IN MANY INDUSTRIES THE PAST FEW YEARS HAVE BEEN MORE CHALLENGING than any in recent decades. But for the West Coast beer industry, the last few years may well be remembered as the greatest yet in terms of growth and popularity.
More than 25 percent of the country’s craft breweries are located on the West Coast, and with easy access to so much beer, consumers are becoming increasingly savvy. So, with all of the new (and old) breweries, beer bars, and beer styles, how and where do you even begin to navigate the scene? A reasonable recommendation would be to explore the beer in your hometown. Well, if you live in Portland, Oregon that means visiting 40 breweries, nearly as many beer bars and bottle shops, and sampling an infinite number of beer styles. The thing is, Portland isn’t an anomaly. Cities up and down the West Coast are experiencing the same kind of growth and it can be overwhelming, while at the same time, extremely exciting.
At Beer West we’ve taken on the task of presenting you with the cream of the crop, the best of the best, the jewel in the crown (you get the idea), in terms of what to drink and where to find it. Picking the best seems a sort of impossible task given the amount of choices, but instead of choosing places that are the most popular, the newest, or the craziest this or that, we took a different approach. We went behind the scenes to look at the history, people, and influence the beer or place has had on the industry as well as their community. For instance, our “Best Brewery” may not produce the most innovative beer, but they’ve single-handedly changed the beer culture in their town. The best “Beer City” isn’t known for the most breweries or the hoppiest beer, but it’s miles ahead of other cities at integrating craft beer into their artisan food and beverage landscape.
Some of our choices may be familiar to you, and we hope others will be entirely new. But isn’t that what craft beer’s all about? It’s an experience of comfortable familiarity or the chance to explore uncharted, delicious territory. So, use our following lists as guides to help steer you toward new beer discoveries, and you just may stumble across a few surprising favorites of your own.
The Big 5
King of Karma
Vinnie Cilurzo, Russian River Brewing Co.
Santa Rosa, CA // russianriverbrewing.com
By Georgia Perry
Photo by Mitch Rice
WHILE VINNIE CILURZO, owner and brewmaster at Russian River Brewing, has been credited in this lifetime with inventing the double IPA—a high-octane version of an IPA—there is speculation that in a past life he may have rescued a king.
“Or maybe he saved the baby Jesus from some terrible thing,” ponders Matt Brynildson, a good friend of Cilurzo’s and head brewer at Firestone Walker Brewing in Paso Robles, California. “Whatever he did is serving him well. Everything he touches seems to turn to gold. The guy has insane karma.”
That’s not too much of an exaggeration. Cilurzo’s beers are coveted across the country; there are lines around the block when any beer store receives its rare shipments of Russian River beers, and the anticipation for special draft-only releases, like Pliny the Younger, a triple(!) IPA, is palpable. The beer he’s best known for is Pliny the Elder, a hoppy but balanced double IPA that has achieved cult status among beer enthusiasts.
Among brewers, Cilurzo is appreciated as much for his attitude as for his product. Sam Calagione owner and brewmaster at the Milton, Delaware-based Dogfish Head Brewery says Cilurzo is living proof of something called Brewer’s Karma: “The more knowledge and inspiration you give to the craft brewing community, the more success and happiness comes back to you,” something that Calagione himself has also experienced.
Cilurzo is a generous giver of both knowledge and inspiration, and constantly on call for brewers in a pinch. Brynildson recalls a time he had an issue with the yeast in a particular Imperial stout, so he called Cilurzo, who happened to be on vacation in Hawaii. “He went through all the details as he was driving through Kauai with kayaks on his roof,” Brynildson remembers.
Why so eager to share? For one, that’s how the craft beer industry works. There’s lots of openness since everybody is relatively new to the game. Confidence also has something to do with it. OK, a lot to do with it. “We tend to not follow too closely what other breweries are doing,” Cilurzo admits. “That’s not to say we don’t drink other beers, but we really look inward to continue to improve upon our own beers.”
So while everyone else is asking him for advice, Cilurzo is also asking, well, himself for advice. Russian River produces just four styles of beers: IPAs, barrel-aged sours, Belgian-inspired beers, and lower alcohol beers for the pub, also located in Santa Rosa. This paired-down approach is similar to other small breweries, so when asked what sets him, and Russian River, apart from the competition (though Cilurzo himself would never call it that), he says simply, “It’s the customers.”
“We have been very fortunate to have an amazing group of customers who do almost anything to find our beer…And we are very appreciative of that.”
