Tuesday, June 24, 2014

My second published beer article

This article was published in the June 2014 issue of the Oregon Beer Growler.

RiverBend Brewing hits a grand slam

Situated on a large piece of property on the north side of town just off Hwy 97 and across the street from the Deschutes River, the RiverBend brewpub has gone through many incarnations. Built in 1992 and opened a year later as the Italian Cottage, the building was later leased out as the Country Cottage. It most recently was known as Rivals Sports Bar, featuring poker tables and karaoke.

Owners Gary & Linda Sobala reinvented the space again last year, wanting to make it a more welcoming place. The first thing to go was the poker, although there is still a small Video Lottery room tucked away in a back corner. They added a large outdoor seating area with a gas-powered firepit and cornhole. The interior space still has a sports-bar vibe with lots of big tvs and sports paraphernalia hanging from the ceiling and on the walls. However, minors are now welcome at all hours.

Opened on November 6th, 2013, RiverBend Brewing & Sports Pub also has a new emphasis on food, which Gary refers to as “98% from scratch.” With typical pub favorites like sandwiches, burgers and pizza, the menu also features seasonal salads, sliders, mac & cheese, wings and dips, all made from fresh, local ingredients. Everything pairs very well with the made-in-house beers.

The “if you brew it, they will come” vision is at the forefront of the new business’s identity. Adding the brewery across the parking lot was just another way to attract more customers. Lifelong beer lovers, Gary and Linda were at the Deschutes Brewery opening in downtown Bend in 1988. He remembers seeing an employee polishing the brewery’s front door and thinking “Just let us in so we can drink the beer!”

The new head brewer, Daniel Olsen, has been brewing since he was a 17-year-old in Colorado. He apprenticed at Silver Plume in Clear Creek County then moved to Bend to work at Deschutes as a pub brewer for nine years. He later became head brewer at Wildfire Brewing Co., which is now known as 10 Barrel.

Daniel is excited to "explore the concepts, materials and methods that have been on my drawing board for some time, including a line of soft drinks for our new guests.” After making more traditional beer styles first, he is now experimenting with herbs, fruits and spices. Recent choices at the pub include a variety of hoppy ales as well as a saison, nut brown, Irish stout and wintermint stout. When Gary purchased a rye whiskey barrel to make into taster trays, Daniel filled it with Imperial IPA before the saw blade made the first cut. He plans to age the as yet unnamed beer for 2-3 months.

Gary has spared no expense on the new brewery. All equipment was made by Marks Design and Metalworks in Vancouver, WA. RiverBend opened with a 12 barrel system and 1800 bbl per year capacity and have been brewing at a rate of 20 barrels roughly per week. They are already in the process of adding two fermenters and three brite tanks bringing their capacity to 3500+ barrels per year.

Starting in May, RiverBend is now featured on the expanded Bend Ale Trail. They currently have 10 of their beers on tap at the pub plus eight others including a cider. You can also find their beer on tap at a few other Bend locations. With a focus on great beer, food and sports, all in a family-friendly atmosphere, RiverBend Brewing Co. has scored the winning run.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

My first published beer article

This article was published in the May 2014 edition of the Oregon Beer Growler. I thought I would also share it here on my blog for your enjoyment. :)

From Barn to Brewpub

When Susan Toepfer gave her friends Mr Beer Kits for Christmas 10 years ago, she never dreamed it would change her life. Living in Snoqualmie, WA at the time, she and her husband, Al, weren’t even beer drinkers. Out of curiosity, Al used the kit to make a few extract brews and got hooked on the process. He soon switched to all grain and, after sharing his beer with friends & family, received a lot of positive feedback. Eventually he entered his homebrews into fairs and local contests and won some awards.

In 2010, Susan’s brother, Les, offered his barn as a possible location for Al to brew on a larger scale. The first time Susan saw it, she referred to it as a “rat hole” and the name stuck. It took two years to get all of the necessary licensing and permits as the barn is located on 10 acres of exclusive farm-use land southeast of Bend.

Once the brewery was operational, the Toepfer’s needed a place to sell their beer. When the original Old Mill Brew Werks space in the Phoenix Building-West became available, they decided to open a brewpub.

