All About Beer Magazine - Volume 31, Issue 3
July 1, 2010 By

A beercation is a glorious thing. A plane ticket or a tank full of gas is all you need to find yourself in any of the growing destinations for great craft beer. Just keep in mind the “-cation” part, because even a beer trip is not only about the beer. Before, after, or more likely, in between pints, don’t forget to unwind. On a beercation the only thing that rivals the smell of a hop bomb in the morning is the scent of the ocean as you sun yourself on the beach.

After this harsh winter, it’s time to dig your toes in the sand. So whether your summer beer odyssey includes some buddies, the little ones or just your honey, pack the bags for any of the United States’ three coasts. Here are four top-shelf beach towns where you can frolic in the waves and never worry about going dry.

Orange County

OK, so The O.C. isn’t a city and many people still think of it as that vast expanse between Los Angeles and San Diego, but it boasts 40 miles of Pacific coastline over six cities: Seal Beach, Huntington Beach, Newport Beach, Laguna Beach, Dana Point and San Clemente. The 72-degree weather, like the 10-million-dollar homes, is not a myth. You won’t have to look hard to find a surf shop should you want to rent a board and a wetsuit (optional) to try and catch some waves.

While San Diego County supports two-dozen breweries, Orange County does sport its own fledgling Brewers Guild. The OCBG president and brewmaster at Left Coast Brewing in San Clemente (1245 Puerta Del Sol). Rick Smets, declares, “Beer is alive and well in Orange County and it’s delicious. And nooobody knows it. Why? Because they’re mostly teeny, quiet pubs.”

Orange County’s best-known brewery, The Bruery, is in Placentia (715 Dunn Way). While it’s only eight miles from Disneyland, it’s 20 or so miles from the beach. It’s a small diversion from the waves to try a flight of five for $8 when Cuvée Jeune or a cask of Mischief double dry-hopped with Simcoe and Amarillo might be on tap.

Both Huntington and Newport Beaches have eponymous brewpubs. Stephen Johnson, host of New Brew Thursday (that proves the craft beer revolution will not be televised―it will be podcasted), says of the Huntington Beach Beer Co. (201 Main St.), “The selection of beers runs the gamut of styles. The food is incredible and the atmosphere relaxed.” But he adds of the pub that overlooks the Huntington Beach Pier, “A good or bad thing, depending on your perspective, is that they have a great kids’ menu and are family-friendly.” To avoid parking hassles since everybody drives, rent a bike and ride five miles down the coast to Newport Beach Brewing Co. (2920 Newport Blvd.), which opened in 1995, two years after HBBC, making it O.C.’s second oldest brewery.

When it comes to eating and drinking well, the star is Beachwood BBQ in Seal Beach (131½ Main St.). Starting with the beers, they have over 20 taps, heavy on the California breweries, where you may find Stone Ruination IPA with Simcoe on cask. As for the amazingly reasonably priced bottle selection, it’s filled with rarities including Hair of the Dog Fred From the Wood ’08 and not just one or two gueuzes, but five, including Lost Abbey Duck Duck Gooze. As for the food, it’s pan-smokehouse, meaning heavy on the Carolina-style pulled pork but since it’s in Cali, bro, don’t miss out on the blackened albacore sashimi. Johnson says, “Try the wild boar meatloaf with blueberry gravy, you will not regret it.” He further advises, “Be sure to check the live HopCam on their website (beachwoodbbq.com) to get the up-to-the-second list of what’s on tap.”

One last place Johnson insists is worth a visit is Laguna Beach’s Brussels Bistro (222 Forest Ave.). It’s a Belgian food and beer joint right near the beach and downstairs at basement level. It’s “a must stop in the O.C. if you like Belgian Beer.” If you want live jazz with your frites, stop by on a Wednesday or Thursday night.

When you’re ready to crash, there are myriad options for lodging. In Laguna Beach alone, options range from the opulent Montage (30801 South Coast Highway) situated on the bluffs with “beach, bed and breakfast” packages starting at $395 a night, to the Art Hotel (1404 North Coast Highway) which isn’t exactly in the thick of things, but it offers a nice respite and it’s probably the only place near the beach that’s less than $100 a night.

