There’s no oxen needed on this Oregon trail! Instead, the Bend Ale Trail is a collection of breweries in or near Bend where you can get stamps to turn in for prizes. They also provide ~Drinkable Diversions~ if you have any non-beer drinkers in the group. I dove headfirst into the Ale Trail and emerged victorious. Warning: This post is long and is best enjoyed with a beer or two.
Bend is an outdoor lover’s heaven. Crater Lake National Park is close, and there’s also the Newberry National Volcanic Monument, a High Desert Museum, and tons of hiking all around town, as well as white water rafting. In winter, there’s skiing. And practically everywhere you go, there’s breweries.
If you don’t have a friend to stay with in Bend (note to self: make friends with someone who lives in Bend), your options in town are standard for traveling, hotels and vacation rentals. I’ve stayed at both in Bend. If you’re going to Bend with one other person I super recommend the Cumberland Bungalette for your stay (as always, no kickbacks or anything here–just an honest recommendation). It was clean, quiet, they had bikes, and also–they give every guest an empty growler to bring a bit of Bend back with you! It was quiet, yet within striking distance of 4 breweries on the Ale Trail. Hotels are good as well, the Hilton Garden Inn in the Old Mill District was on a hill above the REI (tax-free shopping!) and walkable enough to a few breweries.
After you know where you will be staying, it doesn’t hurt to research the trail, especially the trail rules. Bend is super walkable, our AirBnB awesomely provided bikes, there’s a free downtown shuttle in the summer, and Lyft and Uber are in town, so there is NO EXCUSE to be driving drunk. Oregon law does care about drunken bicycling, so be careful about trying to bike to too many breweries at once–who wants a BUI on their record?
Next up is planning how you track the trail. You can pick up a hard copy of a guide at the chamber of commerce downtown or at a brewery, or you can download an app (note–the app is not on a traditional app store). We went with the app, as if a brewery was slammed we would have felt bad holding up every server or hostess to stamp us in the middle of a rush. With the app, it’s entirely in your hands. It uses your phone’s location to check you in to a brewery, or there is a code you can enter if you don’t want location settings shared. It wasn’t perfect, but it got the job done.
The system had changed a bit in 2022 compared to our last visit in 2017. Now, instead of just needing to hit any 10 breweries to get a prize, they have the area divided up into seven territories. I’ve tried to combine info from my 2017 and 2022 trips to be the most up-to-date.
The Western Front District
Sunriver, Boss Rambler Beer Club, and 10 Barrel are almost next-door neighbors on Galveston Ave. On our first trip to Bend, we chose Sunriver Brewing as our very first stop (as it was close to our AirB&B). On that trip, I had ended up liking both of the boyfriendo (now fiancé)’s beers (The Bondi Beach Party Pale and Rippin Northwest Ale) better than mine, so on the newer trip, I started with one of those, the Rippin. After Boss Rambler (see next paragraph), I needed a (small!) break from IPAs, so I then had the Rivermark Bohemian Pilsner, which was crisp and tasty. But of course, I still need to have hops, so I finished with a presumptuously Christmas-seasonal Mele Kalikimaka IIPA. On one of these visits, I’ll try their food, I swear! If not wanting hops, besides the Rivermark, the Fuzztail hef is always good.
Boss Rambler Beer Club was new to us on our 2022 visit, but if you like IPAs at all, it is a must-must-must visit. Funny enough, in the mornings, they are a coffee shop, so you can make two trips in one day for all your liquid needs. With just a brewery visit, we had both a taster and pints there, we liked it so much. We asked for ‘dealer’s choice’ on the sampler for IPA’s, and between the sampler and pints, we tried the Jerry Juice, ALOHAze, Paradise Slice, Super Plush, Rad Habits, and Faded Days. At the time, I rated Rad Habits the highest, but I admit, it can be hard to compare that many IPAs back to back.
While I’m sure the food at Sunriver and 10 Barrel is good, do yourself a favor when along the three Galveston Ave breweries and break up your drinking with a trip to El Sancho tacos across the street. Phenomenal, out-of-this-world tacos (and that’s not just us being so drunk and wet and cold they would have hit any spot). In 2022, we got a little tired of pub food, so this deviation was super worth it. Nearby are Dump City Dumplings, which we unfortunately did not try, but I always love a good dumpling.
Now I already spoke about supporting 10 Barrel in my Boise beer post, so no need for background here. There were some similarities with their Boise location–the cute chalkboard taplist, the giant 10-beer samplers–but as this is their original pub, there were some special touches, like the spacious outdoor seating with firepits aplenty (guessing these are just as nice après-ski as after a hike!) and tons of Bend-specific merch. In 2017, we split the sampler, and our server also brought us the few other beers that weren’t in the sampler as well (note: this hospitality happened all over Bend, the people were all incredible!). Both of us liked the Double Mosaic the best, but I also enjoyed the Out of Office Pilsner.
Very close to the three on Galveston is Goodlife Brewing. Some nights Goodlife hosts concerts, so double-check before you head out. Our first try the Wailers were there and it was far too crowded (and possibly sold out), so we had to return a quieter night. In 2017, I was rolling deep after Sunriver and 10 Barrel, and decided a safe bet would be their Descender IPA instead of another sampler. It was fairly close to closing time, so we got to chat a little with our server, which I always enjoy, as well as the warm pretzel we shared. They had a beautiful pallet painting of the mountains over the door, that I loved. Way to maximize space!
