Drinks are a natural part of life on vacation. But what if the vacation was … all about the drinks?
We cooked up three perfect libation vacations—wine in the Willamette Valley, beer in and around Bend, and booze in the big city.
written by Amira Makansi and Sheila G. Miller
What are you looking for in a wine tasting experience? Clearly, great wine tops the list. But there are other factors, too. What about quality of service? Sweeping vistas? Ambience? And that ever-elusive je ne sais quoi?
Wine in the Willamette Valley
In Oregon’s Willamette Valley, unique wineries and diverse identities abound—to such an extent it can be difficult to narrow down your tasting list. But on a weekend getaway when time is limited, choosing your top destinations is paramount. Here are five diverse establishments worth a visit on your next escape to the Willamette Valley.
If you’re coming to sip wine while enjoying the idyllic views, there’s none better than Fairsing Vineyard in the Chehalem Mountains AVA. Fairsing means “bounty” in old Gaelic, and by any measure, Mary Ann and Mike McNally have a bounty of gifts to share. From its expansive view of the Cascades on the horizon to the high praise its wines have won in recent years, Fairsing is one of those lucky spots at the end of the rainbow. No appointment necessary—just drive up and enjoy.
For the biodynamic crowd, Brick House Vineyard is a natural next stop. Located in the Ribbon Ridge AVA, tastings are by appointment only and the tasting room is closed on Sundays, so add this one to your itinerary several days in advance. As one of the earliest adopters of biodynamic vineyard practices and a consistent producer of top-tier wines, Doug Tunnell and his staff are capable of explaining the appeal and delight of the biodynamic style.
Ready for a quick break from fermented grape juice? Spend an evening at the old wood barn in Newberg better known as Wolves & People Farmhouse Brewery, one of this state’s most Oregonian establishments. With a die-hard commitment to wild, farmhouse-style ales, its brews are among the most innovative in the country. Also on offer: live music, an exuberant crowd, and a gorgeous old-world setting nestled in the trees. Wolves & People will cleanse your palate and nourish your soul.
Start the next day in Carlton, where winemaker Patrick Reuter and viticulturalist Leigh Bartholomew, also biodynamic practitioners, have recently opened a tasting room in a renovated red barn for their label Dominio IV. With some of the coolest wine labels in the business—colorful illustrations hand-drawn to depict the changing flavors and palate shape of the wine over time, like sheet music—they’re going a long way toward making wine more fun and accessible for all.
Finish where the Oregon wine industry began—at The Eyrie Vineyards tasting room in downtown McMinnville. In 1965, Oregon wine godfather David Lett of The Eyrie planted his first vines in the Dundee Hills. With other big names taking up a fair share of the limelight, it can be easy to forget about the quiet revolutionaries who have been there since the beginning. Pay homage to one of those who started it all and taste through The Eyrie’s impressive collection before you hit the road bound for home.
Man cannot live on wine alone:
Enjoy a candlelit dinner at Tina’s in Dundee, or opt for the fresh, vegetable-forward Latin cuisine at Pura Vida in McMinnville. The burgers at Carlton Corners are unbeatable, as is breakfast at Valley Commissary in McMinnville. For lodging, The Allison Hotel & Spa outside of Newberg will drop jaws and inspire many an Insta-photo shoot, but those who prefer to be in the heart of it all will opt for McMinnville, where The Atticus or McMenamins are centrally located in downtown.
A Cocktail Party in Portland
One could make a compelling case that Portland is currently the best city in America to experience the nationwide revolution underway in craft spirits and cocktails. With its crafty, DIY zeitgeist and detailed attention to all things spirited, Portland’s cocktail culture today rivals the storied cocktail cities of New York, Chicago and New Orleans. Don’t believe me? Try it for yourself.
In Portland cocktail culture, all roads lead to Rum Club. A haven for cocktail enthusiasts since 2011, the ambience presents a delicious cacophony of sounds and styles, while the drinks—mostly, but not all, based on rum—are among the most harmonious in the city. On my most recent visit, co-owner Mike Shea was shaking drinks for the crowd while evoking the island theme with his Hawaiian shirt. I couldn’t resist asking what inspired him to open a joint centered on rum. He smiled. “Rum gets a bad rap. I wanted to let it shine.” The namesake spirit has star power here, but don’t limit yourself—there are no bad drinks within these walls.
Linger on the east side and head to Angel Face for a change of scenery. While Rum Club is crowded, loud and a little wild, Angel Face is quiet, softly lit and French-inspired. A light pink floral wallpaper adorns the walls, contributing to a feminine feel. You won’t find a cocktail menu here. Instead, the bartenders ask your spirit preference and create each drink individually. The house style leads to cocktails that are succulent but spiritous, round and vibrant. From cocktails to food to decor, everything here is clean and classic, with layers of texture and flavor beneath.
Eventually, you’ll want to cross the river to the west side. Head first to Botanist, a gin bar whose décor is true to its name. Aiming to breathe life back into the maligned martini, owner Robbie Wilson offers guidance on selecting the appropriate vermouth to accompany a chosen gin. No stodgy drinks found here—the martinis are as fresh as spring. I also sampled a house Negroni and the Martinez from the cocktail menu. Both drinks were on tap—when I inquired, I was told those particular ingredients do best when marinated together for several days before serving. Both were dark, herbal and spirit-forward. Both sippable and charismatic.