The new business is a family affair. Susan’s brother and sister-in-law, Les and Peggy Keele, and sister and brother-in-law, Ken and Shelbie Deuser, teamed up with the pair as co-owners and helped with the funding. Al & Susan are the licensed brewers. All family members contribute in some way, either working behind the scenes or pulling pints at the pub. “It’s a great thing to do as a couple,” Susan says.

The brewpub is a cozy, family-friendly place to enjoy an upscale Southwestern-inspired meal paired with one of the 10 Rat Hole beers on tap. There’s live music two nights a week and Wednesday is locals night with $2.50 pints from 4-8pm. The pub is also the only place you can find their beers for now. According to Susan, “we plan to start selling 22 oz bottles at the pub in late May or early June.”

While Susan continues to work as an accountant, Al has retired from his 35-year career as an auto technician and is focusing on the brewing. He counts another well-respected homebrewer as his mentor. Currently brewing on a 2.5 bbl system with an 80 gal boil pot and four 80 gal fermenters, Al brews three to four times each week. To keep up with demand, the Toepfer’s have already purchased an additional four fermenters and have doubled the number of kegs.

Their three tasty flagship beers are Rye IPA (peppery spice of rye and bright citrusy flavors of whole-cone hops), Rotation Red Ale (mild, delicate English style ale with a hint of sweetness) and Vanilla Porter (fresh Madagascar vanilla beans, six malts, chocolate and flaked oats). Al has also made some experimental beers like Peppermint Porter and is working on a green chile beer for the summer months.

“Our goal is to do a few things really well,” Susan says, and by all measures, they are. Rat Hole joins the expanded version of the Bend Ale Trail in May. This summer, the brewpub celebrates its one year anniversary on Saturday, July 19th. A large outdoor party will feature live music, BBQ, and plenty of Rat Hole brews. In the meantime, keep an eye on their Facebook page for news about events at the pub, seasonal menu items and, of course, new beers!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Splendors of Spring Travel in Europe

This is my final post about our spring vacation. I’ve already written about how we came to choose England & Scotland as our destination and how much you can expect to spend on a similar trip. Now I’m going to talk about the overall experience.

When traveling in this part of the world in late April and early May, you can generally expect mild weather. Most days there was some chance of rain in the forecast and, depending on cloud cover and wind, the temperature could fluctuate from very cool to quite warm. The best advice is to wear layers; clothes that are lightweight, breathable, and comfortable in rainy weather; and good walking shoes. This is pretty much the same as what I tell people who are visiting the Pacific Northwest as the weather is comparable to Portland, OR. It was very easy to pack as we took almost exactly the same clothes as on our around-the-world trip, just fewer of them.

As it turned out we were pretty lucky. Daytime temperatures were usually in the 50's although there were a few sunny days when it got up into the 70's. While it did rain the better part of one day in Alnwick, the day we visited Stirling, and off & on the whole time we were on the west coast of Scotland, it was never a complete wash out. I only felt the need to don my full rain gear (waterproof pants & jacket) on one day, and that's because we planned to do some hiking plus it was windy & cool and I knew it would help keep me warm.

The scenery was much more spectacular than I expected. As I mentioned in a previous post, we were both a little concerned that Scotland would look and feel a lot like Ireland, where we spent an entire month in 2011. Yes, some of the landscape was similar - the rugged beauty of the Highlands, mist-shrouded coastline, and very little development outside the big cities. But we actually ended up comparing it more to New Zealand instead of Ireland. Perhaps this is because it was lambing season and there were sheep everywhere! At other times it brought to mind Alaska and Oregon. Northern England was also beautiful, with yellow fields of rapeseed providing a nice contrast to the lush green farmland (and sheep!).

It's hard to choose my favorite memories from this trip as I covered so much ground and experienced so many things. My Spring Vacation photo album, which is currently featured in a slideshow to the right of this post, has 199 photos. I picked those from more than 2000 I took over the course of my 25 day trip. I also posted albums featuring each destination on my Facebook page. Ultimately I would say the scenery was a definite highlight along with visiting small breweries and spending time with friends & family in The Netherlands. Oh, and the baby sheep!!!

