Oregon’s Lush Coast

Portland is Beervana beyond a shadow of a doubt, but don’t overlook the Oregon Coast when it comes to good drinks.  Not only is the Oregon coast a beautiful place to visit and drive down, there’s plenty of good breweries and a handful of wineries and distilleries as well.  Starting from the north and working your way south down the Pacific Coast Highway (US 101), although I wouldn’t recommend doing it all in one day.

Astoria: Located at the mouth of the Columbia River, where it meets the Pacific and separates Oregon from Washington, Astoria has a solid and small, but growing, beer scene.  Fort George and Buoy are the two big names in town, they both can their beer and it’s available in the Portland market, but you should visit their locations.  Buoy is out on a dock, completely with a glass floor to watch sea lions, while Fort George is a little further up the hill with commanding views of the town and river.  Wet Dog Cafe and Astoria Brewing Company (which are run together) are right down on the waterfront boardwalk area.  They share a brewery, but both locations are unique.  Astoria Brewing has a simple tap room and bar, while Wet Dog is a full blown restaurant. On the Wet Dog side they have several dog named beers that aren’t available on the other side.  The food is also really good.  Worth a stop. The newest game in town is Reach Break Brewing, which opened about a week before we got to stop in there before Festival of the Dark Arts.  The beer was awesome, and ambitious, starting out day one with a barrel aged stout.  These guys know what they are doing.

Gearhart: There’s not a brewery in Gearhart (that I know of) but there is the McMenamins Gearhart Hotel.  It’s a really cool historic property, and of course you can find all the standard and special McMenamins beers there.

Seaside: Seaside is a pretty cool town, albeit very touristy.  It’s about as close to what I would think of as a “beach” from the Southern US.  Wide sandy beach, arcades and taffy shops, boardwalk etc.  Very “East Coast” style beach town.  I haven’t been to Seaside Brewing yet, but I see it every time we drive through there.  Maybe next time.

Cannon Beach: Cannon Beach is one of my favorite places along the coast.  It’s the first place along the coast my wife took me after I moved out to Oregon and home to the famous Haystack Rock.  The last time we drove through there (on the way home from Cape Lookout) we noticed two new places in town that we’ll need to visit next time we’re in town.  Pelican Brewing opened a new brewery and pub in Cannon Beach.  I had heard about that but finally got to see where it was.  Also, on the north side of town was Public Coast Brewing which, to my knowledge, is very new.  We didn’t have time to stop at either as we made our way home, but we said we would go next time we were in town.  Cannon Beach is also home to the Cannon Beach Distillery.  While we were camping in Cape Lookout our friends had a couple bottles from CBD.  One was Il Keyote, which is an agave liquor that’s barrel aged.  The website says they treat it more like a brandy than a tequila, and I remember it being very smooth and very delicious.

Tillamook: Tillamook is a bit inland from the coast, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention de Garde Brewing.  World famous for their wild fermented farmhouse style beers, absolutely worth the visit.  And let’s be honest, you’re going into town for the cheese curds anyway.  US 101 passes through town, so you’re still on the coastal highway, it just tucks inland around the large Tillamook Bay.

Pacific City: Pacific City is home to the main operations of Pelican Brewing.  They have a gorgeous brewpub located, quite literally, on the beach.  Located next to one of the public parking and beach access areas with great views of the beach and Chief Kiwanda Rock (which I’ve also seen referred to as Haystack Rock.. confusing yeah?).

Lincoln City: Lincoln City is a small town, and is geared more towards grocery stores and supplies than beach rentals and kites.  Lincoln City is home to the McMenamins Lighthouse Pub which, despite being very small, has it’s own brewery and supplies beer up the coast to Gearhart.

Depoe Bay: Depoe Bay is a tiny, tiny town and home to the worlds smallest working harbor.  This is a great place to do whale watching.  Depoe Bay didn’t used to have a brewery, but they do now.  Former Three Mugs brewer and OBC Member Chris Jennings is now the head brewer at The Horn Public House and Brewery located in the former Spouting Horn Restaurant location.  Haven’t been there yet, but it’s on the list.

