It’s impossible to talk about Bend Beer without acknowledging that Anheuser-Busch InBev recently acquired 10 Barrel, one of the breweries that author Jon Abernathy lauded as part of the vanguard of inspiring, independent, fast-growing Central Oregon breweries. Even Abernathy—the long-time blogger behind The Brew Site, who is accustomed to dealing with last-minute beer news—must be boggled by the speed at which the present becomes the past.
Bend itself is an interesting test case for the many outdoorsy, mid-sized cities hoping to capitalize on a similar beer boom. For the first half of the slim volume (Bend is only a century old!), Abernathy’s meticulously researched narrative depicts a history that’s common knowledge to anyone familiar with Western beer history in general: Frontier saloons, Prohibition, end of Prohibition, bars and saloons again.
For lovers of modern—that is, post-1970 or so—beer history, Bend Beer picks up when Deschutes Brewery opened in 1988. Now one of the largest craft breweries in the United States, Deschutes supplied a founder, or at least an employee or two, to nearly every brewery in Bend, and more than a few in Portland. It’s a fascinating and multi-layered chronicle to trace the careers of influential brewers like Jimmy Seifert and Larry Sidor, although Abernathy’s breathless recitation of names and dates can get monotonous.
Bend Beer is more documentation than analysis, and its oversights can be startling. There are endless cop jokes about Prohibition, but only a single sentence that mentions all the burgeoning tech startups and health-care professionals who are presumably the drinkers of all of Bend’s new beer. But overall, Bend Beer (History Press, Paperback, $19.99, 192 pp) is illuminating and entertaining. Whatever happened in Bend can happen elsewhere, and Abernathy’s book is a noteworthy record.