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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Review - Astoria Brewing & Wet Dog Cafe

Note, post updated following a more recent visit.
Brewer: Bolt Minister
144 11th Street
Astoria OR 97103
(503) 325-6975

Mon-Fri, 11am -11pm, Sat 11am-2am. $4 pint, $3.75 glass, $6 for a taster tray. No smoking, kids okay.

Beers: A large range of NW-style ales, with an emphasis on ferocity.
For those of you who may have passed through town before, Astoria Brewing is the renamed Pacific Rim Brewing--though both past and present, the sign most prominent from the Astoria bayfront has been "Wet Dog Cafe." The beers and ambiance have changed, but the amazing view is the same. I stopped in for lunch yesterday and can't offer a full review. I only tried a couple beers, and there were something like eight on tap. With luck, I'll make it back to delightful Astoria soon and update the review.

Whether you're craving a beer or not, it's worth a stop for the view. One wall of the building is a window overlooking the mouth of the Columbia River, where massive ships begin their journey to the Port of Portland. There's outdoor seating for sunny days, but on cloudy, cold ones, you can sit inside and nurse a stout (or bowl of chowder) while watching the play of nature--black clouds on steel water, the angry churn that defines the Oregon Coast.

What do these names suggest: Bitter Bitch, Kick Ass Stout, Stone Cold Strong Ale. They have a certain muscularity, don't they? Names like that either mean a brewery is overcompensating, or serving notice. In this case, I'm happy to say it's the latter. I tried the Bitter Bitch (a double IPA) and the Kick Ass (an imperial stout). Both were big and aggressive . . . and rather accomplished.

I was slightly worried about the beer based on its murky appearance and lack of head--like a tall glass of unfiltered cider. But the aroma allayed my fear--it was a rich, sticky nose of saturated grapefruit, both fresh and faintly floral. Hops are the central note in this beer, but it isn't painfully bitter. The brewery describes the beer as "quadruple hopped," which while lacking in specificity, suggests a layered approach to hopping that is evident in the flavor and nose. Bitter Bitch, incidentally, won the People's Choice award at this year's Spring Beer Fest.

The stout was a more understated beer and highlighted thick, chocolately malts. It was smooth and creamy and seemed substantial, though I don't recall seeing stats on the alcohol. Much as with the Bitter Bitch, Kick Ass was in perfect balance. That's good, because Astoria is a stout town, if ever there was one. This is a pint that fortifies and warms.

Beer, Updated
I revisited the brewery in March 2009. The Wet Dog had exchanged brewers--Chris Nemlowill went on to found nearby Fort George, and he was replaced by Bolt Minister. A longer update, with a video clip of Bolt speaking about his history is here. From that review, I excerpt these capsule reviews:
  • Pumpkin ale. The last bit from fall. The spices have fallen back a bit and the squash is now evident--a good change in my view.
  • Bitter Bitch. The flagship ale is over 100 IBUs and is therefore shockingly bitter. The beer was designed to be out of balance--the hops vent out of the glass like strong wasabi--but the locals love it.
  • Solar Dog. The nose on this beer suggests its Bitter Bitch's little brother, but it deceives. Still quite a bit of bitterness, but the malt is evident underneath, as is a richer, more floral hop flavor.
  • Porter. In competition with the kolsch for brewery's best beer. The head was so creamy I asked if it was on nitro. It's both a gentle, sweet porter, but also thick, with a bit of roastiness for depth. "I praise the brown malts," Minister said by way of explanation.
  • Strong ale. The final beer before my palate was certifiably shattered, this very dark brown ale was surprisingly smooth and gentle. Abram declared it an old ale, and when I asked Bolt about it later, he said, "well, it's actually an old ale..." (Abram on the case.) Also a great ship-watching beer.
In addition to these, the brewery has a weisse, an ESB, and a stout. I didn't rate out all the beers separately, but none would drop below a B-, and the kolsch and porter were in the B+ / A- range. A very nice line-up.

The menu is impressive. It ranges from the usual pub food into a full offering of seafood. Veggie options are somewhat limited, however. I had a plate of scallops with fries on the side. The fries (steak cut) were great--crispy and not greasy. The scallops, which you can order breaded or sauteed (I went with the latter) were a little rubbery, however. Good scallops have a smooth, even consistency and are about my favorite seafood. Maybe this was an off-day for the cook. They were just switching their menu, too, so possibly things will improve.

Despite this tepid praise, you might stop in for a meal. The prices were moderate for Astoria, and I've been underwhelmed by area restaurants in the past. I wouldn't be surprised if the Wet Dog starts making restaurant short lists in the near future.

Post updated following visit on 3/28/09


  1. I also appreciate the fact that they have a separate smoking section. When I've been there, that part of the place has always been abandoned until 9 or 10pm.

  2. that Bitter Bitch kicked my was a big dog (literally).

  3. I ate there a few months ago and did a sampler of all of them. I thought the beers were quite impressive, being well balanced with clear and crisp flavors. They were really just what I like.

    I thought the food was mediocre pub. I had the fish and chips, and the chips were frozen crinkle cut rather than fresh sliced like I would have expected from the location and prices.

  4. I just called them and they said that they are open on Sundays too.