To inform your voting in CHOW’s monthlong Best Brewpub in America Bracket, we’re throwing the spotlight on individual matchups.
Our bracket’s West Coast beer-off pits Portland against San Francisco, a city of drizzly perma-rain against a city of drizzly perma-fog. But wait, Portland is Beervana, right? Wouldn’t Cascade Brewing Barrel House have an edge over San Francisco’s ultramellow, Phish- and Grateful Dead–vibed Magnolia Gastropub & Brewery? Probably, except that this is a quest for the best brewpub in America, not just the best beer—criteria also include atmosphere, food, and overall pubbiness.
To assess the merits of each, we turned to the ultimate beer geeks: the drinker-reviewers of BeerAdvocate. First up: Cascade, a place the aggregate of BA reviews rate “world-class.” For its sour beers alone, Cascade lives up to the Beervana hype. “The biggest sour ale variety I know of anywhere in the NW,” says BA reviewer Flightoficarus. “The tap list was ridiculous,” writes dirtylou. “My expectations were very high, and this place somehow obliterated them. Nearly 25 beers on tap, with a heavy focus on barrel aged sours.” There’s also a line of nonsours available “for those not down with tart,” notes Matylight. As for the vibe, Matylight pegs it as “overall a pretty typical Oregon brewery tasting room but really well done.” And the food? Good, not great, writes dirtylou, noting a nice meat, pickle, and cheese plate but merely average sandwiches.
Down in San Francisco, in the neighborhood that gave the world the Summer of Love, BeerAdvocate reviewers love Magnolia enough to rate it overall as “exceptional.” The one-time pharmacy has a look and feel that register as neo-hippie, the kind of funky that comes from minimal rehabbing. “It looks like they bought the place ‘as is’ and just left it as the wonderfully charming time capsule that it is,” writes NeroFiddled. The English-style beers strike the same old-timey note. “I had a couple saisons and cask pale ales,” reports ElectricBoogaloo. The verdict: tasty. “The focus on the English side of beer was a refreshing stop from the hopped-up extreme beer West Coast scene,” ElectricBoogaloo adds, noting that the food was good, but “definitely overpriced for my slim college budget.” That didn’t stop NeroFiddled from busting out an exclamation point. “It's not often that I find a brewpub that can impress me with every beer that I taste, but Magnolia has done it!”
Think you got it? Go vote. Remember: This round ends soon, so don't wait. And may the best brewpub win!
Photograph by Jennifer Yin / SF Beer Week