800 & counting. That’s how many breweries are currently operating in California. If you’re itching to tackle a beer trip to the Golden State, San Diego is the most obvious starting point, with several dozen breweries in the city and more than 100 sprawled out across San Diego County. Then there’s the San Francisco Bay Area, the undisputed birthplace of craft beer. But there’s one thing you’ll largely miss out on if you focus on the major cities: the beach. For this Beer Traveler column in All About Beer, let’s cruise up California’s 840 miles of impeccable coastline and discover more than 30 breweries within 1 mile of the coast. From south to north, here’s a look at 10 of them, with a few bonus stops.
“Inn Beervana is a fantastic option for a stay in Portland; the location is excellent, the place is comfortable and cozy, and hosts Brian and Kimberley are really engaging and lovely (and if you are coming to explore the craft beer scene in the Pacific NW, you’ll find so many of your questions answered by all the great literature and conversations from Brian — which honestly saves a ton of time given the vastness of the options in town and the surrounding areas!)”
That’s one of the 89 5-star reviews we’ve received for the vacation rental Wifey and I have run via Airbnb and VRBO since 2011, having moved from San Francisco to PDX in late 2010. (We’ve received 90 reviews but one only gave 4 stars.) And while I’m proud of the quality we delivered and maintained over the years, just being a part of traveler’s visits to Portland has been one of my favorite things about living here. It’s a city that I always loved visiting on road trips and other beer trips and, looking back, had always felt like it’d make a great home town. Which of course it is. It’s the best town I’ve gotten to call home so this is remarkably bittersweet that the Yaegers—who moved here as newlyweds with our new dog—will soon be leaving here as a family of four. Izzy will forever be an Oregonian! Only now he’ll have PNW rainwater in his veins but California sunshine making his mop top glow. More importantly, it’s the sun Wifey needs. What Portland offers in quality of life, it lacks in Vitamin D.
“Quality of Life.” That has been the oft-spoken mantra in the Yaeger household since we realized we’d been priced out of affording a home in the San Francisco Bay Area that was only part of the parcel that propelled us to the PNW. Wifey’s lucrative job offer that included a relocation package was a major element, but even that followed a trip to Montana to attend a family wedding and realizing how much my family around the Northwest enjoyed what the region offers was the true catalyst.
There’s a line in my first beer book taken from an interview I conducted with Kurt and Rob Widmer in their joint office in 2005. Kurt said, “The reason craft brewing started here on the West Coast is not so much a link to the Old World as it is quality of life. And, of course, here we have beer drinkers who are receptive to new things.”
It’s kinda funny that Oregonians get their feathers ruffled by Californians who move here when I find that the majority of transplants are from other states (predominantly the Midwest). Nobody has control over where they have to be from. But as adults, we get to choose where we want to be. As an L.A. native, the migratory nature of the population was easy to understand: who wouldn’t want to leave the grey or flat or provincial places they’re from and live somewhere warm and where you can find your people. Of course, I grew to hate how long it takes to drive to where your people are. I still love my family and all my people there, I just can’t stand to exist surrounded by it. I think it’s a safe statement to make that I’m pretty chill. But only Wifey know the extent of my road rage. That’s one of the factors that excluded a move back to the Bay. Plus: tech bro douchebags amiright?
So yes, I’ve felt at home here from day one and have almost-entirely been made to feel welcome in my Portlander skin. I don’t think that’s because I own some flannel shirts or even necessarily because I’m into the whole craft beer thing. Portland isn’t about craft beer; craft beer is about Portland. It’s about being a part of the local culture, reflecting a breadth of styles and flavors limited only by one’s creativity. It’s a freckle in the tattooed constellation in the shape of Oregon.
Here’s how I know that. Over these last few years I’ve had the honor and privilege of developing a few beer festivals. Via Inn Beervana, I get to host beercationers on their pilgrimages to our Beer Mecca. Via an assortment of national publications and, locally, at first with Willamette Week and now with Portland Mercury, plus Portland Monthly, 1859, Oregon Beer Growler, Beer Northwest, SIP Northwest, and this one for a rag called Portland Bride & Groom! I get to write about the beer industry and community. Via my beerfests, I get to further support breweries. Just since 2016, between Baker’s Dozen, Kriekfest, City of Goses as well as The Rural Brewer, Beer For Breakfast and Gluhbiers, I bought kegs from 60 Oregon (and Southern Washington) breweries. As a result I raised $72,000…$61,000 of which went back to those brewers as well as doughnut bakers, glass makers, poster designers, fee collectors, crowd securers, Honey Bucket lenders, etc. Additionally, these ventures have raised money that have been donated to some excellent Oregon nonprofits: Friends of the Children, Caldera Arts, All Hands Raised, Habitat-Portland, Oregon Environmental Council, New Avenues for Youth, and, to forward brewing education, the Glen Hay Falconer Foundation. Ultimately, my events are barely profitable but hey, at least I’m not losing money and damn are they fun (for me and hopefully for attendees). I mean, I threw myself into City of Goses all because someone (else) thought of a great pun and it enabled me to work with a handful more breweries I hadn’t been able to feature before. As for the 2nd annual Kriekfest? I’m pretty proud that it’ll be my swan song as an Oregon resident and you bet your sweet, sweet ass I’ll be returning to Oregon for the 3rd annual. And 4th. And 4th annual Baker’s Dozen in March and…
I’m serious. Portland will forever be a part of me and I am adamant that I’ll forever find ways to remain directly, physically connected. Whether you like it or not.
