Beachgoers go to the beach in the summer. But why let all that spectacular coastal real estate go to waste in the winter? As giant swells overtake the Pacific shoreline, winter storms generate thunderous waves on the sandy, or rocky, coast, providing a free waterworks display courtesy of Mother Nature that no Hollywood director could replicate as dazzlingly. Not to mention, after the tidal fury passes, party favors are often left strewn across the beach. And while there’s something to be said for sipping hot coffee or cocoa, storm-watching havens happen to host ideal beer spots such as the coasts of Oregon and Washington. This winter, leave your swim trunks and wetsuits behind and hit these beachy spots.
Oregon’s North Coast
Finding a brewery in a beach town isn’t uncommon. Finding one directly on the beach is a better treasure than anyone swinging a metal detector could ever hope for. In Pacific City, OR, Pelican Pub and Brewery (33180 Cape Kiwanda Drive) is a gold mine both for its location and its 35 medals earned at the Great American Beer Festival since opening in 1997. Patrons get sandy on the back patio that’s overwhelmed by Haystack Rock and the sand dune of Cape Kiwanda State Park.
Though warm days call for the pub’s Imperial Pelican Ale, dark nimbus clouds call for Tsunami Export-style Stout to keep you toasty. Pair it with the clam chowder or, better still, the chili made with Tsunami. Make sure to try Stormwatcher’s Winterfest, a malty, English-style barley wine that only arrives with the weather. Most of the pub’s menu offers such beer cuisine, down to the beercakes served at breakfast. To enjoy it, use the Inn at Cape Kiwanda as your home base. The hotel is directly opposite the brewpub (which again means across the street from the beach), and every room offers ocean views. They’re owned by the same company. Make a mental note as well as mark your calendar for next year as they’ve turned the coveted annual release of Mother of All Storms—a bourbon-barrel-aged version of Stormwatcher’s—into a package deal called “Mother’s Day” (held in November, not May) wherein a case of this limited release is delivered like room service.
Pelican just opened a new production facility and tasting room a half-hour’s drive north in Tillamook (home of the famous Tillamook-brand cheese), which also has welcomed a new, heralded brewery called De Garde (1909 2nd St.) from former Pelican brewer Trevor Rogers. Although new to a crowded Oregon brewing scene, De Garde has been making a splash with its Belgian-style wild ales.
An hour farther north is the resort town of Cannon Beach, where another ocean rock also called Haystack serves as a marker for Bill’s Tavern & Brewhouse (188 N. Hemlock St.) and its sister pub, the Warren House Pub (3301 S. Hemlock St.). Both locations are just two minutes by foot from majestic ocean views, and you’ll find a suitable pint of 2×4 Stout at each. If you’re lucky enough to find it on tap, don’t wave off The Stranger, a rum-barrel-aged IPA that’ll have you talking like a pirate on the high seas in no time. Like all the brewpubs along the coast, Bill’s is family-friendly, but upon entering, the family side is to the left, meaning adults-only to the right. In the tavern, look up and you’ll see the seven-barrel brewhouse. With no elevator or dumbwaiter, getting 2,000 pounds of malt upstairs turns into quite a chore.
Continuing northward, just a few miles this time, the town of Seaside has welcomed Seaside Brewing (851 Broadway St.). Belly up to the bar and you can see the repaired hole in the brick wall that once held the drunk tank in this former city hall. The actual jail bars have been restored, hopefully just for decorative purpose. It had sat empty and fallen into disrepair for 23 years. Today, if anything, it’s become more captivating. The food menu threatens to overshadow the beer program, since it features ultra-fresh seafood and house-smoked brisket, but the liquid holds its own. Keep warm with 5 Mil Strong Ale, named for the extra-thick wetsuits required to surf these waves, and that’s in the summertime. But I’m blown away by Black Dynamite, an imperial stout with bourbon-soaked vanilla beans and cacao nibs that has the sweetness to not just pair with dessert but replace it, yet the bitterness and roastiness to enjoy snifter after snifter.
Topping off the wet winter expedition, drive 17 miles up to Astoria at the top end of the Beaver State. There are now four breweries in this town of under 10,000 folks: Astoria Brewing (and its pub the Wet Dog Café 144 11th St.); Hondo’s (2703 Marine Drive),the homebrew shop stocked with hundreds of bottles and a dozen taps turned nanobrewery; River Barrel, which has yet to officially open as of press time; and the largest, Fort George Brewery + Public House (1483 Duane St.).
Fort George makes a savvy reference to Astoria’s setting as the hometown in the movie The Goonies by selling a T-shirt adorned with “suspenders” in the style of Sloth. But whereas that character was disfigured, the brewery’s Vortex IPA is a truly delectable IPA with a perfect body. It’s a classic year-round, but when there’s a storm churning, sample any of the iterations of Cavatica Stout brewed for February-long “Stout Month” showcasing black walnut, chili and of course bourbon-aged versions. There’s no sense in sitting on the patio, but luckily a recently completed expansion of the pub created a large upstairs area with panoramic views and upscale pizza.
If you make this end of the North Coast your base, check into the Cannery Pier Hotel (10 Basin St.) directly on the Columbia River before it opens into the Pacific. The boutique hotel even offers pet-friendly rooms, not that you’d want Fido running around on Clatsop Spit in Fort Stevens State Park, where you’ll find a watch tower, perfect for watching tremendous stormy waves from a safe and covered vantage point.
Washington’s Central Coast
Two and a half hours from Seattle on the central coast, Grays Harbor divides two towns without a bridge (and there’s no longer a ferry) to get people from one to the other. So even though Westport to Ocean Shores, WA, are almost close enough to wave at folks on the opposite jetty, navigating around the harbor takes almost an hour’s drive. You can’t go wrong selecting either town for marveling at giant waves that can reach three stories tall. Stand in the lookout tower near the jetty and stare directly at the peaks.