BEST BEER CITY
The San Francisco Treat
By Megan Flynn
THE SUN IS ALWAYS SHINING in San Francisco. Er, at least when I go there. Okay, so maybe it’s just metaphorically shining in my mind. But sun or no sun, I love this city for its beer culture. It’s a tough choice, naming the Best Beer City, especially when the options range from Portland and Seattle to San Diego, and even Eugene and Bend.
And no, San Francisco doesn’t top our list because the Giants won the World Series or because the 2011 Craft Brewers Conference was held there. And while San Francisco may not be home to the most breweries per capita or 10 beer bars within arm’s length of each other, it has captured the award for Best Beer City because of the distinct energy surrounding the craft beer scene and the cohesive way it’s represented throughout the city.
From the revitalization of the iconic Anchor Brewing Company in the late 60s—which essentially kick-started the craft beer revolution—to David McLean’s inspired Magnolia Gastropub and Brewery, and more modern additions like 21st Amendment, who’s canning their craft beer, and Social Kitchen and Brewery, which has a delicious food focus, each company represents a unique and welcome addition to the craft beer culture of San Francisco.
“Craft beer is something we have been exposed to for over 30 years,” says David McLean, proprietor of Magnolia and beer-and-cocktail-bar, The Alembic, both located in the Haight-Ashbury district. “That makes it pretty deeply woven into our local culture.”
And this “local culture” extends far beyond just appreciating beer for beer. The craft beer scene just happens to dovetail with a 40-year artisan food and beverage movement (Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse turns 40 this year). “We see good beer in every kind of restaurant around here, plus all kinds of collaborations and dinners,” says McLean. “which casts craft beer in a great light, fosters creativity, and promotes widespread acceptance.”
So, whether you’re after a casual afternoon beer bar-hopping North Beach (try La Trappe, Church Key, and Rogue) or feel like splurging on dinner and an insanely rare bottle of beer at The Monk’s Kettle in the Mission, it’s all here. Even if you’re only in town to watch Giants’ pitcher Tim Lincecum throw a no-hitter, the ballpark’s Public House restaurant and bar has one of the best beer lists in the city, with regional favorites from Marin Brewing Company and North Coast to rare bottles from Europe’s Trappist breweries.
“There’s a je ne sais quoi that transcends this beer community that I can’t quite describe,” says The Homebrew Chef, Sean Paxton, who is well-known in beer circles across the country for his elaborate multi-course beer dinners.
With all of the excellent beer and food choices in this bustling city, you’d think there’d be some competition among brewers, restaurants, and bar owners, but alas, that’s another reason San Francisco is so great—everyone works together. “I think we have kind of figured it out; there’s no (or very few) elitist attitudes,” says Paxton. “There’s no ‘this place is better than that place.’” And in an industry that’s bursting at the seams, who could ask for a better city to experience craft beer?
BEST BEER BAR
Feels Like Home
Beveridge Place Pub, Seattle, WA // beveridgeplacepub.com
By Heather Reese
photo by Cleary O’Farrell
SHE’S GOING TO ORDER a glass of red wine and he’ll go for a Manny’s beer,” predicted Gary Sink, as he watched a couple walk into his West Seattle pub on Sunday afternoon.
But it was an easy call. “They come in every Sunday,” he added with a smile.
A few minutes later, a man walked in with his dog and pulled up a chair. “Dogs have to be well behaved in here,” Sink explained. “Just like the people.”
It’s almost too easy to feel at home at Beveridge Place Pub. And that’s exactly the point. “We want it to feel really warm and inviting,” said Sink’s wife and co-owner of the pub Terri Griffith, “like somebody’s house.”
Somebody who has 25 local, regional, and international beers on tap and more than 100 bottled selections. “We are definitely Washington focused, but we also find unique beers from outside the state,” Sink explained. “We appeal to both the beer snobs and the everyday beer drinkers.” Only seven of his taps don’t change on a regular basis. One of them—the local Seattle Baron Brewing Pilsner—is even made by an old college buddy.
Beveridge Place has been a labor of love ever since Sink and Griffith opened it inside an existing pub a decade ago. They believed by bringing a quality beer selection to West Seattle that they were filling a void in their corner of the world. What they couldn’t predict was the outpouring of support.
Three years ago they made the big move across—that’s right—SW Beveridge Place to their current location. They only closed down for five days. “A lot of our patrons came to help us paint the walls and stain the floors,” Griffith explained. “The physical and emotional support we got while putting this place together was amazing.”
The pub is divided into two sections. One side resembles a sports bar with a TV and pool tables, while the other side is more inviting for intimate and group conversations. “It’s a place for people to make new friends,” Sink said. Since there’s no kitchen at Beveridge Place Pub, patrons are encouraged to order food from the “menu book” of nearby restaurants that deliver. “Our guests love supporting local businesses,” Griffith said. Plus, it helps them focus on the beer. “We’re not restaurateurs, we’re pub owners,” Sink added.
