberfest in September.
“It’s popular with tourists, and it’s popular with locals,” said Fenske of craft beer tourism. “it’s a real boost.”
For more information about beer and non-beer related events, see: www.visitbend.com/Bend_Oregon_Activities_Recreation/Bend-Ale-Trail