I left off my tale of our week of beer tourism with a big sigh, sadly bidding farewell to Russian River Brewery. It seemed that the rest of our trip would be anticlimactic, but there were still more treats in store!
Our next day’s travel took us 62 miles from Santa Rosa to Ukiah. We got a late, lazy start, which allowed us to have lunch just a few miles up the road at Bear Republic in Healdsburg. We ate on the shady patio, from which we could see the river-side trail that we would walk after lunch. Bear Republic is a large craft brewery with wide distribution, so we mostly tasted beers that we couldn’t get easily elsewhere. The standout beers for me were the Hallertau Blanc Rebellion (an IPA) and Cafe Racer 15 (a double IPA). Are you noticing a pattern here? I did actually quite enjoy their Maibock as well — it was delicate and not overly malty with a crisp peppery finish.
After our walk we continued north to Ukiah. We checked into our motel we set off on foot to Mendocino Brewing. The brewery has a great history, having first opened in 1983 as the Hopland Brewery. It was the first brewpub opened in California (second in the US) after the repeal of Prohibition in 1933. The original brewing equipment (and the brewers themselves) came from the then-recently closed New Albion Brewery. New Albion was a craft beer beacon in the darkness when the rest of the country was drinking nothing but light lagers.
Hopland Brewery’s name was soon changed to Mendocino Brewing. Their flagship Red Tail Ale brought them fame and attention from investors. In 1997 they were 75% bought out by United Breweries Group, a global brewery holding company. While they continue to brew Mendocino’s original recipes in Ukiah, they have essentially become a “crafty” brewery — one that is corporate-owned while masquerading as a genuine craft brewery.
Crafty or not, we wanted to give them the benefit of the doubt so we stopped by their taproom. Well, I wasn’t impressed. We and the lone bartender were the only people in the place. Their beers were all too malty, too bland, or in one case inappropriately sour. I have to say that the lack of passion and personal attention to their products definitely showed.
The bartender was kind enough to tell us about the other local brewery, so we tipped her well and moved on to Ukiah Brewing Company. What a difference! The place was busy and lively, and the beer and food were generally good. My favorite among the beers was the Coops Stout, which tasted appropriately of coffee and dark chocolate. The Pilsner Ukiah was another winner: unfiltered yet very pretty, crisp, and clean. Their IPA had a hint of sourness, but overall our experience at this brewpub was positive.
Our next day was another short driving day, which took us over some beautiful roads. We first went over the hills from Ukiah to Boonville for a stop at Anderson Valley Brewery. This is another well-known brewery with readily-available beers. They pride themselves on being located in a quaint small town (with its own alleged dialect!) in the middle of nowhere.
We were put off immediately by the brewery buildings, which were winery-cute. As an architect, CFL was offended by their unnecessary and too-fussy design details. We walked into the taproom, which wasn’t very busy, and it took us nearly five minutes to get the attention of the three sullen-looking employees behind the bar. Then while we were tasting we were bothered by a couple of ill-behaved dogs. When we complained, we were rather haughtily informed that this was a “dog-friendly” establishment. I guess we were supposed to enjoy our dog encounters there.
We took the brewery tour, but it was very brief and the tour guide was neither well-informed nor enthusiastic. However, we did appreciate the retro good looks of their copper equipment.
As for the Anderson Valley beers, we did enjoy all three of their IPAs (Hop Ottin IPA, Nettied Madge Black IPA, and Heelch o’ Hops), and their Wild Turkey Bourbon Barrel Stout is justly famous. But we couldn’t wait to get our of there, as our next stop was the seaside village of Mendocino.
CFL actually lived in Mendocino for a couple of years, almost 30 years ago. There are no breweries in Mendocino, but we spent the afternoon there walking along the headlands. My words can’t do it justice, so I’ll show you some photos.
Wasn’t that a nice break from drinking beer? We thought so.
Still, the road ahead promised more beer, so we carried on!
