By Gail Oberst
For the Oregon Beer Growler
This is my idea of paradise: A seat in the sun-warmed sand at sunset, driftwood log for a backrest. To my right is a small cooler, with an assortment of beers made on the Oregon Coast. I pop the top of a favorite -- Pelican’s Silver Spot is one -- and raise the bottle to the giant orange-magenta ball sinking into the Pacific. The setting serves as a romantic getaway year-round, whether you’re storm watching with a beer inside a brewery or enjoying a summer sunset with a growler on the beach. Life is good with an Oregon beer in your hand. These days, with the burgeoning craft beer business in Oregon and here on its coast, life is getting really good.
Ten years ago, there were just a handful of scattered breweries on the coast. Today, there are at least 20, with more in the offing. Like the rest of Oregon, craft breweries are popping up all over, offering visitors another reason to stay and play.
Coastal visitors and residents have long had access to a few great beers. Established in 1986, McMenamins Lighthouse Brewpub in Lincoln City claims to have reintroduced craft brewing to the post-prohibition Oregon coast. Although there were other coastal breweries that are long gone now, McMenamins thrives, hosting an August brewfest every year that features a “tiny brewer” art contest and samples from most of McMenamins’ 24 Oregon and Washington breweries.
Three years after Lighthouse, Rogue Ales’ founder Jack Joyce moved his small Ashland brewery’s headquarters to Newport’s waterfront. In 1996, developers Jeff Schons and Mary Jones opened their Pelican Brewery in an old brick building in off-the-beaten-path Pacific City. Pacific Rim Brewery, now Astoria Brewing, opened in 1997. The same year, Bill’s Tavern owners Ken Campbell and Jim Oyala opened a brewery in a refurbished 1923 building in Cannon Beach. But the days of far-between breweries are blessedly gone. Now the longest drive between breweries on the coast is about 50 miles -- the distance between Yachats and Reedsport. The passion for craft beers has hit the coast like a tidal wave.
Today, the elder breweries continue to produce award-winning brews: Pelican Brewery has been named “Small Brewing Company and Brewmaster” champion at the World Beer Cup. Pelican’s success expanded to a Tillamook brewery with an additional tasting room and restaurant there.
The baby breweries are also collecting bling. Chetco Brewing in Brookings celebrated its first anniversary with a Great American Beer Festival medal for its Block & Tackle Stout in 2013. And when it was less than a year old in 2014, Arch Rock won gold at the Great American Beer Festival. Arch Rock celebrated the win with a grand opening party. The same for newly-minted Buoy Brewing in Astoria, which won GABF silver for its Dunkel just months after it opened.
The Oregon coast’s unique mixture of beauty, isolation and innovation borne of necessity has produced a wide variety of beers, some so unusual that they attract devotees from afar. De Garde Brewing in Tillamook is a fine example, and a unique tasting experience for beer tourists and experts alike. De Garde’s brewer exposes his brews to the ripe coastal breezes to produce a wild beer aged in barrels. This process, more akin to winemaking than brewing, yields beers unlike any others.
South in Coos Bay, two youthful natives in 2013 opened 7 Devils Brewing Co., which showcases local history, art and food, as well as their own beers. It’s not Coos Bay’s first brewery, but it’s the county’s only one -- for now. The brewery began expansion within a year.
The recent surge of coastal breweries has prompted official and unofficial celebrations of craft beer. Many coastal bars and restaurants (even hardware and farm stores!) are expanding their taps to include local brews. Growler fill stations (you bring the bottle; they fill it with beer) and craft beer sections in grocery stores are now commonplace on the coast. Life is good. Cheers!
Following is a list of a few of the celebrations that feature coastal beers:
Oregon Coast: Zwickelmania – This statewide event is on Presidents’ Day weekend each year. Visit oregoncraftbeer.org/events/zwickelmania/ for a map to participating coastal breweries.
Astoria: Fort George Brewery’s Festival of the Dark Arts is in February each year and features stouts and local arts – from tattooing to fire dancing. Details can be found here: https://www.fortgeorgebrewery.com/festivalofdarkarts/.
Seaside: Pouring at the Coast is March 6 and 7. It is a craft beer festival, homebrew contest and brewers dinner. Updates are at pouringatthecoast.com.
Newport: Brewer’s Memorial Ale Festival is a dog-centric brewfest hosted by Rogue Ales, but features many other brews from the coast and other regions. It’s typically held the third weekend in May and you can get an update at www.brewersalefest.com, which will connect you to their Facebook page.
Lincoln City: McMenamins Lighthouse Brewfest is generally the third Saturday in August each year. Meet McMenamins brewers at their wackiest party. More info at www.mcmenamins.com/1485-mcmenamins-brewfests-lighthouse.
Astoria: Pacific Northwest Brew Cup, held on the last weekend of September, is an Oktoberfest-like event on the riverfront’s boardwalk. It features family-friendly events and more than 30 beers. Details are at pacificnorthwestbrewcup.com.
Lincoln City: Artober Brewfest, Oct. 3, combines art, culinary treats and great Oregon craft beers, Updates are on the event’s Facebook page: www.facebook.com/pages/Artober-Brewfest-Lincoln-City-Oregon.
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.