Portland, Oregon has more breweries than any city in the entire world (almost 50) and Bend has more breweries per capita than any city (soon to be 12 for its 80,000 residents). Boasting an “Ale Trail” of its own and two great breweries among its 9,000+ denizens, the town of Astoria, near the northwestern tip of Oregon, is a worthy destination for those going on a “beercation.”
Wrapping up its bicentennial—Astoria was founded by the American Fur Company in 1811 and named for the company’s founder, John Jacob Astor—Astoria’s traditional canning industry may no longer be the primary source of employment, but one of my favorite canned beers hails from Astoria’s Fort George Brewing Co. Here, at the terminus of the Columbia River, I couldn’t wait to taste Vortex IPA at its source.
My wife and I checked into our room, courtesy of the Cannery Pier Hotel. The boutique hotel even has some pet-friendly rooms so we brought along our German Shorthair Pointer, Dunkelweizen. Since the dog was so good during our two-hour drive from Portland, rather than head straight to a pub, all three of us were itching to get to a beach on the Pacific. So we headed to the northwestern most point in Oregon, Clatsop Spit in Ft. Stevens State Park. For those interested, the seagull chasing here is top notch.
Back in Astoria, we visited Astoria Brewing Co, tucked inside the Wet Dog Café, whose owners launched ABC in 1997. One of the beautiful things about Oregon during the fall harvest is fresh hop beers. ABC had two on tap, which I included in my hand-picked sampler flight of five house beers (chosen among their dozen or so).
Golden Hopportunity (a perfumy pale ale) and Pursuit of Hoppiness (a more robust India Pale Ale) were each made with hops so wet they were plucked less than 24 hours before they were added to the boiling tank of wort (beer’s pre-fermentation tea). Among our favorites, though, were ABC’s flagship Bitter Bitch (Imperial IPA) and Poop Deck Porter (deceptively light and chocolatey).
Despite Wet Dog Café’s doggy motif, pooches are not allowed inside and we didn’t feel like sitting outside in the drizzle. But Dunkel did appreciate the hamburger patty we brought him, as listed on their actual menu for dogs.
After enjoying the ambiance inside the café with a guitarist on stage, we braved the one-block-walk to the Baked Alaska for a wonderful dinner at the end of a pier overlooking the water. It came recommended by Ft. George’s owner/brewer Jack Harris, which put the idea in my head to start the meal with a pint of their 1811 Lager. Because they come glazed in a barbecue sauce made with Alaskan Amber (Alaskan ales naturally feature heavily in this Alaskan-themed restaurant), I was tempted to order the baby backs. But it was the “Baseball cut” top sirloin (in a bourbon demi-glace, since most beer fans greatly appreciate bourbon as well) that hit it out of the park for me.
For dessert, we shared the signature baked Alaska, which, much to our delight came ablaze in brandy. Who doesn’t like watching a quick-burning fire at their table? Served in the skillet it was baked in, it offered such gooeyness—both from the chocolate cookie and the melting vanilla ice cream—that it literally oozed with decadence.
Brunch and Brews
In the morning, we were in no rush to drive home. We opted for a late brunch at the Bridgewater Bistro, located mere steps from the Cannery Pier Hotel. I say late because they don’t open until 11 a.m. for weekend brunch. While we waited, Dunkel was grateful for the extra long walk, which took us down the Astoria Riverfront Trolley tracks (the trolley runs seasonally).
The Bistro is housed in a roomy space that doubles as an art gallery (with an adjoining wine tasting room) that offers a gorgeous view of the Astoria-Megler Bridge and Columbia River’s shipping lane. We both ordered the special scramble of the day, but it almost took a back seat to the sides that accompanied the entrees: a basket of fresh-baked muffins with house-made lemon curd for a spread and a gentle potato casserole and fruit cup that could be a meal unto themselves.
We concluded our visit on a high note: touring the Fort George Brewery and Public House, which offers tours on weekends at 1 and 4 p.m. Some breweries lead guests to a hospitality bar afterward, which FGB doesn’t do. They do let you buy a pint to take on the short tour, which most breweries do not allow.
One of the new features of the tour is the canning line, which explains why their beers—packaged a pint at a time—are showing up on better-curated shelves. From the 1811 Lager to the rich, new Cavatica Stout to that ethereal Vortex IPA, they allow you to enjoy a little bit of Astoria back home.
If you don’t see a beer you desire on Fort George’s tap board, ask if they have any specials available as I did. I wasn’t surprised they didn’t advertise their dry-hopped Vortex available on cask. I’d want to keep that to myself as well.
— by Photos and story by Brian Yaeger, RFT Contributor and Beer Expert