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Monday, May 07, 2012

How Beer Saved Bend

The New York Times, camped out in Portland, decides on a road trip:
What it showed was this: While places like Seattle and Denver and Brooklyn and Delaware can claim impressive craft brewing scenes, and a weirdly large number of people nationwide now speak of hop fetishes and beer crushes, Bend is a per capita powerhouse. With 80,000 people surrounded by not much of anything — with no Interstate, no university, and the closest major city 160 miles away across steep and snowy mountains — beer has had room to make a difference.

And it has.

“Deschutes County breweries and brew pubs reported 450 jobs in 2010,” Carolyn B. Eagan, a state economist, wrote last fall. “That is 15 percent of all of the brewing employment in the state. For a county that had 4 percent (one of every 25 jobs) of the state’s total employment that year, one out of seven jobs in Oregon brewing is quite impressive.”  
The NYT fancifully suggests the beer saved Bend.  Since unemployment remains 11%, I believe they mean to say it saved Bend's soul.


  1. Jeff - as a born and raised oregonian this post warms my soul. After moving to the midwest in late 2008, I can tell you that 11%unemployment is paltry for such a remote area of a relatively underrepresented state population-wise, especially in terms of per capita craft beer drinking in portland alone.

    What I can tell you from a ton of experience is that bend more than any other city I have ever seen can owe all of its notoriety to beer. When I have people ask me how it is that a brewery like deschutes is the 5th largest in the country, yet we never see it in Indiana, it is a pretty simple response:

    Deschutes is ubiquitous in the northwest. Like Brooklyn Lager is to NYC, Pyramid Hefe to Seattle, Anchor Steam to SF, going into any grocery worth a damn and not finding a mirror pond sixer is out of the question. True, Bend is not a thriving economy. But when I explain to people in the Indiana/Michigan/Chicago area that Bend hosts the 5th largest brewery in the country, and that they are a full 5 hour drive from ANYTHING in Oregon,let alone one of the longest, most dangerous drives you can imagine to take 5 hours, it makes peoples jaws drop.

    Is Bend a metropolis? No. Can you directly relate the success of their breweries to putting them on the map, especially getting them into the NYT? I'd say absolutely.

    I understand your desire to occasionally be the devils advocate for oregon. I constantly use my upbringing as a validation of my knowledge in the midwest. However I think this is an area where you may be a tiny bit jaded.

    Where else can you find a brewery outside of New Glarus in the top 30 that seems like a shocking place for a top 30 brewery to be from?


  2. Ben,

    Totally not jaded. You raise related but different issues. My basic point is that beer is not saving Bend economically. Even in a small community like Bend, 450 jobs constitutes a tiny percentage.

    My point about it saving Bend's soul is a nod to the things you cite. I think the NYT--and a couple of days later, the Oregonian did a very similar story--was trying to point out how important beer is to Central Oregon. Using jobs is just a silly way to make the point.

    Whenever I hear someone go on a tear about how great Asheville, NC is for beer I smile and say--sure, but they're no Bend. In terms of beer volume, beer quality, and brewery-to-body ratios, no city in the world can match it.

  3. True, they are two different issues. 11% unemployment is bad. And 450 jobs in a town of 80,000 is certainly not saving an economy.

    But ponder this: What would Bend look like if there were no breweries at all? What if Deschutes had opened in Eugene instead? Likely still a viable tourist community for the spectacular range of hiking, rafting, skiing, climbing, biking, etc destinations that surround it, but not really a destination itself.

    It's semantic, sure. Beer didn't "save Bend." It didn't save its economy. It didn't even save its soul. But it put them squarely on the national map, and I find that pretty cool. I find it very cool how often I get asked here in northern Indiana where someone can find Mirror Pond or Black Butte, or the die-hards asking if I can get them a bottle of Abyss.

    And sorry to call you jaded, I think there are few people out there who sing the praises of Oregon more than you, and I very much appreciate that.