The Pacific Northwest is proving to be a relative Mecca for the craft beer industry. So many talented and creative individuals seem to be thriving out here, with new micro-breweries opening by the month. British Colombia, Washington, Oregon, and Northern California appear to have countless brewers producing incredible world-class beers. So what makes the west coast so special? Why is there so much beer-brilliance concentrated in this one area? Is there something in the water? In a matter of speaking actually, yes.
What these places all have in common is their proximity to a mountain range known as the Cascades. The Cascades run along the western edge of the Rocky Mountains near the Pacific coast. They get lots of rain and relatively mild winters. So how does this connect with people brewing exceptional beer? The answer is hops. The Cascades are a perfect climate for growing many varieties of hops, a key element in beer. Hops are used in the brewing process to give the beer character and bitterness as well as contribute to the alcohol content. It seems no small coincidence that so many beers coming out of this region seem to be “hoppy” or “hop-forward” beers.
Many people seem to argue that the Pacific NW has yet to develop a style. In some ways they are correct. Though some variances have formed, most of the signature style of Pacific beers seem to centre around varieties of Pale Ales and IPAs (India pale ales). Though some tremendous new styles have formed, such as CDAs (Cascadian Dark Ales), CDLs (Cascadian Dark Lagers), and IPLs (India Pale Lagers), no one signature style dominates. That being said, I would still argue that Pacific craft brewers are by and large a hoppy bunch, most likely because some of the best ingredients in the world are being grown in their own back yard. When visiting a craft beer pub, the draught menu is very often hop-biased, with over half of the options falling somewhere in the Pale Ale/IPA category.
In the meantime this is a trend I certainly do not mind. There are few more refreshing things than a cold pint of Driftwood’s ‘Fat Tug’ or Deschutes’ ‘Fresh Squeezed’ on a warm day. So easy is it to push the envelope where hops are concerned, I think brewers thrive at the challenge to play with the arsenal of fresh hops at their disposal. So I say brew on, Pacific brewers, keep experimenting, keep pushing the boundaries, keep brewing great, hoppy, west-coast beer and I’ll keep drinking it.