Both owners still work their day jobs with the Environmental Protection Agency, yet they make it down to the pub almost every night. They regularly organize fundraising events for local charities, along with special beer tasting and release parties. “My wife and I are intimately involved in not only the daily operation of the pub, but also in getting to know our customers and making sure people have fun,” Sink said. That’s why the regulars keep coming back again and again. “We put a real effort into being part of the community,” Griffith said.
So sit down, order a beer, and you’ll be part of their community, too.
Craft Beer in Cowboy Country
Prodigal Son Brewery + Pub, Pendleton, OR // prodigalsonbrewery.com
By Megan Flynn
photo by Erin Burzel
WE’RE ON A MISSION. Prodigal Son Brewery and Pub proprietor Tim Guenther and brewmaster Brian Harder are at the wheel. We’ve just left their brewery in Pendleton, Oregon, and are on our way to the nearby town of Helix (population 200) to deliver a fresh keg of Wheatstock Hefeweizen and a bag of grapefruits to a local restaurant and bar that looks like it belongs in the movie No Country For Old Men.
We enter the Helix Pub which has a peace sign made out of wheat stalks hanging on the wall and a slogan that reads “Indulge in Easy Vices.” Five heads turn our direction as Tim wheels in a keg of craft-brewed wheat ale, which he recommends serving with a slice of grapefruit. The regulars at the bar all grip longnecks of Coors Light.
While most people think of the entire state of Oregon as a hub for craft beer, travel anywhere east of the mountains and it’s a barren beer landscape. Sure, there are a few great brewpubs like Terminal Gravity and Barley Brown’s scattered throughout the eastern half of the state, but the vast majority of the beer-drinking population still prefers macro-brewed lagers.
That’s one reason why Tim and his wife and co-proprietor, Jennifer Guenther, moved from Portland, where Tim worked in the financial industry, back to his hometown of Pendleton. “I’d thought about moving back a lot, but what was I going to do [for work]? And then I realized there’s no brewpub here, and Jen and I were used to hanging out at beer bars and brewpubs in Portland.”
Before taking the plunge, Tim connected with childhood friends Matthew Barnes, (the brewpub’s chef and kitchen manager) and Brian Harder, who both also lived elsewhere, and with a little coercing, convinced them to move to Pendleton to open a brewpub. “We bounced ideas off of each other for about two years and then one day I got the phone call [from Tim]. He said, ‘You ready to do this?’ and we pulled the trigger,” recalls Harder, who was mentored by Rogue Ales brewmaster John Maier.
Built in what was once a dilapidated, vacant warehouse with concrete floors and exposed wood beams, the brewpub feels up to date, even if the beer selection is, by Portland craft beer standards, pedestrian: golden ale, pale, stout. It’s not that Harder doesn’t know how to brew a Belgian Tripel or barrel-age beer. “I don’t think a sour or barrel-aging brewery would fly here because honestly it’s still Coors Light country,” admits Harder. “I mean, hefeweizen, I don’t want to say it’s cutting edge, but it’s still a new concept to our customers and a lot of people who come in here are trying [craft] beers for the first time.”
“The concept of a brewpub is a really new idea here,” says Jennifer. “A lot of people think we’re a bar. We’ve been here over a year now and we still get calls everyday from people asking, ‘Can we bring our kids?’ ‘Do you have food?’” But Tim is quick to explain that there are a lot of younger people and young families moving to or moving back to Pendleton who have spent time in cities like Portland, Eugene, and San Francisco, and appreciate craft beer. “People have been wanting something like this—a brewpub—for 10 to 15 years and no one’s been able to pull it off,” says Tim.
In a town whose population quadruples every September when the world-famous Pendleton Round-Up is in town, locals now have a reason to frequent downtown year-round. The best-selling beer at Prodigal Son is an approachable American-style hefeweizen, but it has taken some longtime Pendleton residents time to warm up to the idea of craft beer. To them, Jennifer usually suggests A Beer Named Sue, a mellow, 4.8 percent ABV golden ale, which most people try—and end up loving—a true gateway beer.
April 15, 2011 marked the first anniversary of Prodigal Son and the release of its first Belgian-style beer, which Harder brewed with rose hips and toasted grains of paradise. “We are taking what we do, and hopefully do well, and are bringing it back to our home town.” says Harder. “This is our contribution to this town. I’m excited—we all are.”
