Great googly moogly! After a fantastic voyage road tripping across these great western states I’ve finally returned—a little older, a little wiser, and a little more drunk. Apologies to those that have visited the page in the past couple of days desperately looking for an update. InMotion performed and upgrade that broke many a MySQL database (including mine). The issue has been resolved and (to the best of my knowledge) no posts have been destroyed.Where did I go, you ask? Gah, you must not yet be following me on the Twitterz. I assure you this is an egregious mistake which should be righted immediately. Had you been following as intently as I’d hoped, you’d have known that I was on an epic beer journey which took me from the urban steelscape of Seattle to the almost too perfect pastures of Bend, and finally to that people-dense clusterfuck known as San Francisco (with a few other stops along the way).
I could sit here and detail the entire trip from start to end. You’d laugh. You’d cry. And when it was all over it would be January. And what the hell is a blog if not timely? So here are the highlights, condensed for your attention span. The full edition will be out in hardcover in time for the holiday shopping season.
Deschutes Brewery Bend Public House
With all of the new(er) breweries you have to keep track just to be able to keep up on the BA forums, it’s easy to overlook lil’ ol’ Deschutes. These guys were both brewing beer and hanging out in Bend, OR before either of those were even remotely cool. Over the past 25 years they’ve won a stupid amount of awards and their Black Butte Porter is perhaps the best example of the style that you can get your hands on in 26 states. Unfortunately, you folks east of the Mississippi have no idea what I’m talking about, but know that the rumors you hear about The Abyss are real.
Sure, we went to places where the beer could be considered “better” but when it comes to a dining experience, Gary Fish and Co. pull out all of the stops. I had boar meatloaf in Bend and a flat iron steak smothered in miso sauce in Portland. Yeah, it was so good that we ate there twice.
Best Brewery Tour
Anchor Brewing Company
Full disclosure, we only went on two proper brewery tours, but they were doozies. The tour at Deschutes really made me like them more as brewery and as a company. The guide was a tad bit overly enthusiastic for my liking but he certainly made everything sound exciting.
Anchor was another thing entirely. The place is steeped in history and the guide was one of the best I’ve ever seen. Imagine everything trimmed in old wood, copper brewing equipment (even a copper grant!), and old-school open fermentation vessels. Yes, it probably costs more than most tours you’ve been on ($15/person and reservations are highly recommended) but it’s worth every penny. In fact, if every guide is as good as Bobby, it’s probably worth more than that.
Cascade Brewing Sang Royal
I easily tried over a hundred new beers during this trip and this one was so good, it was the best by a long shot. Like finishing 12 games ahead, nothing else really came close (OK, the Sang Noir came close). This is a “NW style” sour red aged in pinot noir and cabernet sauvignon barrels on cab grapes. It’s rich and decadent and tarter than a ’50s pinup. Up until this past summer you could buy this at the Cascade online store but they had to shut that shit down because it turns out to be mostly illegal to ship beer across state lines to consumers. Go figure.
Honorable mention: Russian River Consecration, Sierra Nevada Narwhal Imperial Stout
Best “Session” Beer
Russian River Blind Pig
Like most American breweries, I’m using the term “session” very loosely here (aka anything under 8% ABV). And only because there’s something very special about the super high-gravity monstrosities that top the RB and BA “best beer” lists that simply can’t be compared to your “regular” beers. It’s like comparing apples and asparagus.
And while my pick may seem obvious to anyone out there who’s had Blind Pig, I assure you it was not a runaway pick like the Sang Royal. This is probably one of the most perfect examples of an American IPA (I’ll stay out of the East Coast/West Coast beef) that I’ve ever had. I won’t even bore you with the citrus and piney notes wrapped like a velvet glove around a soft body and firm bitterness that makes you pause like a comma. Just treat it like the Premo beat that it is and bob your head.
Honorable mention: Thirsty Bear Grizzly Bear Red Ale, Deschutes Fresh Hop Mirror Pond Ale, 21st Amendment Roasted American
Best Bottle Shop
Healthy Spirits (Castro), San Francisco
Yeah, I went to City Beer. It was aight but I couldn’t get over the price gouging for the “rare” bottles available for on-premise consumption only. There was a cooler behind the bar with bottles of The Abyss for $50. Granted, the blame doesn’t really fall on them since they wouldn’t do it if people didn’t buy it. Perhaps I would have been more impressed if they had some East Coast rarities, but I digress…
Healthy Spirits is smaller and has nothing available on tap, but they have a wider beer selection. I blew the rest of my bottle budget here and regretted nothing. Greatest hits include Fantome Printemps(!), Prairie Cherry Funk, and Allagash Odyssey to name a few.
Place I Would Go to All the Time If It Was Even Remotely Close to Seattle
Lagunitas Brewing Company, Petaluma
Man, this place is fun. Huge outdoor space, extensive grub menu, live music five days a week, kid friendly, and the Around the World sampler is all 16 beers on tap in 5 oz. glasses! I could spend all day getting love drunk off their high-gravity humps.