Devils Punchbowl: So, not a town so much as a roadside attraction, the Devils Punchbowl Natural Area is home to the Flying Dutchman Winery.  A small winery, but with award winning wine.  When we stopped in to do a tasting they told us that the wines are open fermented and barrel aged outside and they pick up some of the salty, ocean qualities.  Not sure if you can really taste the difference, but it makes for a neat story and unique selling point.  The wines were also very good.

Newport: Newport is home to Rogue, which is very divisive, some people love them, some people hate them, but they are one of the largest breweries in Oregon.  They have several locations throughout the state, but their main operation is in Newport.  It’s worth visiting to take the tour, and hear the story about the “massive red erection”.  Across the parking lot is the Rogue Distillery.  They make whiskey and gin using a lot of the same ingredient as they use for beer.  Dead Guy whiskey uses the exact same grain bill as the Dead Guy beer.  Rogue also has a farm in eastern Oregon where they grow a lot of their own grains, hops, fruits and herbs, to use in the beers, spirits and restaurants.

Yachats: Yachats is very small, but home to Yachats Brewery and Farmstore, which my wife and I recently visited on the way down to camping in Florence.  It’s a great place and totally worth the visit.  It’s a bit out of the way but trust me, it’s worth the journey.  Great beer, awesome food and great people.  Go there.

Florence and points South: There’s not really a whole lot south of Florence.  Defeat River Brewing is in Reedsport, which we planned on going to while we were in Florence, but we didn’t make it.  7 Devils Brewing is in Coos Bay, which sounds vaguely familiar.  I feel like I’ve had some of their beers before, but I never been to the location down in Coos Bay.  To my knowledge, there are no breweries south of Coos Bay, but this is Oregon so I wouldn’t be shocked to find out there was.

So there you have it, your brewery tour of the Oregon coast (with a winery and two distilleries thrown in for good measure).  Head on out to the coast and drink in the view! (Sorry, the puns just write themselves).

Yachats Brewing and Farmstore

Last weekend my wife and I went camping down in Florence, Oregon with her family.  This is an annual tradition which happened to fall on one of the hottest weeks in record in Oregon.  Thankfully, it was much cooler down on the coast.  On the way down, we stopped in the tiny coastal town of Yachats to have lunch at Yachats Brewing and Farmstore.

 

I don’t write about every brewery we visit because that would be overwhelming, but if a place is unique, a special experience, or in my thoughts “unknown” or underhyped, I’ll write about it.  Yachats was all three.

Before the visit, I was only vaguely aware of Yachats Brewing.  I had a barrel aged version of their Marbled Murrelet Stout at Festival of the Dark Arts.  It was “on the way”, so we decided to stop in.

Camping is always a food-fest so we decided to split a sandwich, which was a good idea because it was HUGE! BBQ chicken, onions, peppers and cheese, it was great.  Warm polenta and fermented veggies on the side to round it out.  Highly recommend the food.

The two beers we tried were the Coastal Dark Ale (4.5 stars), their version of a CDA, my wife’s favorite style, and the Hyphyweizen (4.5 stars), their version of a German Hef.  Both beers were really good and we ended up taking a crowler of the CDA camping and I got a bottle of their Kriek (which I haven’t tried yet).

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The location was really cool.  Obviously not the original use of that building.  We sat on the side patio, which was half indoors/half outdoors and used to be a greenhouse/plant area.  You could see into the brewery with some tanks back in the back, as well as mics and speakers for live music.

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We got there shortly after they opened, so they weren’t very crowded and the staff was very friendly.  Quick to recommend a beer, ideas about food, pointed out seasonals and special items.  Overall a great experience.  If you’re on the southern Oregon coast, I highly recommend swinging by Yachats Brewing and Farmstore.  They are located right on 101 (Pacific Coast Highway) about a half hour south of Newport.  It’s worth the drive.

Into the Woods Part 3

The warm weather has majorly slowed down the consumption of high alcohol, dark, barrel aged beers, but there’s been a handful here and there.  I don’t know how many “parts” to this post there will be since I have several more barrel aged beers waiting in the wings, so this may just become a regular ongoing feature.

