Lisa Morrison's picture

Full Sail Brewery Tour

"Beervana", as many beer fans know by now, is the nickname for Portland, Ore., which has more breweries in its metro area than any other city on the planet.
Full Sail Brewing Beers
Photo Credit: coppertopbrews.wordpress.com

But a quaint town about an hour’s drive east rivals Portland’s Beervana badge by beating just about every other American city in craft breweries per capita.

Home to three brewpubs and less than 7,000 residents – or one brewery for every 2,345 people – tiny Hood River, Ore., was officially named “Beertown, USA” not long ago by Charlie Papazian of the Brewers Association.

Full Sail Brewing, 27 this year, is Hood River’s elder statesman. With a host of national and international awards, it is also the most recognized and largest brewer. The other breweries – a tiny brewpub ironically named Big Horse and Double Mountain, which turns three this March – could both fit inside Full Sail’s ample brew house with room to spare.

Housed in a former fruit cannery, Full Sail’s brewery and the brewpub/tasting room can be spotted from Interstate 84; it’s a stunning drive into the Columbia River Gorge to get there, as the road follows the mighty river and waterfalls tumble off cliffs looming overhead.

Surprisingly, outdoor recreation—not beer—puts Hood River on the map. It’s the windsurfing capital of the state and is also not far from Mount Hood, popular for snowboarding, hiking and other pursuits. Many of Full Sail’s 47 owner-employees – it’s the largest majority-employee-owned craft brewery in the country—are experienced outdoorsmen and women.

Full Sail’s brewpub reflects the town’s outdoorsy attitude, with huge picture windows that overlook the confetti-colored sails of the windsurfers, sailboarders and boats on the Columbia River below. A large mural by a local artist that depicts the town’s relationship to the Gorge and the Cascade Mountains takes up one wall in the cozy pub, while sunny yellow and white cloth resembling sails drapes across the spacious outdoor patio area, providing shade for patrons drinking and dining al fresco.

In addition to giving tips on the best hikes or half-pipes in the area, Full Sail’s staff is educated to help customers pick the right beers for their palates and pair beers with selections from the extensive menu. That’s no easy feat with a tap list that often surpasses more than a baker’s dozen. Thirsty patrons can choose from standards such as Full Sail IPA and Amber, along with a rotating selection of Brewers Share beers—one-offs created by the brewers—plus ongoing Brewers Reserve beers. The latter includes such rare treats as Black Gold Bourbon Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout (released in odd-numbered years) and its counterpart, Bourbon Barrel-Aged Imperial Porter (released in even-numbered years).

The brewpub has come a long way since Irene Firmat started Full Sail in 1987, making it the fourth microbrewery in the pioneering state.

“We thought we would be the last micro in Oregon,” she reflected, as sunlight coming from large windows bathed her and her husband, Jamie Emmerson, the brewmaster, in a warm glow.

“Yeah,” Emmerson added. “We thought Oregon’s market was pretty much saturated with four breweries.” With Oregon boasting nearly 100 breweries a quarter-century later, they were obviously off the mark on their estimates. But at least one thing has remained constant since Full Sail opened its doors: It’s still worth the short jaunt from Portland through the Columbia River Gorge to visit this iconic brewery. Just make sure you bring a designated driver along for the trip back, because, even though the road is an interstate, it can be treacherous. Or better yet, make it an overnighter and enjoy a full Hood River experience.

Comments

Scott S Gardner's picture
I really like the two Session beers. Not an IPA guy, old school enjoying malt and hops... Hard to find in St Augustine.
shortonideas08's picture
What about Pfriem Family Brewery there in Hood River?

Comments

Scott S Gardner's picture
I really like the two Session beers. Not an IPA guy, old school enjoying malt and hops... Hard to find in St Augustine.
shortonideas08's picture
What about Pfriem Family Brewery there in Hood River?

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