USA Beers, Breweries and Pubs

I’ve just returned from a trip to the West Coast of America where I was keen to sample some American beers. Now when I mention American beer, many people are under the impression that I am referring to Budweiser, and seem confused as to why I would go all the way over to the States to sample beer such as this. It’s not yet general knowledge that America has had an enormous craft brewing revolution, with the industry developing rapidly since the 90s. Many US ales are based on English recipes and just taken that step further, generally by experimenting with lots of readily-available hops, and many of the beers being produced are innovative and of high quality. And being a big fan of Cascade hops I was going to be in the perfect place to sample some of the best: the Pacific North West.

Beers in a supermarket, Oregon

Microbrews in a supermarket, Yachats, Oregon

Here are some of the pubs we visited in Washington, Oregon and California, and some of the American beers that were consumed during our West Coast trip.

Seattle, Washington

Central Saloon, Seattle

The Central Saloon, Seattle

The Central Saloon, Seattle

The first stop was Seattle, Washington. This was a fleeting visit but we managed to squeeze in one bar there, the Central Saloon in the historic Pioneer Square district, reputed to be the oldest saloon in the city. The pub itself was long and narrow with a dark wood interior with a large space at the back where live music takes place most nights. But what interested me the most in my bleary-eyed jet- lagged state (it was 4am UK time) was the large number of microbrews on tap. We tried the Red Hook ESB from Seattle, which was an amber beer and reminded me of Dry Hopped Saint Rogue Red Ale (more about that later), quite a powerful hop and berry flavour. The bar staff didn’t know the ABV – they don’t seem to advertise this very frequently in the States, which can be a problem for me as I really can’t drink beer that is too strong!  –  but I was informed that the beers were ‘pretty much all the same’ which I guessed probably wasn’t the case, but presumed it was around 5 or 6 %, stronger that the English ale that I am used to drinking (I later discovered it was 5.8%). Deschutes Iversion IPA, from Oregon, was my favourite though –  a wonderfully sherbetty beer and very moorish, although I discovered this one was 6.8% so not exactly a session beer (for me, anyway!)

The Central Saloon

The Central Saloon

Portland, Oregon

The next day we arrived in Portland. Portland is simply beerlovers’ heaven. I can’t stress that enough. It is known as Beervana, or Beertown, and according to Oregon Beer it has no less than 34 breweries in the city alone – more than any other city in the world –  and lots more in the metro area. It’s the microbrewery capital of the world, as well as being a really friendly, green city with an incredible public transport system which for the most part is free. My kind of place! Why haven’t more people caught onto coming to Portland?

Pubs visited in Portland

Deschutes Brewery and Public House

Beer glasses at Deschutes Brewery

Beer glasses at Deschutes Brewery

Deschutes Brewery and Public House was our number 1. Located in the trendy Pearl District full of revamped warehouses housing galleries, smart shops and bars, this large pub/beerhall has 18 taps serving fantastic ale, and has lovely wooden carved archways of local scenery dotted around the pub. And very nice beer glasses too. Particular favourites were:
Cascade (4.5%) – I started off with this one as it was the weakest and because of its name; my favourite hop. It was pleasant, light and pale, but not as ‘cascadey’ as I had hoped.
Mirror Pond Pale Ale (5%) – A session beer, easy to drink – predominantly Cascade hops but well balanced. One that made me go back for more.
Twilight (5%)  – A refreshing straw coloured summer ale that was beautiful and light and didn’t taste its 5%. A true find.
Bachelor Bitter (5.2%) Known as the local’s favourite, and a particularly nice bitter with English hops.

Deschutes Brewery

Deschutes Brewery

Rogue Distllery and Public House

Rogue Pub

Rogue Pub

Around the corner from Deschutes is the Rogue brewery’s pub. This is a large and bright pub, with a dining section as well as a comfortable bar area with lots of light wood, a red British phone box!, and helpful staff who let me have tasters of a fair few of the ales. We had tried Rogue beers before in Cambridge as our great local beer shop Bacchanalia stocks them, but it was wonderful to taste them in draft form, and with 38 taps there was a lot of variety. I drank:
Juniper Pale Ale (around 5.2%) – Light, 3 types of north west hops, and a slight flavour of berries.
Dry Hopped St Rogue Red (around 5.2%) – Red ale, deep berry flavour – maybe a bit too berry-heavy for me -and abundantly hoppy!
Honey Orange Wheat (around 5.2%) – Tasty for a wheat beer – I am not generally a fan – and quite smooth with the flavour of the added honey.
Adam also had some Amnesia ESB (5.5%), which was a guest from the Amnesia Brewery located in the eastside of the city. I wasn’t a fan, especially after tasting some better beers from Rogue, but it wasn’t a bad ESB, copper coloured and quite bitter.

