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Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Adventures in Portlandia: Day 5 - Up the Coast to Tillamook

I was excited for some coastal driving! The only other time we visited Oregon, we enjoyed an amazing drive from Astoria and the Lewis and Clark National Wildlife Refuge down the coast to Cannon Beach (where the end of the film, Goonies, was shot). This drive rivaled our infamous jaunt down the coast of Northern California on our 10th anniversary trip, when we visited Anderson Valley, Bear Republic and Russian River in the same day. (Sorry you can't read about it; I hadn't started blogging yet.) It was also on this stretch of road that we witnessed the majesty of the enormous Redwoods. I mean, the drive was so perfect that when I mentioned I was hungry for some cherries, 30 seconds later I saw a sign on the road for "produce ahead." Sure enough, minutes later I was noshing on the best cherries I've ever eaten. The best, Jerry. The best!

Anyway, sorry to get sidetracked. Back to Oregon.

From a "number of brewery visits" perspective, this day might seem shorter than most on the trip. Although we were only able to hit six places (amateurs!), we covered a lot of ground and also hit some roadblocks along the way.

As we approached Lincoln City (home of two stops for the afternoon), we thought we'd be coming in from the other direction. Now, I can see myself getting confused given my poor sense of direction, but even Brewslut was perplexed by our whereabouts. Nevertheless, she noticed McMenamins Lighthouse Brewpub just ahead on the right. It was just on the outskirts of some giant shopping plaza. We had planned to stop in anyway; we just thought we'd be starting our day at Rusty Truck Brewing Company.

Pleeps enjoying the spotlight at McMenamins Lighthouse Brewpub.
Situated in Lincoln City, a busy beach town on coastal Oregon, McMenamins Lighthouse Brewpub is one of many locations of this great chain of brewpubs. We didn't have a big breakfast this morning, so we were already hungry. Typically, we skip lunch and cash in on free breakfasts when traveling (more time and money for beer), but our last hotel was lacking in this department, so we opted for a snack. We split a small pizza that was quite tasty and hit the spot. As for our beer selections, this was a one-and-done stop, as we've already had a few of McMenamins regular offerings. Still, there was a pair of beers on tap that were unique to the Lighthouse location: Jam Session ISA (and India Session Ale) and Alienator IPA. At under 5% ABV, Jam Session still packed a pretty nice hop punch with its blend of Chinook, Mosaic, Centennial, and Falconer's Flight. Alienator, a straight up IPA brewed exclusively with Chinook, showcased this hop variety's lush floral and distinct citrusy flair. Again, kudos to McMenamins for two more fine beers to add to our list! Overall, our first stop was pleasant and we experienced very friendly, attentive service, good food and tasty beer.

OK, here's where the day starts to go downhill.

We had originally planned on hitting coastal Oregon on the tail end of the trip (Tuesday) but realized that almost all of the breweries in Eugene were closed on Monday. So, we made some adjustments and coastal Oregon fit in most conveniently on Saturday. I implore you... NEVER visit a beach town (especially a touristy one) along the coast of Oregon during the summer months! Our next stop, Rusty Truck Brewing Company, which turned out to be the red-headed stepchild of the trip. I insisted we go since it was a mere 6 miles away from McMenamins. What ensued was a cluster fuck of horrendous beach traffic and a string of obscenities that lasted basically the entire 40-minute drive to Rusty Truck. While I've gotten a bit more tolerant with traffic in my older, calmer age, it doesn't seem to translate well when we're on vacation. To quote Luke Skywalker: "We're wasting our time here!" Unfortunately for us, those words rang all too true, because Rusty Truck was not really worth the 6-mile drive. Beer friends from PA will appreciate when I say this place reminded us of Abbey Wright, just outside of Williamsport. It seemed like a bar that one day decided to brew their own beer. I had a sinking feeling when we pulled up, went inside and right off the bat got a lukewarm greeting. We bellied up to the bar and perused the beer menu. There was a lot to digest, so we settled on a flight of six house beers. Here's the breakdown:

  • Moonlight Ride Blackberry - aged on 126 lbs. of Oregon blackberries per 10-bbl batch
  • Road Wrecker IPA - a classic Pacific NW IPA
  • Pedal to the Metal - a DIPA brewed with almost 3 1/2 lbs. of hops per bbl
  • Taft Toffee Porter - an old dock worker's favorite (I was most excited to try this one.)
  • Stupiphany Imperial Red - the definition of stupiphany: "a sudden, inspired and profound realization that you did something stupid." The irony here isn't lost on me, folks. ;-)
  • Pacific Grind Espresso Stout - coffee stout, yada yada yada.

