Seattle Beer Week a Big Success in Second Year
Seattle Beer Week wrapped up its second year this past weekend. A group of dedicated beer lovers and proponents known as the Seattle Beer Collective coordinated with WABL (WAshington Beer Lovers) to orchestrate a citywide celebration of one of the country’s best beer destinations. Well put by the Collective, “Beer Week exists not because of this city’s abundance of great brews, but because of the beer drinkers–the sole reason (Seattle) has such an abundance of craft beer.”
In conjunction with American Craft Beer Week, Seattle’s hoorah began four days prior to the nationally recognized date (May 17), and on May 13 the jubilation of craft beer in the Emerald City began with a kick off party at one of the Pacific Northwest’s longest running craft breweries, Hale’s, in the city’s Fremont District. From this kick off date, the celebration continued for ten more days. Noteworthy brewpubs, bottleshops, and places where craft beer is championed collectively and continually showcased some of the best of what Seattle had to offer.
While there has been some bickering due to an online poll setup by modern day beer icon Charlie Papazian about what city in the United States should be dubbed thee “Beer City,” Seattle stood tall, kept its head down, and illuminated itself as a more than worthy contender. And while Portland, Oregon aka Beervana boasts more breweries than any other city in the world and a seamless stretch of craft beer abundance produced close by, Seattle offers a plethora of great bars with great beer. A major distinction one Seattle pub owner pointed out is that Portland is a destination where the beer culture is very self contained. Every neighborhood has a brewpub or two. And while you can readily find choice worldly beers of Belgium, Germany, the U.K., Italy, and Scandinavia in Portland, a great contingency of the beer pride is generated from our focus on more locally made brews. Seattle, like Washington State, has some spectacular breweries that are worthy of the most refined palate. However, being more of a major metropolis, Seattle’s bar scene exhibits a spectacular import market. The best beers from all over the world, and yes, from Oregon, are at your fingertips there.
When viewed from outside the Pacific Northwest, Seattle’s beer scene reveals similarities to much of Cascadia. Afterall, due to modern irrigation and harvesting developments, the greatest producer of hops in North America is Washington’s Yakima Valley, and no longer Oregon’s still flourishing Willamette Valley. The Pacific Northwest as a whole attributes for around 30% of the world’s hop supply. Without Cascadian hops, burgeoning craft brew regions like Southern California, Colorado, New England and now even Scandanavia, would have a far less extensive palate when it comes to what often characterizes their bold American-style beers.
Seattle Beer Week In Review
In some ways, Seattle Beer Week was less about the beer made in Seattle and Washington (though this was a big part of the celebration), as it was about the culture that loves great beer and enjoys quaffing it in one of the world’s best cities. The collective of proponents, organizers, supporters, and drinkers of craft beer year round is quite impressive. Perhaps not as impressive as the atmosphere at, say, Oregon Brewers Fest and the entire month of July in Oregon, but the Collective in just their second year of putting Beer Week together did a fantastic job. There was never a dull moment.
It would have been nice, theoretically, to soak in the entirety of SBW, but living in Portland, that just wasn’t possible. So, in hopes of soaking in some of the best the eleven-day week had to offer, we made the pilgrimage by car three hours north for the final two days. You just know a city is great for beer when your biggest issue is that you simply don’t have enough time or liver capacity to take in even a fraction of what is offered. Asheville, North Carolina, who touted themselves as winner of this year’s Papzian Poll, must be a great city for beer. We will certainly find out soon enough. We’ve never been there. But one thing is for sure: Less than than ten breweries can be experienced in two days. Seattle’s bounty, on the other hand, can not.
A few weeks prior to our journey north, we purchased our tickets for the commencement ceremony on May 23 at Hale’s known as “Last Call.” Buying the tickets in advance pushed us to commit to visiting Seattle for the first time in over a year. This was the longest stretch of not traveling to the Emerald City we’d experienced since moving to Portland more than a decade ago. Seems every year we are able to at least take in a Mariners game or two and hit up a few of our favorite Seattle brew spots. Usually this entails patroning one (or more) of the three Elysian locations, Bottleworks, Brouwer’s, Uber Tavern, or Duck Island (one of our favorite bars ever).
Even as we approached the city and caught the first glimpse of the city’s skyline, we didn’t know what most of our itinerary would encompass. The city was wide open and there was a lot doing with brewing.
