A Craft Beer Journey Through the Columbia River Gorge

March 12, 2019

By Jeffrey Silverstein, March 12, 2019

Prior to relocating to the Pacific Northwest, my wife and I spent time exploring Seattle and Portland late in the summer of 2016. Most trips around that time were twofold—part vacation, part investigation of whether we could imagine ourselves uprooting from our lives in Brooklyn to start anew.

The first travel tip we received after arriving in Portland was simple: Drive east, go on a hike, and drink all of the beer. A stop at Solera Brewing in the small town of Parkdale was a “must.” Frustrated with the congestion that made access to the the Catskills in New York near impossible at times, we found ourselves laughing at how removed we felt from Portland after only 20 minutes’ time.

Driving along the Historic Columbia River Highway, we took in stunning views of the Columbia River Gorge—a 4,000-foot-deep canyon that winds through the Cascades. Modeled after the great scenic roads of Europe, each turn of the highway brought more natural beauty, each town more phenomenal beer. Sitting in the back patio of Solera while taking in a breathtaking view of Mt. Hood we paused to answer the inevitable question: Could we live here? (Answer: A resounding yes. This picture kickstarted a plan to head West exactly one year later.)

We recently took two days to dive deep into the rapidly expanding craft beer community of the gorge. While great beer is now synonymous with the region, we’ve compiled a roadmap sure to please locals and tourists alike.

Illustration by Sunny Eckerle.

Day 1: Portland, Oregon to Washougal, WA

Our ‘08 Hyundai is packed. We cross over into Washington quickly. As we travel along the Lewis and Clarke Highway, Mt. Hood peeks at us above the Cascade Mountains. With its lowlands and prairies situated at the western entrance, Washougal is often referred to as the “Gateway to the Gorge.” Washougal has serious small-town charm and an active public art movement. Murals from Deep Green Arts catch our attention on more than one occasion.

Our first stop is Logsdon Farmhouse Ales in Downtown Washougal. Founded by yeast pioneer David Logsdon in 2009, the brewery initially operated out of a barn on the outskirts of picturesque Hood River. Logsdon started Wyeast Laboratories in 1985—providing yeast to Deschutes, Rogue, and Widmer Brothers—and was founding brewmaster of Full Sail Brewing. We arrive as the doors open, the small but cozy dining area filling up steadily by the half hour. Logsdon has focused on sours and Belgians since their inception, first entering the Great American Beer Festival in 2012. From the bar we’re introduced to head brewer Shilpi Halemane, who’s also busy entertaining his old homebrew club at a nearby table. Shilpi tells us Logsdon “takes pride in experimenting with different yeasts and making beers with flavor front to back.” Hungry? Logsdon leases its kitchen to Alex Smokehouse, a popular barbecue restaurant in town.

Our flight: Helles Lager, India Standard Time IPA, Farmhouse Pale, Seizoen Farmhouse Ale.

Must try: Peche ‘N Brett , Funk Soul Bretta.

54-40 offers a selection that can appease hop-heads and those who turn their nose at the mention of craft beer.”

A six-minute drive from Logsdon puts you at 54-40 Brewing. Tucked deep into a business park, 54-40 is not an easy find. That’s quickly made up for by the warm, open interior of its tasting room. Littered with taxidermied elk, lumber saws, and American flags, the high ceilings and wood-paneled space is a stark contrast from its stale location. At 1 P.M., the long, family-style tables are already packed. We find a seat next to the stone fireplace. Opened in 2015 by owner/brewmaster Bolt Minister, 54-40 is the sum of over a decade of experience. Together with brewer Charlie Hutchens, 54-40 offers a selection that can appease hop-heads and those who turn their nose at the mention of craft beer. Flights go down easy with the best chicken tenders and fries I’ve ever had. Bonus points for their sizable board and trivia game collection.

Our flight : Kascadia Kolsch, Mogul Pale, Half Cocked IPA, Severus Stout

Must try: Kascadia Kolsch, Severus Stout

Day 1, Continued: Washougal, WA to White Salmon, WA

Continuing east on Highway 14, we admire snow-capped Grand Fir trees and stop to take in a view of Beacon Rock. We fuel up on coffee and arrive in White Salmon by late afternoon. White Salmon is a relaxed mountain town sitting on a bluff 550 feet above the Columbia River. We step into Everybody’s Brewing, a.k.a. “the town’s living room,” with high expectations. They are met, and then some. Opened in 2008, Everybody’s went through a major expansion about six months ago, now operating a few doors down from its original location. The new space is a large, modern brewpub with a huge patio and nice vintage touches. The range of beers, from highly drinkable to experimental, have us reeling with delight. We try the infamous Pork and Pepper Nachos and left full and content.