The Roadhouse aka Rusty Truck (Courtesy of Google)
I wanted to like this place... I really did. But all of the beer were lackluster. The toffee porter fell short. There was a hint of diacetyl in a few beers. The coffee stout was thin. Even the service was lacking. The blackberry ale was probably our favorite of the bunch. However, we couldn't get out of here quick enough. After our initial sips of each, we basically chugged everything (I rarely leave partially-consumed beers when traveling as to not appear rude) and hightailed it out of there. Sarcasm alert: Besides, I couldn't wait to drive the 6 miles back through that atrocious beach traffic we'd just experienced 40 minutes prior.

Our next stop was pretty much the impetus of the trip. Deuane had long mentioned that Pelican Brewing Co. in Pacific City boasted the absolute most amazing ambiance of any brewpub he'd ever visited. If you think we're well-traveled, well then you need to meet Deuane. He wouldn't even have time to write a blog, because he's always traveling. So needless to say, Perlican was perhaps the place I was most excited to visit. I hate building up a place so much that it turns out to be a let-down. Well my friends, unfortunately it wasn't in the cards for me. Not to say that I didn't enjoy our visit, but several things were working against us: Saturday beach traffic and parking (apparently they share a parking lot with the local beach). You think parking at Tröegs is bad? Pfft. Pales in comparison. I dropped off Brewslut to secure seating and circled the parking lot dozens of times until I found a spot (which technically wasn't even an actual spot). But I kept my cool... somewhat. When I entered, Brewslut mentioned the wait was about 90 minutes. Again, I get it. Saturday. Busy. Tourists. No problem. We peruse the bar and notice a few patrons getting ready to leave. There was an older couple waiting longer than us, so we let them take the vacant seats instead of diving in like vultures. I said to them, "No worries, we're just getting some beers and going outside." But then two other people were wrapping up, so we waited for their seats. Meanwhile these two biker dicks came in and were waiting for bar seating. When I went to take the seats, the guy says to me, "I thought you were going outside." I said I was going to go outside until the seats opened. But I didn't feel like arguing with him. I just said, "Don't worry, we came here all the way from PA, but go ahead and just take them." He didn't pick up on my sarcasm because he simply said, "Thanks!"

Haystack Rock, a stone's throw from Pelican.
We headed out back to witness Haystack Rock (the scenery that makes this place a true beer destination), and for a few moments I calmed down. After about 10 minutes, I checked to see if there were any free bar stools, and lo and behold there were two. I quickly snagged them and texted Brewslut, who came in to find me. Overall, the beers were good (not great) but enjoyable. I started off with an Umbrella IPA, brewed with Australian-grown Ella hops. I wasn't familiar with this particular varietal, but overall I love me a good, juicy Australian hop. Most of them are tropical fruit-forward and extremely pungent and flavorful. Although the description indicated it was double dry-hopped, it didn't wow me with its nose. Brewslut opted for the Tsunami Stout, a foreign (or export) style stout. Not bad. Up next was Beak Breaker, a DIPA dry-hopped with Centennial, Citra and Mosaic. This was probably my favorite of the bunch. I had wanted to try the Silverspot IPA, Pelican's flagship beer, but it had temporarily kicked while we were there and wasn't available. For our last beer, we actually got a free imperial pint of Pelicano Extra from a nearby customer who ordered the wrong beer. Rather than waste it, she offered it to us. How nice! So Brewslut and I shared this offering that's available for the "light beer" drinkers and tourists. For an American lager, it wasn't too bad.

Slightly frazzled after a somewhat disappointing visit to Pelican, it was off to what turned out to be the silver lining of this somewhat doomed day. (Oh, there's more doomsday news later... remember, we're working in chronological order.) A leisurely 40-minute drive delivered us to De Garde Brewing, and it couldn't have come at a better time. I had only just recently caught wind of this amazing brewery a few months earlier, first from a colleague at work and also some friends who brought a few bottles to my recent Ffej of July shindig. The brewery was situated near an open air field complete with an adjacent small airport. I felt like we were in Nebraska or some other Midwest state with straight roads as far as the eye can see. Then I noticed some mountains and realized we were still in Oregon.

