At the relatively young age of 23 I’ve seen my share of great beer towns. I first learned the ways of beer over in Europe, visiting awesome destinations like Munich, Prague, Amsterdam, and Stockholm. After becoming legal back in the US, I’ve seem my share of breweries and beer bars in The Bay Area, San Diego, Orange County/LA, and also DC and Baltimore while living on the East Coast. All good beer towns (well, LA is a bit spotty) to be sure, but the PNW has always beckoned from afar, tempting me with fantastic tales of greatness, and some great beers from breweries like Deschutes, Hopworks, and Cascade that made it down my way.
I had to go. I had to discover these riches for myself. So I did. What follows is an account of my first trip to the “beervana” that is Oregon (well, the first one where I cared about or could legally drink beer. I came, I saw many amazing sights, and I tested my liver’s ability to hate me. We’re still trying to work things out in case you were wondering. Over six days, we made stops in Chico, Weed, Portland, Redmond, Bend, Santa Rosa, and Oakland. Yes, I know some of those are in California. You didn’t think I could make it all the way to/from the Oregon border without and beer stops, did you?
Thursday morning, Kayla and I woke up bright and early to hit the road north from Saratoga. Our first planned stop was the Sierra Nevada brewery in Chico for lunch. We made it to the brewery just after noon and I was pleasantly surprised to see four new beers at the tap room.
First up was their Vienna lager; a light amber lager with a nice toasty malt flavor balancing the crisp and snappy hops that you would expect in a pilsner. A nice hot weather drinker, though I still prefer Summerfest.
Next was Chico IPA; Sierra calls it a double IPA, but at 7.1%ab, I think it still falls more into the regular IPA category. Either way, it had a great punchy, fruity hop aroma and flavor over a mildly sweet malt body. This one isn’t too far off of Torpedo, but is noticeably more aromatic and maybe a touch dryer. My new Favorite IPA from them. The hops are just really bright and unique.
Next was Brewer’s Blackbird Black IPA. This one was a Beer Camp beer, which is a program where Sierra invites visitors to come and brew a beer with them on a smaller scale. Not much of an IPA, but a wonderful, hoppy imperial porter (maybe that’s a legitimate take on this new “style” though I tend to think of them with much less roasted grain character than this had).
The last beer of our stop was the newest instalment in their 30th Anniversary series: Jack and Ken’s Ale, which is a “black barleywine”. I swear, this trend of making every lighter style “black” is getting out of hand! So, we have ourselves a nice, quite hoppy imperial brown ale. Bottles of this shuld just be hitting the market, and I liked it much better than the previous entry in the series which was an odd helles bock. Definitely buy this is you see it on tap or in bottles. It’s great now, but aging a few could prove to be very nice down the road a year or three. With Sierra Nevada’s impeccable bottling practices, I’m sure this will stay strong for plenty of time.
The brewery was breathtaking as always, and showing my parents around the brewhouse was pretty fun. Their hops are fully grown at this point, and the hop yard is quite a sight to see when you drive in. I now consider Sierra Nevada a required stop whenever heading north. There is guaranteed to be a new great beer on tap, and the place is just amazingly cool to visit.
Were stayed the night with friends in Weed, but not before a stop off at the Mt. Shasta Brewing Company, home of Weed Ales and Lagers. Not too far off of Interstate 5, it has a real small town feel to it that you don’t get in too many breweries in California. These guys got a lot of press not too long ago for winning a fight with the government over putting the word “weed” in their labels. Hey, the biggest selling beer in the country is called Bud, right? The tap room has a bar in the back adorned with lots of old empty bottles and beer paraphernalia, as well as some mounted hunting trophies. It was on the hot side, but it looked like possibly the best place to be hanging out in Weed that evening. They had eight beers on tap, with only the IPA being familiar to me as they bottle it and send it down our way. The brewer certainly has a creative streak in him, and most of the seasonals were pretty odd ducks. There was a jalepeno lager, a ginger strawberry lager, a vanilla Belgian esb, and a bourbon barrel aged stout. I’ll be honest and say that I didn’t care for any of them except the esb, which was mostly interesting because it tasted so strongly of vanilla. The bartender also had a weird thing against homebrewers. It could be partly due to the local water, but I really didn’t care for their beer enough to make a second stop likely. I remember their bottled porter being good though. If you see that or their IPA in six packs, they’re definitely worth a try, even if just for the bottle caps that say “Try Legal Weed”.
Alright, there’s day one, with plenty more to come as we finally get to Oregon.