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Welcome to the Empire 

Openings, closings, awards and a shift in the nexus of Bend beer over the past year

Yet again, it's been a busy year for beer in Bend—one of the industries that makes the region an international destination, right alongside skiing, stand up paddle boarding and real estate speculation.

Sunriver Brewing Company and Monkless Belgian Ales are the latest locals to achieve big-name awards, the former cleaning up at last fall's Great American Beer Fest and the latter earning two medals at the Oregon Beer Awards last month. Silver Moon Brewing and Bend Brewing Company both completed major remodels, with 10 Barrel Brewing's Galveston Street pub just repopening March 9. The Ale Apothecary launched its long-awaited tasting room, and Boneyard Beer's new pub off NE Division has...well, a nice-looking sign up, at least, although the actual open is still a ways away.

But in the past year, the big story in Bend beer is how the area around NE Empire Boulevard has become the new frontier for the local industry. 10 Barrel opening up its massive new production facility and brewpub close by certainly contributed to this, but—thanks to cheaper rents and much less city regulation on brewery access to the water supply—the trend was well underway even before then.

10 Barrel joins both Boneyard and Crux Fermentation Project in having large manufacturing sites around the area off the US-97 Empire exit, mostly making beer for packing and out of town export. Those other two facilities aren't open to the public, but no need to be sad about that—up and down Empire, one spot mostly within walking distance of another, there's a wealth of breweries and restaurants that make it all too easy to while away a Saturday afternoon in the most delicious way possible. (Most are open other days as well, but hours can be more limited on the weekdays, so check in advance.)

Where to begin? Well, why not start with the biggest? 10 Barrel (62950 NE 18th St.) has one of the largest taprooms in town, with 20 beers available and some great mountain views. With the Galveston pub running limited hours for now, this is the place to check out all the experimental barrel-aged and sour beers brewed onsite by Tonya Cornett, Ian Larkin and the rest of the gang. For a real change of pace, check out Curryosity, an imperial ale with pumpkin, toasted coconut and yellow curry.

From there, it's easy to head to Monkless Belgian Ales (20750 High Desert Ln.), in a garage site that's actually rented from 10 Barrel. Thanks to some choice bottle releases such as Friar's Festivus, around the state, the four-year-old brewery is starting to grab some serious attention outside of the city. The atmosphere's still chill around the brewery, however—and while the weather's still cold, there's no better time to enjoy Meet Your Maker, a strong, bottle-conditioned dark ale clocking in at a smooth nine percent.

Take the opportunity for a quick break at Port of Subs or Wubba's BBQ, perhaps, before venturing to Bridge 99 Brewery (63063 Layton Ave). Open six days a week, Bridge 99 was one of the first breweries to open to the public in the NE Empire area, and it's always been a chill place to sit around, talk to the brewer and watch the apartment buildings being built literally up and down the street. Plus: A different food truck each day.

To round out the day, why not try out a couple of places that are old to Bend, but new to the northeast? Oblivion Brewing (63027 Plateau Dr.) used to have a pub where Sunriver's Galveston location is, but they'll begin to have regular hours right there very soon. And remember Craft Kitchen & Brewery (62988 Layton Ave.)? They're back, too, offering pints and growler fills of their still-quite-extensive beer lineup—and food will be coming soon at the location, too.

It all means just one thing: The Empire, and Bend beer along with it, is expanding.

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