Crates of Rogue ales!

Crates of Rogue ales!

Beer list

Beer list

McMenamins Bagdad Theater pub

McMenamins own 30 brewpubs in the Portland area, and this is one of them. All McMenamins pubs are decorated with elaborate artwork and pretty murals all over the walls and this one is no exception. The McMenamins Bagdad pub is part of the Bagdad Theater located in the cool and quirky Hawthorne District in South East Portland.

McMenamins Bagdad Pub and Theater

McMenamins Bagdad Pub and Theater

McMmenamins Golden Ale

McMenamins Golden Ale

You can take a beer into the theater whilst watching a film. Not bad eh. (I had a peep into the theater and it was ornate and beautiful). We enjoyed pizza and chips whilst supping on a nice and light McMenamins Golden Ale for not very much money as it was happy hour, and we sat people watching through the open doors of the bar. Nice.

Other venues where we sampled some local ale were the Mississippi Studios, a music venue and recording studio where we listened to some great bands; here we tried some MacTarnahans Amber Ale, billed as Portland’s Original Amber Ale at 5.1%. This also reminded me of the Redhook ESB, very pleasant and flavoursome. And in the Doug Fir Lounge whilst watching a few bands we drank more of the lovely Mirror Pond Pale Ale from Deschutes brewery, as well as Fat Tire Amber Ale, from New Belgium Brewery in Colorado.

Doug Fir Lounge

Doug Fir Lounge

Oregon Coast

The Drift Inn, Yachats, Oregon

Yachats is a pretty little coastal village in central Oregon, and in its one bar, The Drift Inn, we drank beer whilst listening to some live music. I ordered some Anchor Steam 4.9%

In the Drift Inn

In the Drift Inn

from Anchor Brewing in San Francisco. I loved this beer when I was last in the USA, but this time round this dark foamy steam bitter didn’t really grab me – I guess I am just on a hop kick and there were not that many hops in this beer. I then tried some of Adam’s Terminal Gravity IPA,  and it was so fantastic that I bought some of my own. I knew on the first mouthful that it was a strong brew – but as nobody knew the ABV (again) I just had to forget how strong I thought it was and get on with drinking the stuff. It reminded me of a really good Oakham ale – bursting with hops and flavour and incredibly moorish. I soon forgot about the Anchor Steam (which Adam kindly finished off for me). (Terminal Gravity IPA is actually 6.9% I discovered after the event).

The Drift Inn, Yachats

The Drift Inn, Yachats

Ken’s Tavern and Wild River Brewing and Pizza Co, Brookings

Brookings is an odd place. It’s a village/town/sprawl along the 101 highway close to the Californian border which is just somewhere to pass through on the way to somewhere nicer, really. We  stopped there as there was nowhere else we could make it to as it was getting late. We visited one of the local taverns, Ken’s, and it really was a local’s tavern. A man was throwing coins at the barmaid as we walked in, but she seemed to take it in her stride. We drank some more of the lovely Mirror Pond Pale Ale – nice to see it on draft there – and made a hasty retreat. But I did quite like it there, it was like a bar you’d see in American movies, dark and dingy and had pool tables. Not that I play pool.

Ken's Tavern, Brookings

Ken's Tavern, Brookings

We then headed to The Wild River Brewing and Pizza Company, whose pizza was recommended by the previously mentioned barmaid. We walked over the enormous bridge joining Brookings and Harbour, which is the adjoining harbourside community. The bridge was very long and incredibly high and not great for pedestrians or vertigo sufferers, I could see why Americans drive everywhere. It was then a long walk to the actual venue along a main road with no paths, plus there were some unusual people around – again not really for pedestrians. We decided in advance to take a taxi back, praying that there were actually taxis in this town. We ordered pizza – which was nice although they chose to cook only certain toppings for some reason so I had lots of uncooked green peppers on top – and ordered Wild River ESB on draft (4.3%, the weakest yet!) which was a pleasant  English style bitter, a mixture of hops and malt and copper coloured, and it drowned out the memories of the uncomfortable walk quite nicely. (And we did manage to get a taxi back to Brookings, fortunately).

