Berrong on Beer – Going big on West Coast brews
June 27th, 2011
09:45 AM ET
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Nathan Berrong works at CNN's satellite desk and this is the second installment of his beer column. Drink up.

The United States is filled with amazing breweries, but to me, you can’t begin to talk about beer in America without starting out West. Maybe it’s the climate that is ideal for growing hops, or the beautiful scenery that inspires the brewers, or the diverse culture that promotes creativity. Whatever it is, I say there’s no debating that the best region for beer in the United States is the Pacific or West Coast region.

West Coast beers, plainly put, are massive beers. Massive beers that are bursting with flavor, typically high in alcohol, and have unusual names like “Serpent’s Stout” and “Monk’s Blood”. The staple West Coast beer is the hop heavy, India Pale Ale. Commonly referred to as the IPA, it is also a very common beer style across the country, as nearly every brewery in the US has their own version of it. But, no one brews them better than Sierra Nevada in Chico, California, which has been brewing amazing IPAs for over 30 years, long before the craft beer explosion began.

Apart from the IPA, other hop-centered beers are the big (both in hops and alcohol by volume) Double or Imperial IPA and the American Pale Ale, which is a toned-down version of the IPA. The best examples of these are the Stone IPA, Russian River’s Pliny the Elder, and the Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.

I recently took a trip out West with my wife, Pooja, and our good friends, Jarrod and Lauren Cone. We headed to the Pacific Northwest for a beer and food-themed trip, visiting places that are known for excelling in both. We started the trip in Seattle, rented a car, and made our way down the coast to San Francisco, making stops in Portland and Santa Rosa along the way. This is a trip I have been looking forward to for years, as some of my favorite beers in the world originate from the beer Mecca of the United States, the West Coast.

Here is a list of my favorite places we visited in each city, along with some notes about each and any special beers or food that were had.

Highlights of Nathan's massive West Coast beer adventure

Seattle

Brouwer’s Café – A Seattle beer staple. I ended up scoring a bottle of the coveted Bruery Bottleworks here.

Uber Tavern – No food, but an incredible beer list. I had the first of many Pliny the Elders here.

Stumbling Monk – A great little neighborhood spot. I had a nice Dubbel from Sound Brewery.

Elysian Brewing Company – A cool brewpub with good food and good people; my favorite was their Dragon’s Tooth Oatmeal Stout.

Macrina Bakery – A really solid brunch spot with some of the best baked goods my mouth has ever had the pleasure of tasting.

Portland

Horse Brass Pub – A legendary Portland pub with a very old-world feel. It was nice to see their shrine to recently deceased owner, Don Younger, who was extremely influential in the beer world. Rest in peace, Don.

Belmont Station – A very extensive bottle shop and bar. I had so many good things here including: Russian River Supplication, Bruery Cuir, and De Dochter Embrasse.

Deschutes Brewery and Public House – A great brewery, which brews an excellent beer, Black Butte.

Rogue Distillery and Public House – Located just around the corner from Deschutes, my favorites were their XS Imperial Stout and Morimoto Imperial Pilsner.

Cascade Brewing Barrel House –This place brews incredible sour beers and also has good food. My favorite beers were the Sang Noir, Sang Royal, Sweetartz, and the Bahri Date Bain. I cannot say enough good things about this place or the people who work here.

Clyde Common – This amazing eatery and cocktail bar made for a great dinner experience. We had a roasted rack of pig with spaetzle and Brussels sprouts and a prosciutto-wrapped trout topped with a fried egg. Both were as incredible as they sound.

Navarre – We did the chef’s tasting menu which included 10 different plates of excellent food. The highlight for me was the rabbit stew.

Stumptown Coffee – If you’re into coffee, you already know the reputation of this place. It totally lives up to it to the hype; the espresso and overall experience are completely top notch. Great people watching, too.

Tasty and Sons – Here is everything you’d ever want a brunch place to be. It’s an
incredibly cool space with outstanding food and crafty cocktails. One of the best brunch meals I’ve had.

Grilled Cheese Grill – Not only is the dream of the 90s alive in Portland, but also the dream of a food truck on every corner (or maybe that’s just my dream?). This particular food truck caters to grilled cheese fans, meaning, they cater to every single person alive. You can get a classic grilled cheese or go the adventurous route and order a grilled cheese with black bean garlic tofu and artichoke hearts or any other of their over 20 grilled cheese variations. And yes, they have tomato soup, too. Awesome gets awesomer as you sit down and enjoy your gooey cheesy sandwich in a retro double-decker bus complete with a jukebox.

