Two roads diverged in a wood, and I―
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
As wine country gives way to redwood forests, you reach Mendocino and Humboldt counties―most famous for their “green” economies, but proving that cannabis’s legal cousin, Humulus lupulus, is another great reason to visit.
Robert Frost must’ve known what he was talking about. In fact, the original draft of his poem likely could have ended, “And that ale has made the difference.” For when you find yourself at a crossroads, about to embark on an epic beer voyage to well-trodden destinations like California or North Carolina, consider the grassy path that wants for wear. Virtually all major beer towns have something in common―they’re on Interstates where you speed in, then speed out of town. Slow down; don’t move too fast. The Blue Highways below steer you to smaller breweries and beer cultures that know how to make the good times last.
Redwood Coast, California
In the Golden State, the San Diego Brewers Guild rattles off 25 distinct breweries operating in SoCal county, where Stone, Lost Abbey, and AleSmith steal the show to the point where masterful breweries like Ballast Point are afterthoughts. In Northern Cali, the birthplace of craft brewing (Anchor, New Albion and Sierra Nevada kick-started the revolution by 1980), the Bay Area remains at the forefront of passion and creativity, led by Russian River, Speakeasy, and brewpubs like Triple Rock that refuse to rest on their laurels. There are close to five-dozen breweries around the San Francisco Bay Area. The funny thing is, while it’s called “NorCal,” if you folded the state in half, the bay is not much above the halfway line. Exploring true Northern California requires a road trip up the Pacific Coast Highway, revealing the Redwood Coast that harbors the spirit of small, independent breweries. As wine country gives way to redwood forests, you reach Mendocino and Humboldt counties―most famous for their “green” economies, but proving that cannabis’s legal cousin, Humulus lupulus, is another great reason to visit.
Highway 1, better known as the Pacific Coast Highway, lays claim as the most scenic road in America. Fort Bragg welcomes beer travelers with North Coast Brewing (455 North Main St.; northcoastbrewing.com). There’s a brewpub directly across the street from the production brewery that serves raw oysters from nearby Hog Island in Point Reyes and clams steamed in their Blue Star Wheat. For dessert, if torn between getting the Old No. 38 (dry Irish stout) brownie or the Old No. 38 ice cream, ask your server to make it à la mode. Then pair it with Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout. Better yet, have ’em bring a bottle of “Old Raspy” XII aged in bourbon barrels.
Eventually, the PCH slowly jogs through exceptionally twisty turns surrounded by coastal redwoods en route to Highway 101. It cuts directly through Humboldt Redwoods State Park and, just before returning to the coast, Eel River Brewing (1777 Alamar Way, Fortuna; eelriverbrewing.com) offers a respite. Eel River opened in a former lumber mill in 1996 and three years later became the first certified organic brewery in the country. Enjoy an array of organic ales in the beer garden along with beer-battered fish (or chicken) and chips.
During the Gold Rush, miners exclaimed “Eureka!” when they struck gold. Visitors strike liquid gold every time they step foot in the Lost Coast Brewery (617 Fourth St., Eureka; lostcoast.com). Just as the area beckoned odd characters over 150 years ago, residents and dwellers in this town are far from any big city for a reason, but that only ensures an interesting time if you settle in for a night at the bar, sipping Downtown Brown, Tangerine Wheat, or maybe a rare, remaining keg of their 20th Anniversary Ale.
Along the Lost Coast, one elegant lodging option in Eureka is the Carter House Inn (301 L St.; carterhouse.com), comprised of four Victorian homes adjacent to Arcata Bay and Old Town Eureka. This pet-friendly inn has its own restaurant, Restaurant 301, specializing in locally sourced slow food. The chef’s tasting menu, which the courteous staff seems happy to split, includes eight courses and is more than enough to feed two. Best of all, if it’s not busy, they’ll even serve it to you in the plush chairs by the fire. Emphasis is on the wine menu, including their house Carter Vineyard selections, but their limited beer list features Eel River and a draft selection from the brand new Redwood Curtain Brewing. Keep in mind that breakfast is included for guests and it’s more upscale than the grease bomb you might be craving if you overdid it at the Lost Coast pub the night before.