Inside and out, the place was brimming with beer enthusiasts, for today De Garde was releasing its Nectarine Premiere, a wild farmhouse ale aged in oak barrels with nectarines. This beer sounded delicious! Upon checking into Untappd, I realized that I, in fact, had already tried this beer, oddly enough at last year's Ffej of July event! If you were there, you'd know that I wasn't in any shape to remember... well, pretty much anything past 5 p.m. So in essence, it was like having it for the first time. And damn was it mighty tasty! This one was certainly in contention for Top 5 beers of the trip (if I had the inclination to create such a list).

De Garde's chalkboard. Yeaaaaah buddy!
The chalkboard was filled with a few other beers we had to try, namely the following:
  • Petit Citra, a tart farmhouse ale aged in oak barrels and dry-hopped with Citra
  • Petit Desay, just a tart wild farmhouse ale (no wood)
  • Sans, a Gose brewed with coriander and Jacobsen sea salt
The inside tasting area was largely standing room only, so we strolled outside and sat at one of the converted barrels that was now a table. Some folks were traveling from New York, so we started talking and one of them. He happened to be a brewery rep for Ballast Point, and he actually knew one of our Tröegs Union reps (Union is one of our distributors in NY). We traded stories about working at breweries and beer travels in general. We also conversed with some locals who were there buying a variety of bottles and we chatted about the local beer scene. Overall, it was a nice visit spent enjoying some world-class beers and talking to a few bona fide craft beer fans. A true gem of a place!

Inside De Garde's facility. Wood is good!
Since we'd already made the drive to Tillamook, we decided to visit Pelican's companion location, Pelican Brewery & Tap Room. This was a very small, narrow tasting room with a decent amount of outside seating. It also employed one of the most poorly planned beer and food ordering procedures we'd ever encountered. The line started right inside the main entrance, which left little room for customer to stand and wait if there are more than a few patrons waiting to order. To compound matters, there was a group of older women in front of us who clearly knew nothing about beer and were as inquisitive as small, annoying toddlers. To put it into perspective, there were no less than 12 people snaking around the tiny waiting area while these nuisances inquired about growlers, merchandise, and beer styles, ordering multiple samples because they didn't know which beers to select. I was soon wishing their impending osteoporosis would kick in and one of them would tumble to the floor in agony. I mean, come on. You clearly see a long line of people waiting to order, yet you obliviously stand there and sample every beer available because you don't know what to select? How about you just pick a beer and sit the fuck down? God forbid you pay $4 for a beer that might not be your cup of tea.

Outside Pelican's Tap Room in Tillamook.
After standing in line for 20 minutes, we finally were able to order. We got our beers and headed outside to sit down. I think there were more children than adults here. Something about Pelican just seemed to attract tourists like Whitney Houston to a huge vial of crack. Perhaps it was the close proximity to Tillamook Cheese Factory (see next paragraph), another popular tourist attraction. Nevertheless, this was going to be another one-and-done stop for us. I went with the Kiwanda Cream Ale, while Brewslut opted for More Fun C-hop Blonde. Both beers were pretty forgettable in the grand scheme of things. I was hoping this location would have the Silverspot IPA on tap, but alas it was also absent from the chalkboard.

On the way out of town, we decided to make a pit stop and swing by the Tillamook Cheese Factory since it was only about two miles out of our way and highly recommended by some locals. Probably known more for its ice cream rather than cheese, this place was pretty huge and impressive. And you never have to twist my arm to get ice cream! Upon entering, we saw the line for ice cream cones (again... Saturday. Tourists. Etc.) we decided to seek refreshment elsewhere. We darted to the back of the store and purchased a pint of chocolate mint ice cream and a big bag of habañero cheese curds and hit the rocky road. (Did you catch that slick ice cream analogy?)