Day One: 27 Beers
Georgetown Liquor Company (GLC) is another spot we like to visit nearly every time we’re in Seattle. Located in the southern part of the city by Boeing Field in a heavily industrial district of its namesake, Georgetown Liquor Company is a great little hole in the wall featuring retro video games, full bar, great veggie food options, and at least a handful of worthy brews on tap. The attitude is punk rock and a computerized modern jukebox spews out crusty and grungy cult classics. The staff is always friendly and the food is excellent. Soup, salad, sandwich, and of course suds. We often make GLC our last stop before trucking it home to Portland, but this time we figured our visit was long overdue and a great meal and tasty pint was in order right off the bat. The first beer of our trip was a Gallant Maiden Hefe. Brewed by Georgetown’s Schooner Exact Brewery, this beer was described by the unknowing server as “the kind of beer people who don’t like drinking beer drink.” A Bavarian-style wheat, the Maiden was unfittingly served with a lemon wedge. Very dry, crisp, bready, and overall refreshing, this was a nice light warm-up for the big day ahead.
Beverage Place Pub (BPP) in West Seattle is another key destination for any craft beer enthusiast in Seattle. Regularly hosting 25 rotating taps of local and imported specialties and over 100 bottles, BPP is a real treat. We arrived in time to catch the tail-end of Bodaceous Beveridges, billed as featuring “As many unusual beers as we can come up with. Odd ones, rare ones, new ones, etc,” this was a unique exhibition of pre-set taster trays bolstering interesting one-offs. These included the themes: Tart & Tangy, Distinctively Hoppy, Fruit & Spice, My Old Kentucky Home (bourbon barrel-aged spread), and an Iron Brewer Redux (remaining brews from a previous tasting of the same name). Since no mixing and matching was allowed, we opted for the zany Iron Brewer Redux platter. The brews of this platter were remaining beers from the May 16 Iron Brewer Triple Header event at BPP. In this event, staff from BPP chose unique ingredients and set brewers head-to-head to make these beers. The public was the judge. The beers on this tray were: Naked City Pipers Creek Heather, Hale’s Fig Heavy, Snoquamie Cascadian Fig, Snipes Mountain Sour Farmhouse Heather, and Big Time Curry-ous George. Of this flight, it was safe to say all of these brews were interesting, but none quite as tasty as Big Time’s Curry-ous George. It appeared more flowery and fruity than spiced. Notes of orange and pine glistened in this beautifully crafted hazy golden experimental beer. A bit of South Asian spice with hops, George resembled a different take on what might be referred to as a West Indian Pale Ale.
For an added fee, we added on three more snifters to our tray: Odin Thor’s Intrigue: with added lactic acid, this murky dark brown ale put forth a prickly acidic sour snap and a hint of pine and a good deal of roast. Airways What Happened To Winter? featured a brown ale base that made use of cinnamon, allspice and ancho chile peppers – then aged on organic, fair-trade cocoa nibs from Seattle’s Theo Chocolates. Black Raven’s Splinters was a divine sipper. We’d made it our goal to attend this brewery, one that had opened since our last visit to the area. Black Raven has been making quite a splash scooping up festival medals left and right with an assortment of heralded recipes. Splinters was taken from the My Old Kentucky Home flight. Big boozy bourbon ravaged the nose of this imperial scotch ale. Monstrous bourbon. A few sips unveiled a pleasant vanilla and oak presence that tamed some of the heat, but not much. The Raven was tapping at our chamber door and we welcomed him in with open arms. Our next stop was a no-brainer…
Black Raven Brewing
As a child I always dreamed of visiting Redmond, Washington. Not because I had a crystal ball and could see that in the future I’d be a mega beer geek and that Black Raven and Malt and Vine would beckon my desires to seek out worldly brew. No, Redmond has long been the American headquarters for Nintendo. A quaint Seattle suburb filled with tech industry, Redmond was Graceland for a ten year old Super Mario Bros nerd, and now it was another check on the bucket list for a thirty-something beer nerd. At the 2010 World Beer Cup (WBC), Black Raven took home two gold medals and a silver.
Almost a half hour from downtown Seattle, our first brewery visit for SBW was the mighty Raven. Located in a somewhat rural industrial plaza, totally San Diego brewery-style, the Raven made great use of what might be an otherwise drab locale. In the small pub we were greeted by friendly and knowledgeable staff and promptly ordered the sampler: Sun Thief Krystalweizen, Hefeweizen, Totem Pale Ale, Black Raven Trickster IPA (Silver medal winner at 2009 NABA), Jerked Brown Porter (a jerk spiced rendition of the WBC gold medal-winning Brown Porter), Second Sight Strong Scotch Ale (the non-bourbonated original version of Splinters), Morrighan Dry Irish Nitro Stout, The Margalette (a deliciously robust Belgian strong ale). Each and every one of these hand crafted brews was exceptional and had a story behind them touched upon in the menu. And though we were a little disheartened to miss out on the gold medal brown porter, we were quite pleased to fill a growler of the fantastically aromatic Trickster featuring Chinook, Magnum, Simcoe, Amarillo, and Cascade hops.
