Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from Chris Santella’s new book in the ‘Fifty Places’ series, ‘Fifty Places to Drink Beer Before You Die.’
Resting against the eastern slopes of the Cascade Mountains in Central Oregon, Bend boasts a dry, sunny climate where cool mountain breezes meld with the scent of high-desert sage and juniper to create an intoxicating perfume. Bend’s array of outdoor opportunities is second to none, ranging from golf to hiking, mountain and road biking to fly fishing, rafting, kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding to downhill and cross-country skiing. It’s a four-season playground, with just enough quirkiness that’s snuck over the mountains from Portlandia to keep things interesting.
And Bend has one of the highest breweries per capita in the nation!
“Bend is very much a lifestyle community,” said Deschutes Brewery founder Gary Fish. “People come to vacation, and a fair amount end up staying. You might argue that people who live and work here are always on vacation! Bend has changed a great deal since I moved here in 1987. Then, it was 12,000 or 15,000 people. Now it’s over 80,000. But the priorities are still geared toward quality of life. I don’t know anyone who lives here for the money, because you can make more money somewhere else. But there’s a terrific energy here and a great quality of life.”
For longtime Central Oregonians who remember Bend as a modest timber town along the Deschutes River (the name comes from a prominent “bend” in the river), its incarnation as a beer destination must be as mind-boggling as its transformation to an outdoor recreation hub. Bend now boasts 21 brewing concerns within its city limits, with another seven in surrounding towns. It all started in 1987 when Gary and his wife, Carol, took a trip to Bend from their home in Salt Lake City and liked what they saw. With encouragement from his father, who had worked in the wine industry in California and saw the business potential for brewpubs, Gary opened Deschutes Brewery in 1988 in then quiet downtown Bend. Not long after opening, Gary received a call from a distributor in Portland interested in stocking Deschutes beers — at that time, Mirror Pond Pale Ale, Black Butte Porter and Obsidian Stout. Soon, Deschutes was unable to make enough beer to cater to its brewpub customers. Today, Deschutes brews most of its beer at a state-of-the-art facility on the banks of its namesake river, produces more than 20 styles, and is among the largest craft brewers in the country.
Being a part of the Bend community has always been an important goal for Gary and Deschutes Brewery. Beyond its support of local charities, Deschutes has done a great deal to create the “beervana” that Bend is today. “We were the first brewery here, and we are the largest,” Gary continued. “Many of the people who have worked for us have eventually wanted to do something on their own. I did the same thing, so I certainly understand the urge and have never begrudged anyone leaving to pursue a different opportunity. Indirectly, we’ve populated a lot of breweries in the area . . . and others came because they liked the scene that’s evolved in Bend.”
Though farmhouse ales and sour beers are beginning to appear around Bend, the defining style is still India Pale Ale. Boneyard Beer’s RPM, 10 Barrel Brewing’s Apocalypse IPA and Deschutes’s Fresh Squeezed IPA are all good standard bearers. Crux Fermentation Project contributes an eminently drinkable session IPA to the mix. There are many fine spots where you can enjoy a beer. You could do worse than a visit to the Deschutes Bend Public House, which generally has 19 taps flowing and imaginative pub grub. Both 10 Barrel and Old St. Francis School (an outpost of the Portland-based McMenamins beer empire) have attractive fire pits where you can enjoy a libation outside during cooler weather. To facilitate your journey around town, the Bend Visitor Center has created the Bend Ale Trail. If your feet get tired, there are several companies that lead beer-inspired tours . . . or you can reserve a seat on the Cycle Pub, a trolley-like contraption that’s powered by the pedaling of its occupants.
With the plenitude of great outdoor experiences within an hour’s drive of downtown Bend, it can be difficult to nail down which pastime you should pursue first. A number of traditional triathlon events are held each spring and summer in the region, but it’s also quite possible to construct your own triathlon. Gary shared one of his favorites. “My avocations revolve around golf and fly fishing, though I also enjoy skiing. In the springtime, you can combine all three. I’ll head up to Mount Bachelor in the morning for some spring skiing. I’ll leave late morning so I’m back down to Bend by noon. Then I’ll play eighteen holes of golf. [The Bend region boasts over 25 courses.] I’ll grab an early dinner, and then grab my fly rod to wet a line for trout on the Deschutes River, right in the middle of town. To top off the perfect day, I’ll have a pint of Bachelor Bitter at the Deschutes Public House.”
Gary Fish founded Deschutes Brewery in 1988 as a small downtown brewpub in Bend. Under his guidance, the brewery has grown over the years to encompass another brewpub in Portland’s Pearl District and a main brewing facility that produced more than 335,000 barrels of beer in 2014. Deschutes Brewery, which was recently ranked as seventh largest brewery in the nation, distributes to 28 states, the District of Columbia and around the world.
Over time, Gary has guided the company to create award-winning beers all the way to creating an award-winning work environment — Deschutes Brewery was named one of Outside Magazine’s Best Places to Work for three years in row. He is a recipient of the Oregon Restaurant Association’s “Community Service” award and “Restaurateur of the Year” award, received the Governors’ Gold Awards Program Al and Pat Reser Civic Leadership Award, and won the regional Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award.