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Thursday, February 08, 2007

Review - Bill's Tavern and Brewhouse

Brewer: Jack Harris
188 N. Hemlock

Cannon Beach, OR 97110
(503) 436-2202

Sunday through Thursday - 11am to 11 pm
Friday and Saturday - 11am to 2am
Children allowed in separate seating area

Beers: lighter ales, specialty ales (rye and blackberry), seasonals

Last month I went to the coast during an unprecedented snow storm that left drifts on the beaches. Locals were skittish and unnerved, but it made for one of the more exhilerating hikes I've taken as we stepped out into clearings in Oswald State Park and saw the sea beyond the snow. As a testament to its hardiness, Bill's Tavern and Brewhouse was up and running. The beer was cold and the chowder was hot, and that put this reviewer in fine fettle.

Bill's is one of the very cute little buildings along Hemlock, the very cute little street running through this tricked-out seaside town. There was a time there when it looked like Cannon Beach might turn into a treacly tourist town devoid of any heart, but it seems to have turned the corner and has become a beautiful yet functional town. The pub itself is a wonderful little building and a marvel of design. The brewery is in the center of the building, rising up into the gabled rafters--you can see the tanks through a window above the bar. The eating areas are divided between a family area and a "bar," though both are essentially mirrors of each other. The entire interior is decked out in fir and homey touches (including a wood stove), giving it a lodgey feel.

Food and Beer
I tend to judge a restaurant by its chowder, and so in my sole visit, that's what I had. I'd give it a B-. The clams were fresh and there was a trace of grit (good sign), but it was on the thin side and not quite hot enough. Sally had the fish and chips--her point of judgment for any pub. Their halibut was perfectly cooked; it was flaky (not rubbery) and the fish was also fresh. The chips were soggy, though. (No one buys fish and chips for the chips, so just a minor deduction there.) The menu featured typical pub fare, and seems like a reliable bet.

The brewery favors lighter ale, and isn't afraid of adjuncts. I suspect this is partly in deference to their clientele, who are probably not after strong, characterful beers. (Food on the coast is worse than any region in the state--it's two decades behind the times, and finding a decent cup of coffee is like looking for an intact sand dollar on the beach.) Within the confines of these limitations, brewer Jack Harris gets a lot out of his beers. A good example: I thought his summery Blackberry Beauty was his best beer, and one of the best fruit ales I've ever had. I imagine that it tastes like heaven on a summer afternoon after you've been wandering the beach for a couple hours. Below are my notes on the beers we tried (it's a fairly stable line-up, which contrasts with most Portland brewpubs):

Golden Rye - Delicate, astringent nose with evident maltiness. Rye offers a pronounced dryness in the palate, and is a fairly noticeable flavor--a little like rye bread. I also get a lemongrass note that may arise from the play between rye and hops. Rating: Good.

Blackberry Beauty - The nose is blackberry, but more like the essence of the fruit, rather than picked berry. Wheaty palate and tartness from the fruit almost completely without sweetness. Rating: Excellent.

Bronze Ale - Sweet aroma with no detectable hopping. On the palate, hops offer a delightful minor, peppery note. It's a little bit more tannic than I would like. Rating: Good.

Duckdive Pale - Robust hop aroma that comes off as slightly soapy. There are tannins in this beer, too, and they combine with the hops to make it unpleasantly bitter. Soapiness persists in the palate. Extremely dry. Rating: Average.

Yule Mule - Smoky, roasty, and malty aroma create the impression that this is going to be a Scotch or related ale, and completely belies the riot that awaits the tongue. I thought it was spruce, but Sally picked out the peppermint. There is also cut lemon balm. I believe Bill's does a different seasonal every winter with different adjuncts. Not my cup of tea, but a worthy experiment. (I'll skip rating this one.)
I'll leave you with some footage I shot while I was there. Music snippet by my friend Vince Maldonado.


  1. This was where I last time I was in Cannon Beach and was really underwhelmed. I too had the fish and chips, but mine was dry and tasteless. I don't remember the beer, but I didn't like it - not much flavor, just sort of dull. There's a little seafood market and "restaurant" (i.e., anything we have in the case, fried) that's fresh and good, but no beer.

  2. I guess this is why restaurant reviewers visit a place many times--you want to see if the food is consistent. Beer, on the other hand, is easier to characterize after a single visit.

  3. I was in Cannon Beach in September 2007, went to bills tavern for food and drinks. The food was good, the beer even better, our server though!!! TO DIE FOR!!! He was so hot. Had on sunglasses, brown hair, hairy face, real laid back, SUPER nice,I'd go back for the drinks and food but for sure to see him again!!!! Great place!!!!
    Prescott, AZ

  4. My wife and I spend the weekend on the Oregon Coast a few times a year, usually at our favorite place, Tolovana Inn. We initially decided to try The Lumberyard Rotisserie & Grill for the first time, and after 10 minutes of waiting for a server to stop by our booth, left in disgust and headed for Bill's Tavern and Brewhouse. I've enjoyed the food & beverages there many times before and knew I could count on the servers and atmosphere not to disappoint. Everything started off just as planned: the service was good and the food was excellent (some of the best chowder I've ever had). As we were waiting for our check to arrive, our 2 year old son wandered the empty dining room and entryway. A few minutes after making a surprise circuit around the entire restaurant (through the bar area), a man identifying himself as the owner approached my wife and in a rude and condescending manner, fit for a cop talking to pedophile, told us we needed to maintain control of our child, etc. In just a 15 second conversation, he managed to imply we were horrible parents that gave birth to a problem child. I've never been belittled like that, let alone as a customer. The only other patrons in the dining area appeared to be surprised by the interaction as well. As much as I love the food, beverages and service at Bill's Tavern, the owner's spectacular success as the corporate sales prevention department, ruined our experience. Big thumbs down!

  5. In response to the parent who let their child wander around. I don't blame the owner for acting like that at all. Considering a place can receive massive fines for an occurrence like that, and that parents should be aware of the location of their 2 year olds and not let them wander around at all. I would have to agree that you are in fact bad parents for letting him do so.

  6. Just to check in---visited Bills over the weekend. Chowder still a B, beers still thin and astringent. Kind of a bummer.