Matt posted about our annual Sequoia camping and Scotch ale weekend a few posts back. That trip was the launching point for our two week National Park CA and OR road trip. In addition to a lot of camping, we planned to hit up a few breweries along the way. Originally, we planned on three major stops: Sierra Nevada, the craft breweries of Bend, OR, and Ladyface Alehouse in Agora Hills. Well… it turns out our tolerance for breweries was much higher than that! We ended up sampling the brews of 13 breweries. Here’s a quick rundown of the breweries and how we are going to write about all this:
Sierra Nevada, Chico CA
Craft Breweries of Bend, OR (7 breweries!)
Part 3 (turns out every major brewery in CA is either on the 101 or directly off it)
Russian River, Santa Rosa CA
Santa Cruz Ale Works, Santa Cruz CA
Uncommon Brewers, Santa Cruz CA
Firestone Walker, Pasa Robles, CA
Ladyface Alehouse, Agora Hills, CA
We left Yosemite* and headed west towards the main highway, continuing our zig-zagging path up towards the Oregon border. Our next camping destination was Lassen Volcanic park which thankfully required us to drive through Chico, CA, home of Sierra Nevada Brewing.
Sierra Nevada reminded Steph of the Stone Brewing compound in San Diego: a high quality restaurant, top quality build-out of all their facilities (bathroom sinks are mini copper tubs), and lots of beer. On a personal note, it also reminded her of the Old Spaghetti Factory in Hollywood (for those of you that might remember it – tear); the restaurant had a similar dark wood facade and high ceilings. The centerpiece of the restaurant was without a doubt the ornate stained glass display above the bar.
Once seated we asked our waiter how their samplers worked, and he said a crazy thing – order the sampler and you get to try every beer. Yup, all 16 of the Sierra Nevada beers that they had on tap. That’s what we ordered, and it was wonderful. It included some old favorites like the Pale Ale, Porter, and Kellerweis, and of course some local only brews like Old Chico Crystal Wheat, Blonde Ale, Unfiltered Pale Ale, Brown Ale, and Kolsch.
We couldn’t resist buying some Crystal Wheat to go. The first thing we noticed about this beer was how incredibly crisp, fresh, and clear it is. This was a definitely a west coast take on an American Wheat beer: it was extremely quaffable and unique in its three distinct phases. An initial wave of soft sweet maltiness, followed by mild west coast hop flavor and bitterness, ending with a refreshing wheaty aftertaste. Great on a warm day and perfect for drinking by the campfire.
I have to defer to my notes and not my memory for the rest of brews. Blond Ale – Malt forward. Brown Ale – Double Nut Brown** lite, classic brown, English hops. Unfiltered Pale Ale – fun to try but there’s a reason this wasn’t the final version.
After we finished up our lunch (french dip sandwich that gave Cole’s and Philippe’s a run), we headed over to the gift shop and brewery area. We didn’t have time for the official tour, so we poked around the “self guided” tour area that included some impressive views of the modern brewing copper kettles, cool historical brewing equipment, and a very fancy lobby.
One of the more memorable takeaways from this stop was the sheer opulence everywhere we went. Restaurant, bathrooms, giftshop, brewery – it didn’t matter – all were lavishly constructed and the attention to detail was obvious everywhere. They really did, “spare no expense.” It is a big reminder of the infancy of the Los Angeles craft beer scene; where industrial roll up doors and large chest coolers are the norm rather than stained glass and marbled staircases. Truly a testament to the quality Sierra Nevada has established within the industry since their inception in the 1970’s as well as an inspiration to the future of Los Angeles craft brewing.
Check back soon for part 2… Bend, OR and the Ale Trail!
* The Yosemite trip is a blog post in itself. Car repair in Fresno? Check. Controlled burn forest fire… next to our campground? Check. Hitchhiking hippies? Check.
** My current go-to brown ale is Mammoth Brewing Company’s Double Nut Brown.
– John R.
Los Angeles Ale Works™
Specialist Beer Judge