Thursday, September 5, 2013

North Coast Brewing Taproom (Fort Bragg, CA)


North Coast tap room and restaurant. 
"That's not a kitty!" Walking home from North Coast's tap house, we saw down the block something walking away from a trash can.  The B&B next door (that we didn't get a room for) had a house cat according to the website, so we made an assumption that the kitty was in the street being naughty. When "it" turned, the profile was clearly NOT a kitty, but we couldn't identify what it was in the dark. We now have a new experession for anything unexpected, "That's not a kitty."

For out stop in Fort Bragg, the saying is appropriate. While the beers of North Coast are famous, and worthy of it, the stop was very different than I imagined. At Anderson Valley, our new friends Dave and Meredith had shown up too early for the restaurant (opens at 4 pm), ending up at a nearby bar and chatted with a disgruntled local about the negative relationship the brewery has with the small seaside community.  We didn't sense any of that dynamic on our stop but the restaurant does feel out of place.
Drafts worth travelling to drink

To buy time to order some food, we jumped into drafts of Brother Thelonious and Old Rasputin, both excellent. No notes as we focused on ordering bruschetta with fresh basil and a quattro formaggio spent grain pizza. In spite of the very comfortable and welcomed 60 degree coastal temp compared to the inland heat, the restaurant was stuffy. A dark wood interior and black painted ceiling gives the place a somber feeling. Blended with 1950s muzak, I sense in the restaurant an attempt to be upscale in a small town like the steak house in my backwater hometown in Iowa.

Brother Thelonious and 25th Anniversary Barley Wine to end
Which might explain the high end beers brewed by North Coast. While a couple of beers like ACME and Scrimshaw are lighter, the rest are big beers in big bottles. Two and two adds up to four now, but I never really did the math before. North Coast are high end beers because they seem to see themselves as a high end location. 

Next was the mainstay of my cellar, Old Stock Ale. This draft of the 2013 edition is fresh and young: dark notes and oxidized sherry from bottle aging are missing; tall, fluffy white head falls to a thin film over a mahogany ale; slightly hot nose, hidden cherry and dark malt; a little thin and alcoholic on the tongue with more dark fruit and malt and a dry finish. Too cold when served but the beer opens nicely as it warms to hint at the aged version. A barleywine on a summer trip is always a treat, so ordering a 25th Anniversary Barley Wine on draft was a no-brainer: medium lace from a fluffy off white head; amber ale with shimmering gold in the light; aromatic and floral nose from a fairly intense hop with sweet malt and a hint of molasses; smooth and whiskey-like on the tongue and the hop lingers off the back. Pretty good beer but not an all-time barleywine for me.
Four cheese spent grain pizza

Overall, our walk on the beach at sunset to check out sea glass (recommended by our friendly hotel owner upon check in) and the downtown region was beautiful, as was the drive to Fort Bragg through the Jackson State Forest, forecasting our next day in redwoods. Pleasant stop with some excellent beers, but I didn't feel connected to the restaurant. Nothing wrong—just wasn't inspired by the disconnect between the rough and tumble seaside town and the attitude in the restaurant, especially when the food only partially delivered. Still, hard to go wrong drinking the drafts of North Coast across the street from the brewery and an easy (if somewhat surprising) walk home.

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