This past week, I have been exploring Oregon’s craft beer scene during the craft brewers conference. While usually people talk about how grey and rainy it is, we had amazing weather and as we expected the beer never disappointed(well almost). In a state where they’ve already reached the 20% market share the Brewers Association hopes to reach nationally, it’s evident these brewers and consumers are true believers in craft beer. Also, as referenced in the title, Portland has been coined “Beervana.” (There’s also an awesome blog by Jeff Alworth of the same name!)
I started my trip off with a coastal tour of three breweries. Driving a little over an hour west of Portland through the temperate rainforest, one comes across a town renowned for their cheese, Tillamook. Nestled away among blimp hangars and industrial sites is de Garde Brewing. Trevor and Linsey of de Garde brew in the rustic European way, utilizing a koelschip to draw in the local flora of wild yeast and then fermenting each batch in with oak barrels or foeders. It’s pretty amazing the trust they have in their local yeast!
This is one of the reasons de Garde is in Tillamook…after testing the wild yeasts in multiple locations, they settled on the Tillamook Valley. The only yeast addition they add is a small amount of wine yeast at bottling to help with their bottle conditioning. When the time is right, they use a gravity fed bottle filler to fill each 750ml bottle by hand and adorn with a hand stamped label. Each batch is a labor of love, and it is evident throughout their process. The end result is pure magic.
Bu Weisse, their standard Berlinerweisse, comes in around 2.1%ABV, but yields a wonderfully funky and tart flavor. We had the extreme fortune of trying Imperial Purple Raz Bu, a bottle they opened to share with brewers and employees of Jester King Brewery, a blend of their Black Raspberry Bu and Raspberry Bu. The color looked ominously purple, and the flavor was out of this world, but at only 5.5% ABV it was an easy sipper.
From there I headed out to the Oregon Coast, driving north towards Astoria. It was typical Oregon weather, a light rain dampened the road. We passed by Haystack Rock, which to any Goonies fan is the culmination of the trip. (Hint: it’s inside the rock where Mikey and the crew find the old pirate ship at the end.)
Pulling into Astoria, I made a beeline for one of our past GABF favorites: Fort George Brewing. Luckily, my hotel was right across the street from their Lovell brewhouse and taproom. Unfortunately, that side of things is closed for the first few days of the week, focusing mainly on production and canning.
Right next door to the east is their original brewery and public house. Inside, they’ve converted what was the first original settlement site of Fort Astoria, the first American settlement on the West coast, into a bakery and brewery. I chose to have a pint of their Sunrise Oatmeal Pale ale, a session-style beer with a creamy mouthfeel and an amazing hop presence stemming from an abundance of Amarillo and Centennial hops. If you ever get a chance to head out there, it’s definitely a must-visit place.
Being that Astoria has quite a small downtown area, we ventured out on foot towards the other great brewery in town, Buoy Beer. Located in an old fish cannery build entirely on pilings, Buoy Beer has kept much of the worn exterior that many of the historic buildings along the Oregon coast sport. The inside is a different story.
Polished wood, stainless steel and concrete create a strong, yet inviting presence that matches many of the breweries and restaurants these days. One feature that is truly unique, and made part by the entire building being over the water, is 4 glass windows build directly into the floor, with a perch for local sea lions right underneath.
Enough about the building, how’s the beer? We tried both the IPA and the Pale ale, which were phenomenal. Situating your brewery near some of the most fertile hop-growing country definitely has its advantages, as we noticed throughout the trip how hop-forward many of the pale ales were in Oregon. Much more than some of our favorite IPA’s here in Colorado even!
Tomorrow, we’ll delve into the Craft Brewers Conference opening reception, keynote and more!