California Coast

Pattersons Pub, Mendocino

We drove down the wonderful Highway 101 with its magnificent sea views to reach Mendocino. This little village in northern California is beautiful with its perfect white wooden-panelled Victorian houses with verandas and typically American picket fences, and gift shops and art galleries, but is slightly strange at the same time. The steep-spired whitewashed wooden Presbyterian church made me feel slightly uncomfortable, and reminded me of a church in a documentary about the Salem Witch Trials. And this community had a certain air about it, that if you didnt fit in (into to their rich American lifestyle) and weren’t the same as them, then you wouldn’t get on too well there. Or, it could all be in my imagination. There was no doubt that it was pretty and in a wonderful spot, on a coastal bluff with incredible headlands and a stunning beach. Anyway, onto the beer.

Inside Patterson's Pub

Inside Patterson's Pub

The pub in the village was called Pattersons Pub, housed in a prim and proper green wooden Victorian building which looked like it was just a house, and upon entering it was a shock. There were actually young and lively people here, and there was good beer. And lots of choice. We drank:
Red Seal (5.5%) from North Coast Brewing, which was a very tasty amber ale with lots of flavour, spicy friut  andhops.
Poleeko Gold Pale Ale (5.5%) from Anderson Valley Brewing Company in Boonville, California –  a beautiful golden and hoppy brew, very light and citrussy, with pacific north west hops.
Sierra Nevada Pale Ale (5.6%) The classic ubiqiutus Californian ale is full of the lovely Cascade hops and I wish this was on tap in all my local pubs instead of GK IPA. Sorry GK.

Patterson's Pub, Mendocino

Patterson's Pub, Mendocino

Fernwood Resort, Big Sur

Big Sur is a beautiful area of California, south of Monteray on Highway 1. Green hills, deep valleys, crashing waves, blue seas, wild countryside…it’s a great place to escape from the big city. Its bohemiam atmosphere is filled with memories of the Beats, who used to visit on retreat from San Francisco, it’s magical and timeless.

Big Sur, California

Big Sur, California

So, the pubs and beer. Well, we were so exhausted in Big Sur after living it up too hard in San Francisco (more of that later) so we only managed to squeeze in one beer in one bar before collapsing – how poor! We went to the Fernwood Resort, a log cabin style establishment like many places in Big Sur, and there we drank Big Sur Golden Aleby English Ales Brewery (4.8%), , a lager style beer – light and refreshing and not too strong, just what was needed.

Big Sur River Inn

Big Sur River Inn

Most of the resorts in Big Sur have their own bar, and ours was no exception, with the Big Sur River Inn serving Fat Tire (5.3%) and Stone IPA (6.9%) on tap – shame I didnt get to taste the Stone; I have since tried Stone Levitation (4.4%, more my sort of ABV!) at home in a bottle and it’s bursting with hop flavour and is delicious.

San Francisco

We actually spent a late night drinking  in San Francisco the night before going to Big Sur (hence the exhaustion!), but I thought I would lump all of SF together for continuity.

San Francisco has a handful of microbreweries, but not many compared to Oregon. The most famous one in the city is the Anchor Steam Brewery located in the Potrero Hill district, but there are others such as the San Francisco Brewing Company in North Beach, the Magnolia brewpub in Haight Ashbury and the Thirsty Bear Brewery in the Nob Hill area.

Pubs / bars visited in San Francisco:

Edinburgh Castle

The Edinburgh Castle pub is located in the notorious Tenderloin district of the city, a block away from the Great American Music Hall.