The last brewery in the Western Front district is Cascade Lakes. Cascade Lakes definitely has a ski-lodge vibe to it, with skis on the wall and roaring fires. I normally don’t do stouts and porters in the summertime, but I think both of my siblings would have disowned me if I hadn’t gotten the ‘Mötley Crüe inspired’ Stout at the Devil in 2017. We both got burgers too, that totally hit the spot. In 2022, the place was slammed with skiers, but we were able to get a seat at the bar. I got a Pineapple IPA on this visit, which admittedly wasn’t my favorite, but the Resurgence IPA, a gin barrel-aged strong IPA, was far better.
The Riverlands District
On our first trip to Crux Fermentation Project, we got a sampler to share and also some pints. Tons of great beers were here–their Off Leash Session was maybe the most flavorful session ale I’ve ever had, and the boyfriendo’s newfound love of Mosaic hops (which started on this 2017 trip!) was fed by their Half Hitch. While I don’t normally drink stouts or porters when it’s warm out, I had to make an exception for their PCT porter! On our 2022 trip, we actually went to Crux twice. First after our hike at Riley Ranch Nature Reserve. We knew we liked Crux’s beers, so it seemed perfect for our first post-engagement brew. It’s actually where we broke the news to family and closest friends about our engagement! They still have great beer, and some pretty cool dog-specific merch (a stuffed hop toy?!).
We were able to walk to the next two in the district from our hotel. Immersion Brewing had a lot of good beers in the sampler I got (Horske Pivo Czech Pilsner, Dave IPA, Teva Boys peach blackberry honey lager, Fiancé’s favorite, the Bro’d Trip IPA, and my favorite, the Big Yummy hazy IIPA), but I also was swayed by a Huckleberry Mule. Who says you can’t have a cocktail on an ale trail?
Next up was Monkless Belgian Ales, home of some killer malty goodness. Interestingly enough, when we visited in 2017 this building was the site of Craft Brewing (now in the Old Block District, below). Now, it’s been totally revamped, giving off a monastery vibe, complete with monks chanting as bathroom music. I had been hoping the whole trip to get a nice pot of mussels and frites with my Belgian ale, but the mussels apparently are a hot ticket, so I’d be sure to arrive early. I still enjoyed my Belgian IPA, Benefaction, but think my favorite they make is The Trinity tripel.
Last in the district is the Deschutes tasting room. Deschutes also has a big pub in Bend in the Old Block District, so double-check which one before using maps to get there on foot. No kids allowed at this location, and it closes earlier than most. I am always torn between going with all special beers I don’t think I could find at home, including a saison and a nitro cream ale; or sticking with a fresh-as-possible Fresh Squeezed. I ogled over the merch, but am devastated their “I <3 Dark Beer” shirts doesn’t come in women’s sizes.
The Old Block District
This area is the heart of Bend, with tons of shops and restaurants scattered about. It’s easy to hit multiple of these stops at once, which we’ve done on both visits, yet we’ve still only hit half of the breweries in this district!
Even though there are four different McMenamins nearby me, always worth a stop is the McMenamins Old St. Francis School. Besides their steamroom-style pool, this one has a hidden speakeasy! Luckily the speakeasy wasn’t *too* secret, as the hostess at the pub gave us directions, and we sure needed them. We had to go through at least one door that implied we shouldn’t enter, and then just follow signs for the Broom Closet, and you’ll be greeted by this quiet, cozy attic.
If you didn’t get your fill at the tasting room, there is also the Deschutes Public House. This location has a food menu and allows children. I went pretty nuts here with my sampler, wanting only the most unique or explusive beers. A King Crispy pilsner, Jubelale on nitro, Bachelor Bitter, Peach Cobbler fruited wheat, and my favorite, the imperial Molasses Ginger Cookie.
Bend Brewing Company is also in this disctict, right along the Deschutes River. In summer, their outdoor beer garden is an amazing spot to collapse on the grass. Even with snow on the ground, in 2022 I had to take my beer in my (gloved) hand outside to admire the view. They just in January 2023 have completed renovations inside, which typically will have more options than the cart in the beer garden, but they’ll let you grab a beer from inside, with their full taplist, and bring it outside. In summer I loved their Purple Drank blackberry wheat, but they had some tasty winter seasonals as well, like the Forever Time winter lager, and the Waist Deep Winter Ale.
There are three more breweries in the district I have yet to visit, but I know I’ll be back in Bend soon!
The Brewer’s District
Okay, I haven’t been in any of these buildings, but I had visited Craft Kitchen and Brewery at it’s old location. Then, they let you customize the size of your sampler, perfect if trying to take it easy. They offer styles that let you take a break from hops, like cream ales and a California Common. There are three others in this district, including second locations of 10 Barrel and Boneyard Beer‘s all-ages pub, which opened in 2018. They make big, hoppy, hit-you-in-the-tastebuds beers, including a killer CDA and a delish red, besides their flagship trio of IPA, IIPA, and IIIPAs. I had sampled many when I went to their small tasting room in 2017, which appears to no longer be a part of the ale trail.
Outside of Town
We did not hit any breweries in the three territories outside of the city–The Outer Rim, which is the area all around Bend; The Far North, areas of Redmond; or the Badlands, to the east. Something to aim for next visit!
You’ve Reached Ale Trail City!
When you have completed one (or more!) district, head back to Visit Bend downtown. You now get a special tasting glass for each district (with a rumored final prize for total completion of a wooden tasting tray). In 2017, we got Ale Trail Silpints and We also stickers. In November, the ante is uped even more to include t-shirts and even a trophy (note to self: come back in November). I loved every second of the Ale Trail (that I wasn’t on a bike, at least) and was thrilled to do it again! Have you ever done the Bend Ale Trail?