Once upon a time, the American beer landscape was a pretty desolate sight to behold. It wasn’t very long ago when the only American beers on the market were watered down lagery offerings. Today however, the landscape has become rich with offerings that not only taste like beer but great beer at that. From San Francisco’s Anchor Brewing to New York’s Brooklyn Brewing delicious, characterful ales and lagers are available no matter what part of the country you live in.
Trying to compose a list of great west coast breweries is no easy task. After all, Oregon alone has enough great craft breweries to keep even the most die hard beer geeks happy the rest of their lives. So, in planning this list I took some key factors into consideration. Chiefly, quality of product and distribution. Breweries only made the list if they make great beer and if those beers are at least available anywhere in their state of origin.
1) ROGUE BREWING (www.rogue.com) Since its inception, Rogue has taken not only Oregon by storm, but Washington and California as well. The story of Rogue brewing dates back to 1988, the golden age of American craft brewing. The three original founders turned a love of home brewing into a successful, thriving business. Today Rogue produces more than three dozen award winning beers and seven different distilled spirits. Today you can get your Rogue on at any of their fifteen meeting halls or your favorite liquor store.
2) STONE BREWING (www.stonebrew.com) My first introduction to Stone Brewing was seeing someone wearing a company T-Shirt. It had a great, winged gargoyle on the front pointing at me. Underneath was a caption that simply read “You’re not worthy!” Today, Stone makes many great beers ranging from their Arrogant Bastard Ale to their Russian Imperial Stout and barley wine. If you’re lucky enough to live in Escondido, Stone Brewing hosts many beer oriented events including beer and food pairings, and their beer education classes
.3) NORTH COAST BREWING (www.northcoastbrewing.com) It was North Coast Brewing that showed me American made Russian imperial stouts can be truly worthy beverages. North Coast opened for business in Fort Bragg CA in 1988. Since then they’ve gone on to win more than 70 awards for their beers in national and international competitions. You’ll find North Coast especially worthy if you’re a fan of Belgian ales, as the brewers take a lot of inspiration from Belgian styles.
4) HALE’S ALES (www.halesbrewery.com) When Mike Hale opened Hales Ales in 1982, he did it with a love and appreciation for traditional English ales. At their Seattle based brew pub, windows and mirrors allow visitors to view the brewing process in its entirety. Today, the hale’s brewery uses a traditional British open topped fermentation system, even using yeast specially adapted for use in this type of fermentation system.
5) BRIDGEPORT BREWING (www.bridgeportbrew.com) Picking which of Portland’s many craft breweries was another difficult choice. After all, there’s more than a few who produce great beer that’s available all over Oregon and beyond. Whereas most brewers start with a core lineup of established beer styles and then moves on to special brews, Bridgeport composes the bulk of its lineup with special brews. From their Kingpin red ale made with locally sourced hops to the Christmas in a bottle inspired Ebenezer, Bridgeport takes pride in its products
.6) ANCHOR BREWING (www.anchorbrewing.com) Anchor Brewing has always been ahead of its time. The day Fritz Maytag took over a failing San Francisco brewery, he brought us our first great micro brewery. Today, you see Anchor Steam Beer and Anchor Liberty Ale on shelves all across the country. Anchor Brewing not only produces a regular lineup of great beer but also seasonal and specialty ales that beer snobs across the country look forward to. The annual Christmas Ale is well worth searching out.
7) REDHOOK BREWING (www.redhook.com) Redhook’s history very much mirrors the story of the Little Engine That Could. Redhook’s first beer was modeled after Belgian ales and earned the nickname “banana beer.” But it was the Blackhook Porter followed by the Ballard Bitter that earned Redhook a small but loyal following. With new breweries opened around the country, Redhook can be found all across the U.S. To this day Redhook put a distinctive American twist on classic European ales and lagers. And in doing it was well as they do, it’s no wonder their popularity has done nothing but grow.
Needless to say these are not the only microbreweries on the west coast. Nor are they all of the great ones. For one reason or another the breweries I’ve listed above have done something to make themselves noteworthy as producers of craft brewed ales and lagers. Add brewpubs to the list and the west coast has enough beer to keep every beer geek in the country happy for the rest of their lives.