Total Eclipse of the Hops
On August 21, astral geeks will outshine beer geeks. Beer we theoretically get to enjoy everyday, but a total eclipse of the sun is, for most people, a once in a lifetime opportunity. For those who find themselves along the path of totality that will stretch from Oregon to South Carolina, a portion of 14 states will see day become night, if only for up to two and a half minutes. Much of the path passes through rural America but a few lucky cities will be darkened. Don’t try to book a hotel room; word is they’re 100 percent booked. But why worry about where you’d sleep when instead we can consider where you’ll drink. Here are some of the breweries offering the best vantage points to see the total solar eclipse (through those special glasses!). Yes, several metropolises that are excellent beer towns will fall in the moon’s shadow—for example Portland, Chicago, Atlanta and even Asheville all get a partial eclipse—but let’s take a protective peek at totally lucky ones in the totality.
Pacific City, Oregon
All of Oregon will experience at least a 90 percent eclipse, so why Pacific City? Well, the path of totality only includes a band of some 60 miles and that means one of the winningest breweries at the Great American Beer Festival, Pelican Brewing Co. (33180 Cape Kiwanda Dr.) with 39 medals, will be the first brewery in America to have its doors darkened. Oh yes, the band also includes Newport meaning Rogue Ales (2320 SE Marine Science Dr.) makes a fine vantage point, too (not to mention the 29 GABF medals to this brewery’s name).
Pelican is amazing for many reasons, not the least of which is that you can sit on the back patio with your toes in the sand as you gaze out upon Haystack Rock (when the sun’s out) and sip a pint of Kiwanda Cream Ale, named for the craggy, tree-lined Cape Kiwanda that bookends the northern vista. At 5.4 percent it’s golden, light bodied, and refreshing, though the brewery’s Blackbird Schwarzbier may proffer the right kiss of darkness the dark day requires.
Yes, more Oregon, because one of the first bigger city affected by the eclipse is this state capitol that’s home to six breweries. But the real draw this day will be the four-day EclipseFest from August 18 to 21, which is actually put on by the Class A baseball team the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes and their three-day stand against the Hillsboro Hops (because of course a Portland-area minor league team is named after hops). The main event is the eclipse and Monday’s game will start at 9:35 a.m. so that, instead of the tired ol’ seventh-inning stretch, the game will feature an eclipse break when max totality occurs at 10:18 a.m. But hold onto your helmets because the games on each prior day conclude with a brewfest. Some of the area breweries you’ll be able to sample at the ballpark include Albany’s Calapooia Brewing (140 NE. Hill St.) which is as famous for its Chili Beer and chili burgers as it is for its skilled darts regulars, as well as Seven Brides Brewing (990 N. 1st St. in Silverton), where beers are named for the seven daughters of the owners, cumulatively. Lil’s Pils, Becky’s Black Cat Porter and Emily’s Ember (amber ale) each make for fine pints enjoyed on the brewpub’s patio by their custom made fire pit.
Here, max totality occurs at 1:03 p.m. A Cornhusker buddy shared the can’t-miss breweries in this capitol city of over a quarter million people (with a citizen to brewery ratio of 1:30,000). Ploughshare Brewing Co. (1630 P St.) offers ploughman’s platters and a taste of Britain, but the beer is global. There’s an Irish red, a Munich helles, a Belgian wit, and of course an American IPA.
The Zipline Brewing Co. taproom (2100 Magnum Cir.) also excels at a wide range of styles, from American hop bombs to elegant German beers (Altbier, Kölsch), and any number of cask experiments. Finally, there’s Lincoln’s oldest brewery dating back to 1990, Empyrean Brewing Co. (729 Q St.), whose very name means “belonging to or deriving from heaven.” As such, many of the brewery’s beers befit a solar eclipse such as the earthy Third Stone Brown, Super Nova Summer Fest or Dark Side vanilla bean porter, which is certainly more than a once-in-a-lifetime treat.
