10 Questions with the Authors of Beer Hiking Pacific Northwest

Draft Picks by | July 20, 2018

In 2013, Brandon Fralic and Rachel Wood, both natives of the Pacific Northwest, decided to launch a blog called Beers at the Bottom. The goal was simple, yet broad: share their experiences on the trails and in the taprooms across Washington state (with a few detours to British Columbia, Japan, and South Korea). Three years later, Fralic and Wood had a contract with Swiss publisher Helvetiq to research and write a 232-page guidebook detailing 50 of the best hikes near breweries between Whistler, BC, and Klamath Falls, Ore. Late this spring, Beer Hiking Pacific Northwest finally appeared on shelves and quickly found its way into the day packs and duffel bags of outdoor enthusiasts and brewery tourists. We caught up with the authors—on the trail, naturally—to learn more about their writing process, and to revisit a few memories from the months of work they put into their first book.

How did you train your palates before starting the book? What sort of conditioning did you do to prepare for all of the hiking?

Rachel Wood: I had a really unique opportunity to work as a copywriter for a beer retailer. The writing team didn’t just taste beers: we compared, dissected, and analyzed 15–20 beers a week. It was a rigorous way to train your palate!

Brandon Fralic: When it comes to hiking, we were pre-conditioned from the amount of time we regularly spend on-trail. Plus, most of the hikes are easy-moderate to keep things approachable.

Discuss the process of writing the book: how long did it take, which hikes did you complete for the first time, and what factors went into your decisions? (Several breweries are very far from trailheads, for example.)

BF: We had four months after signing our book contract to deliver the manuscript. That’s an unbelievably quick turnaround for a guide of this scope, and fortunately we had a solid backlog of beer hikes already in the bag (from several years spent blogging about the topic). Most of the Oregon and BC hikes were new to us. We hiked over 50 percent of the trails in the book for the first time, including Smith Rock in Oregon, Beacon Rock in Washington, and the Sea to Summit Ascent in British Columbia.   

RW: We tried to link trails to breweries in the closest town or city that you’d come to on your way back to civilization. But there were hiking locations we felt needed to be in the book—Crater Lake and Mt. Rainier specifically—that are far from the nearest brewery. In those cases, we looked for breweries that had inherent connections to those places. You can find Klamath Basin Brewing beers in the campground store at Mazama Camp in Crater Lake. Two Beers Brewing’s Wonderland Trail IPA is inspired by the famed trail that circumnavigates Mount Rainier. The goal was to make connections between the outdoors and the natural feel of many [Pacific Northwest] breweries.

Were you inspired by any other hiking guides or beer books?

BF: Absolutely. We grew up thumbing through our parents’ copies of classic hiking guides, like Harvey Manning’s Footsore series and subsequent “100 Hikes” books co-written with Ira Spring. Harvey and Ira were pioneers of the modern American hiking guide. On the beer side, Papazian’s The Complete Joy of Homebrewing has graced our bookshelf since college. When the going got rough, we were often reminded to “relax … have a homebrew.” Finally, we drew a great deal of inspiration from our publisher’s first book, Beer Hiking Switzerland, by Monika Saxer.

RW: I’d echo what Brandon mentioned. I love the way writers like Spring and Manning can go beyond simple trail descriptions to tap into that emotional place we all go to when cresting a wildflower-dotted ridgeline. I appreciate the deep dive, and cultural connections beer writers like Martyn Cornell make in their writing.

The book is quite Washington heavy. Why didn’t you include more in Oregon, especially given the state’s abundance of excellent breweries?

RW: Inclusion decisions were born out of the time constraints imposed by our publisher. We’re both based in Washington and this area is our playground. Given more time and resources, we could easily have done 50 hikes for each individual region.

BF: We originally intended to write a guide on beer hiking in Washington alone. Our publisher wanted to include the greater Pacific Northwest region, so we added as many Oregon and BC beer hikes as possible. I concede that Oregon (and BC) may be underrepresented in the book—but that leaves room for further exploration in the future. Beer Hiking Pacific Northwest is not intended to be exhaustive. Rather, it provides inspiration and a jumping-off point for beer hikers throughout the Northwest.

The introduction seems to concentrate on hiking more than beer drinking (for instance, you provide the 10 Essentials but don’t describe how to taste beer). What process did you use to come up with the information about each chapter’s beer? Did you assume your readers would know beer styles? How did you arrive at a scale of 1–5 to measure sweetness and bitterness?

RW: Including the 10 Essentials is first and foremost a safety measure. I can’t think of a single hiking guide that doesn’t make some mention of being prepared on the trail. The bitterness and sweetness scales were given to us by the publisher as part of the layout format.

I think one thing that we had to keep in mind is that whenever you combine two niche subjects (in our case beer and hiking guide) that you can’t dive deep into both (or either, for that matter). We really strove to keep things accessible to both camps—which means we included more moderate to easy hikes, more lowland trails that are hikeable year round. [The] same goes for beer as well. Funny enough, we were talking with a hiking buddy of ours about the book. He got caught up on the term “bready” and was asking, “What’s this “bread-y” mean? Is that a made-up word?” From the beer side, what we wanted to capture was the culture and history of each brewery we highlighted. In 100 words, I wanted to give readers an idea of what they could find beyond those taproom doors. The included beers aren’t a round-up of the “must-have” beers in the [Pacific Northwest], but closer to a recommendation of somewhere to start.

