North Coast craft breweries still riding high

BY WILLIAM DEAN

[Note: This column ran prior to Reach Break Brewing’s announced closure on Jan. 5. A definite “Tears!”]   

The North Coast craft beer scene kept growing in 2023, seemingly immune to a nationwide slowdown.

The growth was plain to see in a chunk of downtown Astoria: Reach Break Brewing doubled the size of its taproom; Portland’s Breakside Brewery opened a brewpub; and work began on a gluten-free microbrewery in the old Sunflower Dairy building.

Overall beer production in the region rose virtually across the board, led by Fort George Brewery and Buoy Beer Co.

Here’s a look back at some of the year’s highs and lows:

Cheers!  Fort George notched record production and sales yet again in 2023. “We’re brewing more beer than we ever did,” says spokesman Brian Bovenizer.

That’s impressive, given that the brewery is content with its Pacific Northwest distribution footprint and Astoria-only venues. Fort George produced 130 different beers last year, announcing seven new releases in a single, dizzying week. Charitable giving also reached new heights.

Tears!  It’s been 19 months since Buoy was rocked by the partial collapse of its beloved waterfront building, and there are no concrete plans for a rebuild or the return of its small-batch brewing system (although both seem likely). “The first half of the year was still trying to keep our heads above water,” says marketing director Jessyka Dart-Mclean.

Cheers!  Despite the challenges noted above, Buoy is brewing more beer than ever, distribution has expanded into five states, including parts of Alaska and Montana, and sales of its flagship IPA continue to grow.

Dart-Mclean sums up the year in two words: “perseverance” and “dedication.”

Cheers!  Astoria’s Obelisk Beer Co. opened in November 2022 with a taproom and gleaming brewhouse. Unfortunately, the tanks stood empty due to a variety of technical problems for more than a year. Brewing elsewhere was the rule – until a few weeks ago. On-site brewing has finally begun, much to the relief of owners Dave Coyne and Nathan Lampson.

Obelisk Beer Co. is now brewing on the premises.

Cheers!  In time for the summer rush, Portland-based Breakside opened a brewpub in Astoria’s old co-op building. It has developed a following, offering a full bar and fresh oysters on the half shell. And excellent beer, of course.

Cheers!  The phased opening isn’t expected to start until summer, but construction has begun on the North Coast’s first gluten-free brewery, tucked inside a former dairy in downtown Astoria. It will double as a craft soda shop, hence the fun name – Fizziology. 

Tears!  While no breweries have folded in this region, warning signs are flashing. Overall craft beer consumption declined slightly last year, particularly among young adults. Whether it’s a trend or a blip remains to be seen.

Breakside Brewery’s brewpub has been a popular addition.

Cheers!  Reach Break doubled the size of its Duane Street taproom in November, expanding into the former home of Reveille Ciderworks (now Fortune & Glory). The added indoor space allows the brewery to host more special events and lure customers in winter when the patio isn’t as inviting. Cheers!  Plans for Warrenton’s first brewery are slowly taking shape. The owners of Battery 245 Brewing obtained a five-year lease for a city-owned building by the marina and work on the brewhouse is expected to start soon. 

Tears!  Growlers continued their decline, replaced by vacuum-sealed crowlers. Sadly, those 32-ounce cans keep beer fresher than the iconic 64-ounce glass jugs.

Cheers!  The Pacific Northwest Brew Cup made a triumphant return to Astoria, with a lively, two-day August festival featuring craft beer and a handful of bands. The event had been on hiatus for several years due to the pandemic. 

All in all, a very good year indeed!

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WILLIAM DEAN is an author with a passion for craft beer. His suspense novels Militia MenDangerous Freedom and The Ghosts We Know are available at Amazon and in bookstores. Check out his beer blog at astoriabeerzone.com.

 
This column originally appeared Jan. 2 in The Astorian.

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