Not to alarm you, but Valentine's Day is Saturday. Made any plans with your significant other yet? If not, here's a suggestion: Dump the roses and candlelight dinners. That stuff isn't "Bendian" enough. Instead, show your true love how much you really care by taking him/her out on an event-packed whirlwind tour of breweries around Central Oregon. (What could be more romantic than hanging out around fermenters all day, besides?)
February 14 is the day of Zwickelmania, a sort of statewide beer-themed open house that over 100 Oregon breweries participate in each year. Named after the "zwickel," the German word for a valve on a cask that allows you to sample beer directly from the barrel, the festival is when beermakers and brewpubs from Portland to Medford throw open their doors to the public, offering behind-the-scenes tours, free samples, and oftentimes special beers and other treats. It's like a backstage pass that unlocks access to the very lifeblood of Oregon's beer scene.
For Mike "Curly" White, head brewer at McMenamins Old St. Francis School, Zwickelmania offers a chance to connect with beer fans on a personal level. "What I like most about having the brewery open up for all to see is being able to be just that, completely open to anybody," he told the Source. "Letting people come down, ask questions, and be up close to the brewery itself is a fun thing. The look on some people's faces as they look at the size of some of the equipment, whether it be bigger or smaller than what they expected, is cool to see year in and year out."
Over 36,000 people paid a visit to a brewery participating in Zwickelmania last year, and according to GoodLife co-owner Ty Barnett, the event's arguably the most popular right here in Bend. "The support and enthusiasm is really here for it. I think in a way they don't have quite as much in Portland," he said. "The organizers asked me how many people came out last year, and when I told them we saw around 300 visitors in five hours, they were like, 'Really?'"
Indeed, GoodLife may have the biggest scene of the 13 Central Oregon breweries participating. In addition to tours of the new onsite distillery, half-off growler fills, and Dump City Dumplings, the GoodLife crew will be launching G-Two, an imperial red ale created in collaboration with Terminal Gravity Brewing in Enterprise. TG brewers will be on hand for the event, and "It'll be really cool because we'll have both our version of G-Two and Terminal Gravity's version available to try," Barnett said. "It's the same recipe, but the water, the local ingredients are going to be different between versions, so getting to try them side-by-side will be a lot of fun."
Zwickelmania runs for a scant five hours, 11 am to 4 pm on Saturday, and thus a little preplanning is a must to fully take in the festivities. Free shuttle buses will be running between Bend breweries during the event, but besides GoodLife, here are some of the other must-visits of the day:
Boneyard will be holding a tent party in its parking lot, with El Sancho serving up tacos for all. (It's also the only day of the year when they sell full pints of beer on premises.)
Bend Brewing, Silver Moon and McMenamins Old St. Francis all offer tours of their normally off-limits brewing facilities. "For Zwickelmania, I'm probably most proud of the Rum Around double brown," White of McMenamins said. "It's spent just over three months in a rum barrel and then the last year conditioning in the cooler. This is the last keg out of the three I got, so I'm stoked to see how it tastes compared to the others."
Finally, if you can catch a ride over there, Sunriver Brewing, which recently began distributing bottles across Oregon, will offer tours of its 10,000-square-foot brewery and tastes of its Cocoa Cow Chocolate Milk Stout—very apropos for Valentine's Day.
Full list of events at OregonCraftBeer.org