I spent the recent Thanksgiving holiday in the great Pacific Northwest of the United States of America (Bend, Oregon (specifically)) and it was super fun. I have some family up there, a brother, sister-in-law and their lovely and obedient child. My wife and (equally as cheerful) child accompanied me up there and when all was said and done my parents also graced us with an appearance. Family gatherings are the bees knees, there are hugs and kisses and big meals, reminiscing about the good ol' days, hilarious and kind of mean jokes about the clothes that we all used to wear in the 1990's and free baby-sitting. This last one is pretty special because it is about the clearest win/win of all time. The grandparents want to spend as much time as possible with the little ones and the parents are looking to have some laughs and time away from their loved (but ever-present) children.
Wednesday afternoon was the perfect escape. The grandparents were primed for some babysitting and the parents loaded up and headed into town to explore some of the local craft beer offerings. Bend is known for beer, there are something like 12 breweries in town varying in size from pretty big to really small. There were 4 of us and reaching a tap-room consensus was close to impossible, but with the help of some rock-paper-scissors and one round of spirited thumb wrestling we settled on Bend Brewing and 10 Barrel Brewing Company. A short list indeed, but the baby-sitting time was limited and the sister-in-law performing the designated driver duties was also performing dinner cooking duties and still needed to do some shopping and roasting and chopping and such.
First stop 10 Barrel. When we got there I was taken aback by how busy it was. It was 11:15am on a Wednesday. They do serve food and it was a holiday week, but wow, there were a lot of people in there (very good sign). We ordered a sampler, 10 beers organized on an arching stainless steel tray that suspended the beers off the table top, giving the beverages a very modern feel, so I used an old-timey camera app on my phone for a great juxtaposition. The tray came with every beer that was on tap that day minus the cask conditioned Big Black Stout (which I ordered separately). They were all pretty tasty but the Sasquatch Session was great. Hoppy but not overly so, just bitter enough to be quenching and a good sweetish, malt backbone for balance. But I do have to say upon my first sip I didn't like this beer. After I put it down that first time I figured I would just concentrate on the rest of the beers, but a few minutes (like 10) later I went back to it by accident, I thought I was grabbing the IPA but took the Sasquatch by mistake. In that 10 minutes this beer opened up. Maybe it was the warmth it took on, giving it time to breathe, whatever, that beer started to sing a little louder. This beer turned from a side note to a symphony and I am glad I went back, even if I meant to grab something else. The malt was more pronounced and struck a better balance with the hops. The bitter profile was still present but after warming the Sasquatch became more of a two sided beer. And I love the low alcohol, session beers, it's written into my genetic code. So when a craft brewery makes an approachable, low octane beer my heart rejoices, nice work 10 Barrel, Sasquatch is a winner. Some other highlights from the tray were the Pumpkin, the Red and the non-cask Stout, wonderful beers. After working our way through the tasters and noticing that soft pretzels were not on the menu (that otherwise looked delicious) we moseyed towards the door with Bend Brewing Company on the mind.
We walked in the door and were immediately hugged by the greatness that is the Bend Brewing Company. This has been a favorite place of mine since I first went to Bend in 1999, way back when I was not much into beer, but the friendly nature of the staff as well as the wonderful libations have always kept BBC close to my heart and here and now, in 2011, their spot (in my heart) is growing. Again we ordered the taster tray. All the beers came on a branded tray marked with a spot for each beer. Along side the full time offerings were a few seasonal and special release beers, the two that caught my eye right away were Sexi Mexi and Ching Ching. Sexi Mexi was inspired by Mexican spiced chocolate and carries the sweet/spice of a deep and rich mole' sauce. Drinking this beer was a deep and warming experience. Sexi Mexi is strong and bold and if I ever encounter it again I will have a full glass, it was very good. Ching Ching was also sitting on the tray begging to be tried. I missed this beer at GABF and I am really kicking myself for not trying it there, Ching Ching took home a bronze medal in the American-style Sour category in 2011 and that is a category special to all New Belgium co-workers (think Le Terroir). Ching Ching is a tart Berlinerweisse spiced with hibiscus and pomegranate. Looking at the taster glass on the tray Ching Ching looks like pink champagne, very light in color, vaguely turbid, bubbly but little head to speak of. I sipped this beer and was blown away. It was markedly sour with a punchy and crisp flavor, the pomegranate jumped out to sweeten the tongue and fine bubbles of carbonation tickled the back of my nose. It finished dry and clean and really made me want more (and more) Ching Ching, so I bought a bottle that will make an appearance at the next classy bottle party that requires my attendance (send me an invite). We also sampled some food at BBC. Alas, they didn't have soft pretzels either but at this point we were to hungry to be picky, fries with mustard and some dip of the spinach/artichoke variety was consumed and I relaxed with a big glass of Outback (which is an Old Ale and a very good beer) for the pairing. After plates were cleared and beers were finished we headed towards home, happy, satisfied and ready to relieve the baby-sitters.
This trip to Bend was a great one and if you ever find yourself there drink some beer, you will not regret it (at all).