Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Welcome to Oregon!

Another powder day...
or new brewery experience?
A fresh blanket of snow covered the trees outside of the window as I pried open my eyelids to greet the sunrise near Lake Tahoe.  Fresh snow... should I get another powder day in? So tempting but there was one thing pulling harder on me; Oregon. The one place outside the northeast I could picture myself moving to. I had never been there but from everything I had heard it was the west coast equivalent to Vermont just bigger and with an Ocean. In fact with over 6 times the population it just ranks second in breweries per capita behind my beloved Vermont. (Don't worry Upstate NY, you are still "home") That's a lot of breweries, just check out this list! They don't have just a beer week here and there but a beer month. Add picturesque mountains, dynamic ocean views and an progressive minded, active citizenry to the booming craft beer scene and its one awesome place to call home. Oregon has the highest share of craft drinkers in the country, which probably means the world. Almost 40% of beer consumed there is a craft beer and a third of that is made in state. Some states sit at only 3%. I was so eager to get my first visit to the Beaver state underway that this powder hound traded in a bluebird spring skiing powder day in Tahoe for an 8 hour drive! Many thanks again to Amanda (and her furry four legged friend Henry) who fueled me up with a breakfast burrito and coffee and sent me on my way.

On the Road Again

"Buy chains ahead of time and practice putting them on before you need them", I could hear Alex's advice ringing in my head. He had lived out west before and many others echoed his advice. However, once again my uber-frugal demeanor decided it wasn't worth the $50 spend to have chains when I knew I could get them for $20 elsewhere. I would just watch the weather and drive "around" the storms. I had snow tires and lots of experience driving in ice and snow, and a flexible schedule too. What you can't get through is the California Highway Department saying road closed unless you have chains! I had a couple of routes in mind to Bend and in the end the route chose me, as it was the last one not closed. I would skip the Coast or highway 5 and backtrack to Reno, NV and head north that way. The down side was skipping a few breweries that I wanted to see in Northern California.  The upside would be an extra day in Bend. I know what an awful life, right? Less than an hour north of Reno, it started snowing again.  It was getting rural and chances to get chains if needed were getting slimmer and slimmer... how much did I want to gamble.  My mind drifted back to the half dozen times that year I had coasted into a gas station on fumes with sputtering car because I knew I could make it "just 5 more miles" before filling up before realizing I was 10 from the next station. I decided this was not the time to have my luck run out.

I pulled over at the next thing that resembled a town and found a farm supply store. Lucky for me I had a young guy wait on me that loved craft beer. He heard about my beer traveling plans and no sooner was fishing a pair of dusty old chains from the stock room. He let me get away with them for the bargain price of $10! A deal that made this bargain hunter grin from ear to ear.  After a trial test putting them on, I threw them in the trunk and hastened on my journey. I was nearing the border and there were still flurries in the air. I knew there were still a chance of getting caught in the snow but being prepared made me feel more at ease. Next stop Oregon!
Snow stopped, clouds clearing, simple little welcome sign.
Oregon looking sweet already.
Klamath Basin Brewing Co.

Welcome to Klamath Basin Brewery
No matter how much you prepare you will still encounter times that improvisation is necessary. I had done some research on what breweries to check out in Oregon but I had stuck with the population/brewery centers of Bend and Portland.  The problem was I had entered the state from a different entry point than planned and I had no idea what I would be driving past.  A quick search on my phone showed Klamath Falls was only 20 miles north of the California/Oregon line, home of Klamath Basin Brewing Co. It was also time for some lunch so I pulled up to the brewery, situated in an old ice cream factory locally referred to as The Creamery, and stepped inside.
The Creamery Brewpub at Klamath Basin Brewery

Northwest Brew News and
Sample Tray, plus 2!
 I bellied up and ordered a sample tray and some soup from Pam at the bar. As I dug into the beers and food I soaked up as much info on the area as I could. The brewery  was started 8 years ago. It turns out Klamath Falls doesn't have any falls, as they were dammed up several years ago. The location also is thermally active and the brewery uses geothermal systems to preheat brewing and cleaning water. This is very unique and piqued my geeky technological interest. I also found that even though Crater Lake was near by it was probably going to be covered in fog or clouds and it wouldn't be worth the 45 min detour to check it out on my way north to Bend. My assumptions were validated when a TV crew rolled into the bar. They were shooting a travel story for a San Francisco TV station. What a great stop, thermal brewery, travel show folks, Oregon was exceeding my expectations!