As for the morning after, get your grease bomb first thing in the morning (or after the bars close since it’s 24/7) at either location of the Harbor House Café. On the north end of the county, there’s a café in Sunset Beach (16341 Pacific Coast Highway) and on the south end, Dana Point has its own Harbor House (34157 Pacific Coast Highway). Either way, if it’s a bacon burger or a chorizo and egg breakfast burrito, dining along the famed PCH is the way to go while likely catching a glimpse of a pod of dolphins.

Virginia Beach

History buffs visit eastern Virginia for the Historic Triangle―Jamestown, Williamsburg and Yorktown―so crucial to the birth of our nation four centuries ago. Nowadays it is a popular resort destination. Between Chesapeake Bay and the six-mile coastal stretch of Virginia Beach, this colonial region is renowned for being family-friendly. And while “Virginia is for lovers,” it’s also for beer lovers.

Visitors to Williamsburg can quaff a Washington’s Porter at the town’s namesake brewpub, but the brewery closest to the resort towns is St. George Brewing Co. in Hampton (204 Challenger Way). This former brew-on-premise offers primarily British styles (London porter, nut brown ale); Revolutionary War be damned.

The greater metro area surrounding Virginia Beach is known as Hampton Roads and includes the cities of Norfolk and Portsmouth at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. Rumor―and a placeholder URL―has it that Norfolk is set to welcome its own brewery, O’Connor Brewing Co., a partnership between Kevin and Chris O’Conner who are, surprisingly. not related. Ideally, they will be pouring their “approachable, tasty ales” at their own location by the time the beaches fill up this summer.

Several beer bars make this a great place to drink. In Portsmouth, The Bier Garden (438 High St.) features authentic Bavarian cuisine and a whopping 400-plus bottle list (and 23 taps). Those beers lie predominantly on the European side in keeping with the taste of the Old Country. Founded in 1997 by the Osfolk family, it remains a mom-and-pop (and son-and-daughter) restaurant. “Though my parents came here from Germany,” says Kevin Osfolk, “our largest selection of beers is Belgian followed by German.” Truly, the selections are global and many domestic craft beers grace the menu.

For a more craft-centric experience, Norfolk’s Ghent neighborhood houses the cozier Tap House (931 West 21st St.), which doubles as a honky-tonk where anything from live blues to rockabilly fits the bill. What’s great is that they take requests―no, not the bands, the managers. If you want to see them carry a particular local (or non-local) beer, ask them to add it to their rotation. Even when you’re on vacation, this is the place to feel at home.

Your best bet for drinking―so close to the beach you can hear the sound of crashing waves―is Virginia Beach’s Regal Beagle Taphouse (605 Virginia Beach Blvd.). Look for taps from breweries up and down the mid-Atlantic from Dogfish Head to Weeping Radish.

For waterfront dining, One Fish Two Fish in the Long Bay Pointe Marina (2109 West Great Neck Rd.) dubs itself “upscale without the uppity.” Feast on giant crab cakes or fresh Atlantic salmon or ask for the fresh catch or selection of steaks.

Beyond beer, a vacation here can move at a slow or fast pace. Osfolk recommends visiting the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center by day and downtown Norfolk’s “hip nightlife” after dark. Great clubs about and both the aforementioned tap houses are among Hampton Roads’ top music venues.

Should you overdo it, or just need to recharge your battery the next morning, Osfolk suggests Bob’s BBQ & Country Cooking (417 County St.) in Portsmouth, which is run by a mother and son. “It’s in an old house on the second floor. They serve huge heapings of food and massive country breakfasts that you can’t possibly finish.” Also seek out the Donut Dinette (Colley Ave.) in Norfolk. This cheap and cheerful diner near Ghent only seats about 15 and serves the usual fixins but get there early before their lone donut offering, the perfect glazed, sells out. Beer and donuts―take off.

