Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Oregon - The Beer Tour 2009

Surprisingly, this is not going to be about the Oregon Brewer's Festival. That wonderful weekend at the end of every July is how I became acquainted with the state of Oregon. These people know beer ... good beer. And so when J & I decided to spend a week camping in The Beaver State I immediately began mapping out the breweries near our campsites.  After all, one cannot live on hot dogs and smores alone ... there must also be burgers and beer ...

Rogue Ales - Newport OR

The site of the old brewery (now the pool room) the Public House in the old part of Newport (opposite side of the highway from the Lighthouse) sells Rogue Ales and paraphernalia, and dishes up some great pub grub as well.

On our table that day were some Kobe Beef Bleu Balls (Kobe beef meatballs stuffed with Rogue Creamery Oregon Bleu cheese), some beer battered onion rings (BEST onion rings ever according to J), and a Shipwreck pizza (Italian sausage, beef and mushrooms). Wash that all down with a Hazelnut Brown (J) and a Smoke Ale (me) and we waddled our way back to our tent at Beachside.

In between our campsite and the town of Newport, is Waldport. Much like any seaside town you'll find on the Oregon coast, Waldport has it's share of crab-shacks and oyster bars. After a quick peak inside a couple of them I was deafened by the "tourist-trap" going off in my head.

It's a shame really. And while I'm certain there are some very good seafood establishments in Waldport, we were too hungry to experiment.  In the old part of Waldport (north part of town near the entrance to Alcea Bay) you'll find the Salty Dawg. It's not much to look at outside ... and not much to look at from the inside either if I'm honest. In fact, any place that carpets to bulkhead over the bar should really be given a good talking too ... and I would have. Really. But the cast of locals gathered around the bar and restaurant were all in such good spirits that I figured if the carpeting didn't bother them, they were all pretty drunk and as such, damn fine company.

We'd been told that the Salty Dawg was good for 2 things (not including a great selection of local beers): Seafood Chowder in a Bread Bowl, and Mexican food. Now as appetizing as cream soup served with more gluten sounds, J has a severe allergy to certain bi-valves, so we tend to avoid such things. On the other hand, she has no such affliction with tamales, enchiladas and house made re-fried beans.

I don't know if I'd hang the tag "authentic" on this platter, nor would I call it Tex-Mex. The flavours were fresh and spicy. Just a tad too much cheese to be really Mexican. But paired with a couple Mirror-Pond Ales it was the perfect accompaniment to the discussion at the bar: Oregon college football (go Beavers!).

Ever hear of a town called Estacada? Neither had I until I visited the Brewfest in Portland. Estacada is a few miles South-East of Portland, and is home to a great little brewery called Fearless. Both J and I really like Fearless. If pushed on the subject, I believe my wife will admit to selecting our campground for the night based solely on its proximity to Estacada. Not only are their beers terrific examples of craft brewing, but they seem to have embraced the Viking ideology. Being of Norse descent, I like that.

The restaurant/bar has a very college-town feel to it. Lots of young people eating in the restaurant and working behind the bar. Nice vibe.

The beer? Well, I'll tell you right now that out of all the beers I had during out vacation, the Fearless Scottish Ale was hands down my favorite. Creamy and smooth I could have spent the evening drinking these and eating chili-fries and burgers. If you can't hang around and enjoy your beer, be sure to pick up a "growler" - a 1/2 gallon bottle you can take with you ... to your campsite for example.  That may not be anything new for some of you, but for us Canadians, the take-away growler is a revelation!

The end of our trip took us up the Columbia River Gorge to the cities of The Dalles and Hood River. Hood River is a mecca for the sport of wind surfing, so I suppose with all those thirsty windsurfers around I shouldn't be surprised that there is a big love for craft beers in the town. We've had Full Sail at the Brewfest, but we heard that the view from the Big Horse Brewery was pretty amazing.

The view was indeed amazing, and while we enjoyed their MacStallion Ale we wondered how so many surfers could crowd that narrow point of the river without continually crashing into each other. It is truly an amazing sight. Lunch was their "attempt" at pulled pork. Not nearly as bad as some I've had, but I'm continually amazed at how something so simple seems to elude most kitchens.

I will warn anyone wanting to visit The Dalles right now, there's not much there to do. Use it as a base for further travels. But don't come looking for a nightlife, or some cute bistro restaurants. They're not there.

However, if you're looking for a perfectly cooked burger ... get yourself to The Baldwin Saloon. The Baldwin occupies one of the older buildings in town. It was at one point a brother, a naval office and a coffin storage site. Thankfully, today it's a pretty decent family type restaurant. All the old-school dishes are there: Coquille St. Jacques, Veal Scallopini, Chicken Cordon Bleu .. it reads like a Gourmet Magazine history issue. My advice is to try them on another visit, because if they do them as well as they do the burger, they'll be solid.

When the server asks you, "How would you like your burger cooked?" you know know you're in for a treat. The Baldwin grinds their own Chuck beef, so cooking to medium-rare is perfectly safe. The buns are also baked on site. Bottom line: best burger ever.

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