Whereas Oregon’s shoreline is already experiencing a new glut of breweries, the beige sand beaches along the Evergreen State’s coast are, well, rife with opportunity. Taking advantage of this fact, in late 2011 Robin Duus founded Westport Brewing (118 W. Pacific Ave.). It captures most of its business during the summer with vacationing families and anglers catching salmon and tuna, but the darker months bring clam diggers and Westport’s dark beers that Terry Helland brews three barrels at a time. Among the 10 taps, check out Dungeness Dark, a black IPA. Rest assured, though there are oyster stouts made with oysters, this beer, known locally as a Cascadian dark ale, is named, “Dungeness like the crab, but there’s no crab in it.” It’s the brewery’s most popular product. Another local favorite is Tinderbox Stout, brewed with coffee supplied by Westport’s Tinderbox Coffee Roasters. Another beer coming up that Terry’s excited about is a lambic-style sour beer made with local cranberries, the biggest export crop in the area. Here’s to its eventual pairing with holiday turkey and trimmings.
Speaking of cranberries, Cranberry Road Winery (2858 S. Forrest St.) replaces vineyards with cranberry bogs to make its unique, tart cranberry wines (including a wintry cranberry-cinnamon rendition) and recently added Bog Water Brewing to the mix, right on site.
Neither operates a brewpub, but guests are welcome to bring in food. One place with Westport beers on tap is Bennett’s Fish Shack (2581 Westhaven Drive) near the end of the harbor. It makes clam strips and crab cakes, but Robin’s a fan of the fish and chips. A block down right at the end of the harbor is Half Moon Bay Bar & Grill (421 E. Neddie Rose Drive), offering quite possibly the best views while selecting from Washington craft beers on draft, including Mac & Jack’s African Honey Amber—reportedly the most popular craft beer in the state—that is used in a honey-butter broth to sauté the Penn Cove mussels in the house specialty, Mac & Jack Mussels. Owner Brook Priest noted that “the waves coming over the groins and the jetty is a really spectacular sight.”
Of course, if you want seafood even fresher, which is only barely possible, Helland points out the short walk to Seafood Connection (WestportWA.com/Seafood), known locally as Float 8 for the float it’s situated at, meaning you could walk up or boat up. It’s where commercial vessels sell some of their catch, so if you arrive in the summery tourist season, it’s the spot for albacore tuna.
When making your way to Ocean Shores, check out Westport Winery (1 S. Arbor Road in Aberdeen) a dozen miles up Route 105. The grounds offer a garden, sculpture garden and a restaurant (with Westport Brewery’s offerings on tap), not to mention a bakery proffering massive cinnamon rolls. It’s OK to be soft in the winter when you can’t surf the local waves anyway (though some hardcore surfers, do).
Once in Ocean Shores, be sure to check out the Elk Head Tap Room (739 Point Brown Ave. NW, and only open Thursdays through Sundays), a local outpost of Elk Head Brewing from Buckley, a couple of hours due east past Olympia and Tacoma. The bunker painted aqua blue and offering “cold beer and warm nuts” allows guests to pull up a tree stump (no stools at this bar). Seasonally, look for White Out Winter Warmer, Back Track Barleywine, and the elk-themed Black Stag Stout. Guests rave about the burgers and behold the garlic-cheese fries so thick, they qualify as jojos (or potato wedges). And yes, there really is a snack bar with six varieties of warm nuts.
There are several lodging options, but The Collins Inn (318 Marina Court SE), which is more like a B&B, is ideally situated near the jetty and offers great viewing from the comfort, and safety, of your balcony. Rooms in the inn include jacuzzis since the tumultuous ocean water is far too cold to soak in. In fact, while breakfast is served in the dining room and everyone raves about the selection from Belgian waffles to frittatas, you can have it delivered to your room for breakfast in bed or in hot tub. You’re at the beach in the dead of winter, why not mix everything up even further?
Two More Coastal Places to Drink Beer
Tofino, British Columbia
On Vancouver Island in British Columbia, the capital of Victoria features nine breweries and brewpubs. But 300 kilometers northwest (OK, 200 miles) the beach town of Tofino provides one of the most impressive stormwatching destinations on Earth. And it’s got a brewery: Tofino Brewing Co. (681Industrial Way, TofinoBrewingCo.com) Winds reaching 100 MPH take long-running waves straight from Japan and drive them furiously not just up to Amphitrite Lighthouse, but sometimes over it. Instead of grabbing a board like the surfers on the snow-covered beach, reach for Tofino Brewing’s winter warmer, Dawn Patrol Coffee Porter, conditioned with locally roasted coffee beans plus vanilla and bourbon.
On the western edge of England, the Cornish town of Penzance—home of Gilbert and Sullivan’s singing pirates—receives gale-force winds that mix gray clouds and white-capped waves. After a good drenching, whet your whistle at The Star Inn (Crowlas, Penzance; StarCrowlas.blogspot.com) and its on-premises Penzance Brewing (PenzanceBrewing.wordpress.com). Most of its real ales fall into Yankee vernacular as “session beers” such as the award-winning bitter Potion No 9, but with howling winds, order the 7 percent Scilly Stout, named “beer of the festival” at CAMRA’s winter fest in Tewkesbury, or for a tempest in a pint glass, perhaps the Scilly Stout conditioned in port. Just ask the bloke behind the bar, as there’s a good chance it’ll be brewer Pete Elvin.
Brian Yaeger is the author of Red, White, and Brew: An American Beer Odyssey.