Honolulu

Of course, if you’re looking for a getaway on the Pacific Coast but the water is too cold even in Southern California (it’s deceptively chilly), you can always head even farther west. Of Hawaii’s eight main islands, Oahu, with the capital city of Honolulu on the south side, is the most populous, so it’s no surprise that it has the most beer bars. It is also home to another craft beer podcast, Two Beer Queers. (Though Hawaii is the “Rainbow State,” the only flag TBQ co-hosts Bully O’Sullivan and Russel Kealoha salute is the one waving over the craft movement. They are on a mission to bring such beers out of the closet.) While Kealoha may not be up on Hawaii’s most famous brew―Kona coffee―he has the inside scoop on where to get your ale-oha on in Honolulu.

Downtown in the Aloha Tower Marketplace near Chinatown, two pubs pour a proper pint. Bar 35 (35 North Hotel St.) turns into the House of Brews on Wednesdays. You will find an extensive bottle list including several offerings from Japan, the Philippines and points around the South Pacific. Murphy’s Bar (2 Merchant St.), which is about to launch its own beer event series, according to Kealoha has a “great selection of beers on tap and the head bartender, Jonathan, is nothing short of awesome.”

In terms of sheer wow factor, a pair of bars a bit south in Waikiki shouldn’t be missed. At its one and only location, The Yard House (226 Lewers St.) has 130 beers on tap. As the climate is warm and humid, be prepared for many American light lagers (and know that only tourists drink Primo), but here you will also find the state’s breweries represented: , Mehana, Big Aloha and Maui. Good luck finding a bottle of Stone’s collaboration beer with Maui and the homebrewer who designed it, Ken Schmidt. The Kona Coffee-Macadamia-Toasted Coconut Porter is a smooth as a hula dancer’s belly. And less than two miles inland, The Varsity (1015 University Ave.) is less tourist-oriented (including less pricey). It also features the exclusive tap of Varsity Golden Mango brewed by Keoki Brewing Co., part of Hawai’i Nui Brewing.

As for brewpubs, Kealoha points to the new, second location from Kona Brewing Co. (7192 Kalaniana’ole Highway) and―like many names in Hawaii this is a mouthful but at least it’s easy to understand―Sam Choy’s Breakfast, Lunch & Crab & Big Aloha Brewery (580 North Nimitz Highway). If you only come here once, you need to get their namesake BLC. Yep, it’s a bacon, lettuce and crab sandwich.

Naturally, you’re in paradise and the point is not to stick around downtown or Waikiki and go shopping. Kealoha suggests venturing out to the east and north sides of the island. There really are picturesque coconut trees on the beach (to go with your coconut-scented suntan lotion). On the North Shore, shark diving is a fun summertime activity. If you think that sounds dangerous, be forewarned that one of Honolulu’s closest beaches, Sandy Beach, features rough waves. “Lots of tourists get brave and head out, only to be brought in by an angry lifeguard.” Before you leave the North Shore, stop by Aoki’s Shave Ice run by fourth-generation shave ice makers―or its more popular neighbor, Matsumoto―for a different type of “cold one.” Just like craft brewers, they each make house-made syrup.

After a long, hard day of relaxing, it’s easy to have one too many, whether it’s local craft beer or something served in a fruit shell with a cocktail parasol in it. To make sure you’re good to relax your buns off the next day, Kealoha chimes in with the following. Boots & Kimo’s Homestyle Kitchen across the tip of the island in Kailua (151 Hekili St.) serves up some legendary pancakes, or should that be, pancakes with legendary macadamia nut sauce. Get the cakes regular or banana. Back in the capital, he also says Like Like Drive Inn (7Keeaumoku St.) “has a decent loco moco.” It helps knowing that loco moco is an island specialty consisting of white rice topped with fried egg, gravy and meat of your choice, be it a hamburger patty, Portuguese sausage or, go figure, Spam. Finally, Kealoha’s “local secret” is New Diner’s Drive-In (1333 North King St.) in Kalihi and open 24 hours. “Everything is good there and best place to go to eat before you sleep.”

Then again, if you want to do a unique beercation to Hawaii, hit the picturesque island of Kauai and visit Waimea Brewing Co., the westernmost brewpub, whose motto is “The last beer before tomorrow.”

St. Petersburg/Tampa

Even the most ardent Floridian craft beer enthusiast knows that the Sunshine State deals with a reputation for being slow to the better beer table. But that is changing quickly. Bon Beer Voyage recently led a beer safari to Tampa. And as Sean Nordquist, blogger for “The Hop Press” and the “St. Petersburg Craft Beer Examiner,” points out, Florida was well represented in RateBeer.com’s annual lists of best breweries, beer bars and bottle shops in the world, as voted by users.

