Bend, Oregon may not be on your radar, but if you're a beer lover, spirit drinker or coffee aficionado it should be. In just a quick 48 hours, I had sipped three local beers, tasted locally made vodka and gin, and learned the art of coffee cupping. For those of us who like to drink, Bend may just as well be called the sipping capital of the world.
Breweries abound in Bend. As I am writing this, there are currently nine microbreweries, but more and more are popping up all the time. The most well-known brewery is Deschutes Brewery, but Bend has bred a beer culture and there are plenty of microbrews for you to taste. (Try them all by following the Bend Ale Trail, complete with iPhone app.) I had the chance to stop by Boneyard Beer and loved their punk rock vibe, as well as their tasty RPA IPA. I also stopped by Bend's newest brewery, GoodLife Brewing in a converted warehouse space. On a warm day, they roll up their doors in the Bier Hall and bring the outdoors in. If time had permitted, I would have loved to head outside to their Bier Garden (open May-October.)
However, on my trip, I sampled most of Bend's brews in the great outdoors, while on a bicycle seat. The Cycle Pub is perhaps the most creative bar I've been to and you can pedal off some of the calories as you drink. We toured around downtown Bend and attempted to sip beer, take photos and pedal simultaneously. Not an easy task. You'll also want to make sure you bring along friends who like to pull their weight, as soon as you hit your first hill you'll understand why.
As a break from the brews, a trip to Bendistillery was next on the itinerary. The local distiller takes full advantage of its location by using native ingredients such as juniper and hazelnuts and mimicking the Cascade mountains water's path. All of their products are filtered through crushed lava rocks, just as the water flows through the mountains. A visit to their tasting room lets you sample the spirits for yourself, including my favorite, a hazelnut coffee infused vodka, Cofia. Not only do they offer tastings, but also serve inexpensive cocktails featuring their products. Their Mazama Pepper infused vodka paired with mango juice made for a sweet cocktail with a kick. Most of all, at the tasting room, they create infusions for you to taste (and the recipes for you to make at home.) I have a batch of basil infused gin going right now that will be sure to make a dynamite cocktail to pair with a caprese salad.
After all of the imbibing, you may need something to pick you up and that's where Backporch Coffee Roasters comes in. A micro-roaster who just celebrated their fifth anniversary, Backporch specializes in direct trade, microlot and estate coffees. Not only do they roast a mean bean, but they are a crew of coffee nerds ready to share their love of coffee with the world.
I was lucky enough to attend a coffee cupping hosted by Tony Querio, whose passion for coffee is evident immediately. He shared Backporch's current coffee offerings, talked to us about sourcing and roasting coffee and had a tasting slurp that showed that he meant business.
If you've never attended a coffee cupping, I highly recommend it. It's one thing to like coffee and it's an entirely another thing to understand what it is that you are drinking. Learning about the changes in flavor as the coffee is ground, brewed and cooled provided me with a deeper understanding and appreciation. I think about this experience each morning as I make coffee and haven't been satisfied since the bag of Backporch's Ethopian Harrar I brought back home with me ran out. Luckily, they have an online store for me to refill my coffee addiction before heading back to Bend.
I don't believe that cupping is a regular event at Backporch, but it's well worth a stop at one of their locations for a cup and some beans for home. And if you can't bear to part from the alcohol slant, Backporch and Boneyard have paired up this fall to create Backbone, an espresso chocolate stout, on tap at the brewery. Now that's a collaboration that celebrates Bend's dedication to the beverage and well worthy of a return trip.