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.
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
Uber Tavern – No food, but an incredible beer list. I had the first of many Pliny the Elders here.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Sierra Nevada Torpedo (pictured)
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.