Between Hillsborough County (Tampa) and Pinellas County (St. Petersburg, Clearwater, Tarpon Springs), this vacation destination situated between Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico boasts some of the best beaches in the world. It also features cultural neighborhoods such as Ybor City which is infused with Cuban and pan-Latin eats and drinks. El Molino (2102 East 7th Ave.) is a fourth-generation family-owned café pouring some of the best café con leche, while nearby King Corona Cigars (1523 East 7thAve.) has been selling hand-rolled cigars for five generations.

Home to the Salvador Dali Museum on the St. Petersburg side and events such as Gasparilla, a pirate festival in Tampa on the Bay, which honors a minor pirate named Jose Gaspar who is famed for his peaceful invasion of Tampa.

The two production breweries putting the area on every beer pirate’s treasure map are Cigar City Brewing in Tampa and Saint Somewhere Brewing Co. in Tarpon Springs. Cigar City (3924 West Spruce St..) shot to fame with their Bourbon Barrel Aged Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout, which placed third in RateBeer.com’s 2010 Best Beers in the World list, almost making it the Westvleteren 12 of the U.S. Their Jai Alai IPA is the best IPA in the region and their Guava Grove (a saison refermented with guava) should not be missed. Another must-try is anything from the Humidor Series, varying styles aged on cigar box cedarwood. Saint Somewhere (1441 Savannah Ave.) proffers Belgian-style brews that enjoy broader distribution.

Nordquist says, “There is rumored to be another new brewery opening later this year, called Zen.”

Also straddling the county lines are a pair of brewpubs: Tampa Bay Brewing Co. (1600 East 8th Ave.) in Ybor City and Dunedin Brewery (Douglas Ave.) Dunedin/Clearwater. Both have dependable lineups of year-round and seasonal offerings befitting small-scale brewpubs. Incidentally, an assistant brewer from Cigar City helps brew house beers for Peg’s Cantina in Gulfport (3038 Beach Blvd.), which has mostly guest beers on tap and by the bottle. Their Mexican menu includes pizzas made with tortillas.

As for beer bars in Pinellas, Nordquist points to several―The Independent (29 3rdSt. North, St. Petersburg), Oldsmar Tap House (State St. East, Oldsmar), and World of Beer (4th St. North, St. Petersburg). Over in Tampa, there is Mr. Dunderbak’s (14929 Bruce B. Downs Blvd) German-style biergarden/marketplace and Datz Deli (South MacDill Ave.), which stocks 75 beers and twice as many cheeses for your deli sandwiches.

But Nordquist saves his enthusiasm for Cajun Café on the Bayou. Located in north Pinellas County in Pinellas Park, Cajun Café (8101 Park Blvd.) is “awesome in its good beeriness.” Proprietor Paul Unwin’s affinity for great beer, food and music culminate in this Florida bayou-esque destination for festivals throughout the year.

Though falling asleep on a warm, clean beach seems tantalizing, consider renting a room at the iconic pink palace, Don Cesar Hotel (3400 Gulf Boulevard, St. Pete Beach). Rooms at this full-service hotel start at around $300. Says Nordquist, “There are actually lots of great places to stay along the beaches and in St. Pete proper. Probably the nicest in downtown St. Pete is the Vinoy from Marriott (5th Ave. Northeast). A lower-cost place that is really fun is the Bon-Aire Resort Motel which is right on the beach and you can walk straight out to the beach bars with little effort.” The Bon-Aire (4350 Gulf Blvd.) is not full-service, but then again, rooms start at well under $100.

When morning rolls around, an excellent brunch can be found at Don Cesar, but Nordquist’s inside scoop directs you to a St. Petersburg institution, Skyway Jack’s (2795 34th St. South), for a “basic but tasty breakfast.”


Brian Yaeger
Brian Yaeger is the author of Red, White and Brew: An American Beer Odyssey. He homebrews in San Francisco and if you have an intact bottle of Ring of Fire, beer mail him at byaeger on the communal sites or at brian@beerodyssey.com.