2016 Two Beers Overhang Porter – This was a bottle that I brought home from judging the Best of Craft Beer awards and happened to be the last one we cracked open.  This beer had an aroma of dark dry fruit and faint vanilla, the flavor was also heavy on dark dry fruit and slight oak.  I remarked it was not bad, but I felt it was slightly past it’s prime. Interestingly, I tasted this at the competition and gave it 2.75 stars on Untappd and said it was a huge diacetyl bomb.  I obviously forgot this fact when I got a bottle to bring home.  The bottle we had at home though was much better.  I gave that one 4 stars. (4 stars).

2016 McMenamins Longest Night of the Year – Bourbon Barrel Aged Barleywine.  Ironically enough we ended up drinking this one a couple of days before the summer solstice.  (Also interesting, mine is still the most recent check in on Untappd, so apparently no one else had the willpower to hold on to a bottle that long.)  This one had dark fruit, brown sugar and whiskey in the aroma coupled with sweet dark fruit, vanilla and whisky in the flavor.  Clear red color, highly carbonated (surprising for a BA Barleywine) very boozy with a lot of warming.  Not a normal summer drink, but it was still very nice.  (4.75 stars).

2016 Ex Novo Kill the Sun – Bourbon barrel aged Russian Imperial Stout.  I got to try this one over the weekend at the Ex Novo 3rd Anniversary party and man was it good.  This one had a ton of dark dry fruit in the aroma and flavor, basically tasted like raisins.  Good whiskey character, pretty boozy.  Should continue to improve with age.  I wish I had a couple bottles of this to stash away.  (4.75 stars)

Culmination Pinot Evil II – Barrel aged Tripel with wine grapes.  I love Belgian style beers, so the last time I was at Culmination I had to try this. They don’t specify the barrel used, but with wine grapes added I’m assuming it was also aged in a wine barrel.  It didn’t give off any major whiskey notes.  Wine barrel aging of beer is becoming more popular.  This beer started out with a sharp tang of acidity that I would assume was from the grapes, and then it finished with that traditional bubblegum sweetness of a Belgian beer.  It wasn’t sour, but it had just a little bit of a bite to it.  (4.75 stars)

Oregon Mead and Cider Co. Free Press Pinot Gris Barrel Aged Frankencyser – Say that three times fast… So this was a really interesting sample on my taster flight at Oregon Mead and Cider (Formerly Stung Fermented).  Cyser is a blend of cider and mead, and this one was a blend of whatever was left in the bottom of the tanks after a bottling run of their standard Free Press Cider and Worker Mead.  This was blended (ratio unknown, maybe half and half?) and then aged in a Pinot Gris barrel.  I didn’t write down detailed tasting notes but I remember it being very fruity and refreshing and it picked up a lot of white wine character from the barrel.  It almost just tasted like wine.  But a little sweeter, since most Oregon Gris is pretty dry. (4.5 stars)

2017 Portland Fruit Beer Fest

I haven’t blogged in a while (apologies) but festival season is upon us! This past weekend was the Portland Fruit Beerfest, which due to other obligations and just life in general, was the first Fest my wife and I attended this year. We missed Spring Beer and Wine and Nanofest which was unfortunate, since those are a couple of our favorites, but there’s always next year.

My wife and I like to volunteer to pour beer at these festivals, which is you haven’t done it before, it’s the best way to do a fest.  You “work” for 3-4 hours, pouring samples and taking tickets/tokens and then you are released from your shift and given a cup, tokens and wristband to go enjoy the festival, for free! One of our friends from the homebrew club is the volunteer coordinator for a couple of fests in town, including this one, so of course we signed up. Sometimes it can be boring, sometimes it can be hectic, usually it’s a combo of both.  A sudden burst of activity followed by a lull, rinse, repeat. A few festival require you to have an OLCC Servers Permit (Oregon Liquor Control Commission) but most don’t.  Usually they just have a pamphlet that tells you how to determine if someone has been overserved and then you sign on the dotted line that you solemnly swear you’re up to no good.

They moved the Fruit Beer Fest this year, back to Burnside Brewing, compared to the last couple of years at the North Park Blocks, and I get the reasons why (cost, access to water, electricity etc) but it did make for a smaller, more crowded venue.  That’s typical beer fest, but it still stinks.  The good news is it gave me an opportunity to visit Burnside Brewing after I shockingly realized I’d never been there.

