OPINION: This is my second column from the United States' Pacific Northwest, where I'm travelling with my friends Graeme and Di in search of great beer. On Sunday the beer hunting ends and the real work begins as Graeme and I head down to San Diego to join the judging panel for the World Beer Cup.
Last week we were in Portland, a city blessed with the most mature beer culture of anywhere I've ever visited. The place teems with craft breweries and specialty beer bars where eager patrons clamour to sample from some of the largest and most stylistically diverse beer lists I've seen. As more than one person told us, Portland is "beer town".
After just two nights it was hard to tear ourselves away from the city and its beers, but we were on a mission – we were heading west to the coast, where Graeme was going to brew a beer with Darron Welch, head brewer at the Pelican Pub & Brewery in Pacific City.
Graeme, who brews under the 666 Brewing brand in New Zealand, first met Darron last year when they were both judging at a beer competition in Munich. The idea of a collaboration brew was hatched when our visit to the US for the World Beer Cup was planned.
We were told the drive to Pacific City would take about two hours, but they weren't reckoning on our navigational skills. After traversing the hills and finally arriving in the lush pastureland of the coastal region we made another mistake; we turned north instead of south.
Di, Graeme's partner, is interested in cheesemaking, so we stopped at Tillamook's famous cheese factory, which attracts crowds of American families with its Disneyesque visitor facility, before continuing north along the coastal highway.
It was another half-hour or so before we realised we were heading in the wrong direction.
Just as well, then, that it was a glorious, sunny day and we weren't in a hurry.
When we finally reached Pacific City – which, despite its expansive name, is a tiny fishing village with a resident population of just 1000 – and arrived at the Pelican Pub & Brewery, we found most of Portland had had the same idea. The place was heaving.
Having found somewhere to park, we met Darron and his brewing team and enjoyed a quick beer before checking into our accommodation. Darron had arranged the accommodation on our behalf and we had no idea what to expect. Suffice it to say "the cottages at Cape Kiwanda" are little short of amazing; more like two-bedroomed luxury apartments complete with kitchen, lounge, private deck, two bathrooms and a spa bath. And did I mention the view?
Adjacent to the Pelican Pub & Brewery and set high on a bluff, the "cottages" look down on the beach, from where the town's famous dorymen launch their tiny boats directly into the surf, and out over the Pacific Ocean. As the late afternoon sun dropped towards the horizon, some 100 metres offshore a migrating whale spouted and flipped lazily in the water close to a huge rock. It was a surreal moment.
That night we walked down to the pub for dinner and to sample a few of Darron's award-winning beers. With a strong local identity reflected in their names, Pelican's everyday range includes Kiwanda Cream Ale, McPelican's Scotch Ale and Doryman's Dark, a porter. Although each was an excellent example of the style and was presented in superb condition, my pick would be Tsunami Stout, a hefty foreign export-style stout with a pronounced roast and mocha maltiness balanced with an assertive hop bitterness, and India Pelican Ale, a minerally and exceptionally perfumy IPA that's hopped exuberantly in the West Coast manner.
Darron seems to have an endless supply of energy, enthusiasm and creativity. Aside from brewing the regular Pelican beers, leading a cub scout group and training for marathons, he somehow also finds time to conjure up a range of seasonal and limited-release bottled beers in his cramped 1700-litre brewhouse. During our brief stay, we sampled one of the finest saisons I've ever had the pleasure of tasting, and a rare bottle of The Mother of all Storms, a liqueur-like, bourbon barrel-aged barley wine, which makes a delightful, warming late-night sipper.
Despite the remoteness of its location, having tasted the beers it's easy to see why Pelican has won so many major awards at international brewing competitions. In the last decade alone, Pelican has received the World Beer Cup's Champion US Brewpub award twice and been named Champion Brewery at the Australian International Beer Awards.
On our last day in Pacific City, Graeme and Darron met at the brewery at six in the morning to brew the collaboration beer.
An aromatically hopped pale ale combining American malts with New Zealand hops, this one-off brew will be available on tap exclusively at the Pelican pub in about three weeks' time, where with a nod to its Kiwi heritage, it will be known as "Our Precious". Sadly, most likely none of us will get to sample the finished beer.
While Graeme and Darron spent the day brewing Di and I took the opportunity to drive down the coast to Newport, the home town of one of America's most famous craft breweries. Little did we know what awaited us, but I can tell you Graeme was jealous when we returned. But that's a tale for next week.
- © Fairfax NZ News