It’s very strange, being away from home, and away from San Diego, but still being so close. With all the out of state travel lately, I’ve started to think of being Californian as a novelty. When asking locals what there is to do, or where I might find good local beer, they ask where I’m from. Lately, the response has been “Oh, I’m from California.”… but this week finds me in Mount Shasta, California, and my response now has to be more specific. It’s strange to feel like a foreigner in your home state. I’m not quite accustomed to moving around so much, but it has presented me with an enjoyable opportunity. I don’t care to find the local night-life, or find and talk to the natives… but I do like tasting local beer and barbecue. Which is why I was excited when one of my co-workers (whom I had not worked with before) said he liked, “I don’t know… all kinds of beer. Blue Moon, Fat Tire, Stella, I like dark beers, strong beers, light beers… just not Budweiser, Miller, Coors, or any of that kind of crap”.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Our first day in Mount Shasta was long and tiring, as most of them tend to be, so we asked the employees of the store that we were working on, “Is there anywhere around here where we can get really good local beer?” “Well… there aren’t really any bars around here… It’s a pretty small town.” I told them I had heard there was a place called Mount Shasta Brewing Company, and asked if they knew anything about it. “Oh, Yeah… well that’s not right here in town. If you go about fifteen minutes North you’ll get to Mount Shasta Brewing, if you go about fifteen minutes South you’ll get to Dunsmuir Brewery Works. They’re both really good. But if you’re talking about stuff here in town, your best bet is The Billy Goat Tavern.”
The co-worker I just met (who is snoring in the next bed as I type this) had to leave early, to take care of some prescriptions or something, so Jared and I decided to go to the tavern without him. It was a nice little place, but I won’t waste too much time on it because the real beer adventure comes later. I started out with a glass of Boont Amber Ale, by Anderson Valley Brewing, in Mendocino county, and a carnitas style pulled pork sandwich with sweet spicy mustard and bacon on top.
The ale was decent, and had some sweetness from the malt and wheat, but the flavor and mouth feel were slightly watery to me. I moved on to Raging Rapids ale, by Feather River in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. It was a dark golden color, and clear. It tasted like sweet, delicate, flowers dipped in honey. The taste hung around in my mouth for a long time, and I was not at all upset about that. It made my sandwich taste better. The ceiling was covered with over 200 decorative taps, which are put there when they’re not in use.
The whole “vibe” (to steal a work from these mountain hippies) of the place was comfortable and relaxed… but it would not have suffered from the use of an Air Conditioner or a fan.
So, the next day, when our other co-worker rejoined us, it was settled. We would be going to Mount Shasta Brewing Company after work for a couple of drinks, and maybe some food if they had it.
Mount Shasta Brewing Company operates out of what had been the abandoned Medo-Bel Creamery, and doesn’t seem to have changed much about the building as far as appearance. The Brewery itself inhabits a large room adjacent to the bar, and can be seen through a set of large windows.
I would like to come back some time when they’re brewing to get the full experience, and maybe meet the brewers.
I was honestly a little surprised by the beer selection. Since it’s kind of a small operation, I expected they might have two or three varieties on tap, and then perhaps a sampling of other relatively local beers, since it’s not just a brewery, but an Alehouse and restaurant. However, when I looked at the eight taps behind the bar, I found that every one had a different Mount Shasta beer, and no other Brewery was represented. Faced with such a spectrum of potential delights, all made locally, I really only had one option: Try them all.
The Tour de Weed. Clockwise, from the front: We have their Seasonal “Stout of Jefferson”, “Skip and Go Naked” specialty lager, “Lemurian” golden lager, “ Weed” golden ale, “Shastafarian” porter, “Abner Weed” amber ale, “Mountain High” IPA, and Jalapeno ale. I’m sure you can guess which one I was least excited about trying.
Oh, and I also got a ham and swiss panini with sliced black olives, and honey dijon mustard and tortilla chips. Though I didn’t think it warranted a picture, it still deserves mention because it was delicious. I had to work at not eating it all before I finished my beer, because I wanted to not only see how good their beer is, but how well it pairs with their food.
I decided on the order in which I would taste them, lightest to darkest, leaving the jalapeno ale for last for fear of it being so spicy that it would ruin the flavor of everything else. However, for the purposes of simplicity, I will tell you about them in the order they were listed above.
Stout of Jefferson: As you can see, and should assume, because it’s a stout, this was a thick dark colored beer. Since I decided not to look at their descriptions on the menu, so my impression wouldn’t be tainted, I expected this to be like Guinness, or Murphy’s, and feel like a dark beer… I expected it to have a sort of roasted coffee bean taste… so I was surprised when it tasted kind of like a cone of soft-serve ice cream where the vanilla and chocolate are swirled together. I was impressed with how it managed to be sweet and dark without being syrupy or cloying. I think it would go well with blueberry scones, or raspberry lemon tarts. It’s sweetness, apparently, comes from the use of local apples and pears.
