The Brew Site

Weekend in review: Astoria and the North Coast

This past weekend was a visit to an Oregon town I haven’t been to in many years, though it’s one I love: Astoria. Originally we (the whole family) only had to be in Lake Oswego on Friday but since I had the day off we decided to make a long weekend out of it and hit the North Coast, and it turned into a tidy little beer trip alongside the family trip, a great overview of the North Coast beer scene. I’ll have extended writeups spinning out from this post, but here’s how the weekend went down overall.

We started out with lunch in Lake Oswego’s first (and only) brewpub: Stickmen Brewery & Skewery on Friday. I’ll have a more in-depth review later, but in general I thought it was a good stop: they have a fantastic location with a great patio and deck right up on the Lake itself, with good food and beers that vary in quality (the Berliner Weisse I really enjoyed, another was off I think). They’ve only been brewing for about a year, so I expect they will continue to dial in the beers and the quality will (hopefully) get better.

Overall I can see Stickmen becoming something of a “destination” brewery with their location and menu (the Japanese skewer angle), and I could see them holding small fests out on that big patio space. Something to keep an eye on.

After we’d concluded our time in Lake O, we forged on ahead to Astoria, taking Highway 26 out to Seaside and then north along Highway 101. Coming into Astoria from the south that way takes you across the somewhat-impressive Old Youngs Bay Bridge (crossing over Youngs Bay, of course) and under the much more impressive Astoria-Megler Bridge (just over 4 miles long, connecting Oregon and Washington over the Columbia River) into downtown.

I love this town; technically not quite on the Coast itself (though it’s just a stone’s throw away), it’s located on the mouth of the Columbia River and is the oldest American settlement west of the Rocky Mountains—the oldest U.S. town on the West Coast and in Oregon, in other words. (Of course, there are other cities particularly in California that are older, but they were founded by other nations before the United States existed.) It was the Pacific endpoint for the Lewis and Clark expedition (they wintered in nearby Fort Clatsop in 1805-6, and the town itself was founded in 1811); and to me the area just oozes character and history.

We stayed at the new (as in, less than a year old) Hampton Inn towards the eastern end of town, directly adjacent to Pier 39—location of Rogue Ales‘ Astoria Public House. All of us liked the hotel, it’s new and spacious and the service was really good—and the view is great too, as it’s right up against the River shore and overlooks Astoria’s Riverwalk and waterfront trolley. I would recommend checking it out if you’re looking to stay overnight.

Dinner that night was at the Wet Dog Café, also known as Astoria Brewing—a charming location in what appeared to be an old fishing or cannery warehouse right up by the waterfront that was super busy on a Friday night (go figure). I’ll write more about them in a later review and extended writeup, but suffice to say a taster tray was the order of the night with dinner, naturally, and even though I enjoyed the flagship Bitter Bitch Imperial IPA I followed up with the Kolsch for a full pour.

It was while we were at Wet Dog that we discovered the North Coast Craft Beer Trail: a tourist-driven “beer trail” much like the Bend Ale Trail where you can visit a number of craft beer locations to get stamps on a “map”, and if you get enough stamps you’ll get a prize from the Astoria Chamber of Commerce—in this case, a special pint glass. I think I’d heard of this Craft Beer Trail before but it was still a nice bit of serendipity to have stumbled across it.

This one consists of 11 locations and you need to get 9 stamped to complete it. I plan to write a longer post about it as it definitely points to Oregon’s North Coast beer scene being on the rise, and yes, we were able to complete the Trail—and collect our pint glasses!

Saturday was a mix of “regular” activities and beer activities: we started the day by climbing the Astoria Column, a tower at the top of the hill overlooking the entire area that’s 125 feet tall, and spent some time visiting Lewis & Clark’s Fort Clatsop. For the afternoon we traveled down to Seaside for lunch and to continue the beer exploration.

We started with a quick stop to take a peek at Seaside Brewing to check out their place while we were figuring out lunch options. It’s a nice looking place, but right now they don’t have any of their own beer on tap as they are working on transitioning from their little one-barrel brewing system to their 15-bbl brewery. I’ll tell you what though, with the amount of summertime tourist traffic in Seaside they should have no problem thriving and selling a ton of beer once they get that online—Seaside is a crazy, crazy town in the summer, not a stretch to say it’s the Coney Island of the Oregon Coast.

