Friday, August 22, 2008

West Coast Good Beer Guide

Anytime you're traveling on the West Coast, you'll want to bring along the CAMRA Good Beer Guide for our fair region. The British authors of the Guide, both in their early 30's, do an amazingly thorough job of covering the breweries and pubs of the area. They even have an entry for a bar 10 blocks from my house -- Roadside Attraction -- that I was dimly aware of, but had never ventured into. Cheeky devils -- if I was younger I'd go write a book about drinking beer in their neighborhood. The writing is witty but concise: they cram a lot of beery information into 300 pages.

In addition to covering Washington, Oregon, and California, the Guide has chapters on Alaska, Hawaii, and Las Vegas. Within each geographic area are separate sections for breweries, brewpubs, beer bars, and "other beer destinations". The entries within each section are numbered, with a map at the end of each chapter for handy reference. Driving through Washington on Highway 97 last week, if it weren't for the map in the Guide, I would never have been aware we were passing so close to the Hop Museum in Toppenish, although we got there too late in the evening to visit it. It also saved me by providing the phone numbers for Boundary Bay and Iron Horse -- even though we intended to visit both breweries, I had left home without directions or phone numbers for either.

Just before buying this book, I had blogged about Tugboat Brewing. Thumbing through the Portland section, I became embarrassed about the uncomfortable number of similarities between what I wrote about Tugboat and the Guide's take on it. Both descriptions noted that it was a cozy pub with a 4-barrel operation that had been there since the early 90's. We both recommended the Chernobyl Stout, and dutifully pointed out that it is only served in half-pints. Finally, I regretted my pretentious use of the British phrase "opening hours", since it made it seem like I took every bit of my information from the Guide. I was certain someone was going to accuse me of plagiarism; fortunately my readership is small enough that no one made the connection.

As good as the GBG is, I wouldn't be a beer nerd if I couldn't find a few things to nitpick about it. For starters, the Washington map is a little confused: the things I noticed are that some of the brewpub numbers between 33 and 40 are incorrect, and the map shows Dick's Brewing to be in Long Beach instead of Centralia. I also wish they had included a chapter on British Columbia -- that would have been more useful to Northwesterners than Alaska and Hawaii. Another quibble is that most Portlanders will be ticked off that the only Portland brewpubs that rate a "Highly Recommended" are Edgefield and the Rogue pub -- and Rogue doesn't even brew at the Portland pub.

Still, you don't buy a travel guide for your hometown, you buy it for the places you're visiting. The Good Beer Guide is thorough, up-to-date, well-organized and fun to read. Don't leave home without it.

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