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Monday, April 30, 2018

Public Coast Brewing: A Dream Realized in Cannon Beach

The allure of craft beer sucks people in. They get the bug in their system and can't get rid of it. That's a partial explanation for the more than 6,000 breweries in the United States today. It's also why Public Coast Brewing opened in Cannon Beach.

Founder Ryan Snyder caught the craft beer bug three decades ago while living in Las Vegas and working at Holy Cow (now Big Dogs) Brewing. Craft beer was still in its infancy at the time, but Snyder got hooked and became determined to one day open his own brewery. 

Snyder, not a native of Oregon or Cannon Beach, moved here in the 1990s and joined his wife's family business. The family owns and operates a cluster of Cannon Beach properties, including the Surfsand Resort, the Stephanie Inn and the Wayfarer Restaurant. 

In 2004, they purchased Clark’s Restaurant, at the northern edge of Cannon Beach. Snyder coveted the location because he saw it as the ideal place for the brewery he dreamed of. But the dream was not realized overnight. The place was first known as the Lumberyard Rotisserie and Grill. 

"When we purchased the building, it was to build a brewery," Snyder told me in an email. "That was part of the original plan with the Lumberyard, which would have ultimately been a taproom and grill that served handcrafted beer. In 2016, we decided to make the transition and Public Coast became a reality."

Snyder (left) and Leroux in the brewery
The Public Coast story and philosophy were part of a by-invitation media outing last week. A small group of folks who cover Oregon beer happenings were invited to Cannon Beach to tour the brewery, sample the beers and hear all about the place. Events like this don't crop up very often. I hadn't seen the place and knew little about it. I accepted.

The beer objective at Public Coast is balanced, drinkable brews that cater to mainstream drinkers. Snyder is a fan of the styles that defined craft beer over several decades. Beer geeks aren't the target, although Public Coast does have a barrel program and some borderline trendy beers, such as a hazy IPA. The food menu also features simplicity...burgers, salads, fish and chips, etc. 

For his brewmaster, Snyder chose Will Leroux, a renaissance man and self-described forager, farmer and beekeeper. Leroux trained as a chef and got interested in homebrewing. He had a talent for crafting flavors, but no professional brewing experience prior to joining Public Coast. Fred Bowman, founding brewer at Portland Brewing back in the day, has provided assistance. 

There's a method to Snyder's madness, if you will. The culture of Cannon Beach was curated from within, not from outside, he contends. That's why he was determined to open a brewery, not a taproom focused on beers produced outsider the area. Handcrafted products cultivated from within the community and immediate vicinity are the central theme in his vision.

What that translates to in beer terms is some decent, if fairly basic beers. I enjoyed '67 Blonde Ale (winner of a Gold Medal in the 2018 Oregon Beer Awards), Northwest Red Ale and Oswald IPA. The Lager 321 had a fruity finish that didn't belong. The Imperial IPA (8.9%) was nakedly boozy and lacked backbone. The hazy IPA was decent, if unexciting compared to many I've had. 

Public Coast beer is not widely available. Snyder wisely realizes the pub is his profit center and has no intention of distributing his beer aggressively outside Cannon Beach. However, his marketing brain understands that drawing visitors to Public Coast will be easier if he creates some brand recognition away from the coast.

With that in mind, Public Coast has a canning program and is doing limited distribution of cans and draft in and around Portland, from whence a majority of Cannon Beach visitors embark. If you want to chase the beers down, there's a map with locations here. In a tasting, we found some disparity between draft and canned, generally, but not always, in favor of draft. But never mind.

Of course, Public Coast isn't the only brewing show in town. Bill's Tavern is the old-timer, having been at fixture for years. Pelican Brewing, which also has locations in Pacific City and Tillamook, opened its Cannon Beach brewpub in 2016. The competitive scenario is fairly typical of what we're seeing in craft beer, as the brewery count climbs. 

Strangely enough, Snyder doesn't view Pelican or Bill's Tavern as direct competitors. Say what? He sees them as restaurants that serve beer, while Public Coast is a brewery and casual meeting place with a limited food menu. He thinks that's an important differentiating factor.

That's a tough one. These places are all breweries that offer food. The primary discernible difference is that Public Coast doesn't offer table service. Nope. All orders are taken at the food counter or bar. Patrons take their beer or similar beverage with them and pick up food when it's ready, after being summoned. 

Some visitors may like this casual approach to service, but it seems out of place to me. Cannon Beach's economy is driven by tourism and a clientele that expects quality and service. It isn't cheap or grubby here. Fast food doesn't have a presence. Is that the niche Public Coast wishes to occupy here? I don't think so.

Snyder admits counter service hasn't exactly been a hit with customers. Some don't get it, aren't used to seeing it, maybe. Look, Snyder is no dummy. He and his family invested a lot in getting this place up and running. If the lack of table serve becomes a significant problem, I trust he'll make the necessary adjustment. This place is his dream, after all.

If you're headed to the coast, check the Public Coast website for hours. They're currently open Thursday through Monday, noon to 9 p.m. I have no idea if those hours change during the busy summer season. Check ahead for best results.

Note: My trip to Cannon Beach, including beers, dinner and overnight accommodations, was provided by Public Coast Brewing. Thanks to Ryan Snyder, Will Leroux, the staff at Surfsand Resort and the folks at Lawrence PR for the invitation. 

1 comment:

  1. Now I know what happened to Holy Cow in Vegas! We were there ages ago and had looked for it last time we were there. As for Public Coast, we've been once and enjoyed both the food and beer. Will definitely go back next time we're in the area.


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