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SFO to PDX Part 4: North Coast Brewing Co.

Reading Time: 5 minutes read

The traveler sees what he sees. The tourist sees what he has come to see.– G.K. Chesterton

From Santa Rosa to Fort Bragg, you have a couple of very sensible route options. You can go north on US-101 for about 78 miles, and then take Hwy 20 back toward the coast, and almost straight into Fort Bragg. Or, you can take a little bit longer, and go a bit inland via CA-29, passing by Clear Lake, and then join Hwy 20.

On this sunny Monday morning in early May, we choose neither route. As pleasant and scenic as the interior or Sonoma County is, we’ve come to see some coast, dammit. That’s easy enough to accomplish by going almost straight west to Jenner, and then north on CA-1. On the map, CA-1 is a slightly squiggly, but fairly tame-looking blue line running up the California coastline. Ha!

View of the Pacific Ocean from alongside CA-1, on the way north to Fort Bragg.
Photo by Meagan Wilson

I learned to drive in Oregon, and can definitely handle curving roads that wend their way up mountain passes with nary a guard rail (or perhaps just a small one) between you and the edge. Today’s sometimes-misty, sometimes-forested, always technical drive has all of that beat. It’s not a road for a novice driver, and you’d want to be quite a good biker, with a serious corner carver, to attempt it on two wheels. 

Joe Seta and the author discussing the history of North Coast Brewing Co. over lunch in the North Coast Taproom.
Joe Seta gives “a whirlwind tour” of the North Coast history and beers. Photo by Benjamin Wilson.

After a morning of intense driving and stunning views, we pull into the parking lot of the North Coast Taproom. I’ll tell you straight up, visiting North Coast is a great experience. Joe Seta, Visitor Services Marketing Manager, is our host today, and he’s good at it. Before, during, and after lunch (also delicious; they really nail the clam chowder), Joe treats us to a “whirlwind tour” as he puts it, of just about everything North Coast has available at the time. I’m pretty sure there are 15 tasting glasses, and each has its own place on the mat. As we sip, Joe recounts not only the oral history of each brew, but he tells us about the brewery (founded in 1988), the town (logging and fishing used to be the main industries), the area, and how North Coast is integrated with the community.

When Joe describes it as a whirlwind tour, it’d be smart to take the hint. But I don’t, and instead try to capture notes on each beer (Scrimshaw, Red Seal, PranQster, Old Rasputin, and Brother Thelonius are their top five sellers). Old No. 38, their dry Irish stout, is one of the original three beers they’ve been making for decades. It was named Old 45 at first, after an old steam engine, but they had to change the name after a while because it bore a strong similarity to the name of a malt liquor. In any case, it’s a fine example of a dry Irish stout.

Several taps in the North Coast Taproom.
Photo by Benjamin Wilson

At the time of writing, I’ve got seven pages of notes from our visit to North Coast and they’ve been (metaphorically) staring at me for several months. Too many notes can be almost as bad as too few. I won’t try to tell you all the cool things about North Coast; there are too many.

Here are some highlights:
They’re a Certified B Corporate, and they cooperate with several different organizations in various sustainability efforts that include but aren’t limited to marine mammal research and rescue, music education, solar energy, and “carbon farming.” They partner with Fortunate Farm, sending the spent grain and hops there to be composted. North Coast also buys their vegetables and fruit from Fortunate Farm, but the produce is almost a by-product of the farm’s main purpose. All that composting the farm does enriches the soil, and helps it to retain water. In a state that frequently experiences water shortages and fires, any measurable improvement (and they do measure it) in the soil’s ability to retain water is a major win.

Tasting glasses and the tasting placemat in the North Coast Taproom & Restaurant.
Photo by Benjamin Wilson

This trip started as a getaway to the Left Coast to enjoy a much-needed change of scenery, and some amazing beers. What we rediscovered along the way is that most of the craft breweries are very closely tied to their communities, in ways that are specific to each area. 

For Bragg is a little seaside town located along a major highway, but it’s also a geographic island at times. Fires, floods, landslides, storms; any occurrence that makes CA-1, or the smaller Hwy 20 impassable creates a situation where the town has to be self-sufficient, or nearly so. There are times when no one is going to be able to get in and help, so the local folks have to look out for each other. North Coast gets that. They encapsulate this outlook in their motto, “Making the world a better place, one pint at a time.” I’ll drink to that.

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Pacific Northwest native, travel and craft beverage writer. Exploring the intersections where beer (and coffee and spirits), food, travel and culture meet.

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