If you’re not already traipsing about with a date or drinking partner, you’ll want one handy for our stop at Pépé Le Moko, a basement bomb shelter masquerading as an intimate cocktail bar, complete with candles and black velvet curtains. The Amaretto Sour here is perhaps the perfect cocktail: creamy but ethereal, light but brooding, expressive of all angles of flavor and texture simultaneously.
If our cocktail adventure must come to an end, let it end the next morning with a Bloody Mary. Blackheart, a punk rock bar on Belmont back on the east side, serves hearty and delicious breakfast dishes for meat-lovers, vegetarians and vegans alike. Their house bloody, the “Minor Threat”, is a spicy, horseradish-y hangover cure. Between the vegan chicken n waffles and the fried chicken benedict, there’s only one way to leave—satisfied.
When the party is over:
On Portland’s west side, the cocktail savvy visitor will stay at The Nines, cognizant that Departure and its innovative cocktail bar are on the top floor. The Benson, a historic hotel with an old-world feel, is an elegant choice. On the east side, you can’t go wrong at either The Jupiter, for a quirky pop-culture theme, or Hotel Eastlund, for an artistic take on Mid-century luxury.
Breweries in Bend – Ale Trail
Nowhere in Oregon is so synonymous with beer as Bend. This reputation started with Deschutes Brewery, certainly, but in the past decade the number of breweries in Bend and the surrounding towns has ballooned to more than thirty. It seems every hotel has a brewery package—moreover, in Bend and its environs you can drink local beer while snowshoeing, while riding on a giant cycle-powered bar, while soaking your feet in the same drink as the one in your pint glass. In short, this place is crazy for suds.
It’s darn near impossible to try every Central Oregon brewery in a weekend (though you can try—use Visit Bend’s Ale Trail map, which hands out stamps for eighteen in Bend). Instead of trying to hit them all, play it smart.
For starters, you can go to a bar with a big, beautiful tap list. Try Broken Top Bottle Shop—at the base of College Way, this spot has a dozen taps constantly rotating with mostly Oregon beer. It also has a twelve-door cooler with more than 400 bottles and cans—local and otherwise. Basically, if you’re looking for it, it’s likely to be here.
You can also swing by one of the food cart pods in Bend, all of which have central bars with at least a dozen beers on tap—The Lot has heated benches, lots of beer, and trivia and music nights; at On Tap in northeast Bend, there’s more than thirty tap handles; at River’s Place just down the road, the tap list is extensive and the food is next-level (a hot sandwich from Hogan’s Hoagies or a crepe from We’re the Wurst—or both—will keep the beers in check). Or hit up the gas station. Growler Guys started in Bend and has spread throughout the Northwest and inspired many copycats. But like many things, the original remains the best, with fifty-five taps and all kinds of odd kegs you just can’t get outside Bend.
Bendites love to combine their beer with other activities. They may know all the best secret trails, floats and vistas where they toast with a locally made IPA, but Wanderlust Tours is happy to show you the ropes, too. The tour company offers snowshoe-and-beer trips in the winter, canoes-and-brews trips in the spring, summer and fall, and brewery tours year-round.
Go deeper by heading to Immersion Brewing, which in addition to serving food and beer at its pub in the Box Factory also offers “Brew-It-Yourself” sessions where a brewer helps you and your friends brew your own signature beer. Pick from one of twenty-eight recipes or work with your brewer to customize—bottles, caps, ingredients are all included in the price and you can either come back three weeks later to bottle or pick up, or participate in Brew It Forward, which lets you take home beer the same day and brew for the next group.
Finally, create an itinerary that combines the old with the new. For old-school flavor, start at Bend Brewing Co. Established in 1995, this long-standing brewery recently added a large lawn with a food cart, outdoor taps and a nice view of Mirror Pond. Bonus—the reason this brewery has been around so long is because it’s beer is so good. Hop just a few blocks east to Deschutes Brewery’s downtown pub, and ask to sit on the original side. Then find out why Deschutes is famous—because its beer remains pretty much unparalleled. The pub always has exclusive beers, so grab a taster tray or two and be reminded that sometimes the originals are the best. Then head a few more blocks east to Silver Moon Brewing, another steadfast, long-serving member of the brewing community. This pub also got a recent facelift, making it a lot more accessible, but the beer has stayed the same (amazing) and the locals vibe remains—bingo, game night, lots of karaoke contests.
Then it’s time for the new ones—Bridge 99 Brewery is tucked away in an odd place on Empire Avenue, but don’t be turned off by the location. This spot has a new tasting room that’s all glossy wood, nice servers and an extensive list of very good beer. They’ll can you a crowler to go, too. Bevel Craft Brewing is expected to open early in 2019, the product of two world-class disc golf champions who love IPA and want to share it with the world. And then swing through Spider City Brewing, a woman-owned brewery that started in their garage (aka Spider City). This ambitious production has a downtown tasting room in Tin Pan Alley and a brewery taproom on the southeast side of town.
Bread and bed:
When you’re done with beer, it’s time for food. For international tastes, try Spork and its many curries, rice bowls and, my lord, the fried chicken. For modern comfort food, head to the Old Mill’s new Boxwood Kitchen & Supper Club and don’t miss the Brussels sprouts. Or head off the beaten path for some street tacos at El Sancho, where you can trade in your craft beers for a good old Pacifico (though you can get local craft beers, too). Get some sleep at The Oxford Hotel in downtown Bend, mere steps from a dozen bars and a half-dozen brewpubs. Or try the Wall Street Suites, also close to all the action and equipped with bikes to get you to some of the brewpubs less traveled.
Far-flung Spots for Libation Vacations
Destination breweries, wineries & distilleries for your next road trip