Malt and Vine
We’ve been subscribed to this Redmond bottleshop/taproom’s email list since their early days and often drool over some of the beers they get that are not available for distribution in Oregon. So, following our visit to the illustrious Black Raven, we dashed over to Malt and Vine to see what was up. Here, we were pleasantly surprised to find Ninkasi frontman Jamie Floyd in the house. Floyd, a lovable beer presence in Oregon was just wrapping up his week in the Seattle area with his “World According to Ninkasi” tasting. After Jamie left the place and headed home, we met with Malt and Vine proprietor Doug Engler. Engler exemplifies passion and enthusiasm when it comes to beer. Following his dream to fill a niche on the East Side, Malt and Vine has offer a tremendous selection of bottled and draught pours since 2006. To celebrate their anniversary, Black Raven brews a special beer each year for Malt and Vine. For SBW, they tapped their Vertegenwoordigen voor de Oostkant! (meaning “Representing for the East Side, yo” in Dutch) Malt and Vine 2nd Anniversary Ale. According to Malt and Vine “We named the beer “Representing for the Eastside” in Dutch to both reflect the roots of the brew, and to proudly proclaim that the Eastside is full of great beer and great beer people!” Golden in color with a mild hop character and excellent spicy overtones attributed by the yeast, this is another awe inspiring creation by James “Beaux” Bowman and crew over at Black Raven. We feel fortunate to have been able to get a glass of this fine brew.
Also at Malt and Vine, we enjoyed the keg dregs of a Yakima Brewing Belgian Dark Ale. One very cool experience was being introduced to the Oskar Blues crew and were treated to a can of Ten Fidy Imperial Stout. On tap we enjoyed samples of Upright Brewing’s Monk and Mingus, brewed in collaboration with new Maritime Pacific brewer Corey Blodgett for Portland’s Cheers To Belgian Beers Fest. Also, we sampled Snipes Mountain Dos Borrachos Pale Lager, a uber-light adjunct lager worth pounding. In the end we also picked up a couple of rare bottles of sour ale from Avery Brewing that, like Oskar Blues, made their way from Colorado.
Another place in Seattle we hadn’t yet visited was Naked City Taphouse and Brewery. We’d heard nothing but excellent things about this establishment, so after dinner, we headed out to find what was left of Chuckanut Night featuring an award winning lineup of the Bellingham brewery. With more than 20 beers on tap, the one Chuckanut keg we were most hyped to try, the Sticke Alt, was kicked. Just as well, because we had the pleasure of sampling two fabulous Naked City Belgian-style ales: Duplicity was a Belgian-style Dubbel with rich dark fruit character and lots of sweet caramel coupled with spicy yeast. The Ferocity, a bold 9% ABV Belgian-style Tripel, was a crisp, effervescent, spicy and complex golden-colored beer worthy of being our nightcap on this fine evening. However, we had one more stop before calling it a night.
Big Time IPA Fest
For more than 20 years Big Time Brewery & Alehouse in Seattle’s University District has been a staple for Seattle craft beer. In fact, each time we visit the Emerald City, we make it a point to stop here to unwind. The U-District is a favorite destination for us while in town for its youthful, progressive, and artistic culture. Having Big Time across the street from your hotel doesn’t hurt either. On the last Saturday of SBW, Big Time ponied up a boatload of their IPAs on tap. Somewhat dwindled down from their initial eleven India Pales that graced the taps earlier, Big Time still offered eight delicious hoppy brews . One letdown was that no sample tray was offered, leaving little option other than to buy snifters of everything in order to try them. In the past, being neglected a sample of certain beers has dissuaded us from purchasing certain brews at certain establishments, but, this was a fest, and we weren’t gonna let it get us down. So, we skipped a few we’d tasted some time ago, and opted for their Jeezum Crow India Brown Ale, Perspective India Pale Ale, Matt’s Red Eye India Pale Ale, and Big Time De Mensonge Belgian-style IPA. The Perspective was a favorite of the lot with a great citrus hop nose. Palate fatigue had officially set in and it was getting late. So, we called it a night and headed back to our hotel to rest up for our big day ahead.
To Be Continued…