Most beer travelers around the Northwest fail to think of Astoria, Oregon as a worthwhile destination when planning their beer adventures. People imagine Fort George Brewing to be alone in the wilderness, but that is no longer the case. In fact, Astoria’s best-recognized brewery is not the city’s original brewery (Astoria Brewing holds that title) and Fort George has never been alone. Recently, new breweries have popped up on both the north and south sides of the mighty Columbia River and this micro-region is now even more worthy of attention from beer gypsies, with six breweries waiting to be explored.
Let’s face it, the greater Astoria area offers other breweries to visit, but staying within easy walking distance of Fort George Brewing is probably a good idea. That’s why I recommend staying downtown. There are several hotels within walking distance of the brewery and downtown Astoria still enjoys a small town vibe.
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We recently stayed at the Commodore Hotel, which is just two blocks from Fort George Brewing. There is no shortage of old-world charm and comfort at this recently remodeled historic hotel. Nearby, the Norblad Hotel and Hostel offers a similar lodging experience and is right across the street from the brewery. At both, the room prices vary and you can save a few bucks if you opt to share a bathroom down the hall.
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In the face of the inevitable, downtown Astoria currently maintains its small town charm. For example, a privately owned music shop (Thiel Music) is around the corner from a mom-n-pop shoe store (Gimre’s Shoes). JCPenney’s is still breathing on Commercial Street. Keep the Starbucks card in your wallet and hit Street 14 Coffee for a cup of java with a breakfast panini or oatmeal pancakes.
Enjoy downtown Astoria while you can. We beer tourists are quite diligent about supporting local breweries, but we should also patronize other privately owned, local businesses. Recognize know how much they appreciate your business. The big ol’ world keeps turning around and the Astoria-Warrenton area’s first Walmart is on the way.
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Astoria Beer Destinations
Fort George Brewery and Public House offers three distinctly different options for your dining and drinking pleasure. The pub, on the main level of the main building, offers a familiar brewpub experience: salads, sandwiches, burgers, and so on. Ascend the spiral staircase to the upstairs dining room to discover salads and wood-fired pizzas accompanied by a fabulous territorial view. Across the parking lot in the Taproom, which is actually in the brewery, enjoy no less than 16 different Fort George Beers on tap. Be daring and order something besides a Vortex IPA. They have plenty of crazy, creative options from which you can choose. I particularly enjoyed the rum barrel aged Cavatica Stout.
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The new kid on the block in Astoria is Buoy Beer Company, which opened at the end of 2013. This is no small affair and they spared no expense on the location or the brewery. Buoy Beer is along the waterfront in a old building originally built for seafood processing. Actually, it is on the pier, built over the water. You can enjoy a beer as marine traffic moves up and down the river surprisingly close to your window. Currently, the taproom is open, serving beer along with food from the kitchen, but the restaurant is still under construction.
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We sampled the beers and were particularly impressed with the ESB and the Helles Lager. Kevin Shaw, the head brewer at Buoy Beer, left his position as head brewer at Bridgeport Brewing to move downstream from Portland to Astoria. He told us that he plans to focus a fair bit of his attention on brewing lagers to accompany the more predictable selection of ales.
The food here is also outstanding, obviously benefiting from a relationship with Bornstein Seafood, which previously operated out of the building.
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Other beery destinations in Astoria include the Astoria Brewing Company (Wet Dog Cafe), which has been brewing beer in relative obscurity since 1997. We understand that Astoria Brewing will soon be moving to a new location closer to the heart of downtown. Hondo’s Brew & Cork is a multipurpose establishment: a brew-on-premises facility, a homebrew shop, and a bar serving wine and craft beer. Also, Rogue Brewing built a Public House on a pier east of downtown where you can enjoy Rogue beers as the boats go by.
Outside of Astoria
About 20 minutes north of Astoria in Seaview, Washington, North Jetty Brewing recently opened its taproom on the main drag of this cute, beach town. North Jetty opened in early 2013, brewing exclusively for a local restaurant (Lost Roo) but recently finished construction of its own taproom.
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Working with something of a Frankenbrew system, owner/brewer Erik Svendsen cranks out some tasty beers, all of which are quaffable and weigh in at less than six percent ABV. Among them, our favorite was the Starvation Alley Weissbier. Svendsen brews his interpretation of this German classic with orange peel and Starvation Alley cold-pressed cranberry juice, which provides a subtle and refreshing sourness.
The taproom is spacious and when we visited (two days after opening) it still had that new taproom smell. No food, but live music is part of the plan here. Erik and his wife Michelle did a great job constructing the taproom and their work is impressive. That is, you’ll think they paid pros to do the work. Their buddy, Mike White, helped out where he could and also designed the state of the art draft beer system. (Mike is the owner/operator of Pac-West Draught Services.)
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About 20 minutes south of Astoria, in the town of Seaside, Oregon, you’ll discover a brewery and pub built into a 100 year-old building that used to be the city jail. Seaside Brewing opened in the summer of 2012. This is a proper brewpub, with plenty of beer accompanied by a menu featuring burgers, tacos, pizzas, and more.
West of Astoria on the Washington side of the river, Drop Anchor Brewing recently started brewing near the marina in Cathlamet, Washington. One of the brewers at Drop Anchor is Andy Lea, who formerly worked at Pyramid Brewery, back in the days when that company operated out of Kalama, Washington and had yet to grow into what it is today. When the company moved away, Andy chose not to follow, but he never quit brewing. It’s taken some years, but now he has his own brewery, where he devises his own recipes alongside fellow brewer Steve Sharp.
Drop Anchor Brewing is already up and running, with the taproom open, but the grand opening celebration is scheduled for Saturday, May 3, 2014.
Here’s a tip, if you’re headed to Astoria from the Seattle area, consider ignoring the GPS and head west from Longview on Highway 4 (Ocean Beach Hwy). That will take you through Cathlamet to Drop Anchor Brewing on your way to Astoria.
The Riverwalk – Take a stroll along the river and get a sense of Astoria’s historic past. Located along the river, this pedestrian and bike friendly trail stretches the length of the town. Buoy Beer Company is located along the Riverwalk trail. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, a trolley goes back and forth. If you’re on a bike, be careful and mind the rails.
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Above: an unidentified piece of historic machinery along the Riverwalk.
The Astoria Column – If you’re the type of person who likes to climb things like lighthouses to see the view, then don’t miss the Astoria Column. Fashioned to replicate Trajan’s Column in Rome, Italy, this column sits on a wooded hill above the city and offers amazing views of the river, ocean and surrounding area. The 125-foot-tall column has a 164-step spiral staircase climbing to an observation deck at the top. The Astoria Column is on the National Register of Historic Places.