Fruit Beer Fest can be interesting.  Most of the beers are small, one off batches made specifically for the fest with some wild flavor combos.  I tried 13 unique beers at the festival, counting my samples, my wife’s samples and one last one that we split.

In no particular order, we had:

Blueberry Lemonade – HiWheel Fizzy Wine
Fruitlands Blood Orange and Hibiscus – Modern Times
Pineapple POG – Portland Cider Company
Key Lime Pie – 10 Barrel Brewing
Hop Berry IPA – Culmination Brewing
Clown Pie, Banana Cream Ale – Portland Brewing (I poured this one)
There will be Blood (Blood Orange IPA) – Fort George
Kumquat Farmhouse Ale – pFriem
Biere Royale – The Commons
Tiki Club IWA – Sunriver Brewing
Orange Crusher – Cascade Brewing (one of the best of the day!)
Cherry Pilsner – Reubens Brews
Benny Appleseed – Lompoc Brewing

Quite the assortment yeah? Some are better than others, welcome to beerfests, but they are all interesting and unique.

Next June I would highly recommend it.

How much is too much?

The other day I bought a bottle of Modern Times City of the Dead Export Stout with Bourbon Barrel aged coffee beans.  Modern Times just got distributed to this area, so this was brand spanking new, a holdover from a release party a couple days prior.  It was $7 for a 22oz bomber.  When I got home I remarked to my wife what an amazing deal that was.  Man, have times changed.

Long gone are the days of $6 six-packs.  Granted, when I was paying that price I was buying macro beer like Miller Lite, or faux-craft like Blue Moon and Shock Top.   Now that I live in Oregon, you can’t get ANYTHING for a dollar a bottle.  16 oz Pabst tallboy will set you back two bucks.  I’m OK with that.  Good beer is worth paying for.  But how much?

The first time I dropped $20 on a 22oz bomber was for Ninkasi’s Ground Control Stout.  This was an imperial stout with cocoa and local Oregon hazelnuts made with yeast that had been grown in space! Yeah, I bought it for the geek factor, but it ended up being a really amazing beer.  Knowing what I know now about yeast propagation, that beer probably wasn’t as quite a small and limited run as I imagined it to be, but still a pretty rare release.

Grocery store beer is always going to be cheaper than beer in a bar (or it should be).  But it still helps to think of things in terms of pints.  Average price for a pint in Portland is about $5, give or take.   So you’re looking at about $3.75 for a 12oz or $6.88 for a 22oz scaled on a per ounce basis.   $22.50 is a hell of a lot for a six pack, so thankfully you get a pretty good deal on the 12 ouncers, which usually run $8-10 depending.  The 22’s not so much.  They hold pretty well onto the per pint price, running $6-8 depending on what it is.  Sometimes you catch a special on something for 3.50-4 bucks and so that’s a good deal.  I’ll think to myself when I’m going to buy something if I would pay for it on draft at a bar.  For Budweiser, no.  For Boneyard, yes.

As time goes on, we find things that we’re willing to pay for and that recalibrates our inner scale of what we think is a good price.  $10 for a 16 ounce bottle of Goose Island Bourbon County Stout? I felt that was a worthy price, so I bought some.  $25 for a 22ounce of Deschutes Black Butte 29th Anniversary? Yes, in my mind I feel like that’s worth it.  Learning what all is involved in barrel aging beer and making of sour beers and blends really helps put a value to the price you’re paying.  $14 for a 22oz bottle of New Belgium 2015 La Folie? After finding out what goes into making that beer, to me, that’s a steal! $6 for a 6 ounce draft pour of a blended lambic imported from Belgium? Sign me up.

Everyone has a limit though right? Even though it counteracts my pint argument from above (because it’s still under the $3.75/pint guide) I have to draw the line at Ballast Point.  I just cannot bring myself to pay $16-18 for a sixpack.  They are priced well above the rest of the market, with no one else at that pricepoint, I don’t understand how they sell a single bottle.  Then again, they just sold themselves to Constellation brands for a cool one billion dollars, so what the hell do I know? What also hurts is that I don’t like Ballast Point’s beers.  We only get a few of their brands up to Oregon, and the one that is the most popular, Grapefruit Sculpin, in my personal tastes, is disgusting.  Way too bitter, lots of pithy grapefruit peel rather than fruit, and from what I’ve heard it’s not even real fruit.  To me that’s not worth paying for at any price.  If you like it, knock yourself out.