I now realize I haven't published a list of all the places we visited. Greg was only with me for the England & Scotland portion. All of these places are worth your time to see!

Netherlands:  Utrecht, Emmen, The Hague, Delft, Scheveningen, Leiden, Bodegraven

England:  Alnwick, Hadrian’s Wall, Durham, York, Holy Island of Lindisfarne, Bamburgh, Berwick-upon-Tweed

Scotland:  Edinburgh, Stirling, Pitlochry, Inverness, Loch Ness, Isle of Skye, Oban, Isle of Mull, Iona, Glasgow

...And countless other towns & villages that are too small to even mention! I honestly wouldn't change a thing about this trip, with the exception of having a little more downtime to relax and do nothing. But that's what an island-based all-inclusive beach resort is for, right?! Maybe next time. :)

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Money Well Spent - The Logistics of Our Spring Vacation

For this post I’m primarily focusing on the England & Scotland part of my vacation which was entirely spent with my husband, Greg. I also was in Holland for eight days, where I spent some time with my best friend, Amy, and with my Dutch family in Emmen.


Newcastle is the nearest airport to Alnwick, our home base in northern England. It is an easy 34 mile drive north on the A1. Flights to pretty much anywhere in Europe from Portland are over $1100 round trip, almost always with two stops. The only nonstop flight is to Amsterdam on Delta. Thankfully we both had accumulated enough miles on different airlines to cover this trip, as long as we were flexible with our travel dates.

Greg redeemed 40,000 AAdvantage miles plus paid $377.90 in taxes & fees, most arising from his connections at London Heathrow, which was unavoidable. I tried to create his itinerary online but, since we were using miles, the flight combinations were pretty much impossible to coordinate. On my first call to American Airlines, we came up with a decent itinerary with the exception that Greg would have to layover one night in Chicago. With a few more calls over subsequent weeks I managed to eliminate that layover. His final itinerary ended up being PDX-ORD-LHR-NCL, with no more than a three hour connection time between any two legs. The return was similar: NCL-LHR-PHL-PDX. Still, both comprised almost 24 hours of travel each way.

I redeemed 97,500 Delta Skymiles plus paid $61.50 to fly nonstop from PDX-AMS round trip. I lucked out and was able to book a First Class seat for the same miles as coach on the way over, but was stuck in the back of the plane on the way home. I also paid $166.61 to fly round trip from AMS-NCL on KLM. After some online research, I discovered that if I joined KLM’s frequent flyer program I would get my first checked bag free, saving about $20 each way.

Ground transportation

We would have loved to take trains throughout England & Scotland but their rail system is one of the most expensive in the world and would only get us to a few of the places we wanted to go. Thus I reserved a car through Hertz, my preferred rental company. I tried numerous discount codes but the best rate came from a targeted email I had received from Delta Air Lines (up to 40% off plus bonus miles). I was also able to save money by prepaying the entire cost of the reservation - $305.62 for 15 days. I waived all insurance (covered by my credit card) and add-ons. We ended up with a 4-door Nissan Note manual transmission diesel with free GPS. It was perfect with the exception that the right front tire kept losing air. It only took me a couple of days to get used to driving on the opposite side of the car and road as I am accustomed to in the U.S.

I drove just under 1500 miles in two weeks. With the average cost of diesel at 1.37GBP per liter ($5.19/gallon), filling up is an expensive undertaking. Our total fuel cost was $230.04. Most parking lots, even at national parks, charge a hefty fee so we were very careful about booking accommodations that had free parking. We also found that there are great park & ride facilities just outside of the city center in most larger towns. Parking is free and then you pay a small fee, typically around 2GBP per person round trip, to ride the bus into town. We only spent $31.75 in that category. The only other transportation expenses were our day trip from Oban to the Isles of Mull & Iona (40GBP per person or $135.22 total for ferry/bus/ferry and return), and our day passes on Glasgow’s subway (4GBP per person or $13.50 total).

During my 8+ days in the Netherlands, I took public transit except when Martine & Jacco were driving us around Emmen. I used trains to cover longer distances, and buses, trams & bikes for local sightseeing. My total transportation cost for that portion of the trip was only $140.55.