As it stands today, according to some spreadsheet that a few anal beer lovers and I have maintained, I’ve visited 218 of Oregon’s 250 breweries currently operating. (Another 26 I’ve hit have since closed.) I’m kicking myself for the couple of Portland area ones I wasn’t able to hit this last week (all under the radar types) but at least I got IPYae into Natian’s tasting room being built out as Ian and I drank some blonde ale from his brewing facility a block away, giving IPYae an Oregon count of 113 (I actually don’t count our beer brunch at Block 15 in Corvallis because I didn’t snap a pic for the Irresponsible Photos Of My Baby at Breweries album (and as we all know, pic or it doesn’t count). BUT… come Friday night we might be 1 or 2 higher as we cross into California.
Yes, we’re going back to Cali, to Cali, to Cali. We’re going to load up the Oregon-issued Subaru Outback—expect Wifey to trade it in for a convertible Mini Cooper or something down in sunny Santa Barbara. She needs the sunshine; I need to not be in a megalopolis like LA or SF. And we’ll both be closer to our families. They’re all pretty ecstatic to have us back—at least to have their grandson/nephew/cousin Izzy close by for the first time. My parents are over the moon. As is my second wife. (I’m referring to this story from the New York Times about three marriages, just all to the same person. We are entering a second phase of our marriage.) The marriage to my first wife brought us to Oregon, saw us raise our phenomenal son who is funny and smart and adventurous and compassionate and a Portland-born Oregonian to his core. He loves listening to the rain! He hates the sound of cars honking. He points out hops growing wild.
I am embracing the adventure and can’t wait to see how my forthcoming second marriage unfolds. And our third, for that matter. Wherever that one takes us.
Much love to you all. Log off the internet more. Be good to each other.
Growing up in Southern California, and even becoming a burgeoning beer geek down there, I didn’t have much opportunity to become exposed to a real beer culture. Sure it’s booming all over the Southland now, but it was late to the table. Real estate is too expensive for manufacturing. Beer wasn’t seen as stylish as wine and cocktails. Beer has calories and the camera adds ten pints. But before San Diego changed all that, there was beer in Temecula, courtesy of one Vinnie Cilurzo now of Russian River fame! And today, the bedroom community that services both LA and SD is home to nearly a dozen breweries.
What is barely touched on in this story is that I wanted to write this story as a way to kind of illustrate to my dad what I do for a living. He wasn’t much of a craft beer drinker. He is an avid golfer. Temecula is home to some great golf courses, which he’s been playing since I was a little kid and got to drive the golf cart. So I pitched both him, and my editor at All About Beer, this story where he and I would hit the links by day and the myriad breweries by night. (I’m scarcely better at golf now, but my dad has since developed a passion for Berliner Weisse and even barrel-aged sour beers including Russian River Consecration!!)
Amid the brewery acquisitions and Portland’s westside invasions, Pioneer Place is now flooding with beer courtesy of The Yard House, a sports pub/family dining restaurant that also, most likely, presents more tap handles than any single establishment in Oregon: 130. Yes, one hundred and thirty beers on draft. So let’s first focus on a bunch of numbers.
First, from their own press release in July, 2012, “Darden Restaurants, Inc. (NYSE: DRI) announced that it has agreed to acquire Yard House USA, Inc. for $585 million.” Olive Garden is another restaurant chain in the Darden Restaurants portfolio. More numbers:
34: number of television sets throughout the Yard House, all airing games.
42: The number of the 130 total taps pouring beers from the Pacific Northwest. This actually represents the largest number of regionally brewed beers in the chain.
57: Locations in said chain, spanning 20 states.
250: The most taps presented at a single restaurant, which I believe is the Irvine, Calif. spot where it all started back in 1996 when, according to their own About page, “the craft beer revolution began nearly 20 years ago.”
3: Light/Lite beers available from the two largest brewing companies.
67: Number of six-tops at the Portland Yard House. (Scratch that; two of those are four-top tables.)