I didn’t have a chance to see any of the alleged

Edinburgh Castle pub

Edinburgh Castle pub

dodgy characters who are said to frequent the area as we were late for a reading/gig we were going to see there so we arrived in a hurry in a taxi – the driver of which was forced to become a speeding maniac as I told him HURRY! – and we ran straight in. Then afterwards, we were straight back into another taxi, Mr Bings bound (see below). The gig was great, and the dimly lit bar was wonderful – dark wood with fairy lights all over, loads of beers on tap, a balcony area above as well as a performance area. I drank more Sierra Nevada, and tried to get Laguntas IPA on tap, but it was off which was a shame.

Mr Bings

We visited late-night Mr Bings Cocktail Lounge in North Beach because some friends were going there. It’s not exactly a place for beerlovers as you may imagine, but I was pleasantly surprised to see bottles of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale in the fridge, which I stuck to rigidly all night – maybe I should have tried the cocktails…. They also had Anchor Steam Liberty Ale (6%) in bottles as well.

Inside Mr Bings

Inside Mr Bings

It’s a tiny one-roomed establishment with an U shaped bar and lots of mirrors. The atmosphere was great – mainly because we were with friends and had a laugh – and it has a fantastic juke box too.

Vesuvio

Located next to the famous City Lights bookstore, owned by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Vesuvio is an elaborate dark wood Victorian 2 level bar made famous as a drinking hole for the Beats. It’s a great place to people-watch and imagine times gone by when it was frequented by these bohemian literary types. We drank Sierra Nevada on draft, and Lagunitas IPA from a bottle, 5.7&. Lagunitas brewery is based in Petaluma, California, where we somehow ended up after getting lost on Highway 1 (how can you get lost on Highway 1?! That’s another story). I wanted to try Lagunitas IPA as I heard that it was brewed with about 43 varieties of hops. I think the brewery are probably messing with us when they say that, but who am I to say? It was certainly hoppy but I got a hint of pear which I didn’t enjoy too much, so it wasn’t my favourite beer. It may have tasted different if I had managed to get it on tap.

Specs

This bar is tucked into a little alleyway over the road from City Lights in North Beach and is an old fashioned, wonderful little drinking joint.

Specs - it was quite dark inside...

Specs - it was quite dark inside...

This dark den is still frequented by the Beats and literary ladies and gents of San Francisco (we saw some familiar faces when in there), and the walls are covered with strange and unusual collectables from around the globe; you could spend hours just looking around the place. Not much choice in the way of beer but that’s not the main reason anyone comes here; I had some more Sierra Nevada Pale Ale which suited me fine, whilst soaking up the atmosphere and history.

Rogue public house

Yes, Rogue, as in from Oregon where we were previously. They have a pub here too, as well as others dotted around between here and there. This one is located in North Beach opposite Washington Square park, but it’s not quite as friendly or as big as the one in Portland unfortunately. It was heaving though, and I did have some tasty Rogue beer, being Triple Jump (13.5 Plato, which works out roughly at 5.4%) which was literally jumping with hops. They say on the website that the beer focuses on hop flavour – they ain’t wrong! Adam had a not-so-nice Somer Orange Honey Ale (5.2%), which we both thought tasted foul, and didn’t particularly taste of orange or honey. It was pretty much undrinkable. So onto the next place.

Bucaneer Bar

Bucaneer Bar, San Francisco

Bucaneer Bar, San Francisco

We popped into this bar, located on Polk St in Russian Hill, for a quick half – Sierra Nevada – and to pick up a T-shirt for my brother in law as he wanted a new one; he and my sister got very drunk in that bar last time they were in San Francisco. It’s a pleasant locals bar, a dark interior with a pool table and run by a young friendly couple.

Shanghai Kellys

I love Shanghai Kellys, also located in Russian Hill / Nob Hill. We didn’t get a chance to visit it on this occasion, but last time the barman was so friendly and we spent a lot of time in there; I also remember the juke box being pretty excellent. I can’t remember the beers on tap unfortunately, but I did have a lot of Sierra Nevada – it really is everywhere but I can’t fault it!

Shanghai Kelly's bar, San Francisco

Shanghai Kelly's bar, San Francisco

*

So that’s it, the end of the USA trip. Since coming back I have discovered even more American beers I want to try – but I know that the wonderful Cambridge Beer Festival (which started yesterday and runs until Saturday) has a foreign beer bar with some bottled US beers, so here’s hoping I will find what I want…!

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