The other side of this coin is a conversation I recently had with a coworker about how “if you got into homebrewing to save money you’re going to be disappointed”.  I got into homebrewing for the science and creativity.  My favorite part is formulating recipes.  Can I buy beer for cheaper than I can make it? Yes of course, but the key factor is the quality of the beer in question.  My last batch of CDA cost me around $10 a gallon, or about $1.25 a pint. (This does not account for my time or equipment costs, this is ingredients only)  This is a 7% ABV beer with a ton of flavor and lots of hop aroma.  This is “craft” beer.  What can I buy on the market for that price or cheaper? Miller Lite, Coors Light, PBR etc.  4% ABV beers with no flavor and no hops. So homebrewing might not be cheaper, but it’s a better value.  I get more bang out of my buck by making my own.

What’s your limit?

2017 Festival of Dark Arts

I thought I had done a review of this last year, but apparently I didn’t.  This is the second year my wife and I have attended this festival, which is based around only stouts.  Fort George Brewery in Astoria has declared February as Stout Month and hosts this festival every year in the middle of the month.  Last year it was Valentines weekend, this year it was slightly later.  Unfortunately it always seems to fall on Zwicklemania weekend, which means missing that event.

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Last year’s festival happened during a torrential downpour and we got soaked walking from our hotel to the festival.  This year the weather was much nicer, but the downside to that meant it was a lot more crowded.  They rearranged some of the tap locations in an effort to manage the crowds better, but I feel like they went the wrong way and made it worse instead of better.  But besides the crushing crowds and the too loud music (which we just come to expect at an event like this) everything else was top notch as usual.  And of course, we’re all there for the beer!

I don’t take detailed tasting notes at an event like this, but there were quite a few that stuck out as far superior than the rest.  Between my wife and I we tasted 26 of the stouts that were there.  That’s only a third or so of the 63 total available.  Several of the more rare ones run out fast, some we never even saw, and sadly my wife had the dubious honor of blowing two kegs.  She just missed out on the Firestone Walker Parabajava and the Smog City The Nothing.  I was a few people short of The Breury’s So Happens it’s Tuesday, which I knew would go fast.

Quite a lot of the beers at the Festival are barrel aged and double digit alcohol level.  This is one of the few fests where I’m thankful for a 3 ounce pour, because most of these beers it would be hard to drink much more than that.  Thick, rich, boozy, heavily flavored, just a “taste” is perfect.

It’s impossible to pick a favorite, but there were a handful of beers that shone above the rest.  The Lagunitas Willett Whiskey Aged Stout was phenomenal, as was the Ecliptic Bourbon Barrel Aged Oort Imperial Stout.  It’s a coin flip between those two for best of the fest.  Also great was the 2013 Walking Man Bourbon Barrel Jaywalker, the Alesong Rhino Suit, Sierra Nevada Barrel Aged Narwhal, the Stoup Rye Barrel Aged Imperial Stout and the Mill City Brew Werks Raspberry Tripwire.

When I’m at a festival like this, I tend to gravitate to beers I’ve never had before and beers that I can’t usually get in this area.  Nothing against Boneyard’s Suge Knight or pFriem’s BA Imperial Stout, but I’ve had them before and I know they are good.  This also means I didn’t try a lot of the Fort George beers, since I’ve had them before or know I can get them pretty much any time.  Coffee Girl, Kentucky Girl, and Tuesday’s Lunch I know I’ve had, and the rest didn’t really look appealing.  Nothing wrong with weird flavors, but I’m not sure about a stout with Candy Cap mushrooms (Subtle Hyperole) or black tea and plums (Kaiju Stout).