1: Master sommelier employed by Darden Restaurants. George Millotes is one of 219 such experts in the world. I’m told several Cicerones (with apologies to Ray Daniels, those are the sommeliers of the beer service world)
All of the above underscores the impressive stats this outpost brings to downtown Portland that, truth be told, does not feel very Portland. If you want the geekiest beers on the westside, you’re going to head to Bailey’s Taproom. But Bailey’s’ 24 taps made me realize, Yard House offers as many taps as the top 7 beer bars in the city. Quantity over quality is never the better option, but here’s the deal: if you can get over the Yard House being a $585 million chain from Orange County, in a neck of these urban woods populated by other chains such as Qdoba, Jimmy John’s, and, egads, Buffalo Wild Wings around the corner if you want the lowest common denominator of sports bars, at least there’s a level of quality accompanying all those screens and mile’s worth of draft lines. Upon being invited in to explore the over the top menu, I’m happy to report that the Brussels sprouts atop “ripped” potatoes–described to me by their corporate executive chef Carlito Jocson as, “because potato skins are too eighties”) are crave-worthy. The Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches are pretty good for being this far west of 82nd Ave. You can order any of the tacos “vampire” style which entails grilling cheese on the outside til it becomes crunchy and hand-holdable.
And most importantly, among those nearly eleven dozen taps, every level of beer drinker will find something with his or her name on it. Yes, there’s behemoth light American adjunct lager. But I also lost count of how many great IPAs they had on–yes, multiple IPAs because whoever tag-teamed on the beer list knew we demand such things. Boneyard RPM? Check. Boneyard Hop Venom to boot? Check-check. Ballast Point Sculpin is in the mix as well. The cider section alone trumped most places’ attempts at placation. When the house beer being aged in Pappy Van Winkle barrels is ready, you bet I plan to pop down into this basement-level resto and try it.
Speaking of how over the top they go, you can pair a Base Camp S’more Stout with the largest friggin’ s’mores brownie. The marshmallows were toasted to perfection though I found the brownie itself a bit dry. I guess that’s where the wet stout comes in handy.
Good to know:
YARD HOUSE PORTLAND
Sun-Sat 11:00amFood Last Call
Sun-Thu 11:00pm | Fri-Sat 1:00amAlcohol Last Call
Sun-Thu 11:00pm | Fri-Sat 1:00am
Mon-Fri – 3pm – 6pm
Sun-Wed – 10pm – Close
I might have been inclined to call pitting San Diego against Portland a fool’s errand, since both of them are clearly so awesome. But my editor Ezra Johnson-Greenough gave me explicit instructions: “don’t pull your punches (and) at least take off your gloves and slap someone with them.” Hence the above-linked blog from March 2014 in The New School.
So as a solid to him, rather than bring up, and then put on par, places like Boulder/Denver/Ft. Collins, the Bay Area, Asheville, Grand Rapids, Philly, Austin, Vermont, and others that all make reasonable claims, I will do what Portlanders are too polite (or dismissive) to do during Charlie Papazian’s annual BeerTown USA poll. Bottom line: in terms of volume and global awe and respect, it comes down to Portland, Oregon, and San Diego, California. And as everyone who’s seen The Highlander knows, there can be only one!
It’s a debate I didn’t start. And one I didn’t finish. It’s blazing ever brighter today. A half pint for your thoughts on the matter in the comments.
I don’t like reading any listicles of Best Of… The 14 Greatest… etc, so I really don’t like writing them. Having said that, sometimes I like the spending money and I cave and write them. With that set up, welcome to the Six Absolute Best West Coast IPAs In the World According to Science.
Modern Cider is the cover story of AAB Vol. 33, Iss. 3, 2012. It’s, as their title puts it, “Not your father’s hard cider” (for the record, don’t call it hard cider to folks in the industry; it’s cider–that “soft” stuff is juice since you don’t call grape juice wine.). Today it gets barrel-aged, Brett-o-mized and sake’d out.
The Craft of Stone Brewing (AAB, Vol. 33, Iss. 2, 2012) is the hoppy, tell-all from CEO Greg Koch and co. It benefits from reading more like you’re listening to all the players spinning yarns on a front porch (of an industrial business park in North County San Diego).
Beer West (nee Beer Northwest) had a short but sweet life as a regional beer magazine for which I contributed just a few stories. One of the first was this cover story on the LA beer scene, warts and all. Somewhere online there’s a fantastically long response it got from an area brewer who wasn’t a fan of the reporting. And somewhere else is my fantastically longer rebuttal.
The Beer Road Less Traveled (Vol. 32, Iss. 2, 2011) wanders down the less trodden paths toward towns that–who knew?–have their own nice beergardens growing, such as Highway 1 along California’s Redwood Coast and Hwy 264 running through North Carolina’s Outer Banks.