Friday, November 11, 2011

West Coast Craft Beer Tour: Day 2 Wild River, McMenamins, Amnesia

Our West Coast Craft Brewery tour continued after a cozy evening in Mt. Shasta and a clear and glorious morning under the colossal presence of the towering peak. On our way out of town, we stopped at the Mt. Shasta Brewing Company in Weed, but since it was 10am, we decided to visit on the way back.

The Beer Mapping Project, as well as Northwest Brewing News - both super helpful in scouting out places to stop. It's interesting to see the brewery density in the Pacific Northwest - I've taken out the regular bars and bottle shops, but here is some west coast urban brewery and brewpub density comparison.

Here's a Portland area map:

And Seattle:

Here's a map of Bay Area breweries for comparison. Despite high real estate costs, the numbers are slowly growing in the Bay Area as well...

Back to the tour....
A short 2 hours later, we arrived in Grants Pass, Oregon at Wild River. Again, we were lucky enough to run into the brewer, who invited us back into the brewhouse for a tour with Scott, the head brewer. Wild River is in the category for us of the 1990s brewpub, often serving pizza and catering to families, locals, mainstream and sports lovers as well as craft beer folks. Though these spots aren't cozy dens of hipsterdom, these guys paved the way in the brewpub movement of the 1980s and 1990s. The establishments that survived should be celebrated.

Scott was awesome, and showed us the steam-fired boiler, I think it was a 15 or 20BBL with 3 fermenters. They're doing some collective brewing with the Cave Junction location to supply 5 Wild River restaurants in Oregon. It was interesting to learn that they liked the direct fire system for some of the more caramelized flavors in several of the recipes.

Another thing that surfaced in our conversation with Scott that would come up again and again, was the open and sharing nature of the craft brewer community. In addition to supporting a homebrew buyers collective, which provides access to affordable grain for local homebrewers while reducing brewery grain costs. He also talked about the development or proprietary yeasts used in Wild River beers.

We did the sampler and again saw a collection of low gravity beers which included a clean Kolsch, a Bohemian Pilsner all in the 4%, a 3% BitterNut Brown Ale. The higher gravity beers were the Imperial Stout (6%) and an IPA (7%).

  • Low Gravity Beers
  • Involvement with Local Homebrew Community
  • Proprietary Yeast Strains
  • 1990s Brewpub Niche
After a bowl of soup and a lunch salad, we drove less than an hour and a half to McMenamins Pub in Roseburg, Oregon, and quite frankly entered another world. The McMenamin Brothers have created a humble empire of pubs, most of which are in historical buildings from train stations to school houses. The brothers, Mike and Brian, have been at it since 1974, and captured their approach quite well in the brochure that that they are wary of "things too formal, too complicated, and too shiny." A 1985 Oregon Law allowed breweries to brew and sell on site, starting a flurry of microbrewery activity.

Though we'd enjoyed each establishment thus far, the authentic old world charm and unapologetic coziness at the Roseburg Station enveloped us completely. Perhaps because we both have a history in documentary radio (I at KZSC in Santa Cruz, and Johnny at KUSP and Free Radio Santa Cruz), and perhaps because our own house is filled with Dutch antiques - but we LOVED it. From the collection of old European ceiling lamps, the old Dutch street signs, and scores of historical local photographs, (complete with 10-page key explaining the contents of each one), each detail was complete and beautifully restored but lovingly worn.

McMenamins has embraced whimsy, combining the artistic aesthetic of the psychadelic mythical forest kingdom with an utterly down to earth local British pub experience. Art is a big part of what they care about, a head to toes empire of awesome expressed through every detail, particularly later when we went to Edgefield in Troutdale, Oregon on Day 3. The food is excellent and comforting.

The image below is from the McMenamins website to provide a taste of the aesthetic:

We sat in at the bar, what used to be the ticket office, and immediately were part of a conversation with the bartender, Breeze, and several friendly locals. Before long, Breeze took us back to meet the head brewer, Tom. Brewing on 6BBL equipment made from dinged-up converted dairy equipment, painted deep night night sky blue with Dr. Seuss-like yellow stars. McMenamins is really part of the first wave of microbrewing establishments in the U.S., and they are still alive and well with a network of nine hotels and more than twenty pubs.

We sampled the Hammerhead American Pale Ale (5.9%); Sunflower IPA (6.7%); Hillsdale Porter (5.6%); Terminator Stout (6.5%) and though neither of us are fruit beer people very often, I can see having a glass of the Ruby Ale - a light rasberry ale (4.4%). (Percentages were given to the hundredth of a percentage, but that seems a tad bit silly.)

It's good to see so many places providing really nice details about what's in the beer. This is where it's interesting to compare the ways wine and craft beer descriptions. We went recently to a really hip Marin wine and beer bar (yes, I know it's billed as a wine bar, but still!!) and though the wine has four lines of information about the grapes and location and variety and year and interpretive descriptive poetry - the beers, though some were local craft beers, just had the name of the beer, sans brewery name, location etc. I think west coast restaurants seeking to cater to craft beer audience is figuring out that we, like wine folks, like to engage and nerd out about the beers we experience. I'm sure there's some variation in what people prefer, but I'd rather know about hops and grain and yeast and ABV than read interpretive sentences about the whispers of autumnal spice that will dance on my tongue.

For example, McMenamins does a really nice job:

Craft beer culture seems to be doing a better and better job of making this improvement on this, like McMenamins, who does not waste time with the autumnal whatnot, and maybe even provided a few too many decimal points, which is better than none at all!

  • 2nd Wave of West Coast Craft Brewers (1980s-90s)
  • Full disclosure/engagement about ingredients
  • Hoppy beers
  • Fruit Beer
Onward! Driving through Jefferson County, we made it to Portland in time to stroll around and absorb some of Portland's awesomeness. As much crap as Portlandia lovingly gets - the food trucks and public spaces and clever architecture and bright colors are nothing but enjoyable.

We saw lots of cool recycled benches and fences....

and the occasional tiny garden gnome kingdom.

We finished off the day with sausage and a pint at Amnesia Brewing, in Portland, Oregon. Though we were there on a Tuesday, the place was full of executive types after work and hip executives and hipsters and everyone in between.

Amnesia Brewing is firmly situated in the recent wave of west coast craft brewing, a simple industrial space combining fresh local brewing with an ultra-simple menu. The setup, complete with group table seating and the simple beer and sausage menu reminded me of a small beer garden I visited along the Rhine River - unapologetic in its simplicity and self service. They also have no website, which is sort of awesome - yelp and twitter seem to suffice. The ultra casual scene works really well.

  • 3rd wave brewery (last 5-7ish years)
  • unapologetically simple menu
  • hip, industrial, urban
  • no website (word of mouth, twitter, yelp etc)
Stay tuned for Day 3:
McMenamins Edgefield, Troutdale, OR
Northwest Sausage & Deli / Dick's Brewing, Centralia, WA
Big Horn Brewing, Lacey, WA

Find Van Houten Brewing on Facebook for events and other updates

1 comment:

  1. Thanks, I'd been trying to get rid of that icon for longer than I'd care to admit!
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