The Road To Portland

Leaving Seattle after such a short time and little more than a scratch of its surface could have been painful if we weren’t setting off towards some of the most exciting beer cities on the planet.  The route I drove led us through Astoria of Goonies and Short Circuit fame, and a stop at The Growler Guys northern most outlet in Oregon.  40 taps pouring great beer from within a unit in a petrol station by the side of the road is how things are here.

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My brand new Chuck’s Hop Shop growler was washed out, purged with CO2 and then filled with a very local IPA from North Jetty Brewery.  During a conversation the lovely server asked whether British breweries make hoppy beer too.  Most definitely, but then why would she know that?  The Pacific Northwest grows most of the world’s most flavourful hops (70.8% of all hops grown in North America are from Washington, with Oregon accounting for the next 15%, with the rest from other states and a tiny fraction from Canada), so why would hoppy beers brewed with hops that have been packed up, shipped a four and a half thousand miles, sorted, pelletised, before finally being used, end up being top of the import list when just about every brewery over here makes an IPA themselves?  I know from regular trips to Hong Kong, and my time living over in Canada, that what folk tend to want from imported UK beer are traditional, and regional styles.  Whilst I very much think the UK is on its way to developing it’s own voice within modern beer (revamps of historical recipes, interpretations of continental styles, and so on), and not just repeating what the US has already said, there’s no escaping that boldly hopped beers are utterly delicious, and going to remain very important for us all for some time to come.

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What does a snapshot of a single tap list tell you about beer culture in this part of the US right now?  I’m not sure, but if anything’s worth noting, it’s that the all the hoppy beer is on the list above appeared to be distinctly US, and that everything else appeared to be thoroughly European in essence.  Here’s the breakdown of the tap list a The Growler Guys Astoria:
Hops (IPA, Pale) – 11 taps
Malt (Scotch Ale, Red Ale, Porter, Stout) – 10 taps
Light Beer (Pilsner, Blonde, Light) – 4 taps
Yeast (Hefeweizen, Belgian) – 4 taps
Fruit – 3 taps
Sour – 1 tap

Lunch in Astoria was effective, accompanied by beer from the small brewpub system tucked away near the entrance of Wet Dog Cafe.  Cute 4oz Kolsch glass!

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Our next stop was an overnight stay in a small village called Cannon Beach on reportedly one of the most beautiful stretches of coastline in Oregon.  The growler came in pretty hand for a couple glasses of beer on the beach.  Was my experience better than popping open a bottle?  Not quite in terms of carbonation (I suspect something got lost a little between tap and glass), but in terms of fresh local beer to pour where I chose it was most defintely great.  It’s worth mentioning the dinner we had that evening.  

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Craft beer (douchebag) sunset photo alert.

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In a small and slightly remote place about 5000 miles from Europe, to hear the words French Italian Cuisine in description of a restaurant, that also has the virtue of being right next door, doesn’t inspire the greatest confidence.  Jaded by previous experiences, fusion and its ilk remains a questionable concept in food and drink, even if there are people out there for whom it means bold experimentation with fantastic results, or the melding of two traditions they know intimately (rather than at worst having a bash at something they tried once or twice and hoping to present it to folk who don’t know any better).  Hunger does a great job of abating skepticism, as do warm welcomes by honest faces.  In a blur of conversation, laughs, fizz from a local producer, and a bretty red from France, followed some of the finest food.  The Wild Mushroom Polenta was the best polenta dish I’ve ever had, and the Halibut with risotto was utterly delightful – rich, light, fresh, and with incredibly depth.  Surprises like this are truly wonderful, but also a bit sad – why the low expectation in the first place?  The staff at Newmans at 988 are doing a job that would no doubt gain them wonderful reputation in just about any great food city.  Yet another fantastic experience that comes from the most treasured combination of hard work, skill, good taste, and generosity.

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The following morning we hit the road for an hour and a half drive through woodland and farmland to our next stop, and the topic of at least the next two blog posts, Portland.  Additional photos from this trip will be uploaded here (once I’ve found the time to prepare them and an internet connection rapid enough to upload them).

Paul Jones