Beercation Pros

Danny and John Cook at Ninkasi Brewing Company, Eugene, Oregon

Danny and John Cook at Ninkasi Brewing Company, Eugene, Oregon (Photo Shelli Hartman)

With the proliferation of craft breweries these days, we all know at least one of those serious fans of good beer. Maybe you’re one yourself. I’m talking about those individuals who can look at an IPA, take a whiff, and, without a sip, tell you if it’s West Coast or Northeast-style. Then there’s John and Danny Cook. These guys, father and son (21+, obviously), live up my street here in Monterey, California, and they take beercations to a whole other level.

The stream of daily texts from their most recent road trip kept me informed and in stitches. On June 17, they, along with Ellie the Australian cattle dog mix, took off in the family RV, headed for Bend, Oregon, then up to Yakima, Washington, over to Seattle, down to Portland and Eugene and back home.

If they didn’t leave out a brewery or two, and if I counted correctly, over twelve days they hit twenty-eight. Together, they sampled over 200 beers. That level of commitment naturally led to activities like visiting friends along the way and  touring Deschutes Brewery in Bend and Mecca Grade Estate Malt, a malt house in Madras, Oregon. (We pause here for a major shout-out from the Cooks to Seth Klann at Mecca Grade for the private tour and his hospitality and patience answering all their questions.)

Mecca Grade Estate Malt, Madras, Oregon with Cook RC in the foreground

Mecca Grade Estate Malt, Madras, Oregon with the Cook RV in the foreground

You might wonder if visiting three or four breweries day after day and sampling so many beers, wouldn’t blur into a mass muddled of memories. For the Cooks, though, the best stood out as unforgettable. So, whether you’d like ideas for a beercation route or just a few suggestions of breweries to visit, here are some of the Cooks stand-outs.

For fun and excellent beer, they salute Boneyard (Bend), Reuben’s (Seattle), and Bale Breaker (Yakima). Of Urban Family (Seattle) and Plow (Santa Rosa, CA) Danny notes, “It’s amazing to see what they can do with such a small space.” They single out Hair of the Dog (Portland) as another great small brewery, lauding it for bucking the IPA trend by offering a variety of darker and aged beers.

Danny with a Bale Breaker flight in Yakima, WA

Danny with a Bale Breaker flight, Yakima, WA

They lavish their highest praise on Deschutes, both the Bend brewery and the Bend and Portland pubs. “The experience at every single Deschutes location we went to was great. Fantastic and unique beers and getting to tour the brewery was really cool,” John says. He declares Bachelor Bitter, available only at the pubs, one of his favorite beers on the entire trip.

Danny votes Deschutes Loral Glory one of his favorites. “It was a SMASH (single malt and single hop), but was unique and complex. Their Smash Berry Toast was also a SMASH with an experimental hop variety, but it blew me away with how much it actually tasted like toast with jam on it, definitely the most unique beer I sampled.”

Of course, as long-time Russian River (Santa Rosa, CA) fans, the Cook’s trip wouldn’t have been complete without a stop at this beer lovers’ mecca. “You could pit [Pliny, Row 2 Hill 56, STS Pilsner] against anything else we tried and it would be a close contest,” Danny reports.

Russian River growler of STS

Russian River growler of STS

A great tip from the Cooks for road trip beercations is to take advantage of Crowlers. The rising popularity of Crowler machines now allows bartenders to instantly can 32 ounces of any beer on tap. Crowlers are less expensive than glass growlers and easier to transport. In addition, they protect beer from light and keep it fresher for longer periods. The one disadvantage to Crowlers is their single use, but that also precludes having to wash out a growler and then wonder how clean it is after months in your car trunk. Crowlers are, of course, recyclable.

The only change the Cooks plan for their next beercation is to take a larger cooler so they can bring home more than the twenty Crowlers plus some growlers, bottles and cans they stashed in their home beer fridge. (What? You thought these guys—did I mention they’re avid homebrewers—could fit all their beer in the family refrigerator?) For those of us lucky enough to score an invite to the souvenir-beers tasting a couple of evenings ago, their next trip can’t come soon enough.

Back home at the beer tasting (photo Joe Livernois)

Some of the samples back home at the beer tasting (Photo Joe Livernois)

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Two final notes:

  • In case you’re not a craft beer enthusiast and have visions of the Cooks driving up and down the West Coast in a drunken stupor, the beers they tasted came in flights, typically with two to four-ounce pours which they could then split
  • Ellie reports that her favorite part of the trip was running around in the snow at Mount Rainier National Park.
  • Danny and Ellie at Mount Rainier

    Danny and Ellie at Mount Rainier

 

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