San Francisco

Toronado – Loud - both with people and music –- and extremely crowded, even at 3p. Really solid beer list.

La Trappe Café – The basement of this place reminded me of some of the beer bars I visited in Belgium a couple years ago, which is to say, it ruled. Highlight beer: Russian River Temptation.

Monk’s Kettle – I had a great meal here with excellent service and had a tasty beer, Ballast Point Navigator, followed by an Underberg.

Zeitgeist – This place is a total dive where anything goes. It has a large outdoor patio that is perfect for drinking and people watching. It’s awesome. I got a 16 oz pour of Russian River Consecration here for $5!

City Beer Store – This great beer store/bar has an incredible selection. I had a FiftyFifty Baril Rouge Baltique and also an Alesmith Speedway Stout, but was just a few days too late and missed the limited edition, The Bruery The Wanderer, which was brewed solely for City Beer Store’s 5th anniversary.

Canteen – I took the advice of Eatocracy’s Managing Editor, Kat Kinsman, and made reservations for Pooja and myself here. I am so glad I did. This place is small and cozy and feels like you’re in on a secret dinner that is being prepared just for you. It was delicious.

Papalote – USA Today named it as one of the 10 best burritos in America and after having a chile verde burrito there, I have to agree.

Blue Bottle Coffee – Is waiting in line 45 minutes for a latte worth it? Absolutely. Especially if the latte is the best you’ve ever had. To top it off, they had some of the most intricate latte art I have ever seen.

We also made some pit stops as we were driving along the coast at:

Pelican Pub and Brewery – Right on the coast with incredible views. I really enjoyed their Stormwatcher’s Winterfest beer.

South Beach Fish Market – Easily the best (fried) seafood I have ever had. The place is small and not much to look at, but wow, the food is incredible.

Cypress Grove – we got the chance to stop by and learn about the cheese making process at one of America’s best creameries. Their Humboldt Fog is my personal favorite.

Russian River Brewery – Vinnie and his brewing team are making the best beers in America, maybe even, the world. We had some great pizza here and got the chance to get a behind the scenes tour of the brewing process. Highlight beers were: Consecration, Salvation, Defenestration, Damnation, Sanctification, and Erudition.

What excited me most about this trip is that I had access to beers that are not available to me in Georgia. And these are not just any regular beers; they are the cream of the crop. Out of the top 100 beers in the world, about a third of them are from the West Coast. Most of these beers are not very easy to come by unless you live out West, so, for everyone else, here’s a list of beers you should check out from the West Coast that are widely available throughout the United States:

Brewed out West - but available elsewhere in the U.S.

The Bruery Saison Rue

Anchor Liberty Ale

Ballast Point Sculpin IPA

Sierra Nevada Torpedo (pictured)

Stone Imperial Russian Stout

Moylan’s Hopsickle

Green Flash West Coast IPA

Rogue Dead Guy Ale

Lagunitas A Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ Ale

North Coast Old Rasputin

My favorite West Coast beer of all time is The Abyss by Deschutes Brewery in Bend, Oregon. This beer tastes like a creamy, silky, serving of chocolate flavored molasses which coats the tongue, and whetting a desire for the next sip. It’s absolutely incredible. It also doesn’t hurt that it was a Christmas gift from my wife two years ago. Ah, the joys of having a wife who knows about good beer.

I’d like to know what you think about my picks and topics you'd like to see addressed in future columns. Leave a comment below with your favorite West Coast beer and let me know if I missed anything.

Cheers and peace be with you.

I’m on the Twitter and Untappd.

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Filed under: America • Beer • Berrong on Beer • Best in Life • Pacific Northwest • Sip • Travel • West Coast


soundoff (639 Responses)
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  7. Spoonie G

    pour any of it over a ice in a big mug and i'm practically having ohgasm's

    July 21, 2011 at 3:50 pm |
  8. Tim

    My personal favorite is Fat Tire by the New Belgium Brewing Company, Fort Collins, Co. Also love all Pyramid from Oregon and Red Hook from Woodinville, Wa.