Bridge Creek Pilsner, Silver Moon Brewing
Bend, OR // silvermoonbrewing.com
By Uma Kleppinger
photo by Amanda L. Smith
IN A REGION DOMINATED BY HOPPED-UP IPAs and heavy, dark beers, and where winters are long, cold, and rainy, it seems a pilsner would be doomed to a lifespan equal to that of, well, a fruit fly drifting lazily about the mash tun. That is, until a passionate brewmaster who’s crazy about Bohemian-style lagers presents us with a crisp, hip alternative to the same old, same old. That’s exactly what brewmaster Tyler West has created for Silver Moon Brewing in Bend, Oregon.
Owner Tyler Reichert started the brewery in 2000 as a one-barrel “nano” operation out of his brewing supply store, The Brew Shop. By 2005 Reichert decided to focus on brewing, sold the supply shop, and moved Silver Moon to NW Greenwood Avenue. The new facility allowed “The Tylers” to expand their operations to a 10-barrel system, but the brewery is just far enough off the beaten path on Bend’s Ale Trail that many visitors make the tragic mistake of missing it.
West’s commitment to brewing German-style lagers has driven him to produce a clean beer that still offers plenty of hoppy appeal to the West Coast palate. With seven national and international awards to his credit, including a bronze medal for the Bridge Creek Pilsner at the 2010 Great American Beer Festival, West has created many remarkable brews over the years, but when we broach the topic of pilsners there’s a little extra excitement in his voice.
“There’s nearly always a pilsner on tap at Silver Moon, year round, when many brewers drop it to focus on other seasonals. Just this past winter we featured a seasonal beer called Little Red—a noble Bohemian-style pilsner made with dark malts, to provide a distinctive blood red color.” says West. “Generally sales of the pilsner slow a bit in winter months, but we have this amazing German yeast that we need to keep alive, so I’m brewing pilsner year-round.”
Beyond brewing award-winning beer, Silver Moon also takes entertainment a step further by sponsoring a popular event among locals called the Roller Rumble; participants race on stage, side by side, on fixed, stationary bikes. From a dead stop contestants sprint as fast as possible for 400 meters, through several qualifying rounds to the championship match. It certainly solves the problem of what to do when it’s raining outside. But even if you miss Roller Rumble night, be sure to sample a pint of pilsner next time you’re at Silver Moon. It’s a guaranteed win.
Other Best Of’s
Beer Ice Cream //
Scoops Ice Cream
Los Angeles, CA
Food Made With Beer Ingredients //
Davis, CA // brubar.com
Pairing Event //
Tom Douglas’ St. Patrick’s Day Beer Blast
Seattle, WA // tomdouglas.com
Beer Chef //
Sonoma County, CA // homebrewchef.com
Beer Bar Nosh //
San Francisco, CA // alembicbar.com
Venue for a Beer and a Movie //
Living Room Theater
Portland, Or // livingroomtheaters.com
Beach-side Pub //
Library Ale House
Santa Monica, Ca // libraryalehouse.com
Beer Adventure Trip //
Schooner Zodiac brewery sail
San Juan Islands, WA // schoonerzodiac.com
Beer Hotel //
McMenamin’s Crystal Hotel
Portland, OR // mcmenamins.com
Backpacking Beer //
Fort George Vortex IPA
Astoria, OR // fortgeorgebrewery.com
Bottle Selection //
The Bier Stein
Eugene, OR // thebierstein.com
San Diego, CA // hamiltonstavern.com
Portland, OR // theeastburn.com
First Date //
Public School 612
Los Angeles, CA // publicschool612.com
Tap Selection //
Seattle, WA // brouwerscafe.com
Brewery Event //
Tour de Fat by New Belgium Brewery
Multiple locations, U.S. // newbelgium.com
Brewery Grub //
Social Kitchen & Brewery
San Francisco, CA // socialkitchenandbrewery.com
Most remote Brewery //
Brewers Union Local 180
Oakridge, OR // brewersunion.com
Most Sustainable Brewery //
Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.
Chico, CA // sierranevada.com
Most Local Brewery //
Eugene, OR // oakbrew.com
Most Kid-Friendly Brewery //
Hopworks Urban Brewery
Portland, OR // hopworksbeer.com
Most Unique Ingredients //
Avatar Jasmine IPA // Elysian Brewing
Seattle, WA // elysianbrewing.com
Best Sour //
Cascade Barrel House, Portland, OR // cascadebrewingbarrelhouse.com
Best Barrel-Aged Beer //
The Angel’s Share
Lost Abbey, San Marcos, CA // lostabbey.com
Best IPA //
Pliny the Elder
Russian River Brewing, Sonoma County, Ca // russianriverbrewing.com
For a closer look at all of Beer West’s Best of the West Coast 2011, subscribe today or purchase a copy from your local newsstand.