Lunch was at Twisted Fish Steakhouse, which in a bit of serendipity we discovered after we were there that it is one of the stops on the Craft Beer Trail! So we knocked that off the list (along with a pint of Ninkasi Total Domination), and while we were shopping and wandering downtown Seaside also stopped in at another stop on the Beer Trail, Dundee’s Bar & Grill for another stamp. Both Twisted Fish and Dundee’s are within about a block of each other on the same street.

Once we’d gotten our fill of the touristy part of town, we stopped in at The Wine and Beer Haus located in the factory outlets on Highway 101 in Seaside: this is the local bottle shop with four beers on tap as well, and apparently is also the birthplace of the Craft Beer Trail. I must say I was impressed: they had four unusual beers on tap (particularly for the Coast) and I enjoyed a Boneyard Shotgun Session Ale (Mosaic variety) while I browsed the beer selection. Yes, I traveled to Seaside to drink a beer from Bend.

I walked out of there with a selection of Southamption beers—a brewery I’m familiar with but that I’ve never seen distributed in Central Oregon—along with a Ballast Point Sculpin IPA. It was a good stop and I’d definitely recommend it for good beer (and wine) to anyone in the area.

Our next stop was at McMenamins Sand Trap Pub in neighboring Gearhart, just for the Craft Beer Trail stamp. Located at the Gearhart Golf Links golf club, the Sand Trap has been there for five years while the Gearhart Hotel (also McMenamins) is only about a year old. They don’t have a brewery in-house though, so while the Pub is a typical McMenamins joint there weren’t any specialty beers to try.

Dinner that night was back in Astoria at Fort George Brewery—one brewery I’ve really been wanting to visit for a long time, and I wasn’t disappointed. This will be another separate writeup, but interestingly I’ve already had many of their beers and had several tastes of the specialties while we were waiting—so I skipped the taster tray and went straight to a pint of the 3-Way IPA followed by Java the Hop, their coffee infused IPA. Jeff wrote a blog post rhapsodizing about this beer, and I’m glad it wasn’t the one-off Jeff was afraid it was. Definitely an interesting beer.

The service at Fort George was really good too, and my only regret is not having more time to enjoy the brewery—or their Lovell taproom just across the parking lot, which also has two cask engines serving beer. Definitely next time.

My wife and I finished the beer portion of the trip by walking from the hotel over to the Rogue Public House on the pier to check out the scene and watch the sunset. Opened in 2007, it’s immediately recognizable as a Rogue location, they’ve done a good job in their “public house branding” (for lack of a better term): older, slightly dilapidated building, Rogue beer and merchandise everywhere (branded kegs in the entryway), a ton of beer on tap with the ample chalkboard to keep track of it all. It works for them and I really liked it—of course it helps that this particular location is right on the water with an unbeatable view.

Pro tip: don’t leave the patio dining area to walk around the outer ring of the pier surrounding the building, as we did (that’s how I got that picture!)—I got gently chided for doing so. (In my defense, I saw other people walking that area holding beers as well, so I thought it was okay.)

That beer, incidentally, was one I had seen before: a “New Crustacean Barleywineish Imperial IPA Sorta” which is best described as an Imperial IPA version of their Barleywine fermented by Belgian yeast. I think. Regardless, it was really good, and I noticed they were selling bottles of it as well. I didn’t grab that, but I did pick up their version of the Class of 88 Barleywine (brewed with Deschutes Brewery and North Coast Brewing) and their Big Ass Brewer Blackberry Ale. Yes, they were selling Beard Beer and no, I didn’t get any.

I know Rogue often gets a bad rap for being too uninteresting or for re-branding their beers for special bottles and whatnot, but I really like what they are doing at their Astoria Public House—I’d go so far as to say it was my favorite beer stop of the trip, location-wise. They are definitely worth a look, and doing things right.

Overall, great weekend, and now I can’t wait to get back to Astoria! I would stay at the Hampton Inn again, and definitely take advantage of having Rogue a short walk away. Plus Astoria’s beer scene is growing, as Ezra reported recently, and there’s a homebrew shop and “brew pub” named Hondo’s I didn’t check out (I have no idea if it’s a true brewery or more of a brew-on-premise) so there’s definitely more to explore. I’m looking forward to that next trip…