BF: Our book is primarily a hiking guide with a beer component. That’s not to say that the beer is unimportant—we are incredibly grateful for the countless talented brewers and breweries here in the Pacific Northwest. But as Rachel mentioned, publishing decisions and safety considerations limited our ability to dive deeply into each beer. Failure to prepare for a hike can be potentially life-threatening. We see the post-hike pint as a fun way to celebrate a safe and rewarding hike.

Did four page chapters limit your ability to write about each beer? And why not offer distances to every brewery and/or add them to the route maps?

RW: The uniform chapter format was created by the publisher for their Beer Hiking series. We captured GPS tracks for each of the 50 hikes, and did our best to record accurate turn-by-turn directions. All of that information, along with our write-ups, was given to our Swiss-based publisher, whose graphic design team formatted it all into the maps and chapters you see in the book. We proofed pages, and were able to offer suggestions and criticisms, but in end the publisher made the final call.

BF: I would add that when we first started writing about beer hiking on our blog, Beers at the Bottom, we included distances from trailhead to brewery (and a Google map with directions). This is an example of the difference between our blog—which we have full content control over—and a guidebook published in an established series.

Where in the region will people find the highest concentration of both hiking trails and craft breweries?

BF: While the big cities (Seattle, Portland, and Vancouver) are excellent for beer travel, trail access can be more of a challenge from metro areas. We prefer to champion the smaller beer cities and trail towns. In Oregon: Eugene, Bend, the Columbia River Gorge, and Oregon Coast are full of trails and ales pairings. Washington’s Cascade Loop—including up-and-coming beer towns like Leavenworth and Wenatchee—offers a high concentration for beer hikers along with more established beer hiking towns like Bellingham. And in BC, the Sea to Sky Highway (from North Vancouver to Squamish and Whistler) is a booming beer hiking region.

RW: The majority of our hikes and breweries are concentrated along the spine of the Cascade Mountains. Which makes sense. WA and OR Wild created a wonderful organization called the Brewshed Alliance. The idea is simple: a healthy watershed (like the alpine fed watersheds of the Cascades) creates better beer.

What are your favorite beer and trail combinations? If IPA represents Pacific Northwest beer, which brewery or breweries best represent the region?

BF: If IPA represents Pacific Northwest beer, then Bale Breaker (located on a hop field in Yakima, Wash.) might best represent the region. But there’s more to the northwest beer scene than IPA, and we made a point to highlight other styles throughout the book.

RW: We have a hard time coming up with favorites, but we’ll give you a highlight from each of the three regions. In Oregon, I really love to champion Cape Perpetua and Yachats Brewing. Cape Perpetua is a wild, untamed section of the Oregon coast. And Yachats Brewing really captures that terroir with their eclectic wild ales. For Washington, I’d point towards Maple Pass Loop—one of the most dynamic hikes in the North Cascades—paired with well established and award winning Old Schoolhouse Brewing. To round things out with British Columbia, our pick is Sea to Summit and Howe Sound Brewing. Iconically BC, that hike includes views of famed Stawamus Chief and gondolas. Then you celebrate with beers from a beloved and foundational BC brewery: Howe Sound.

We did our best to not always recommend the flagship IPA from each brewery (if we had gone with the “best selling” this book might have featured 40+ IPAs). Brandon mentioned Bale Breaker, and I would have to say that pairing is the most beer-centric we have in the book. The hike through Cowiche Canyon takes you past a working organic hop farm. Then, you finish with a beer brewed in the middle of a hop field owned by a fourth generation hop-growing family.

What’s the single most memorable place you’ve enjoyed a beer outside of a bar or a taproom?

BF: Truth be told, we almost always consume on-premises at a brewery post-hike. On occasion we’ll pack beer in for on-trail consumption. The first memory that comes to mind for me is sipping Stiegl Grapefruit Radler at the edge of Crater Lake while watching the sunset—through wildfire-smoke haze—during the summer of 2016.

RW: There is a very big trend now to pack beer in to wild spaces. But outside of backpacking or camping, I really prefer to drink in a taproom rather than while hiking (I’m clumsy enough sans trail beer). That being said, I distinctly remember hauling a glass, caged and corked barrel-aged sour from Townsite Brewing across all 12 rollercoaster miles of the Sunshine Coast trail from Sarah Point to Manzanita Hut. We drank that delicious treat while watching a rain-cloud sunset.

What do you hope readers will take away from your guidebook?

BF: First, we hope to inspire readers to explore and enjoy the abundant outdoor recreation opportunities of the Pacific Northwest. We aim to promote safety on the trail and conservation by introducing readers to the 10 Essentials and Leave No Trace principles, respectively. And of course, our goal is to support the northwest’s booming beer scene by encouraging responsible beer travel throughout the region. That means visiting the breweries rather than packing beer into public lands, where legality and litter can become an issue. In a few words: hike first, beer later!