brad irwin of oregon spirit distillers

Pour Yourself into Bend’s Artisan Adult Beverage Scene

brad irwin of oregon spirit distillersA bout of on-the-job drinking. Read story by Linden Gross  

Friday at noon found me getting ready for a bout of on-the-job drinking. Some weeks are just better than others.

As arranged, at 12:30pm on the nose I was picked up at my door by James Jaggard from Wanderlust Tours. Considering that I was about to embark on their new Local Pour tour, which would include stops—and plenty of samples—at one of our numerous Bend breweries, at our local winery and at one of our two distilleries, I was pleased to accept the round-trip transportation that’s included at no extra charge.

“We want people to learn about the artisan beverage culture in Central Oregon,” James explained as we drove to pick up the others who would be joining the tour. His lively, informative chatter and outgoing personality kept me and the rest of the passengers entertained during the hour-long pick-up phase. Still, I was more than ready for a beer and a snack by the time we hit our first stop.

Each tour begins at one of the six breweries in town that serves food. On this particular day, we started with a tour of Silver Moon’s back rooms, during which one of the head brewers explained the brewing and production process. As he tapped a baby keg to let us sample a new beer they were trying out, he provided behind-the-scenes insight into the beer business, including how small-batch brewers have to constantly deal with minor shifts depending on the availability of their ingredients. Since Silver Moon prides itself on using lots of foreign ingredients to make its beers, those adjustments aren’t uncommon.

The pitchers of pilsner, red and porter that followed the back-room tour were as welcome as the pulled-pork nachos drizzled with barbecue sauce and the edamames in a spicy, garlicky, soy-based dipping sauce. Had I realized that this would be the only snack on the tour, I would have made sure to eat an early lunch, if only out of self-defense. As it was, I would wind up with a healthy buzz that got a good jumpstart at Silver Moon and proceeded to make some serious progress at Bend’s only local winery, Volcano Vineyards.

Volcano Vineyards’ quirky and fun owners Liz and Scott Radcliff couldn’t have been warmer or more welcoming. And the generous pours of their six wines, followed by a taste of their peach sangria, certainly added to the festive mood. After falling in love with the fifth wine on the tasting sheet, a juicy 2008 Syrah from their Lakeside Vineyard with notes of tobacco and leather on the front end, I tore myself away from the tasting bar and headed next door to their production facility. This is probably the time to note that Volcano Vineyards boasts that they’re the smallest bonded winery facility in the country. Their bottler handles just four bottles at a time. They cork their bottles one at a time by hand and then dip them in wax. Trés artisan.

scott radcliff of volcano vineyardsWe left the winery at 4pm and headed for the Oregon Spirit Distillers. (The tours alternate between the two local distilleries, so you could end up just as easily at Bendistillery.) Owners Brad and Kathy Irwin and their corgi Rook led us into the distillery, which smells fantastic assuming you like fine whisky and toasted grain. After hearing about how Irwin produces the distinctively bold spirits they make—including vodka, bourbon, Genever-style gin, and my favorite, a marionberry cordial called Black Mariah—we got to taste them all. Yay!

By the time I was dropped off at home with the two bottles of Black Mariah that I just had to buy in hand, I wouldn’t say that they had to pour me out of the van, but I was certainly a happy camper. Weeks later, I’m still happy about the inside look I got into Bend’s artisan adult beverage scene.

The Local Pour tour costs $45 and includes round-trip transportation from any home or hotel in the Bend area. For an extra $5, they’ll drive as far as Sisters or LaPine, and for an extra $10 they’ll collect you from and return you to Black Bute Ranch. For more information, call Wanderlust Tours at 541-389-8359.

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