By Rachael Rees

The Bulletin

Over the past four years, about 135,000 people have attempted the Bend Ale Trail, but slightly more than 10,000 have had the stamina to complete it, tourism officials said Tuesday.

Beginning in May, it’s going to get even tougher.

Two additional breweries, Rat Hole Brewing and Riverbend Brewing, will be added to the trail, bringing the total to 14.

“Beer tourism has evolved to the point where it is a legitimate and very important part of our tourism industry, especially during the shoulder seasons and winter months,” said Doug La Placa, CEO and president of Visit Bend, after the agency’s board meeting.

When Visit Bend started the ale trail in June 2010, it featured eight breweries. The number has grown in each subsequent year, reflecting the growth in the region’s craft beer scene and the popularity of the trail.

This year, Visit Bend distributed about 60,000 copies of the Bend Ale Trail Atlas — so called “Because a Beer Scene This Big Won’t Fit on a Map ... ,” it says — and La Placa expects that number to rise. The city’s tourism agency plans to print 80,000 of the next edition. By comparison, Visit Bend distributed 100,000 visitor guides over the past year.

“It’s not too far out in the future that we’ll distribute more ale trails than visitor guides,” La Placa said after the board meeting.

From day one, he said, the ale trail’s popularity has exceeded Visit Bend’s expectations.

“Over the past two years is where we saw a significant spike in the awareness and participation,” he said. “It’s growing with the popularity of the overall Bend beer scene.”

To continue utilizing the ale trail to market Bend’s beer culture, La Placa said, Visit Bend plans to dub November as Bend Ale Trail month.

“We will have marketing along the I-5 corridor from south Portland all the way through Seattle promoting November as Bend Ale Trail month, where there will be special events and prizes for people who come in to do the Bend Ale Trail during the month,” he said.

Gary Sobala, president of Riverbend Brewing, said he’s thrilled to be part of the Bend Ale Trail.

“I think the ale trail is awesome,” he said. “And I’ve heard nothing but incredible things from the people that are on it, how it helped them have local people and people out of the area find them.”

Sobala said breweries agree that being on the trail is an integral part to being in the local brewing community.

Because the number of breweries on the ale trail has increased, La Placa said, the prize system will change for those who complete the trail. Participants must currently obtain a stamp at each brewery to earn a Silipint silicone drink glass and get a stamp from Three Creeks Brewing in Sisters for the “extra credit” bottle opener.

“Now what we’re seeing is it’s really difficult for people to visit all the breweries on the Bend Ale Trail, so we’re setting a tiered system where you can visit any 10 of the breweries on the ale trail and you can earn your Silipint,” he said. “And then, if you complete all 14 you get a bottle opener.”

—Reporter: 541-617-7818,