Skip and Go Naked specialty lager: When the bar tender (who kind of looked like if Ed McMahon had a baby with the bar tender from Boondock Saints, complete with sporadic and random facial twitches) brought my tray over and told me which was which, he simply called this “Skip and Go Naked”. When I asked him what kind of beer it was he looked at me for a moment with a surprised expression… as if no one had ever asked him about beer styles before, and he’d never thought to wonder. Then he said, “Well, I think it’s a lager. I don’t know… I don’t really like that one.” If you ever go, and he’s there, you should ask for his opinion on what to order, and then get something other than what he tells you. This was, perhaps, the best lager I’ve ever tasted. It smelled like cinnamon and honey, and had a slightly spicy taste. While it was crisp, like you’d expect a lager to be, it was by no means weak or watery, but did not err in the other direction by being too flavorful. I would enjoy this with honey-baked ham, Christmas cookies, or a cold juicy apple while laying in a hammock under a shady tree on a warm day.
Lemurian golden lager: This was the first one I tasted, and it’s a good thing too, since it would have tasted weak after the Skip and Go Naked (I’m interested to see what Google AdSense does, with me saying “Naked” so many times in this entry). I’m not sure why, but this pilsner is named for Lemuria, a theoretical continent (which never actually existed) that people used to believe had sunk into either the Indian or Pacific ocean, depending on who you talk to. It had a very warm flavor from the yeast. I would drink it before getting to the main course at a barbecue… with sweet corn on the cob, potato salad, hawaiian rolls, fruit salad, or baked beans. More than that, however, I would like to drink this while eating a ham sandwich, sitting atop Mount Shasta in spring time, looking out over this whole beautiful landscape.
Weed golden ale: Named after Weed, California, which you probably remember best from the first chapter of John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men”, where it’s mentioned that George and Lenny had recently worked on a farm there, but had been chased off because Lenny was accused of rape. This ale was nothing like that, and really doesn’t have anything to do with that though… but it does bring to mind images of vast golden wheat fields surrounded by rolling hills which steadily grow greener as they climb up into the sky and become tree covered mountain spires and rocky snow covered peaks. It had a zesty scent, and a crisp, delicate flavor. Perhaps I should have started with this one. This would go well with a cold turkey club, or something of the like.
Shastafarian porter: Named after Ras Trent, this had a predictably coffee-like scent, and a subtle chocolate malt flavor. It would probably pair well with special brownies, Bob Marley, and/or The Dark Side of Oz.
Abner Weed amber ale: Contrary to popular opinion, the town of Weed is not named after weeds, or marijuana, or even Jeremiah Weed (the alcoholic beverages)… it is actually named after Abner Weed, once California Governor and founder of the town. This ale, which bears his name, honors him more than the actual town does, I believe. It had a sweet, hoppy scent, and a caramel flavor. It tasted a bit like an Irish red ale mixed with Newcastle brown ale. This is a good backbone drink for the brewery. It’s a good representation of its type, which they could produce in large quantities, to fund some of their more experimental beers. I would pair this with the panini I was eating, or maybe some baked beans, or a beef burrito.
Mountain High IPA: So named because the town is surrounded by mountains… and since it is in Weed, they like making drug references. It was deceptively light tasting for being 7%abv. the hoppy flavor was somewhat muted at first, but had a pleasant tangy kick afterward, and the flavor stuck around for a while, which made my sandwich even more enjoyable. I would have this with pizza, or chicken wings, or garlic bread… or all three of those things.
Jalapeno ale: It smelled exactly like you’d expect it to… like tabasco sauce. Yet (and if you knew either of the guys I was there with, you could ask them), I actually did try it. At first, it tasted like tomato vines smell… but that quickly gave way to something more like flamin’ hot cheeto’s with a slight hint of beer flavor. It burned my throat a bit, but was not actually entirely intolerable. I think that anyone who likes spicy food and beer would actually really like this. This was the only one I didn’t finish. I would have this with milk.
I finished my sandwich, finally, and went back to the bar for a pint of Abner Weed, which I enjoyed while briefly talking to my girlfriend before my piece of crap phone died for the second time that day, then went out to the parking lot and talked to a guy from Michigan who had ridden his bike out to Oregon, and was on his way down California to ride back across the southern part of the country before heading back up to Michigan. I told him he needed to go see some giant sequoias while he’s out here, because there’s nothing else quite like them in the world. Sadly, he said, he didn’t have the time… Hopefully, he’ll see some on his way south. It would be a shame to make that kind of a treck and not see them.
I do hope to come back here some day, in the not too distant future, when I’m not working. A leisurely trip up though these mountains, without a schedule, would be damn near perfect.