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Lagers on the Northern Coast 

Astoria's Buoy Beer Co. offers finely-honed German pints

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Kevin Gifford

Astoria, home to overcast skies, pretty old houses and cheap Goonies memorabilia, is getting as beer-mad as Bend. The similarities in the two scenes are striking. Bend has Deschutes; Astoria has Fort George, the big kid in town, distributing amazing IPAs and stouts in cans statewide. We have a McMenamins; they have a Rogue location. We have the Brew Shop/Platypus Pub; they have Hondo's Brew & Cork, a homebrew supply store that sells its own cider and beer by the pint. And with Buoy Beer Co., Astoria has something even Bend lacks—a brewery that specializes in astounding lagers, appropriate for a seaside town.

Buoy got its start when homebrewing veteran Dan Hamilton teamed up with Astoria businessmen to procure an old fish cannery built atop the Columbia River. The brewery officially opened in February, with the cannery fully renovated, former BridgePort brewmaster Kevin Shaw heading brew operations, and sea lions barking their hoarse approval from the river below.

Hamilton is a lager aficionado, a style he's been honing over 40 years of homebrewing, and it's the lagers that sparkle at Buoy. The Dunkel just won silver at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver (not bad for an eight-month-old brewery); it shines in the tall glass it's served in, with full-bodied Munich malt flavor and an unbelievably crisp finish that all but begs you to order another. The Czech pils offers similar wondrous simplicity, and the current Oktoberfest seasonal even gives Crux's Märzen beer a run for its money.

Buoy's ale lineup is spottier—the oatmeal stout having very little roasted-malt flavor at all—but the lagers alone make it one of Oregon's top beer newcomers in 2014. Popping on in, grabbing a seat at the bar facing the river, and enjoying a Dunkel over cheese curds is the ideal way to cap a gray, rainy Astoria afternoon.

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