Winter Getaways

Hood River’s Offseason Keeps Getting Better

A new bouldering gym, Hood River Hotel upgrades, and Ferment’s massive brew operation are reason enough for non-skiers to pay a visit.

By Benjamin Tepler February 17, 2020

Brimstone Boulders

For the small percentage of Hood River’s winter visitors who aren’t powder hounds, options can feel limited. During the sleepy season, only the most hardcore wind sports fans are out on the water, bundled up in thick wetsuits, while nearby mountain biking networks like Post Canyon become giant mud slides. But, thanks to a few new developments around town, indoor cats can now find bountiful waterfront staycation vibes while everyone else heads up to the mountain.

The Historic Hood River Hotel, which got a major facelift from the folks behind Portland’s Jupiter Hotel and Jupiter NEXT in 2017, is about to finish a new, 10-bunk hostel (taking a hint from Society Hotel Bingen, perhaps?) with a shared kitchen, locker rooms, and a sauna. The sweet Emerald Room in the hotel’s basement, typically reserved for big parties, is launching a monthly Video Dance Attack series and will act as a music venue for visiting bands. Broder Ost, meanwhile, which connects to Hood River Hotel’s main lobby, is working out the details for a new Portland chef series. 

For folks who need a physical outlet during the off-season, Brimstone Boulders, the climbing gym built inside a 108-year-old church, is finally open. In erecting the small bouldering gym, owners Jen Altschul and Conor Byrne kept the biblical stained-glass windows and repurposed organ pipes as decorative flourishes. Brimstone offers lessons for adults and kids, yoga classes in a small back studio, and blessedly cheap day passes ($16 for adults, $10-13 for kids).

The observation deck at Ferment

Out on the waterfront, one-and-a-half-year-old Ferment Brewing has established itself as a beer-brewing titan in Hood River’s already crowded scene. Set on the second floor of Skylab’s, 26,000 square-foot Outpost Building, it looks more like a Douglas fir warship from Battlestar Galactica than a brewpub. Inside the modern, masculine hanger bay, Ferment’s Dan Peterson, most recently head brewer at Pfriem a few blocks away, is already earning accolades. His Ferment Pale Ale, brewed with heirloom malted barley and hop varieties together with a “special” English ale yeast, make for a crisp and deeply amber pint that earned it a gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival in 2019.

A trio of kombuchas, very much unlike today’s sour, sweet, and fizzy quaff, can be had a generous flight of 12-ouncers. This is subtle kombucha that gives voice to the underlying tea (sencha, assam, and oolang). Lovers of the modern, kick-in-the-teeth kombucha style might be disappointed. 

The lamb salad bowl at Ferment

Aaron Woo, the chef behind Portland’s much-loved Natural Selection (it closed in 2016), designed the food menu at Ferment. The kitchen bills itself as roughly Mediterranean, though it really only applies to a section of rotisserie meats and falafel, either rolled up in a pita or served in a bowl with greens and copious pickles. So far, things are hit-and-miss: for an operation run by a bunch of fermentation obsessives, the pickles range from overly tart to nearly raw. A giant bratwurst, meanwhile, slung inside a good, chewy pretzel, needs a lesson in sausage-craft—a textural mess and greatly under seasoned. But, in the end, we’d happily eat just about anything for the near panoramic views of the river stretching across to Washington with a pale ale in-hand.

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