    July 2, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
  9. Keeping the thread alive!

    HALES ALES SEATTLE...

    July 1, 2011 at 9:43 am |
  10. BeerChick

    Hahaha! Sierra Nevada is such old news – it's an oldie, but goodie. Have you tried Dogfish Head 90 minute IPA? (Delaware) Seriously, the west has good beer, but take a Vermont vacation and visit the Alchemist in Waterbury, Switchback Brewery or Long Trail. Also, the beer at Mountain Sun Brewery in Boulder, Colorado is amazing.

    June 30, 2011 at 5:35 pm |
  11. cannibal corpse

    In the grand scheme of great tasting beverages, beer doesn't rate that high in my opinion. I generally like them all because of the nice buzz they produce. There are no doubt many many other beverages that taste much better. :-)

    June 29, 2011 at 2:12 am |
  12. Macnjack

    I think that by reading this thread I am now intrigued by some of the brews that I have not seen nor tried before. I will make sure to look for them while visiting the Midwest or east coast. I have tried many, but there are quite a few I have never heard of.

    One beer I have not seen mentioned is Mac n Jacks African Amber served exclusively in kegs in the Seatle area. It's not an award winner that I know of but is consistently one of the best beers you'll find on tap in Seattle

    Also, for those of you Sierra Nevada bashers, they continue to innovate and are currently working on the only Belgium Monk supported Abbey Ale produced outside of Belgium. It's a very interesting story and I can't wait to try it. Here is the link: http://beeradvocate.com/forum/read/2945435

    June 29, 2011 at 12:15 am |
  13. Ted Vadella

    Mr. Berrong,
    The beers you have chosen are amazing. However, to discluded brewers in states such as Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin, and New york is rediculous. Russian River may be making the best beer in the world, I will concede that. They are consistent and do not have a bad beer in their portfolio in my opinion. With that said, the best IPA in the world is made in Kalamazoo, MI and it is called Two Hearted Ale by Bells Brewing Company. If you enjoy Stouts, we have a brewery out of Grand Rapids, MI called Founders that makes many different Breakfast Stouts that are critically acclaimed. There is also Left Hand Brewing Company making a MIlk Stout out of Colorado. Many people have mentioned Great Lakes Brewing Company, and they make the best Porter in the U.S.A., Edmund Fitzgerald. They are from Ohio. How about a Farmhouse Saison? Brewery Ommegang from Cooperstown, NY makes Hennepin. Lastly, as far as brewers go, and the best argument I have to compare to Russian River's excellent brewing, Ron Jeffries, from Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales, in Dexter , MI, is a hidden gem amongst brewers. I know it sounds like he makes pumpkin ales, but he doesn't. He just makes the arguably the best beer in the country, maybe the world.

    from one man's opinion to anothers, I will put any of these states breweries against California's, and you will find that we know what we are doing out here.

    Respectfully,

    Ted Vadella
    Shakespeare's Pub
    Kalamazoo, MI

    June 28, 2011 at 9:45 pm |
  14. Bob

    Mt. Caramel Brewery in Cincinnati – good time stuff.

    June 28, 2011 at 3:29 pm |
    • Bob

      Sorry that should be Carmel.

      June 28, 2011 at 3:29 pm |
  15. Greg Krsak

    This discussion is good stuff. Check out this blog for more good beer info:

    kswbeer dot com

    June 28, 2011 at 11:48 am |
  16. JWR

    Anything Star Hill (Charlottesville, VA) makes is delicious

    June 28, 2011 at 9:35 am |
  17. The_Mick

    This sounds like descriptions of Light Ales, with their stronger flavor and high alcohol content, masquerading as beers, like they have in Canada for many years.

    June 28, 2011 at 8:52 am |
  18. Phil Dikeman

    LOOK OUT BOYS AND GIRLS....Here comes Austin, Texas!

    June 28, 2011 at 8:25 am |
  19. Jim

    The author doesn't have much knowledge of beer.Has he ever been to Europe (you can get there via the East Coast)? This very badly written article perpetuates the myth that "bigger" and "hoppier" is necessarily better- complexity and balance (much harder qualities to achieve than strength and bitterness) are not really acknowledged. Just go to the "top 100 beers" list link in the article and you'll find what is essentially an extreme beer collection. One hopes the beer geeks will grow out of this someday.