North Coast Brewery in Fort Bragg is famous for Old Rasputin, a Russian Imperial Stout. I knew from my vast internet research that their brewpub menu was almost exclusively steak and seafood, so we chose to eat dinner beforehand at a Mexican restaurant across the street. With our tummies well-primed we then settled down to our evening’s tasting.
We sat in the bar, which was very busy but well-attended by a couple of entertaining bartenders. It was a Friday night and the mostly-local crowd was lively and friendly. The beers started out so-so with a couple of mild and unassertive beers. Things got a whole lot better with Old Stock Ale, which tasted of port, vanilla beans, berries, and saddle leather. Really nice. The star of the show was absolutely the Old Rasputin. I got a bit rhapsodic over the idea of drinking it there at the source, on nitro, most expertly served by the bartender who explained to me exactly how the nitro serving process works. A world-class tasting experience at a small but world-class brewery. Well done you guys — cheers!
Our motel in Fort Bragg was directly across from the beach, with a view that was so fetching I got up early the next morning to go for a run.
Once in the car we continued northward through Humboldt Redwoods State Park. We took our time, driving along the Avenue of the Giants and stopping several times for short hikes through the trees. We have big trees where we live, but we still think the coast redwoods are very special.
Now back to the beer! We greatly enjoyed Eel River Brewing in Fortuna. Perhaps we enjoyed their beers so much because by this time we’d pretty much decided to limit our tasting to IPAs, double IPAs, and Imperial Stouts. “Amber? Meh. Blonde? Forget it.” Eel River’s Organic IPA, Citra IPA, and Emerald Triangle were all rather wonderful.
After a post-beer walk we moved on to our night’s destination in Eureka. We’d been to Lost Coast Brewery on a previous trip and eagerly anticipated a return visit. The brewpub is in a funky old downtown building. It was very busy on this Saturday night — we had to wait for a table. We tried their 20th Anniversary Ale, which utterly did not work for us. It tasted of bubblegum and watermelon — yuck! Fortunately their Double Trouble (a double IPA) was wonderful. Great big piny bitterness, resiny mouthfeel, assertive bitter orange finish. Mighty fine!
We did a lot of driving the next day, all the way back to Portland for our final night on the road. We were delayed nearly two hours by miles of road construction. As a result, we had no time for pub crawling. We took the light rail into downtown and headed straight to the Deschutes Brewery Portland Public House for dinner and beer.
The date was June 29. I was tingly with anticipation because I knew that Black Butte XXVI had been released only two days prior. Deschutes does an annual release of a barrel-aged, augmented version of its famous Black Butte Porter, and it’s always well worth the hype.
We ordered a flight with our meal and I teased myself with Inversion IPA, Fresh Squeezed IPA and Hop in the Dark CDA (a black IPA), all of which were perfectly wonderful, before moving on to the star of the evening.
I have to tell you that Black Butte XXVI brought tears — literally it brought tears! — to my eyes. It’s barrel-aged with added Theo Chocolate cocoa nibs, pomegranate molasses, and cranberries. I usually turn up my nose at added ingredients in beer, but Deschutes does it with perfect restraint. It’s lovely, both to drink and to look at.
I intended to leave the restaurant with several bottles of it, but alas, they had already sold out of bottles and were awaiting a delivery from the brewery in Bend two days later.
Three weeks later I still haven’t found it around home, but I’m hopeful that I’ll still be able to obtain some when we go to Bend later this summer.
We came home with a few remaining bottles of Pliny the Elder, a couple of other lesser beers, and some great memories. We visited 18 breweries and tasted (or in some cases drank a few pints of) something in the neighborhood of 130 to 140 distinct beers. We only had a few really bad ones.
There were three clear standouts, highlights of the whole trip: Pliny the Elder (because it’s Pliny!), Old Rasputin (perfect at the source) and Black Butte XXVI.
We’re already planning our next beer trip (did I say something about… BEND???). But for the time being, it’s good to be home.