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Coastal Brews of Many Hues

Take a tour of seaside brewpubs. You’ll be hoppy you did!


Story by Rosemary Camozzi

Everyone knows the coast has broad expanses of sandy beach, wild headlands, monumental rocks, picturesque lighthouses, and towns where you can find the best in shopping and seafood. But did you know that this area is also home to an amazing selection of craft breweries where you can drink the best in Northwest-style beers?

I set out to explore this aspect of coastal enterprise, and found the best views and best brews imaginable. While a couple of the breweries sell their beers on a national and international scale, others are small, entirely local enterprises. All of them couple great beers with a laid-back attitude that encourages their customers to tarry awhile.

Beer Tray

Starting in Astoria

If you haven't been to Astoria lately, better head on over there. The city is on the cusp of major development, but maintains, for now, it's funky, independent spirit. The breweries here don't put on any airs, and neither do the brewers. But they are making fabulous, sometimes ferocious, Northwest-style beers.

My first stop was at the Wet Dog Cafe, the pub and restaurant owned by Astoria Brewing Company. Housed in a former produce warehouse, with high ceilings and a floor-to-ceiling wall of windows facing the river, Wet Dog offers a spectacular view of the Columbia River and giant freighters passing by. Gray skies didn't even begin to dampen the mood.

With our first look at the menu, we were greeted with the words, "Chill out, kick back, and enjoy," and that’s certainly what was going on here.

The food is hearty, at a reasonable price, with popular items including delicious fish and chips, burgers, chowder, and quesadillas. Try a "beer dog on a stick" for three bucks. This is not just any dog; it's a sausage custom made with the pub's own Old Redbeard's Amber Ale and served with hot mustard. Hard to resist.

Wet Dog Cafe

Owner Steve Allen and brewer John Dalgren relax at the bar at Wet Dog Café. The brewpub has, besides great beers, a fabulous view of the Columbia River and passing freighters.

The brewer's enthusiasm is irresistible too. Tall and skinny with long sideburns, 28-year-old John Dalgren grew up in Astoria. "I was a beer geek by the time I was out of high school," he says. Dalgren generally keeps nine beers on tap, but he's always experimenting with something new. He's happy to give tours to interested customers, and he operates a small retail store with brewing supplies for area homebrewers.

At this year's Spring Beer and Wine Festival in Portland, Dalgren's Bitter Bitch Imperial IPA won the people's choice for best overall beer and the brewers' choice for best IPA. "We had the longest lines," Dalgren says proudly. Other popular beers include Da Bomb Blonde, Volksweissen, Old Redbeard's Amber HopsAle (named after the owner), seasonal fruit ales, and Kick Ass Imperial Oatmeal Stout.

Wet Dog's owners, Karen and Steve Allen, were investors in the pub when it opened in 1995, and bought out their partners a few years later. Steve, a CPA, had started his career as an income tax auditor, but quit because "they didn't like beards, and I didn't like ties." The couple's seven kids (combined) have all worked here at one time or another, and some of them still do.

We took a growler of Wet Dog's Poop Deck Porter to Tolovana Beach the next day, and had a picnic with some homemade rye bread and smoked salmon from Astoria’s famed Josephson’s Smokehouse. This is a combo that can't be beat! (503-325-6975)

From the Wet Dog, we wandered over to the Fort George Brewery & Public House, a neighborhood pub that opened just last March. Here we met co-owner Jack Harris, who has been brewing for 17 years (nine of which were at Bill's Tavern in Cannon Beach). With intense blue eyes under a mop of curly hair, Harris looks a bit of a wild man, but he's absolutely committed to his new pub and its role as a community meeting place. "We take the public house ethic seriously," he says.

Fort George Brewery (named for Astoria's fur trading outpost) sits on a hill in a former car dealership from the 1930s. Members of the community came together to refurbish the building, which had sat vacant for years. "We tried to honor the history of the building and the site," Harris says. The pub has a modern industrial look, with high ceilings, huge fir trusses, a wood plank bar, and big multi-paned windows with a distant water view.

While we were there, several families wandered in. A baby slept in his father's arms while mom and dad visited with friends. "Our idea fits in with what the best of Astoria can be," Harris says. "Old structure, pedestrian-friendly, and people-friendly."

Offerings include Quick Wit Belgian Wit (a pale Belgian), Sunrise Oatmeal Pale, Vortex IPA, Red Ale, Cavatica Stout (named for a spider that is known for protecting barley from insects), XVIth Chapel Imperial IPA, and house-brewed Wasabi Ginger Ale. "We won't settle on a beer list for a year," Harris says. "We want the place to define itself, so we'll see what people like."

Dana, the kitchen manager, grinds all the meat for the burgers, makes sausages from scratch, and was working on a recipe for homemade baloney when we were there. Standouts on the menu include rockfish tacos and Boudin Blanc sausage, a French-style sausage with a delicate spice of nutmeg and cinnamon. The hand-cut fries were fabulous.