This is an area where Greg & I typically try to save as much money as possible. We stayed in hostels and couch-surfed for the majority of our around-the-world trip in 2010/2011. On U.S. trips we often stay in budget motels, or for longer stays, look for an inexpensive vacation rental. While the bigger cities we visited on this vacation did have hostels, the smaller towns did not. And while the hostels were a bit cheaper, most did not have free parking or include breakfast, so we would end up spending the same amount of money as a mid-range B&B.

I have already previously written about how we came to stay at the flat in Alnwick. We researched B&B’s and other accommodations listed in the Rick Steves guidebook but most were out of our price range. So we ended up using Booking.com to make most of our reservations, although we cross-referenced TripAdvisor and other websites to price-check and read user reviews. For the nine nights we were traveling around Scotland, we spent an average of $100 per night.


Like accommodations, this is an area where we typically try to save money, even though I think enjoying the local cuisine is an important part of the travel experience. The traditional Scottish breakfast served at most B&B’s is a very filling way to start the day. It typically includes a fried egg, sausage, ham, potato scone, haggis, black pudding & toast; coffee or tea, juice, cereal and fresh fruit. Thus we saved money by eating only two meals a day - the breakfast that was included in the lodging price and then an early dinner.

We also saved money by buying groceries and cooking breakfast & dinner at the flat in Alnwick. We made peanut butter & jelly sandwiches almost every day to help hold us over until dinner. We also carried snacks like granola bars or fruit in our day packs. We took our refillable water bottles everywhere so we never purchased bottled water, soda, etc. - just beer. And yes, that precious beer accounts for more than one-third of our entire food & beverage expenses (total $761.38 for 15 days).

As we both knew from previous travels in Great Britain, some of the best places to eat are ethnic restaurants, particularly Indian food. This trip was no exception although I did enjoy my dinner of haggis, neeps & tatties in the tiny town of Moulin, near Pitlochry. And we both loved our fresh seafood platter and steamed mussels from the shack on the pier in Oban!


We could have a spent A LOT more money in this category. After all, it’s part of the reason for taking this trip, ie Greg’s interest in history and wanting to visit the sites he has been reading about his whole life. We seriously considered purchasing the Scottish Heritage Pass which is valid for seven consecutive days and costs 47GBP (almost $80 per person). But in the end we decided not to due to the time required to visit so many places to justify the expense, plus many of the sights we wanted to see were not included with the pass. Note that the cost of visiting just one attraction, for example Edinburgh Castle, is 16GBP or $27 per person!

Since I had previously visited several of the places on Greg’s “Must See” list, I killed time in a bar or at our B&B while he was out sightseeing. We also focused on visiting places with no entry fees, like churches, and we hiked around castles instead of going in them. Thus we spent only $130.85, which includes a distillery tour, doing laundry, using public toilets, and the purchase of the 2014 edition of Rick Steves’ Great Britain (which we now have for sale on Half.com).

The Grand Total

The total cost of our England & Scotland vacation was $3118.40 or $3418.40 if you include the money I bid on the flat at the theater fundraiser last year. I only spent another $688 for my eight days in the Netherlands. That grand total is what we expected to spend on this trip even with our fairly aggressive cost-saving measures. The average couple who is less willing to eat PB&J’s every day would easily spend another $1000-$2000, not just on food but also on better accommodations and more sightseeing/entry fees. With the exchange rate at 1 GBP = $1.68 and 1 euro = $1.38 plus 20% VAT factored into most prices, Great Britain and Europe as a whole can be tough for penny-pinching travelers.

One final note about money - We already knew from our previous world travels and extensive research that we might run into problems using our standard U.S.-issued credit cards. First, we both have cards that do not charge foreign transaction fees. We also have debit cards that reimburse us for any ATM withdrawal fees. But most of Europe uses chip & pin cards and many places say they don’t have a machine that will accept a “swipe” card. Also, many businesses charge a fee for using a credit card. For example, in Dutch train stations, you will pay an additional 0,50EUR per transaction. Bottom line, we made sure to always have plenty of cash on hand. Besides, we found that, overall, it was much easier to settle our bill(s) with cash anyway!