Tuesday, August 11, 2009


The family & I had planned this escape-the-fog getaway down to Big Sur and Santa Barbara this summer before realizing, holy christ, unless we camp, that’s a really reeeally expensive trip. We just bought a house this year, Jay’s got those very important ongoing beer expenses, blah blah blah. So we quickly re-crafted the plan, and instead vowed to head north – up the 101 to Arcata, California, a mellow hippie town in the middle of the Redwoods, about five hours from San Francisco. There we would find uncrowded beaches, strange fauna/flora-filled hikes (you gotta check out Fern Canyon, a total mindblower hike that was the setting for portions of “The Lost World”), good food, and yeah, a bunch of fog.

And let me tell you, when they say that Arcata’s a hippie town, they’re not kidding. Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve got no real quarrel with the hippies – after all, I live in San Francisco (which actually has no hippies) and work just outside of Berkeley (which absolutely does). You walk around the town square and it’s one dreadlocked, tattooed, bath-challenged individual after another, staggering around with their dogs and fellow travelers. Rather than the cartoonish, Woodstock, “Cheech & Chong”-ish brand of hippie, Arcata seems to bring in multitudes of the more derelict, stoned, rough-edged, pseudo-punk sort of hippie. The kind that always has four dogs hooked together on a leash, a bottle of something-or-other in a bag, and whose favorite three words are “Spare any change?” We really liked the place, but were surprised that the age-old Humboldt County stereotype rang so true.

Now one thing I knew was going to be a highlight up here was the beer. They drink the good stuff in Humboldt. Granted, there aren’t any popularly-recognized “world class” breweries in Humboldt County, but a gaggle of respected ones: LOST COAST, MAD RIVER, SIX RIVERS, and EEL RIVER. I figured I’d grab something from each of them on this trip, but as it turned out, the establishments we dined at didn’t always carry the locals, and/or it wasn’t “drinking hours” (I’m not one for beer before 5pm unless I’m at a festival or something). I was able to taste an incredible pint of DESCHUTES’ MIRROR POND PALE ALEso good on draft – and an even more amazing full pint (not a Belgian-style glass) of RUSSIAN RIVER DAMNATION, so good it is going to move that beer up in my rankings to the 10/10 it richly deserves. But as of the locals, I supped but two in the three days of our travels. They were:

MAD RIVER BREWING SCOTCH PORTER – A huge surprise here. I ordered this at a vegetarian restaurant that was like central casting for your preconceptions of Humboldt County. An easy-drinking yet still complex amber-colored scotch ale, with a porter/coffee taste. The malts are very rich and there’s a lingering smokiness to it. It has all the taste and characteristics of the best scotch/Scottish ales, with a little bit of smooth English porter sneaking in behind it. Totally worth seeking out in a big way. 8.5/10.

SIX RIVERS MOONSTONE PORTER – I imbibed this at a nice beer bar called HUMBOLDT BREWS right there in Arcata. We’d just been to Moonstone Beach earlier in the day, and another porter sounded like the right idea. Not this time. Thin-bodied and malty as hell, MOONSTONE PORTER just wasn’t that impressive. 6% ABV and roasty-tasting, but with everything sort of muted to the point of mundanity. Is mundanity even a word? It should be. 5.5/10.


Anonymous said...

I was in Arcata and Eureka last year and wanted to try the local brews. Lost Coast brewing didn't do much for me, neither their beers nor their brewpub. I asked a couple of guys working in the record store on the Arcata square for suggestions and they raved about Mendocino Red Tail Ale. Again, not really anything too special. I think the really good beers don't start until you get down to Healdsburg (Bear Republic)or, if you're on Hwy. 1, Fort Bragg (North Coast). But the area along 101 from Healdsburg to SF is amazing, with Bear Republic, Moonlight, Moylan's, Lagunitas and Russian River.

Anonymous said...

I made my trek there last month. I was duly impressed with my visit to Eel River. Their Imperial Stout was quite good and the food was excellent.
At Lost Coast I had the Scotch Ale and the Double Trouble IPA. Both were excellent.
It a long drive to get there, and you pass many nice breweries on the way, but you are rewarded nicely when you get there.

Anonymous said...

I am an Arcatan and squirming a bit in my chair that your description of our populace is so spot on. It has got a lot worse over the past few years. Seems to go hand in hand with the ever increasing number of grow houses recently estimated to be as high as 1000 houses out of Arcata's total of 7500. Glad you liked the Scotch Porter.