Fort George Brewery has a big following among local Astorians who watched, and helped, it take shape. "We gotta look after the people who are here year-round," Harris says. But even if you're just passing through, be sure to pay this old-school brew pub a visit. (503-325-7468; www.fortgeorgebrewery.com)

Pelican Brewery

Ken Henson of Pelican Pub stands near the mash tun, where the starches in malt are converted to sugar.

Also in Astoria, you'll find the Rogue Brewery Pier 39, which sits literally on top of the river and is accessible only by a narrow wooden bridge, just big enough for two cars to pass. While Rogue doesn't brew here, the pub is worth a visit for its historic nature (it’s housed in a 130-year-old cannery building), and of course a fine selection of Rogue beers. (503-325-5964; www.rogue.com)

Heading down Hwy 101, stop at Bill's Tavern & Brewhouse in Cannon Beach. Bill's is right on Hemlock Street, the main drag, and has a comfortable Northwest-casual atmosphere with lots of wood, big beams, skylights, and outdoor seating on a deck out front. The original tavern opened in 1923, but was razed in 1997 when owners Ken Campbell and Jim Oyala put up this new building that includes a brewery visible above the bar. The pub's mildly hoppy Duckdive Pale Ale (originally brewed by Jack Harris) was the GABF Gold Medal winner in 2004, and it is still their most popular beer. Other local fave's include Curiously Strong Ale (which tastes almost like a barley wine), Blackberry Beauty, and 2 x 4 Stout. Rogue Brewery Halibut fish and chips is the most popular item on the menu, along with burgers, seafood stew, and grilled oysters. "The food is real good and we sell lots of it," Campbell says. (503-436-2202)

Pacific City and south

When Pelican Pub & Brewery's Ken Henson says, "the ocean is our backyard," he's not kidding. This pub sits smack dab on the beach.

On a cloudless blue day, I met Henson, general manager and co-owner, in Pelican's sunny dining room. Haystack Rock loomed a mile offshore, dory boats were pulled up on the sand, and wetsuited surfers bobbed like giant black cormorants in the swells.

Wow, I wondered, what could make this any more perfect? And then I remembered, craft brews awaited: a smorgasbord of award-winning beers that brought the day to pretty near perfection.

Pelican's core offerings include India Pelican Ale (IPA), Kiwanda Cream Ale, McPelican's Scottish Ale, Doryman's Dark, and Tsunami Stout. Of course, these are just the beginning. Seasonal beers, such as Stormwatcher's Winterfest and Surfer's Summer Ale, reflect the mood of each time of year. "We want to make inspired and intelligent beers," Henson says.

A hallway full of ribbons attests to their success. Every beer they entered in the 2006 Great American Beer Festival won either a Gold or Silver Award, and the brewery won best small craft brewery in 2004 and 2005, and last year won best large brewery. Brewer Darron Welch, also a partner in the business, has been there since the brewery opened 11 years ago, which is certainly one reason that the beers are consistently excellent.

This year, Welch has been experimenting with bottle-conditioned Belgian ales for the first time (the Grand Cru is exceptional), and of course there is a regular rotation of seasonals. We tasted a malty Riptide Red, and a deliciously hoppy ESB. The IPA, at IBU (International Bitterness Units) 85, is really up there on the hops. It's their most popular beer. For the non-drinkers in your group, the homemade root beer is sure to be a hit.

Items on Pelican's menu range from straight-up pub food to Northwest cuisine, but every dish is planned and executed with beer in mind, Henson says. "If it doesn't go well with beer, we take it off the menu." One of Henson's personal favorite pairings is the wild pacific salmon with sweet teriyaki glaze and soba noodles. "It's phenomenal with Doryman's Dark Ale," he says. The pub offers two kinds of fish and chips, one using fish caught by the local fleet and the other made with mahi mahi. "We use as much fish from the dory fishermen as we possibly can, sometimes it is only hours old," Henson says.

The brewery is open 365 days a year, so if your idea of Christmas dinner includes a pint of heartwarming stout, a good storm, and the ocean just a few feet away, put this on your calendar. But then again, there's no reason to wait until Christmas to enjoy all that Pelican has to offer. (503-965-7007; www.pelicanbrewery.com)

From Pacific City, head down to Lincoln City to sample the beers at The Lighthouse, the most longstanding brewery on the coast (21 years) and one of McMenamins' earliest establishments. While this pub is not one of their most striking from the exterior (it's located in a shopping center), it's very nice inside, with an open floor plan, lots of natural wood and light, and a nice selection of McMenamins beers, including a well-rounded IPA, the slightly sweet and malty Nut Brown Ale, and other favorites like Ruby, Hammerhead, and Terminator Stout. Be sure to try the Cascade Head, a golden ale developed over 20 years ago at this very pub. Popular menu items include chowder as well as fish and chips made with ale batter, but they also offer a dinner menu that includes steaks, seafood dishes, and pasta. Be sure to check out the colorful crabs on the brewing tank, painted by McMenamins house artist Lyle Hehn, as well as Heyn's stormy painting of Old Man Winter on the cooker. (541-994-7238; www.mcmenamins.com)

Oregon Coast September/October 2007
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