Brewers: Jack Harris and Chris NemlowillAs a region, the Oregon Coast, from Newport north, is starting to look like a mini-Beervana within Beervana. The two pillars are Rogue and Pelican, but Bill's Tavern, Siletz, and Astoria Brewing have all garnered plenty of praise. Since Rogue has a northern outpost in Astoria (and the nicest of all their pubs), you could spend a couple nights on the coast and hit a half dozen stellar breweries, all within a wonderful drive down highway 101.
1483 Duane Street
Astoria OR 97103
Hours: Mon-Thurs, 11am -11pm, Sat 11am - Midnight, Sunday, Noon - 11pm. Live music every Sunday night 8-10pm. Prices: Glass - $2.60, Pint - $3.85, Pitcher - $13, Taster tray - $8, Growler - $14. Beers: A large range of NW-style ales, Belgian interpretations, and regular use of botanicals.
Fort George is a great addition to this slate, and one born from it. The brewer who took us on a tour, Chris Nemlowill, is a co-founder and co-brewer along with his partner Jack Harris, the man behind Bill's Tavern in Cannon Beach. Chris is also a local. He got his start at Bill's where, fresh from college, with degrees in computer science and marketing, he offered himself an internship. He showed up and told Jack, "I want to do an internship and work for you for 120 hours--for free." Bill took him up on the offer, and he learned how to brew commercial volumes (it almost doesn't bear mentioning that he started as a homebrewer--but of course, he did). In '05 he got a job at Astoria/Wet Dog, and in 2006, he and Jack opened their brewery in the historic Fort George Building in downtown Astoria.
As a transition to a description of the beer, let me post a video clip of Chris describing where their flagship beer, Vortex IPA, got its name (thereafter I'll describe that beer). He and Jack were transporting the brewhouse cross-country and about halfway along, they ran into a spot of weather:
Fort George brews a lot of beer, and I only tried a little of it. Don't ask me how this happened--clearly blogger error was the culprit. When we visited, on the order of a dozen Fort George beers were available. They seem to fall generally into three overlapping categories: NW-style ales (IPA, porter, stout, pale), Belgians (wit, dubbel, golden), and botanically-infused beers. This latter category reveals Jack Harris' influence--Bill's Tavern is well-known for herbal beers. I tried just three of the dozen, which I guess provides me an ideal excuse to head back soon. (A taplist is posted in the right margin of the Fort George blog.)
- Divinity. Ft. George does a regular wit, which in addition to the usual adjuncts includes lemongrass and elderberry flower. Divinity is this beer re-fermented with raspberries. It tastes much like a standard wit, though drier and more acidic. The berries are perhaps responsible for the more vinous acid--they don't add a strong berry flavor, leaving the base beer mostly intact. Their contribution is aromatic and suggestive. Very fine beer. If the OBF invites them, I suggest sending Divinity. Rating: B+
- XVI Chapel. Named for a malapropism by a guy who helped install the brewery (he referenced Michaelangelo's "Sixteen Chapel"). It's an IPA/dubbel hybrid, dry-hopped three times. The aroma is pure, piney hops, masking any yeast character. That holds true for the flavor, too--the hopping is so intense you don't get any of the nutty malt flavor from the dubbel grist bill nor the abbey ale character. It's a beautiful-looking beer, but the hops flatten out the character. Rating: C
- Vortex IPA. When we were at the brewery admiring Vortex, we discussed the old difficulty of how to describe a beer. IPAs present a special problem because there are so many versions--particularly many that are good but not distinguishable. Fortunately, this is not one of those beers--it is probably the first one since Inversion that seemed new and distinct. A big boy at 7.7%, and Chris says it's 97 IBUs. I just can't believe that, though. The hops are far too nuanced to come on that strong--the aroma is succulent and the green hop flavors are layered without going to the extremes of bitterness. It's deceptive because it's so approachable--the hops are in harmony with the sweet, gentle malt--and you could easily find yourself quaffing it like a session. (I advise against.) As a parting visual, I leave you with the three tasters John, Lisa, and I had. See the lovely, frothy head retention?--even after the beer was gone! Rating: A/A-
Chris bought us a taster tray of Fort George's handmade sausage, four varieties, and they were all exceptional. (I have a friend who loves sausage and he always asks why I don't write more about it. Brian: this is the good stuff.) Chris also plopped a nice plate of rough-cut fries with skins, and those were also excellent. But beyond this, I can speak to none of the food. The website has a menu, and it features mostly pub-style food, with a nod toward local seafood.
Astoria's a great place to visit, and if you do, be sure not to miss Fort George. If you exit the town without trying at least a pint of the Vortex, you'll never forgive yourself.