Columbia County Brewing
164 S 15th St., St. Helens, 896-7776, columbiacountybrewing.com. Hours vary.
[AMERICAN PASTORAL] Columbia County is a weird little world. It's only a few miles to the I-5 corridor as the crow flies, but our proverbial crow can't fly over the mighty Columbia, which means it takes an hour to travel 12 nautical miles, via the bridges in Longview or Portland. This little brewpub in St. Helens fits the town well—it's an odd juxtaposition of classy (wild-caught sole with local white truffles) and regrettably primitive (brown paper plates). In winter months, half the dining room is a heated tent (dogs allowed!). Inside, a few tables are separated from the kitchen by shipping pallets strung with Christmas lights. There are little pots of succulents, vanilla-scented candles and Dave Brubeck's cool jazz playing over the speakers. At the next table over, two men in sweaters debate the country's best brown trout fishing. This is as much a rural community's hipster bar as a brewery, which is obvious from the bourbon list, which opens by defining the spirit ("an American style of whiskey with rules for use of the name") and tops out at Bookers and Basil. The brewery? Well, it seems like a flourish of branding. All the house beers were dreadfully over-malty, including a double IPA that had a honeyed sweetness and a sweet stout offering little toastiness beyond a vague peanut flavor. Get the cider and pair it with the cheese plate: half a ball of smoked mozzarella with sliced green apples, all served on a paper plate.
DRINK THIS: The cider was the tastiest housemade offering—a mildly sweet analog to Angry Orchard.