Okay, so it doesn't have the same ring as Route 66; but I-84 from Portland to Ontario, Oregon may be among the richest troves of beer in the US. Along those 375 miles, you encounter seven sizable towns (Hood River, the Dalles, Boardman, Pendleton, La Grande, Baker City, and Ontario) and three tiny ones (Biggs, Arlington, Rufus). The population of these towns, collected together, is 75,000, or about the same size as Medford, our small state's 7th largest city.
Yet also along this route, you will encounter seven breweries (and that's if you don't take a bridge across the river where you can immediately locate two more). Not bad. There is a bit of a rocky stretch there between Hood River and Pendleton, where you have to drive nearly 147 long miles between breweries. Thereafter, you find a brewery in every major town all the way to the Idaho border.
For those not familiar with this stretch, it is, shall we say, stark. An amazing climatic shift happens in east Hood River; the firs change over to pine, and then disappear altogether as the wet climate gives way to arid high desert. Humans have managed to cobble together hardscrabble lives along the Columbia River, herding cattle and tending fields--but not many of them. It's not a landscape that supports much life at all. Each city huddles under river-fed trees in the bright sunshine like little oases, but they don't seem to promise much in the way of exceptional beers. But this is Beervana, so appearances deceive.
I wonder, is there any other stretch of America so apparently bereft of civilization but rich in craft breweries? We are fortunate indeed.
PHOTO: H ROACH
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