Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Hops and ales in Bend, Oregon

Bend, Oregon, reminds me a lot of Durango. It rests at fairly high elevation (a little over 3,000 feet), it has a wealth of outdoor recreation and natural beauty, and it relies on a tourism and second-homeowner economy.

Most importantly, it has five breweries (but a larger population, about 80,000 people). The best known is Deschutes Brewing, whose beers can easily be found in Durango. The town also hosts Bend Brewing, 10 Barrel Brewing, Cascade Lakes Brewing and Silver Moon Brewing.
I have been drinking Deschutes beers since I was of legal age, so it was nice to finally see the Bend pub.

Deschutes serves a six-beer sampler, all the better to enjoy during an Oregon Ducks football game. I chose Miss Spelt Hefeweizen (4.1 percent ABV, 17 IBUs), Yam-a-Lama! (5, 50) Down Under Dark Ale (4.7, 38), Mirror Pond Pale Ale on cask (5, 40), Lugnut Fresh Hop Pale Ale (6, 45) and Hop Trial Strong Amber (7, 52).

Most interesting and unusual was Yam-a-Lama!, a fresh-hop pale ale using Crystal hops, but with the addition of what the brewery calls a "heck of a lot of sweet potatoes." The sweet potatoes were a bold and different take on the American-style pale ale, adding a dimension I'd never tasted before.

It was a wonderful fall seasonal beer that took an entirely different tack than the many German-inspired Oktoberfest lagers.

The hefeweizen was also notably good, a flavorful turn on the popular style using wheat, pilsner, carared and spelt malts. It was brewed to style and very tasty.

I'm lucky to be here, in the midst of hop country, during a slew of fresh-hop releases. Deschutes had no fewer than four (four!) distinct fresh-hop beers on tap.

While I love Deschutes' beers, I was keen to try Bend Brewing. The brewery is best known for its rock star chick brewer, Tonya Cornett, who has won multiple Great American Beer Festival medals.

Bend Brewing's Elk Lake India Pale Ale (6.2 percent ABV, 64 IBUs) was a superb IPA, brimming with ample Nugget and Cascade hops. This bitter and floral IPA was head-turning.

I also tried Bend's seasonal Oktoberfest, which I felt lacked heft. Given Cornett's track record, and the wonderful IPA, I'm inclined to give her a pass. On a later visit, I tried the brewery's seasonal pilsner, a refreshing style that nicely complemented a light lunch. This one had a pleasant hop backbone.

Of Bend's three remaining breweries, the only other beer I managed to try was 10 Barrel's Summer Ale (4.7 percent ABV, 26 IBUs). A light golden ale with an assertive honey note, the Summer Ale was a dead ringer for Durango's own True Blonde Ale.

So that was Bend, a town with more than its fair share of craft breweries. For my next post, I'll have a rundown of Oregon's coastal breweries, including the much-laureled Pelican Pub & Brewery.

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