A rousing mix of classic rock and country music plays as I sip Icicle Brewingâ€™s Dark Persuasion, squinting into the sunlight. Itâ€™s the quintessential Bellingham summertime activity: beer and music by the bay. Only this time, the experience proves even more sublime. Iâ€™m on a boat, Bellingham Bay underfoot. The world is my oyster.
San Juan Cruises has offered their popular Bellingham Bay Brewers Cruise since 2012. I attended that first year â€” back when tickets were easier to come by â€” and have been meaning to get back onboard ever since. Five years later, Iâ€™m happy to report that little has changed: the views, brews, and cruise value are as excellent as ever.
$39 buys your ticket (provided youâ€™re 21 or older) on this adults-only ride. Cruises tend to sell out a couple weeks in advance. July 2017 is fully booked, so secure your dates in August or September while you still can!
When I rolled into the parking lot of Fairhavenâ€™s Alaska Ferry Terminal at 6:10 p.m., a long line extended from the dock. Cruises depart at 6:30 p.m. each Wednesday during summer (May 24 â€“ September 13, 2017), and itâ€™s recommended that you show up 30 minutes prior to pick up your tickets. Lesson learned. Those folks ahead of me who showed up early earned the best seats on deck.
Once aboard the 96-foot Victoria Star 2, my buddy and I headed upstairs for our first beer. Samples are served in generously-sized taster glasses, which we estimated to be around 8 ounces (donâ€™t quote me on that). My first taste was the aforementioned Dark Persuasion, a delicious German Chocolate Ale. We then grabbed a seat on the lower deck, just before departure.
Victoria Star 2 features plenty of indoor/outdoor seating, along with standing areas at the bow and stern. You really canâ€™t go wrong. Situate yourself near one of the three brewery stations for easy access, or rotate between the cabin and deck like we did. Each brewery offers 3-4 beers, and itâ€™s entirely possible to try them all during the 1.5-hour cruise. Just be sure that someone else is driving you home.
Boundary Bay Brewing attends each and every cruise. The other two brewery spots rotate weekly, with breweries from around the state coming out to participate. In addition to Boundary Bay and Icicle Brewing, our cruise featured Seattleâ€™s Schooner Exact. When I couldnâ€™t choose between their beers, the rep made me an offer I couldnâ€™t refuse: a concoction. Take three parts Seamstress Union Raspberry Wheat and one part King Street Brown, and there you have it: a Brews Cruise Raspberry Brown.
The cruise itself begins in Fairhaven before heading south to Chuckanut Bay. Between the San Juan Islands and the shoreline, thereâ€™s always something to see on either side. We spotted a seal in the waters, and marveled at million-dollar homes off Chuckanut Drive. Then the captain turned north, passing the Alaska Ferry Terminal before circling back for views of Boulevard Park, Fairhaven, and Chuckanut Mountain. The mid-July weather was so clear, we could see the Golden Ears peaks, some 50 miles due north in BC.
Brewery swag was raffled off throughout our journey. Each passenger receives a ticket, and periodic announcements interrupt the music. During the final round I won a couple trucker hats from Icicle Brewing â€” and Iâ€™m not normally a lucky fellow. So try your luck. You may find â€” baybreeze in your hair, beer in hand â€” that the world is your oyster, too.
San Juan Cruises has been running the show long enough to have every detail down. Much to our amazement, we docked at 8 p.m. on the dot, bellies full of beer and savory snacks. If you havenâ€™t had enough bay views (or simply need to sober up before driving), Iâ€™d recommend a stroll to nearby Marine Park for sunset â€” the only nightcap youâ€™ll need after an evening spent at sea.