Exploring the Eastern Side of Cascadia (Part 1 of 2)

On our “about” page, we aren’t kidding when we say “Brewpublic leaves no beer behind in the quest to bring thirsty Brewpublicans information on the finest craft ales, lagers, yeast culture, and all things beer and brewing related.” So, to cover the vast and expansive region of Eastern Washington and Eastern Oregon, we’ve enlisted the assistance of one of our favorite beer journalists. Welcome Jason Wallace of Portland Beer and Music. Jason’s informative site not only explores the great brews he seeks out from his home in Portland where ever his life takes him, he also keeps his finger on the pulse of alternative and independent music. If you haven’t paid Portland Beer and Music a visit, make sure to check it out. We’re confident Jason’s voice is one you’ll be interested in hearing.Take it away, Jason…

I want to thank Angelo and the crew at Brewpublic for giving me the opportunity to take up some of their valuable bandwidth.  I write a relatively new blog called Portland Beer and Music.  The tagline from my blog reads:  “A Portland father with a healthy obsession for craft beer and live music brings you information and thoughts on both.”  I think that sums it up pretty good.  I have a full time job, a wife who doesn’t like beer, a two year old daughter and another daughter on the way.  So, the cards are stacked against me in getting out to drink beer and see live music.  While I don’t get out as much as my blogging brethren (and I read their tweets with envy), I try to make it to as many festivals, beer releases, and music/beer events as I can.  I also seek out live music, breweries and craft beer bars whenever I travel, whether it be for work or leisure.

As part of my job, I spend about six weeks a year working in Hermiston, Oregon.  Hermiston is located along the Columbia River about 30 minutes west of Pendleton.  While Hermiston itself is pretty much a craft beer wasteland (save for the bottle selections at Safeway and the nearby restaurant The Farmer’s Kitchen), there are at least 13 breweries within a two hour drive.  I recently spent two straight weeks working in Hermiston at the beginning of May.  To keep myself from going crazy with boredom, I decided to visit a number of these breweries.  A couple I had visited during a previous week in March.  I went into greater detail on my blog about each of these breweries and I offer you here a quick summary of each:

The Prodigal Son Brewery and Pub:  Owners Tim and Jennifer Guenther opened this new brewery in Pendleton, OR about 6 weeks ago.  The brewery and pub occupy a huge space just off of main street.  During my first visit on a slow Sunday afternoon the space seemed cavernous.  However, my second visit on a Friday night found the place packed and lively.  Brewer Brian Harder grew up in Pendleton and spent a few years working at Rogue.  On a 10 barrel system, Brian has thus far produced a British IPA, porter, hefeweizen, amber, and most recently a NW style IPA.  I enjoyed each of the first four and the Bruce/Lee porter is my favorite – a good combination of chocolate and coffee flavors. I look forward to trying the NW IPA next week.

Tri-Cities, WA:  Thirty miles north of Hermiston across the Columbia River sits the Tri-Cities, which is home to three breweries – Ice Harbor Brewing Company, Atomic Ale Brewpub, and Rattlesnake Mountain Brewing Company.  Ice Harbor is clearly the best of the bunch, with a quality lineup of beers including a stellar IPA.  Ice Harbor also produces several exceptional seasonal beers, most notably fresh hop ales.  The two locations are just a mile apart but worlds apart in atmosphere.  The original brewery and pub in downtown Kennewick is blue collar and the fancy new brewpub on the waterfront is more upscale.  Brewpublic has detailed posts on Ice Harbor as well.  I have only visited the other two breweries once but the beer did not excite me enough for return visits.  Atomic Ale serves good pizza but sits in what seems to be a renovated Pizza Hut with zero appeal for me.  Rattlesnake Mountain sits overlooking the Columbia River and would be a great spot to drink a pint and enjoy the view.  Unfortunately, I cannot recommend the beer.

Prosser, WA:  A little further north along I-82 in Washington is the small town of Prosser which is situated along the Yakima River amidst vineyards and hopfarms.  A population of roughly 5,000 people are lucky to have TWO local breweries trying to convert the macro loving locals.  My favorite was Horse Heaven Hills Brewery which will celebrate its one year anniversary on July 4th.  The brewery was started by two married couples who have been long time friends and residents of Prosser.   The brewery sits in a renovated laundromat and utilizes a 7 barrel copper system shipped by train from a brewpub adjacent to the campus of Auburn University.  Gary Vegar and Dave Keller turn out a wide range of styles from transitional beers (Ruby Spur Amber and Honey Girl) to an IPA and dark cherry stout.  Although the team is still tinkering with recipes honed on smaller homebrew systems, the beers were surprisingly good, especially the hefeweizen.  I had a chance to taste the hefe straight from the tank and it was excellent, with strong banana flavors.  I look forward to trying this one again soon.

The other brewery in Prosser, Whitstran Brewing Company, is worthy of a visit as well.  Also operating on a 7-barrel system, they seemed a little more willing to push the limits here, offering a couple of Belgian ales, a chocolate stout and a dry hopped pale ale.  While I didn’t think the flavors came together completely on all of the beers, I did enjoy a nice Belgian Brown.  There are very few options for Belgian style beers in this region and I am glad they are willing to give it a go brewing these styles.

Snipes Mountain Brewing:  Less than 15 miles further north on I-82 in the cow town of Sunnyside, WA sits one of the better breweries in Washington in my opinion.  Snipes Mountain brews a wide selection of excellent beers.  The fresh hop ale they produced last year was a revelation.  I won’t go into much depth on this brewery as Brewpublic has offered more detailed reviews in the past.  I will offer that I try to visit this brewery each time I am in Hermiston.  Oh, and they have fabulous prices on their growler fills!

Stay tuned as Jason reviews his visits to more Eastern Cascadian craft beer spots. To be continued…