Friday, November 14, 2014

Four Ale Trails reviewed--Bend, Spokane, Eugene, Bellingham

     Visit a dozen or so brewpubs in a community or region, carrying a little "passport" around and getting it stamped at each brewery, and collect a bit of swag when you attain a set number of stamps. That's the ale trail phenomenon as it has been developing here in the northwest.
     Having completed three of these trails, in Bend, Spokane, and here in Bellingham, and half of a fourth, in Eugene, I bestir myself to do a little compare-and-contrast.  I have developed several criteria for judging them, as follows:
     1. Can you complete the trail without an automobile?  Bike, bus, walk, just don't risk a DUI if you are trying to make the circuit in limited time. No program sets a time limit, but if you are visiting from some distance, your schedule may limit you.
     2.  Is the program touch-every-base, or is it possible to run the course without visiting every participating brewery?  Some are only open two or three days a week, and if you don't live there, and have limited time, it helps if the course can be completed without every single establishment.
     3.  What is the reward?  Probably the least important factor for the ardent beer tourist, but it still merits consideration.

The Bend Ale Trail: As far as I know, this is the original program, running since 2012, when "only" a dozen breweries were operating in the city.  Now the tally on the passport is up to fourteen, and rumor has it, a couple more may have opened since the passport was last printed.  To complete the trail one needs ten stamps. With a rented bicycle I did the trail in a summer's day; buses tun to the more outlying locations like Worthy and Cascade Lakes Brewing, so a car is not necessary. The prize is a flexible plastic silipint, and there are more goodies for those who can collect all fourteen stamps.

The Spokane-Inland Empire Ale Trail. Spokane's inland empire stretches from Republic, WA to Sand Point, ID on the north, Yakima to Clarkston to Wallace, ID on the south, three hundred miles wide. A car is definitely necessary, Twenty-seven breweries are on board with this program, and twelve stamps are needed to claim the prize, a nifty imprinted quart growlette.  With nine breweries in Spokane city and Spokane valley, this trail offers great flexibility for getting to twelve stamps.

The Eugene Ale Trail.  Ten breweries are on board for this program; eight stamps gets you a prize described as a sixteen-ounce amber growler.  A pint to go, as it were.  I parked by Ninkasi and found three other brewpubs within walking distance in the city's Whiteaker district, west of downtown. Three others are downtown and an eighth could be either a train ride to neighboring Springfield or a bus ride several miles west.  So, the car is not necessary and the passport lists the bus and transit routes, a nice touch.  Note: the reward is limited to quantities on hand.

The Bellingham Tap Trail. Sixteen establishments (seven brewpubs, nine taverns) participate here; stamps must be collected from every one.  This lack of flexibility poses just one problem--the North Fork Beer Shrine and Wedding Chapel.  This must-see attraction is twenty-one miles out on the road to Mt. Baker, and a car is a necessity to get that stamp. Every other stop is within walking distance or frequent city bus service.  The reward is not specified--it is collected at the city visitor center where they keep a stash of swag.  In November of this year it was an imprinted pint jar, a sticker, and a pen.

Overall, I would rate the Bend program best for the no-car aspect and the flexibility.  I like the way Eugene prints transit information and I get the most use out of the Spokane quart growler.  The tap trail here in Bellingham is nice if you live here, would be a challenge if you were just visiting for a couple of days.

Posted 11/15/14)


  1. Hey Roger!
    Thanks for the review of the Bellingham Tap Trail. We've adjusted our passport for the spring season and based on your review, I think you'll like the changes.

    Our prize for this season is a printed Silipint for 16 stamps, and a BTT Bike keychain for 8 stamps. We learned a lot from our inaugural distribution and really wanted this Summer's print to be more accessible for visitors.

    We encourage you to come back to give this one a try and we'd love to hear feedback about your experience. Thanks again!
    Brian Seales.
    BTT / Creative Director

    1. Hi, Brian (or Scott): Knowing how stuff lasts on the internet, I wanted to say a word about the new BTT program. It's all within the city now, and can be traversed with bus rides or sturdy walking shoes. The halfway reward is a good option for folks visiting our city of subdued excitement, and the full silipint is a nice reward for those who like to carry their own in a non breakable style.
      Bring on Bellingham Beer Week!