If it’s Friday night in Prineville, at least half the town packs into Ochoco Brewing (380 N Main St., Prineville, 541-233-0883, ochocobrewing.com)—or at least that’s how it seemed during a recent visit. Every barstool, chair and even a couple of couches in the corner were occupied by customers decked out in cowboy hats and camo, who were either mid-sip or swaying to the music of a live band in a back corner that’s been transformed into a stage. On the evening of my visit, a trio played romantically sad country songs with a mood that can only be expressed by the drawn-out, forlorn notes of a violin. It’s a scene that wouldn’t have been out of place at the original Ochoco Brewery, the first in Central Oregon when it opened in 1882. The owner of the most recent iteration, Joseph Barker, changed the name of the business from Solstice to Ochoco to acknowledge that history in 2015, the same year it moved into the Main Street storefront that once contained the notoriously sordid saloon Cecil’s Pastime. A safe the size of a wood stove was left by the prior occupant, and it’s the first thing you see when you walk in. 

With 14 beers on tap, Ochoco’s variety and volume would have blown the minds and palates of those High Desert pioneers. Similar to the modern-day residents of Prineville, they probably would have taken a liking to the best-selling Prinetucky Pale Ale. Don’t go expecting the typical Northwest spin on the style—any bitterness is heavily blanketed by a malt bill that imparts the sweetness of toffee made by an English grandmother. However, pioneers were a hardy, risk-taking bunch, so I wouldn’t hesitate to steer them toward the Vanilla Porter, which is as close as you can get to suicide soda, a concoction assembled from multiple soft drinks. Part beer, part Coke, part cream soda, it’s all sugary indulgence before easing into a deep roastiness that pairs perfectly with any of the charbroiled burgers, made with one-third-pound patties that come from a ranch just outside of town.