I wasn't quite sure what I'd find as I headed along Highway 20 to visit a brewery in Oregon's hinterlands. It was Labor Day weekend 2017, and thick smoke from wildfires had Bend in a chokehold, prompting most pubs to close their patios and me to seek clearer air farther east.
To be honest, that gray haze was only part of what motivated me to take an impromptu road trip to Burns. At that point, I'd been to every beer producer in Eastern Oregon but one—Steens Mountain Brewing—and was in a race (still am, actually) with a handful of other beer geeks to see which of us could get to every brewery in the entire state first.
So I found myself on one of the loneliest stretches of pavement I've ever seen, driving into a bleak landscape of scrubby bushes and sagebrush that could've been a set straight out of a Sergio Leone film aside from the shuttered cafes and abandoned shacks. A little more than two hours later, I pulled up to a compact, two-bedroom home with a yard that was more overgrown weeds than grass. Then I spotted it. To my great chagrin, the sign hanging on the entrance read "Closed." There was no way I'd come this far into Harney County and wasn't getting into that brewery. So I marched up the stairs to give the front door a firm knock.
To my surprise, somebody answered.
Maybe it was small-town hospitality. Perhaps it was the desperation of my plea for a pint. Whatever moved brewer Andrew Roy to invite me in that afternoon is what I love most about Oregon's craft brewing industry—its friendliness and sense of camaraderie is unparalleled, and the brewers are up for pretty much anything. Andrew and I spent the next hour drinking and talking, which is how I learned a little bit about the brewery's history—many of its hops, for instance, grow in the wild and take an hourlong hike to reach—as well as what were then future plans for a taproom on Burns' main drag, where Steens Mountain has since moved.
Unplanned experiences like that visit two years ago have inspired the direction of this year's Beer Guide. As always, we provide you descriptions of the most highly recommended breweries in Portland right now. We're throwing Southwest Washington back into the mix and presenting those top picks in pub crawls. If we're right, you can use those quadrant-by-quadrant maps to spend a day on a drinkable marathon. Or you can simply refer to them as a way to help you decide where to grab your next amazing glass of beer based on where you are.
Because Portland is not the only city in the state with a dynamic brewing scene, you'll find itineraries in this edition of WW's Beer Guide to five different regions. These are based on how much time you can devote to a beer escape—a day, a weekend or a long weekend—to usher you west to east from the Oregon Coast to Central Oregon, or south to north from Eugene to the Gorge. To make those trips more entertaining, we've tossed in a roundup of Beerside Attractions (page 73), including the quirkiest (you can gaze at slumbering sea lions through a see-through floor at one stop) and most extraordinary (most brewery add-ons expand production, but we found a place that went ahead and built an observatory equipped with a professional-grade telescope).
Finally, we're offering a list of Oregon Beer Awards winners (page 78) as well as our Top 10 Beers of the Year (page 66). They're as diverse and full of character as Oregon's terrain—including a refreshingly classic Czech lager made by a brewery that's been open less than a year; a barrel-aged beauty that also snagged a medal at the Great American Beer Festival in 2018; and even a category-busting brew that was continuously boiled for six days. All are evidence of the vibrant flavors that continue to flow from our talented brewing community's tanks. But more than that, every crowler of Pilsner and bottle of wild ale is a narrative that speaks to time and place, inspiration and complexity.
On top of all this, we've witnessed a half-dozen institutions either close restaurants and taprooms or fold completely in the past six months alone. But change usually is good. And it's nice to be able to report that new breweries continue to open, spawning all sorts of healthy competition geared to winning over your palate.
You may not share my goal to visit all 280-plus operational breweries in Oregon. But it's still my hope this guide will become your go-to resource on any beer-related journey. And if you can get to even a fraction of them, I'm certain your thirst for travel—and local beer—will only grow.
—Andi Prewitt, Beer Guide Editor