Jimmy Fallon once thanked microbreweries for making his alcoholism look like a neat hobby. Funny, because it's true.
And, over the past decade, that "neat hobby" has massively overhauled Bend's tourism—or, probably more accurately, added another important dimension to the area's tourism, which traditionally has relied on the appeal of the region's natural beauty and activities.
"Business has been good for outdoor products as well as the gastronomic tours," said James Jaggard, general manager of Wanderlust Tours, a company that has been in Bend offering outdoor tours for 20 years and started hosting Brew Bus tours in 2011. "Our Brew Bus has really become a shining star for us, it took off right away. Both Brew Bus and Local Pour tours [that explore local distilleries, cideries and wineries] have doubled in size every year, which stands to reason because we are getting so many more breweries."
Appealing to an entirely different audience than Wanderlust's cave, canoe, snowshoe, cycling and volcano tours, the burgeoning industry still fits within the company's tourism philosophy, Jaggard said, to vibrantly share the natural and cultural history of the Northwest.
"That history is built around brewing," said Jaggard.
Wanderlust teams with the Bend Ale Trail to make the Brew Bus Tours as diverse as possible. The Ale Trail, now 14 breweries strung together to create a goldmine beer atlas (there's even an app for that) is the cornerstone for brewery tourism in Bend.
"For many of the local breweries, The Bend Ale Trail is their primary marketing program, and we don't charge them a dime to participate. So in terms of activating local tax dollars to create a meaningful return on investment for local businesses, I think the Bend Ale Trail has been a big winner," explained Doug LaPlaca, president and CEO of Visit Bend. "And it's not just the local breweries that are benefiting from the Bend Ale Trail. Bend's beer tourists stay in hotels, buy gas and groceries, hire guides, shop, and spend money throughout our community."
This model is comparable to the wine industry in Napa Valley and only looks to be continually growing.
"In 2014, Visit Bend will distribute 80,000 Bend Ale Trail Atlases," said LaPlaca. "To put that into perspective, we will only distribute 100,000 Bend Visitor Guides. So the day will come in the not too distant future that we'll distribute more Bend Ale Trail Atlases than Visitor Guides."
Asheville: Our Sister Suds Town
Beer City, USA? Nope, its not Bend, Ore.
It is a town of approximately 80,000 people with dozens of breweries peppering the downtown area. Rather, Asheville, N.C, has seized on the title as Beer City, USA—and also is capitalizing on the tourism opportunities, not to mention the branding.
With a brewery for every 8,000 residents (18 in total), the makeup is almost identical to Bend's 19 (for the record: Bend does edge out the North Carolina town on the per capita breweries stat). The town also is piecing together an economy based on all-things-beer.
"A neat spin off from the thriving beer scene in Asheville are other products brew-related," said Landis Taylor of the Asheville Convention and Visitors Bureau. "There's Brew Bites, BRÖÖ Shampoo and Gaelic Ale Mustard, just to name a few. And I can't fail to mention the Beer Foot Soak at Wake Foot Sanctuary downtown with a treatment featuring local porter, dried hops and a foot massage. Also, some great city tours have spun off the beer scene including a PubCycle, Brews Cruise, Brew-Ed Tour led by a CERTIFIED beer expert (a cicerone), a 5K beer run and a Bend & Brew Tour that's part yoga, part tasting. Asheville has also been fortunate to have its beverage scene expand even more lately with the addition of two local sake companies, three hard cider brewers and a legal moonshine distillery. The bars around town in Asheville's 250-plus independent restaurants are offering killer craft cocktails these days with so many local options for pairing and mixing."