St. Louis, Missouri
Missouri’s most populous cities, Kansas City and St. Louis, are on the outer limits of the path, but hey, they’ve got the most beer. And while Kansas City’s Boulevard Brewing Co. hasn’t announced any Totality-specific events or special brews, The Saint Louis Brewery (2100 Locust St.), makers of Schlafly, will commemorate the occasion with a Path of Totality package replete with its helles lager and a pair of solar glasses required to safely spectate the sun (or absence of it). What’s more, they’ve planned Schlafly’s Eclipse Field Trip. Fans can hop aboard a party bus from the taproom to the town of Bloomsdale, where the totality will last a whopping two minutes and forty seconds. And for everyone who joins that excursion, sorry Kansas City, but there’ll be killer BBQ there, too.
Halfway between St. Louis and Nashville lies Paducah. It’s a fun name to say. Almost as fun as the county it helps fill, McCracken. But whereas Paducah is more often a destination for the tightknit community of quilters drawn to the National Quilt Museum here, this micropolitan city lies directly on the path and happens to boast not one but two breweries.
The original, Dry Ground Brewing Co. (3121 Broadway St.), established 2014, may trick passersby with the Coca Cola Bottling sign above the large, brick warehouse–but this spot’s about beer, not root beer or cola. You’ll find a range of IPAs including the American IPA 37 Flood (piney and citrusy) and a Belgian-esque rye IPA called Innocence (earthy and tangy), plus an imperial and even a “double English IPA” that’s 7.1 percent alcohol and zero percent similar to the mild English IPAs of yore. They even make Tazonia, a rum-barrel-aged saison brewed with paw paw fruit. Then, 2.5 miles toward the Ohio River (and the Quilt Museum), Paducah Beer Werks (301 N. 4th St.) offers up wings and a pale ale that took home a bronze medal at the Great American Beer Festival in 2015.
Music City is the largest city affected by the eclipse, which is something to sing about, as are the city’s 20 breweries. Conveniently, there are four worthy destinations south of Broadway in The Gulch and Pie Town (so named for its dessert-derived shape). All are nearly within echo distance of the Country Music Hall of Fame starting with the largest in town, Yazoo Brewing Co. (910 Division St.). Both for its big smoke character and the name, check out a beer named Sue. Four blocks away is Jackalope Brewing Co. (701 8th Ave S.). Crowd-favorite Bearwalker Maple Brown is just that, a brown ale brewed with chocolate malts and more than a subtle kiss of real maple syrup. Two additional blocks and you arrive at Tennessee Brew Works (809 Ewing Ave). This spot’s Johnny Cash themed beer is I Walk the Lime, a wheat beer with lime zest. Just don’t miss out on the locavore-fueled menu with such hits as Nashville hot chicken. And forget waffles, you can get it with French toast (with rosemary miso syrup). They even serve Nashville hot frogs legs which, pardon my saying, goes great with their hoppy 1927 IPA (named for the great flood). Rounding out the three-quarter-mile crawl is Czann’s (505 Lea Ave). One of Nashville’s youngest and smallest breweries can only be enjoyed in town, ideally at the tap room where the Czann’s IPA is the fan fave. At 6.2 ABV and 53 IBUs, the medium-bodied beer built on Crystal malts puts the citrusy hop bill front and center.
Greenville, South Carolina
Greenville’s oldest brewery is Thomas Creek Brewery (2054 Piedmont Hwy), where co-owner/brewer Tom Davis makes over 50 beers inspired by his homebrewing roots. For something befitting the brilliant orange sun going dark, check out their Castaway Chocolate Orange IPA, brewed with Citra hops as well as orange zest, chocolate malts, and cocoa nibs. Spend the day or night, or a day that looks like night on the back patio at Brewery 85 (6 Whitlee Ct.) off I-85. They use Carolina ingredients whenever possible, including locally harvested yeasts from SouthYeast Labs. At Quest Brewing Co. (55 Airview Dr.), you can find a mix of barrel-aged offerings as well as year-round beers like Smoking Mirror, a porter brewed with cherrywood-smoked malt.
One of Greenville’s newest breweries, Birds Fly South Ale Project (1320 Hampton Ave Ext), boasts 12 taps of foeder and cask-aged wild ales plus the funky farmhouse Brand New Eyes. Stare directly into the totality and that’s what you’ll need.
Brian Yaeger is the author of Red, White, and Brew: An American Beer Odyssey and Oregon Breweries.