Our flight: Country Boy IPA, Mountain Mama Citra Pale Ale, Cryo-Chronic IPA, Foggy Gogglez Hazy IPA, Antifogmatic CDA

Must try: Cryo-Chronic IPA, Foggy Gogglez Hazy IPA

Day 2: White Salmon, WA to Hood River, OR

An outdoor enthusiast’s playground, Hood River touts more breweries per capita than any U.S city. After a riverfront stroll, we head to the freshly minted Ferment Brewing. Ferment opened to the public in August. The mixed-use building designed by Portland’s Skylab Architecture is a sight to behold—the U-shaped layout housing the brewery on the ground floor, restaurant and taproom on the second, and co-working space on the third. Gigantic windows offer panoramic views of the gorge from every angle. The attention to detail of every design element are only outdone by the quality of the beer and food. Head brewer and microbiologist Dan Peterson got his start at Brooklyn Brewery and spent time with Hood River neighbors Full Sail and pFriem. Ferment’s beers and kombucha fuse traditional farmhouse techniques with a forward-thinking, scientific approach. Together with his wife Jen, Peterson is steadfast on foraging the best ingredients in the wild gorge terrain. There’s good news for Portlanders—Ferment has plans to open a tasting room in the city in the not-so-distant future.

Our beer flight: Dry Stout, 12° Pils, Pale Ale, ESB, IPA; Our kombucha flight: Sencha, Oolong, Assam

Must try: Pale Ale, Oolong

The pFriem team has a knack for taking cues from Germany, Belgium, and the Pacific Northwest to produce beers that are distinctly their own—eclectic without losing a touch of quality.”

A stone’s throw from Ferment is the highly revered pFriem Family Brewers. You can always expect a wait at pFriem, even early on a Sunday afternoon But when you’re drinking world-class beers in a compact space in an idyllic town, there’s not much to complain about. pFriem operates under the “proudly crafted, humbly offered” motto and lives up to that ethos wholeheartedly. Founded in 2012 by Josh Pfriem, Ken Whiteman, and Rudy Kellner, the pFriem team has a knack for taking cues from Germany, Belgium, and the Pacific Northwest to produce beers that are distinctly their own—eclectic without losing a touch of quality. In 2018, pFriem was named the top mid-size brewery in the nation at the Great American Beer Festival, and demand for pFriem in Oregon is now through the roof. You can sense disappointment in Portland when there isn’t a pFriem option on draft. Having just begun canning a modest selection of  brews, pFriem recently announced a well-timed expansion that moves operations to a larger brewhouse in Hood River and a production facility in Cascade Locks.

Our flight: Citrus Zest IPA, Mosaic Single Hop Pale, Pilsner, Belgian Select

Must try: Pilsner, Exploratory IPA

Day 2, Continued: Hood River to Cascade Locks, OR

We complete our loop at Thunder Island Brewing Co. in Cascade Locks. Just upstream from The Bridge of the Gods, a toll bridge that spans the Columbia River, Cascade Locks is tagged “The Heart of the Gorge.” The city takes its name from a set of locks built to improve navigation past the Cascade Rapids of the Columbia River. Used frequently by hikers along the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), Thunder Island is a welcome reprieve for weary backpackers. Pro tip: Its “Trail Magic” program allows you to buy a pint for a long-distance thru-hiker in advance of their arrival. A small-batch, riverside brewery with a ton of character, Thunder Island is authentic in ways other breweries only attempt to be. Being there, you sense the operation is about much more than hop profiles or glossy artwork. The beers pay respect to the awe-inspiring beauty of the Columbia River Gorge, a dedication to preserving local history and the surrounding landscape. During the devastating Eagle Creek fire that ravaged the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area in 2017, the brewery remained open only for firefighters and support crews, making sure to play their part in recovery efforts.

Our flight: Remember the Forest IPA, Easy Climb Golden Ale, Imperial Stout, Saisawesome Saison

Must try: Remember the Forest, Easy Climb Golden Ale

Honorable Mentions: Full Sail (Hood River, OR), Double Mountain (Hood River, OR), Solera (Parkdale, OR).

ZX Ventures, a division within AB InBev, is an investor in October
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