Mmmm... cheesy convestibles! Finest in the district, sir! (Courtesy of Google)
For our last three nights of the trip, we decided to stay at the same hotel in Portland city and really get to know the breweries. We found a good Express Deal through Priceline at an Extended Stay America about 12 miles or so west of Portland, so we booked it for all three nights. When we travel, we typically book a hotel for our first night in advance, then use Priceline in real time, as our itinerary changes often, especially if we're feeling spontaneous or get a brewery recommendation from locals. We arrived at the hotel to check in at about 10 p.m. and when we gave the girl at the front desk our name, she replied, "Didn't Priceline call you?" This wasn't good. Apparently, there was an air show happening in Portland the same weekend we were visiting  and Priceline overbooked. In a nutshell, we had no hotel, and here it is 10 p.m. and we're pretty tired after a day of drinking and driving (OK, that didn't sound good). But you get my point. I thought I needed to get Brewslut a paper bag, because she was either going to vomit or she needed to take deep breaths and relax. Surprisingly, I turned in a great performance and remained calm throughout the entire ordeal. Priceline unfortunately wasn't getting back to the girl at the front desk at our hotel, and I felt bad for her because there was nothing she could do. We understood the dilemma, but Brewslut was panicking because we didn't have a place to sleep. She decided to call Priceline directly, but ended up being placed on hold for over 40 minutes. In the meantime, we'd decided to kill some time and drive to Great Notion Brewing Company and figure everything out. I'd checked their hours of operation and they were still open. By the time we'd arrived almost 30 minutes later, Brewslut was still on hold with Priceline. We needed beer. After spotting the sign for Great Notion, I parked the car around the block and we approached the door. It was locked. I looked in the window and saw a guy stacking chairs on top of tables, which as we all know means "closing time." Now I was pissed off because they were supposed to be open for another hour. Unbeknownst to us, the brewery was actually around the back of this restaurant, a popular spot that makes handmade biscuits. (We witnessed the popularity of this place the following day when there was a line around the block. Guy Fieri must have ruined this place too). With Brewslut dealing with Priceline and now me getting agitated, we stormed off back to the car to figure out Plan B.

We realized we were in the same neighborhood as McMenamins Kennedy School, so we set the GPS to the appropriate coordinates and off we went. A few minutes later, we arrived, parked, and entered the large building. This place really is situated in an old school. I immediately proceeded to find us two imperial pints of beer. (NOTE: We visit the Kennedy School location later in the trip, so I'll save my commentary on this place for that particular blog. I will saw this place was absolutely amazing!)

Finally, after about an hour or so of travel-related stress due to not knowing if we'd have somewhere to rest our weary heads for the night, we finally were able to resolve our hotel issue. Priceline had found us a new hotel for the same three nights we had originally booked at the Extended Stay America. They graciously upgraded us to a Holiday Inn Express about 15 miles south of Portland. And not only did they charge us the same rate as our original cheaper hotel, they also comped an entire night for us! Overall, Priceline handled the situation extremely well, and honestly this was the first issue booking hotels we ever had with them (and we'd been using them for years). To make things even better, Holiday Inn Express is known for having a great free hot breakfast buffet. Score! Needless to say, Brewslut was in dire need of liquid refreshment. Beer to the rescue!

While at Kennedy School, we enjoyed a Geiger Counter IPA and Copper Moon, a Pale Ale brewed with 100% organic malted barley. The Geiger Counter IPA might have been my favorite McMenamins beer of the trip, with its aromatic hop bill consisting of three favorite varieties: Chinook, Mosaic, and Simcoe. This one really hit the spot after a long, somewhat stressful day. As if the day wasn't long enough, Brewslut was savoring her beer so I opted for a second pint. This time, it was one of McMenamins standard offerings: Hammerhead, a classic NW Pale Ale brewed exclusively with Cascade hops. A tried and true craft beer style, this one did not disappoint.

Yup... that's Most Most Premium in a plastic hotel cup.

Back at our awesome hotel (it was actually a suite with one of those sitting areas with a couch and TV, plus a closed-off bedroom with a king size bed and additional TV). Cozy! We decided to crack open our bottle of Gigantic Most Most Premium Russian Imperial Stout and catch some Olympics on TV. You might recall from Day 3, a customer with whom we'd struck up a conversation purchased us this beer as a gift. What a right neighborly thing to do! It was pretty damn awesome too. Free beer always tastes a little better, doesn't it?

Stay tuned for three more days of beer mayhem as we penetrate the city limits and invade Portland with two livers that never rest. Until next time...

1 comment:

  1. I'm sorry that Pelican failed you but...Saturday in the summer? Yeah, you should have known better! ;-)


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