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Is There A Beer Bubble Busting In Bend?

Residents of Bend are used to seeing bicycles on their streets, but this is something new.

The Cycle Pub, as it’s called, carries 12 peddling riders, six on each side of what’s essentially a long bar. The contraption carries the riders from brewery to brewery.

And with 10 breweries in a town of under 80,000, Bend has plenty of breweries to visit. But how many is too many?

Ty Barnett, Pratt Rather, Curt Plants - Photo courtesy Good Life Brewery

Good Life Brewing on Bend’s West side has only been open for about 3 months. The brewery only takes up a small corner of a massive warehouse. Then again, Co-owner Ty Barnett is betting the new business will eventually need that room to expand.

“Today is brew day it’s a grand day here in the brewery. We always enjoy brew day because we get to smell all the beautiful aromas of the hops and grain,” Barnett said.

Indeed, the air is sweet with the smell of wort. That’s the sugary extract or pre-beer yet to be fermented. This batch will eventually become an IPA — the standard bearer of Northwest Beers. Most breweries in Bend have one. And according to Barnett most of them are really good.

“It’s awesome. You can walk down the street and have a pint of BBC, then two blocks away go to Deschutes and then four blocks away go to 10 Barrel or Boneyard. It’s great beer and we just want to add to the notoriety by brewing beer that is up to that level,” Barnett said.

And so far Good Life’s beer has been selling well. It has received positive reviews from beer reviewers such as Jon Abernathy. He writes a blog called the brew site dot com which he started back in 2004. He says back then there were just 5 breweries in town. Today there are 9.

“You know, a year ago I would have said whatever we had a year ago was too much. But since then Good Life has opened, Below Grade has opened we’ve got the ones that are in development being announced. I don’t know if there’s any end to it. Sky’s the limit,” he said.

But in a town that proved to be the regional epicenter in the run up of the housing boom, talk like that reminds people of 2005-2006.

So here’s the question: could there be another bubble forming in Bend. A beer bubble?

“At some point, this town will not be able to support an endless number of brewery establishments,” Bill Valentine said.

Valentine is a financial advisor in Bend. But he used to have a radio show focused on investments. Valentine made a name for himself as a contrarian by calling the top of the housing market in 2006, much to the dismay of many optimists. Valentine doesn’t agree with the term “bubble,” because it implies liquidity of capital. A better term might be saturation point.

“I think everyone just gets that intuitively. What’s that lucky number? I don’t know. I guess we’re going to see because we’ve got a couple new breweries coming into town,” he said.

Photo courtesy Good Life Brewing Company

One of those new breweries is going to be backed by a man who’s knows a thing or two about beer.

“Yeah, Larry Sidor, I’m the brewmaster at Deschutes Brewery.”

Larry Sidor’s career as a brewer spans more than 30 years. He spent 23 years at Olympia brewing and for the past eight years he’s been head brewmaster at Deschutes Brewery. Soon he and two partners will open a new, yet un-named brewery — in Bend.

“I’m really going to push the envelope in beer. I mean, I’m not going to be making yellow fizzy beer by any means,” Sidor said.

Sidor’s plans are for a production brewery and he plans to distribute his beer outside of Bend. Still he believes for those who aren’t distributing, there is enough business in Bend to go around.

“I think there is but I think you can’t say we have 80 thousand people. I think you need to go talk to Doug and say how many visitor’s do we have coming though in a year,” he said.

Doug is Doug La Placa. He’s the President of Bend’s tourism bureau, Visit Bend.

“Bend receives over 2 million individual tourists a year,” La Placa said.

La Placa says still the vast majority of tourists come for outdoor recreation opportunities.

“But over the past few years this beer culture has grown to the point in Bend where we are now, from a tourism perspective, we are now a beer destination,” La Placa said.

A year and a half ago, Visit Bend started what’s called the Bend Ale Trail, a self guided tour of all the breweries in Bend. And with at least two new breweries in the hopper it only looks like the Ale Trail will be expanding. And while it’s impossible to say what the future holds for these new establishments many local brewers say as long as people keep filling their glasses, “the more the merrier.”

It’s impossible to say what the future holds for the newest establishments in Bend. But many local brewers say as long as people keep filling their glasses, “the more the merrier.”

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