Birdies and Brews

Published on Friday, July 22nd, 2016 in Features

Crux Fermentation Project, Bend

Crux Fermentation Project, Bend

Just as its golf courses did 30 years ago, Central Oregon’s breweries are taking the world by storm

by Jim Moore

In the history of mankind, can there be a greater pairing than beer and golf? OK, maybe in your world, you can top that, but in mine, you can’t.

And when you put those two together in Central Oregon, you have the ultimate couple on the first tee.

I recently returned to Seattle from the Central Oregon Shootout in Sisters, a two-man, three-day tournament that is held at the Eagle Crest Resort Course, Black Butte Big Meadow Course and Aspen Lakes.

My partner, Joe Slye, and I finished back in the pack in our division, but I never feel like a loser in Central Oregon – the smell of the junipers, the sight of the Cascade peaks, the beauty of the courses and the choice of craft beers combine for a winning weekend.

I admit to having no willpower when it comes to Central Oregon’s golf courses and craft breweries – there are more than 30 courses and more than 30 breweries within 45 minutes of each other. What’s a golfer and beer drinker to do? I’m completely powerless, overtaken by an urge to sample them all.

If you’re like me, you mix the two. One morning, before we played 36 holes at Black Butte, I had a bottle of Mirror Pond from Deschutes Brewery and a Boneyard RPM IPA on tap in the clubhouse bar.

“Unlike some other places, craft beer and golf go hand-in-hand here,” says Ted Taylor, who represents VisitCentralOregon.com. “You’ll find players opting for a can of Worthy Brewing beer over a Bud Light at the turn or at the 19th hole.”

Deschutes Brewery & Public House, Bend

Deschutes Brewery & Public House, Bend

Central Oregon’s golf industry became well-established long before the craft-brewing industry, but they are now neck-and-neck. And with the way pub houses are popping up, there will soon be more craft brewery options than golf courses in the Bend-Redmond-Sisters area.

This makes Central Oregon a prime destination for golfers and beer drinkers who want the best of both worlds. They get it here — and on top of that, you don’t have to work for it.

“There’s a local brewery within two miles of nearly every course in the region,” Taylor says.

There’s a growing taste for craft beers, and if you’ve sampled them, you know that the Central Oregon breweries are as good — if not better — than any you’ll find in the country. The same can be said for the golf, with many of the courses featured on top-100 lists in golf magazines.

Where else can you play a terrific course like Crosswater at Sunriver, and drive five minutes to have a Rippin’ Northwest Ale at Sunriver Brewing Company? Or play Aspen Lakes and make another five-minute drive to Three Creeks Brewing Company in Sisters. Talk about a contrast to pitch-and-putt and a Budweiser.

The dramatic rise in Central Oregon breweries makes sense when you consider that residents in the state spend more money on craft beer in retail stores than anywhere else in the U.S. And take a look at some other revealing stats — beer industry experts estimate that craft beer is capturing as much as 40 percent of the market nowadays.

“There’s no turning back,” Chris Hodge, Worthy Brewing CEO, told the Bend Bulletin. “That figure is based on history. Once you start drinking craft beer, you don’t turn back.”

More specifically, surveys show that 45 percent of visitors to Bend plan to go to a local brewery, where they have more options than ever before. In fact, Bend features more breweries per capita than any other city in Oregon.

You’ve heard of golf trails, and there’s one here too, the Central Oregon Golf Trail. But how about a beer trail? Take the Bend Ale Trail on your own or visit four local breweries and let the Bend Brew Bus do the driving for you. Another cool option – the Cowboy Carriage Company will take you to the breweries in a horse-drawn carriage while you ride on top of bales of hay.

Central Oregon salutes its craft beers all year long with various beer festivals and a beer week in May. It has become such a hotbed for craft breweries that local brewers have a hard time coming up with new names for their beers, because they’ve already been taken by someone else. Hops are hard to find, too, due to increased competition.

Noticing the local beer boom, Central Oregon Community College in Bend now offers professional brewing programs to students. According to the school’s website, the courses are “open to anyone with an interest in brewing (who is dedicated to studying).”

Are they implying that some beer drinkers won’t study? I’m not sure if I should be offended by that or not – I went to Washington State, majored in beer and journalism, and got a degree in both.

We’ve all heard about winery destinations, but craft beer tourism is becoming a thing, and Central Oregon appears to be the Napa Valley of this developing industry. When you want to combine the golf with the beer, plan to visit sometime between April and the end of September. Prepare for sunshine and a combo platter featuring the best craft beers and courses in the country. Here are a few of my favorite local pairings.

Aspen Lakes Golf Course & Smith Rock Brewing Company

Sisters is 22 miles north of Bend, but it’s a quaint little town, well worth the short drive, as is a visit to Aspen Lakes Golf Course.

Aspen Lakes, Sisters

Aspen Lakes, Sisters

You’ll find bent-grass fairways here, but what sets Aspen Lakes apart are the red-cinder sand traps that are beautifully manicured and incredibly distinctive. Where else do you find red traps? Answer: Nowhere. And the sand reacts the same way regular white sand does, so there’s no learning curve involved if your ball finds one of the many red bunkers.

Your favorite might be the par-4, dog-leg left 16th, which typically features a second shot of 150 yards or more, uphill, to a tricky green. My favorite is the par-4 11th, another dog-leg left, with water on the left. It’s spectacular and memorable in a different way for me. On the final day of the Pacific Amateur one year, I took an 11 on the hole. After the tourney was over, I played the course with my wife and knocked in my approach from the fairway for a 2. Looked good on the card; would’ve looked better in the tourney.

When you’re finished, take a 15-minute drive to Smith Rock Brewing Company in Redmond. Talk about your birdies and the eight that you took at the par-5 third, when you put it in the creek. You’ll forget about it after having a Red Wall Fresh Hop Amber Ale on the patio. And if one won’t make you forget about it, have two.

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