    June 28, 2011 at 7:36 am |
    • Thread Monitor@Jim

      "... article perpetuates the myth that "bigger" and "hoppier" is necessarily better..."

      It's not a myth, it's an opinion. Eloquence takes practice. Try again.

      June 28, 2011 at 7:59 am |
    • Nathan Berrong

      Hi Jim,

      I have been to Europe. A couple years ago I actually lived there for six months and did quite a bit of traveling. I was based out of London and visited over 75 British pubs while there, so I know a thing or two about complexity and balance (read: ESB cask beer). I also did beer trips in Belgium, Netherlands, Czech Republic, France, Ireland, and Scotland. I even went to Iceland and tried some of their beers.

      I'm not sure what you were reading but where did you get the impression that I was claiming "bigger" and "hoppier" beer were better than say, lower ABV/lower IBU beers? I never made such a claim. The post was about West Coast beers and since I can only assume you know a little about beer, you're probably very familiar that the vast majority of West Coast beers are higher in alcohol and tend to have large amounts of hops in them. That's a fact, not an opinion.

      My opinion that the West Coast brews the best beer is based solely on the fact that the majority of my favorite beers are from there. The ironic thing about what you posted is that my opinion is wrong...but your opinion is right!? Touche.

      Also, one last thing, and I'm sure you already know this, but it has to be said. It is possible, and happens often, for a really big beer to have complexity and balance.

      Thanks for reading.

      June 28, 2011 at 12:47 pm |
  20. Tom

    The Great Lakes region brews the best American beer, period.

    June 28, 2011 at 2:32 am |
  21. TampaMel

    Most people I know drink a light 'beer' and I don't mean the color. Light beer is not beer it is water with a little flavoring. so an article like this is probably falling on deaf ears (or eyes) and is probably being addressed to the 6 people that actually drink something that could really be defined as beer.

    June 28, 2011 at 2:32 am |
  22. SpringwaterKate

    OK, I'll tell you the best beer on the West Coast, but only because I'm far down the list and probably not many will read this. I don't want this to get out much, because if people realize how good this beer is, there won't be enough left for me. The ultimate ambrosia of beers is Hood Canal Brewery's Dosewallips Special Ale. Don't tell anyone else, please.

    June 28, 2011 at 2:32 am |
  23. PAD

    MMMMMMM BEER!!!

    Regardless of everyone's individual opinions I can honestly say you all are my favorite commenters on CNN! Stay thirsty my friends!

    June 28, 2011 at 2:07 am |
  24. C-Vice

    The East and No Coasters do not understand. And the writer said he lives in Atlanta, which, for the geographically challenged posting messages on the board, is East of the Mississippi. Yes, Dogfish Head is good, but Racer 5 from Bear Republic (in N.Cal.) just won Best IPA at the World Beer Awards (the beer Oscars every year in Germany), meaning Racer 5 is the best IPA in the World. Not in U.S. In the World. Beercraft has been happening here forever.

    June 28, 2011 at 1:52 am |
  25. Ryan

    Colorado has the best beer in this country. And I'm not talking about Coors-that is crap beer. Come here for the best microbreweries!!!

    June 28, 2011 at 1:30 am |
  26. Firkinhophead

    Well Mr. Barrong, I hope these comments have taught you a few lessons. First, never use the words "there can be no debate," unless you want a debate. Second, do not mention any beer unless you can mention them all. Third, next time you plan a beer-centric vacation and want to share it with your readers, it is not enough to visit 18-plus places in one week; no, you must visit every brewery and brewpub in the country from Bar Harbour to Key West to San Diego to Washington, and some in Canada for good measure, and mention them ALL in your EXTREMELY long blogpost. Finally, if you like a beer, and someone else–anyone else–does not like that beer, don't mention it, since that will only prove that you "know nothing" about beer and are a "moron."

    At least you know you have an audience. See you at the BSP; maybe we can sample some of that Sweetwater and Terrapin that people mentioned that you should try. ;-)

    June 27, 2011 at 11:08 pm |
    • C-Vice

      This is a fine post. Well done.

      June 28, 2011 at 1:55 am |
  27. Norm

    Author is spot on. West is best for one reason: bridgeport hop harvest. Like a thick glass of cum

    June 27, 2011 at 10:53 pm |
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