Eager to get some more miles on the odometer, we head out of town loosely following the river into the mountains ahead. The appropriately named Lookout Point Lake accompanies us along Willamette Highway for so long, I become blasé to its beauty. At Oakridge, we stop in a car park of a large supermarket to stretch our legs, buy some water and road snacks. Road snacks are portable, easy to eat treats that you normally don’t buy. Scouring the shelves of the remote supermarket, we pick up candies, cookies, jerky and sweet iced tea. The carpark at Ray’s Food Place in Mountain View Plaza has incredible views of the mountains opposite. Leaning against the car, I start in on a jumbo bag of abnormally bright red Twizzlers. This chewy, strawberry-flavoured sweet is hitting the spot.‘Hey. Guess what is just up in the street behind here?’
‘A brewery bar?’ I posit. Naturally, I’m correct. I’m not convinced that this was a random stop for some blood sugar adjustment. Turfing the open packet onto the back seat, I climb back in for the quick trip to Brewers Union Local 180.
He pulls the car in at an angle to the curb, three mountain bikes parked in the bay next to us. We’ve passed a few intrepid cyclists on this section of our road trip and it is a feat I can’t begin to fathom. Tight corners, oversized RVs and too many miles between towns for a fair-weather cyclist like me to contemplate.
Here in the Umpqua National Forest, Oregon is a little piece of Steve’s motherland. Cosy armchairs, beers from hand-pumped kegs at cellar temperature and shelves of books and games. Paper coasters decorate the bar overhang and twinkling fairy lights hang in garlands below. I settle into a wingback chair by the front window and pull out my phone to take advantage of the free wifi.
‘Food was overcooked and the beer was warm’ reads one review. Just like home then?’ I ask Steve and take a sip of the amber nectar he has just returned with.
‘Umm, you’ve got a little –‘ pointing to the creamy foam on my top lip. I take a bigger swill before wiping the back of my hand across my mouth. ‘Apparently, the owner spent some years in the UK learning how to make traditional English ales.’ He informs me cocking his head towards the barman.‘Time well spent, I reckon.’
Placing the phone down on the table in front, I get up to explore the maps which line the walls. Detail cartography outlines the forest trails and the contours of the inclines. A well-designed map is the perfect blend of art and mathematics. ‘Where to from here?’
‘I’m hoping we will be in Bend by about – oh, let’s say 4.30,’ he answers after consulting the oracle in hand. ‘There is a place along the way I’d like to stop in at. Salt Creek Falls. Supposed to be pretty.’
‘Okay, if you like.’
Pulling into Northwest Riverside Boulevard in Old Bend is like pulling up in any suburban street. A young man only wearing shorts is washing his car in the driveway. Two kids attempt to take a dog for a walk, holding onto the leash with all their might. A supermarket delivery van pulls up and a woman unloads bags of groceries. We leave our car and make our way to the front door just as our hosts walk down the path.
‘Hi there. I’m Mandy. This is Steve.’ I gesture hoping it’s all rather obvious.
‘Oh great. I’m Bev and this is Stan. We were just about to head out so fabulous timing.’
‘Sorry, we had hoped to be a bit earlier but it’s tricky to judge how long things take sometimes,’ Steve apologises as is his English nature.
After a quick tour of the unit, we head back to the car to collect our bags.
Bev and Stan are loading up their car with what appears to be camping equipment.
‘Are you guys going camping?’ I ask, now noticing their outdoorsy clothing. Practical hiking clothing always has a particular look – slim cut, non-chafing breathable fibres, colours not found in nature.
‘Oh yeah, Bev and I love to hike. We go deep into the forest. There are some great day hikes around here if you want some suggestions. We love the outdoors. Whitewater rafting, skiing, mountain biking, bear wrestling.’ I may have tuned out there at the end so I can’t verify that he actually said bear wrestling. ‘If you guys want to go tubing on the river, we can lend you some tubes,’ Bev pipes in
Shaking my head a little too violently, ‘no, no, that’s okay. I think Steve has our time here planned out fairly strictly.’ I back away in case it’s contagious and go to help Steve unpack the car.
‘I think it’s time for another beer,’ I say to Steve. ‘Gotta be a bar around here somewhere.’
And so the craft beer tour of Bend, Oregon begins after a short walk over Deschutes river, passing the aptly named Mirror Pond with people adrift on inflated tyre inner tubes. First stop is Sunriver Brewing Company. Only a few years old, this slick restaurant and bar is fortunately positioned on the Main Street into town. It’s only 5.30pm and the sunbeams in the concertina windows that is the front façade. Thankfully the ebullient waitress provides chilled beverages only minutes after our arrival. The staff all wear red, yellow or green t-shirts advertising particular beers. Beer merchandise is a big thing here in America. T-shirts, singlets, caps, glasses, and even socks can announce your loyalty to a particular craft beer brand. Steve picks up a few along his journey and even I am not immune to their charms.
Menus are produced and we start the elimination process that is ordering.
‘How hungry are you?’ This is a standard question of mine to determine whether grazing or full meal is required.
‘You know me. I’ll eat.’ His standard answer doesn’t provide any assistance.
‘Okay. How about fried avocado, sriracha aioli, cumin lime sour cream, pico de gallo. I love pico de gallo.’
Rarely seen in Australia, pico de gallo is a fresh take on tomato salsa. Sprinkle salt on decent size dices of ripe juicy tomato and slices of red onion. Leave these to sit for a short while the salt draws out liquid, adding to the sauce’s natural juices. Finish with liberal handfuls of fresh coriander, finely chopped and de-seeded Serrano peppers (you want flavour but not overwhelming heat) and lime juice. It’s got to be lime juice, not lemon juice. Limes have an economy of flavour; they’re more bitter than sour and bitterness is a useful accent in many dishes. They pack a bigger acid hit than lemons. Most people reach for lemons more readily then limes. Partly, I think it’s the price factor. Lemons are substantially cheaper and are more easily grown at home. Pico de gallo, however, deserves limes.
‘Pineapple poppers as well then. Pepper-bacon wrapped pineapple, jalapeño queso fresco and a burgundy reduction. What’s queso fresco? Fresh cheese?’He answers his own question.
‘Yeah. A soft, mild cow’s milk cheese. I’m more concerned with the phrase burgundy reduction. I’ve not heard of red wine being referred to as burgundy for a long time. If the wine really is from the Bourgogne region, you wouldn’t be cooking it down into a sauce.’