There’s no denying: At its core, Pendleton is a whiskey town. Pendleton Whisky, the Canadian whisky sharing the iconic bucking horse logo with the 109-year-old Pendleton Round-up, can be found nearly everywhere in town.
And, sure, you should enjoy the blended brown liquor at least once while in Pendleton. But in recent years, a new generation of distillers, brewers, vintners and entrepreneurs has lined up alongside some of the city’s historic outposts to produce or sell a suite of craft beverages — with most using ingredients grown around Pendleton and throughout Eastern Oregon.
So with Pendleton Round-up coming up soon after Labor Day — the rodeo is the city’s biggest tourist draw each year — here’s a guide to some of the best beers, wines, cocktails and more for sipping your way through the city’s Wild West-inspired nightlife.
Pendleton’s lone beer bar promises the city’s largest selection of craft beer on tap, showcasing a selection of up to (surprise!) 40 taps at any given time. Broadly speaking, the tap list eschews hard-to-find and small-batch beers for classic ales and lagers from the Pacific Northwest’s best-known breweries, including Widmer Brothers Brewing, Boneyard Beer, Barley Brown’s Beer and Deschutes Brewery.
And because this is still Pendleton, you’re likely to find Coors Light, Bud Light, Pabst Blue Ribbon and Rainier on draft, as well.
The Hamley family name is synonymous with the city of Pendleton — and has been since 1905, when Hamley & Co. opened a saddle and Western apparel store in the heart of downtown.
More than a century later, the nearby Hamley Steakhouse & Saloon pays tribute to that history with an atmosphere right out of the Old West. The saloon sports a 100-year-old mahogany bar, ornate woodwork and intricate stained glass.
But not everything about Hamley Saloon is a throwback. The elegant bar got in on the craft beverage revolution with Hamley Whiskey, an Oregon-made whiskey crafted with local wheat for a softer flavor, and it’s the only place you’ll find Hamley’s Own Ale — a Maibock brewed by Rogue Ales in Newport, Oregon, exclusively for the steakhouse and saloon.
Oregon Grain Growers Brand Distillery
Try some of the spirits and cocktails at Oregon Grain Growers Brand Distillery, and you’re not just drinking a locally sourced vodka, whiskey or gin — you’re sipping your way through the farms of Eastern Oregon.
Pendleton’s only craft distillery opened in 2016 and prides itself on using ingredients from — and showcasing — area growers whenever possible. “I see a lot of distilleries that say, ‘This was grown within 500 miles of the distillery,’” says Rodney Bullington, who co-owns the distillery with his wife, Kelli, and their cofounders, Cliff and Judy Bracher. “And I’m like, ‘Sweet! [This was grown] 500 yards away, right up on the hill here.’”
He isn’t kidding: One of Oregon Grain Growers’ wheat suppliers sits on a hill overlooking town, just a five-minute drive from the distillery. The idea of “local” is at the heart of everything Oregon Grain Growers does, which includes collaborating with a local coffee shop on a java-flavored vodka and slapping the names of its suppliers on each bottle.
The Prodigal Son Brewery and Pub
Tim and Jennifer Guenther moved to Pendleton in 2007, and the husband-and-wife team recalls looking around town and trying to figure out their next step. Soon after the move, Tim recalls visiting Terminal Gravity Brewing, nestled in the heart of the Wallowa Mountains — two hours east of Pendleton — and wondering how the busy brewery made it work in a town of 2,000. “How the hell can they support a brewery, and Pendleton doesn’t have anything?” he says he remembers thinking. “Pendleton is definitely a whiskey town more than a beer town, but still: There’s enough people here to support craft beer.”
Three years later, Tim and Jennifer opened Pendleton’s first craft brewery: The Prodigal Son Brewery and Pub. The first beer on tap was Wheatstock hefeweizen, a nod to the region’s wheat farmers (and named for a music festival in the nearby town of Helix). “Everyone I know is a wheat farmer, and I used to work on wheat farms,” Tim says. “So we gotta have a good wheat beer.”
Since then, The Prodigal Son has expanded its horizons to include a fruity wheat ale (brewed with a different berry each season), a seasonal dubbel, hop-forward IPAs and more.
The dive-y Rainbow Cafe is the sun around which the rest of Pendleton’s nightlife orbits. The town’s oldest bar slings hearty American fare and stiff drinks in a building that dates back to 1880 — and has been doing so for more than 125 years.
Wild West memorabilia — photos of past Pendleton Round-up winners, stirrups, even a bison head — shares wall space with colorful neon and a clock that helpfully displays the current time in Dublin, Ireland. Not for nothing: the Rainbow Cafe hosts what it calls “the shortest parade in the world” every St. Patrick’s day. The “parade” gathers across Main Street, crosses the street, and heads directly into the café for breakfast and Irish coffee.
The café is known for its pressure-cooked fried chicken and the full bar covers the gamut of good drinks — from Pendleton Whisky and all your favorite liquors to regional craft beer and domestic lagers.
Scarlet Oak Barrels
Rick Sewell had admired the Pacific Northwest’s thriving wine scene for years when he lost his job in the Great Recession of 2009. With the chance for a fresh start, he saw an opportunity to follow his dreams and start a winery. Sewell crafted his first wines under the Scarlet Oak Barrels label in 2014 and, in 2018, opened a tasting room in downtown Pendleton.
Sewell prides himself on crafting unconventional varietals and blends — including a Malbec, Petit Verdot, Sangiovese and Terzetto, a blend of the three varieties — and has gained a devoted following for his fruit-forward styles.