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Friday, May 31, 2013

Amnesia Sees the Light in Washougal

Back when I worked up in the Couv, we used to joke about the beer scene. There was a place near the old office called the Bell Tower that brewed. It went under. Whenever someone got fired or left for whatever reason, we'd eventually meet up for beers somewhere in Portland.

I recall meeting old workmates at Amnesia Brewing on Mississippi after good, bad and ugly work days. We might have met somewhere in Vancouver, but the options weren't that appealing. Things have certainly changed. Amnesia's relatively new place in Washougal is a great example of that.

Amnesia Washougal is located in the heart of downtown, which is to say it's fairly laid back. There are nearby businesses and government offices, but the feel is small town. Things move a little slower here. You probably aren't going to get run over if you cross the street in the middle of a block. Washougal is growing and I doubt the small town charm will last forever. For now, though, it's there.

The pub/brewery is located in what was once a funeral parlor. My server, Jaden, told me they discovered benches for dressing bodies in the catacomb-like basement when they were fixing up the place. More recently, it was a pawn shop with several floors. It's plain to see where the second floor hit the old timber beams. Some really gorgeous fir removed during the demolition and remodeling now serves as the bar.

Compared to the spartan location on Mississippi, the Washougal pub is quite striking. The bar, flooring and tables are beautiful. There's no outside patio like what they have at the Portland location, but the windows open in good weather and there will be some tables on the sidewalk. There's also an indoor kitchen, as opposed to the outdoor grill on Mississippi.

Amnesia has operated on Mississippi since 2003. Clearly, they outgrew that space a while ago. The brewery there maxed out at roughly 1,700 barrels a year. The newer, larger 15 bbl brewery in Washougal will produce 6,000 barrels this year and more down the road. They will soon started canning a couple of their beers and there's plenty of room to grow in this space. Smart move.

Of course, the beers. I've always liked Copacetic IPA, which they weren't pouring when I happened by. I recollect a conversation a while back in which someone told me Amnesia management was thinking about making Copacetic exclusive to the Mississippi location. I suspect that was just a rumor. Copacetic isn't Pliny the Elder and it should be available at both Amnesia locations, particularly since they now have the capacity to brew whatever they need.

My plate of tasters included Alt (5%), ESB (5.6%), Crystal Red (6%), Kill Switch IPA (6.4%), Damnesia IPA (6.7%) and Impale (7.4%). Both of the IPAs were lighter in color and body than I expected. They are generously hopped and pretty good. They seemed a little thin next to some of what I'm used to drinking (Workhouse, RPM, Hop Venom), but that's to be expected. Even Desolation IPA (6.2%), which is closer to an English-style IPA and a beer I've had many times, is lighter in body than what I'm now used to.

My favorite beers were the Alt and the Crystal Red. These are both malt-forward beers that are lightly hopped. Opinions are going to differ on this. Many will prefer one of the IPAs. But I've lately taken a liking to reds, particularly those suited for extensive summer quaffing. The Alt and Crystal Red fit well with that idea. For those similarly inclined, there's also 2 Stroke Pale (5.6%), a nice summer session ale.

The food menu at Amnesia Washougal is short and sweet, consistent, yet somehow different from the menu on Mississippi. There are some nice Starter choices, including the Pizza Bread I ordered. You can order a salad or hummus plate, too. For sandwiches, they have several choices, though there's no burger or sausage. The kitchen is small, but it seems likely the food offerings will evolve as they get busier.

When you look at Washougal, it's vaguely comparable to what Mississippi was in 2003...a sleepy strip with huge potential that's about ready to take off. This area has been under-served from the standpoint of beer and food for ages. It's now getting better and Amnesia is going to be part of that...just as it was on Mississippi.

It turns out that Amnesia isn't the only brewing show in Washougal. I drove by Rail Side Brewing on my way in and I learned there's another one getting ready to open in the downtown area. That's just more evidence that Camas-Washougal has been woefully under-served and things are changing, finally.

For Amnesia, having a production brewery and pub in Washougal makes sense. They now have the space to expand production and distribution as they wish. And the new pub extends their reach by giving them access to customers who might not make the trip to Mississippi. This is a charming enough spot that a few people from Portland may cross the bridge to check it out, but that will not be crucial to their success here.

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