The exception to this was Fort George’s new Matryoshka series.  Named after Russian nesting dolls, the base is a Barrel aged Russian Imperial Stout.  A small batch of that was aged with cocoa nibs, and then an even smaller batch of that was aged with cocoa nibs and raspberries.  A stout, within a stout, within a stout.  I had a bottle of the base beer here at the house, and my wife got a taster of the cocoa version while I got a taster of the cocoa/raspberry version and they were both phenomenal.  The day after the festival we went back to Fort George for lunch and also a bottle release of the Matryoshkas.  I picked up a bottle of the cocoa nib and the cocoa nib/raspberry to complete the set.

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Fort George sure knows how to throw a party! We have to leftover tokens to kick start us for next year.  See you in 2018!

Into the Woods Part 2

My recent infatuation with barrel aged beers has continued.  The season of dark beers is almost over, but February in Oregon is Stout Month and that includes the Festival of Dark Arts this weekend at Fort George in Astoria.  My wife and I went last year and declared we would return every year.  Whether that holds true or not remains to be seen, but we are going this year.  There’s a lot of barrel aged beers on the menu for the fest this weekend, but until then, here’s a couple more I’ve enjoyed in the last couple of months.

Payette Brewing Hoop and Stave 3 (2014): Imperial Rye Ale aged in Whiskey barrels with cherries.  So, this was a very interesting beer.  I read several check-in’s on Untappd claiming the beer was infected.  It was a bit sour, I believe possibly from the cherries and may have picked up some natural bacteria as well.  Personally, it tasted like a Kriek (cherry lambic) and I really liked it, but it may not have been what the brewers intended.  Your mileage may vary.  (4 stars)

pFriem 2016 Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Stout: As soon as I heard about this beer I had to find a bottle of it. Dark black with a coffee colored head, dark fruit and strong oak aroma.  The bourbon really bursts in the flavor plus vanilla and coconut flavors from the oak.  Dark roast in the aftertaste.  Very smooth.  Very dangerous at 11.5% (4.5 stars)

New Holland Dragons Milk: I’ve read that this is the only barrel aged stout that is part of a year round lineup rather than a special seasonal.  New Holland recently started to distribute to Oregon, so when I saw it I had to grab a bottle.  Dark fruit and strong bourbon aroma.  Slightly sweet with a chocolate and whiskey flavor.  Not roasty, very smooth.  Thick mouthfeel that lingers long on the palate.  I remember this beer being very intense, almost too much so.  Certainly could have shared the 12 oz bottle.  (4.25 stars).

New Belgium Transatlantique Kriek (2016): Fruited lambics are my favorite style of sours, particularly cherry lambics (kriek).  This beer is a partnership between NBB and Oud Beersel in Belgium.  The lambic portion was brewed and wood aged in Belgium and then shipped across to NBB where they blended it with a golden lager and their own sour brown ale, Felix, and then aged in the foeders.  I tasted this at the tasting room in Fort Collins, but it is available in 22oz bottles.  Lightly tart, sweet cherry, very refreshing, not overly sour, but just enough pucker. (4.75 stars)

New Belgium 2017 La Folie Sour Brown Ale: I’m pretty sure I would have liked this beer regardless, but I got to taste this in New Belgium’s Foeder Forest as part of the tour.  I know words don’t do it justice but imagine drinking a sour beer, surrounded by the massive barrels it was aged in, in a room that smells like red wine and whiskey.  Got that? Definitely the highlight of the tour.  (4.5 stars)

Diebolt Vladislav Bourbon Barrel Aged Russian Imperial Stout (2017): This one might require some travel, since I don’t know if they distribute much outside the Denver area, but it’s worth the trip.  We missed the release by one day while we were in Denver, but when we got there the next day they had the original version plus several variants.  Sweet dark fruit, sherry, chocolate aromas.  Roasty coffee, dark fruit flavor.  Dry finish with lingering bitterness, super smooth. Absolutely blew me away.  Another dangerous one at 11%.  (5 stars)

Diebolt Vladislav BBA RIS Variants, Coffee Chocolate and Vanilla Chai (2017): We tried two variants of the Vladislav while we were there as well.  My wife really enjoyed the coffee chocolate, which was a little coffee heavy for my personal taste, but execution-wise was nearly flawless, very well done. (4.25 stars).  The Vanilla Chai knocked my socks off.  Sweet and spicy with great flavor, certainly hides the alcohol very well.  You could drink a lot of this if you weren’t careful. (5 stars).