Bare Island Blond - 4.3%, 20 IBU, Light, easy drinking, on the malty side
Crater Lake Amber - 6%, 36 IBU, Nice beer, right down the middle, hides alcohol well too
Drop Dead Red - 5.9%, 52 IBU, Fantastic, malty with just a bit of hops on the finish, my pick!
Pelican Butte Pale - 5.2%, 44 IBU, Just a bit of hops and on the lighter side of Pale Ales
Buttcrack Brown - 5.5%, 23 IBU, Why the name? Exactly as it sounds! Med Body, Malty, dry finish
Crystal Springs IPA - 7.1%, 70 IBU, very enjoyable, great floral aroma, quite hoppy
Cabin Fever Stout - 6.5%, 40 IBU Chocolaty aroma, dry roasty finish
Vanilla Porter - 6.7%, 40 IBU, Mahogany color, strong vanilla flavor
Double IPA - 8.5%, 95 IBU, light aroma but well balanced, not boozy

Brian Hackney from Eye On the Bay interviewing brewer Billy Sloane
I got to chat with the producer a bit about the show. They were taking a train from San Jose to Seattle and stopping at places along the way. Crater Lake was fogged in that day so they ventured into town to catch some other local attractions, such as geothermal heated sidewalks and the brewery. They even asked if I'd like to be interviewed for the show. Of course I said yes but unfortunately they were on a tight schedule and I opted to take the long tour from head brewer Corey Zschoche instead of launching myself into travel show celebrity status. Someday... You can check out their Eye On The Bay Episode here. At the end I also got a quick tour of the restaurant side from the owner including their pokey machine room (gambling machines legal in OR pubs, brought back memories of Uni in Australia!) and made my way out just before sunset to finish the drive up to Bend.
Brewhouse w/ nice copper cladding
Geothermal systems

Hot water from ground heat!

Conditioning tanks
Nightcap in Bend

I rolled into Bend a little sleepy but instantly found the energy to get out and explore.  It's a nice small city or big town depending on your point of view. Its chock full of breweries and outdoor enthusiasts. A lot like Ithaca, NY if your from the east coast, just bigger mountains. The Deschutes River runs right through the middle of it and there are nice parks and walkways along its banks. Invisible in the dark Mount Bachelor loomed in the distance.  I checked into my hotel, cleaned up a bit and made the short walk to downtown.
Full house for Tues night pint night at Bend Brewing Co.

I had made a new connection while in Denver as a friend's work friend's best friend (still with us?!) worked for Deschutes. Angela worked in the marketing department and it was nice to know I had a local connection. I wasn't planning on seeing Deschutes until the next day but Angela said she would probably stop by the Bend Brewing Co for their pint night, $2.75 pints of awesome craft beer! I rolled in and apparently just missed her. We would just have to meet tomorrow.  After a quick scan of the beer list I started with a Pinnacle Porter and started chatting up some locals.  The first was a nice old fella named Frank who split his time between Liverpool, Bend and Scotland... definitely a talker but friendly, full of stories and great local advice on what brews to check out. Next was Cory who happened to be from Vermont originally.  A wealth of local knowledge, he also worked at the Victorian Cafe, one of the best places to get breakfast in Bend, which we'll get to in our next blog entry. Cory also showed me something that filled me with pride and that warm feeling you get from seeing something familiar from back home.  Out of his wallet he fished a Vermont Breweries Passport Guide. Something I had the pleasure of helping launch almost 7 years ago. To see it still alive and all the way across the country just topped off an already great evening.  Cory had to run but I promised to stop in for breakfast. He pointed me in the direction of his favorite Bend dive bar and we parted ways. 
Coast to Coast, Vermont meets Bend
Bend Brewing Porter -  Awesome beer, dry and roasty, started with my favorite
Bend Brewing Quickstep Nitro Stout - Lots of coffee, light body, creamy head
Bend Brewing Hop Head Double IPA - 8.5%, Their #1 selling beer, very nice
10 Barrel Apocalypse IPA - 6.5%, 65 IBU, Big citrus nose, balanced West Coast IPA

D & D Bar & Grill

It really tells you what kind of place you are in when the local dive bar has a dozen craft beers on tap. D & D looks like the cross between a diner, a country music bar and a dodgy college pub.  It was pretty quiet being late on Tuesday but I still had one beer and watched a few local college kids down some Jagermeister shots. Wanting to push on knowing time was scarce and beers a plenty but fearing a serious hangover, I called it a night and walked back to my hotel. The cold night air was refreshing. Bend was looking to be everything I had imagined. It had been a great journey so far, and I was really looking forward to the next two days. ...I never did use those chains.  

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