Craft Beer at the Mouth of the Columbia

With the vast house and guest tap selection at Fort George (not to mention the phenomenal food menu), it would be easy to plant oneself in the brewpub for the majority of the 24-hour period I was in town, but we were off to another stellar brewpub on the water front.  Astoria Brewing Company at the Wet Dog Cafe was the town’s first brewery following the late 80’s craft brew revolution. Chris and Jack from Fort George put in some time at ABC before launching their own business. It should also be noted that talented Portland brewer Vesilios Gletsos worked as an interim brewer at ABC.

Today, the picturesque view from Pier 11, replete with passing historical trolley cars, is graciously complemented by the flavorsome line-up of beers now crafted by head brewer Bolt Minister. Not only possessing the coolest name in recent memory, Bolt, has a smile that lights up a room and charismatic aura that is as charming as it is natural.  Previous to his role in Astoria, he served as a brewer at Philadelphia’s in Portland. “I came in here relying on the locals to help me out” says Minister.

Minister, as far as we know, is also the first ABC brewer to produce Belgian-style beers. Two of ABC’s current taps feature the previously mentioned Inglemunster yeast.  A hazy and wonderfully citrusy Great White Shark imperial witbier was a notably delicious taster as well as the impeccably ordained Avant Garde a Clue, a bright, floral, mildly astringent Biere de Garde. “I dig the evolution of this beer in primary (fermentation) over the first couple weeks” said Minister. “This beer changes so much. I used Simcoes in this one, and that cool tangeriney thing is really pronounced.”

Bitter Bitch

No beer trip to Astoria is complete without a quaff of the tenaciously hopped Bitter Bitch IIIIPA, a decadently hopped lupulin bomb that clocks in somewhere over 130 IBU. “I came in with only a few recipes and had only tasted one beer that the previous brewer had done, and that was a blonde ale.” said Minister ” I never tasted the Bitter Bitch before..and when Chris (Nemlowill) was here, I never got to taste his Battle Bitch. So, it’s been an interesting progression, and like I said, I have relied heavily on the community to help me out with how they like it and how they perceive Bitter Bitch to be.”

“Coming into this job where an imperial IPA is the flagship beer amidst a hop crisis was daunting” revealed Minister. “Therefore,” he concluded “I dialed the Bitch to the top threshold of what it could be as far as IBUs is concerned.”

Astoria Brewing keeps about seven year round beers on tap ranging from Da Blonde Bomb to the Kick Ass Stout. All of the brews sampled from ABC’s line-up are evidently made with exceptional care and feature uncanny complexity worthy of the snobbiest of beer geeks’ palates.

After just a couple of samples, Minister invited me to join him on the roof of the brewery to inspect the recently installed thermal panels. Folks from Ra Energy, responsible for similar panels installed last year at Lucky Lab in Portland, were on hand checking the system to assure maximum efficiency.  After I fearfully made my way up a tall, wobbly ladder, I was graced with a spectacular panoramic view of Astoria that included the Column and the Columbia River as well as much of downtown.

In light of the new energy source, Astoria Brewing renamed their Sandshark IPA as the Solar Dog IPA. Minister also graced us with a few glasses of the newly created season brew, a summer Kolsch, perfect for the arrival of the weekend’s warm weather.

After getting the heads up from the rooftop, we were given the lowdown from the cellar space beneath the brewery.  Much like Seattle and Portland, Astoria also features a historical underbelly-a series of interconnecting underground tunnels used for cargo transport and Shanghaiing in the 19th Century. Filled with bric-a-brac of items from centuries passed, the dingy bowels of ABC features everything from wood scraps to old couches-the functionality today being a grounds to store kegs and a solar controller for heating the brewery. A 1500 gallon holding tank downstairs is heated by the 15 solar arrays positioned on the rooftop. At the time we were visiting, the tank was heated by the thermal panel to 110 degree Fahrenheit, which, according to Minister, is about average. “Even on days when it is very cloudy here in Astoria, the tank still holds at around 75 degrees” said Minister. “We had those sunny days in January where it was close to freezing outside, but with the sun shining the water in the tanks got up to 170 (degrees).” The panels were installed in December amidst snow. Minister said a favorite local blend is the Solar Bitch, the Solar Dog and Bitcher Bitch mixed together.

A lot is going on with ABC these days.  The wall near the entrance where merchandise is currently being sold, will be knocked down and renovated to make room for a fish market. “We are going to expand our retail and offer our mustard made with our amber ale and our beer pretzels made with our blonde” divulged Minister. “We are going to offer a lot of our menu items canned or vacuum packed to go. The only other fish market in town is across town in Old Town, so this will make a really nice place that.”  We were given a sample of the pretzels and mustard and it was to die for. Our whole experience at ABC was great, and we have to take our hats off to Bolt Minister and the Astoria Brewing Company for a wonderful presentation and super fun-packed day.

Like us, Minister was very pleased and optimistic regarding the burgeoning Astoria beer community. “I think, for sure, Astoria could stand to see another brewery. I’d love to see a geeky beer bar in town” he said. “I think that would be really awesome and the community would really embrace stuff like that.  We’re just a stone’s throw from Portland, and even if we just had friends coming out here on the weekends, I think we could totally support it. I’d love to see us become like a little Bend or Hood River with multiple breweries.  That would be fun.”

More on Brewpublic’s Astoria adventures to come soon…