Ah, Central Oregon. For people who want the largest, most diverse and highest-quality beer scene in the universe, this is it. What the area doesn't have, however, is commensurate world-class beer distribution. A visit to a beer shop will mostly turn up beer from Oregon and Washington, with a few stragglers from points south and east. Compare this to, say, Texas, where large regional breweries like Bell's, Founders, Victory and Deschutes all vie for the same beer-cooler real estate.
Things are slowly starting to change in Oregon, however, with one of the big guys newly descending upon the Pacific Northwest in grand fashion.
Mike Stevens and Dave Engbers, two homebrewing enthusiasts who recently graduated from Hope College in Michigan, founded the company in 1996. They started out in Grand Rapids, the nearest large city in the area. Despite flirting with bankruptcy for its first few years—much like Deschutes, back in the day—Founders soon emerged as a leader in a rapidly-expanding Michigan beer community.
Now Founders distributes to 45 states (sorry, Colorado and Mississippi). The brewery kicked off its Oregon debut last month with several events across the state, including a recent tap takeover at Broken Top Bottle Shop. Tons of their bottles and cans are available across Bend right now, thanks to the folks at Bigfoot Beverage.
"It was westward that Dave and I traveled in our discovery of craft beers some 25 years ago," Stevens said, "and we have long anticipated the day that Founders would be sold in this region. Simply put, it's one of the country's best craft beer beacons."
Where should beer fans begin with exploring Founders' lineup, though?
Big stouts: Breakfast Stout, the first beer to be called this name in the U.S., is a double-chocolate coffee oatmeal stout which warms the heart without going too sticky-sweet. A barrel-aged version called KBS consistently ranks at the top of the category on BeerAdvocate. Also try out Lizard of Koz in this genre, packed with blueberries and vanilla and aged in bourbon barrels.
A full lineup of IPAs: Founders' IPAs aren't necessarily going to take on the legends of Oregon anytime soon, but All Day IPA was one of the first session sales to really get attention nationwide, using Amarillo and Simcoe hops for a fine, poundable experience. Amarillo's used extensively in Red's Rye IPA as well, mixed with rye malt for a spicy finish.
Wacky seasonals: Frootwood is a light-bodied cherry ale aged in barrels that used to hold both bourbon and maple syrup, to extremely novel effect. Backwoods Bastard, meanwhile, is an 11.2% Scotch ale that provides just the warming kick for a late-winter night.