Pacific Northwesterners are known for enjoying hoppy, craft brewed beer, and nowhere is that more evident than in Bellingham’s love for India Pale Ale, or IPA. Show us a freshly drawn pint of West Coast-style IPA and we’ll soon show you an empty glass.
What is it about IPA that makes it so popular? Is it the complexity, the big flavor or the bitter finish on the palate? Yes, yes and yes! It’s also possible that IPA’s slightly higher alcohol content contributes to its popularity.
Whatcom County’s craft brewing tradition is strong and growing, and each of our four commercial breweries pours at least one IPA.
Boundary Bay Brewery and Bistro has been making Bellinghamsters happy (or is that hoppy?) since 1995 with its big, bold IPA. Manager Janet Lightner says that while the Scotch Ale started out as Boundary Bay’s flagship brew, the IPA soon took over, as beer drinkers educated their palates and acclimated to the IPA’s citrusy, grassy hops flavor. IPA is their number one seller, year after year.
From time to time, you’ll also see Imperial IPA on tap at Boundary Bay. With more malt and hops, it imparts both a richer mouth feel and higher alcohol content. The trend seems to be towards hoppier Imperial IPAs, but Janet says Boundary Bay’s goal is to brew a well-balanced, flavorful Imperial IPA.
Pair either IPA with spicy, strong flavors, like Thai, Indian and chutney. The beer’s carbonation helps clear the palate and prepare it for the next bite. From Boundary Bay’s Bistro, try the Yam AleChiladas (with an amazing mole), Nachos or famous Smoked Salmon Chowder.
The North Fork Brewery (and Pizzeria, Beer Shrine and Wedding Chapel) opened its doors back in 1997 in Deming, a short drive from Bellingham toward Mt. Baker. North Fork offers several small-batch, hoppy selections, including an ESB and a Special Bitter. Its IPA is widely known and loved for its nice balance of hops and malt, crisp finish and wonderful flavor. North Fork also produces some of the area’s best pizzas, with huge pies to share with friends, and of course, a fresh pint of IPA. It’s the perfect reward after a strenuous hike or skiing at Baker.
In 2008, Chuckanut Brewery and Kitchen joined the Bellingham beer party. The brewery, known for its European-style ales and lagers, offers a British IPA that is crisp and clean, hoppy and not so bitter. It also has a lower percentage of alcohol by volume.
Chuckanut co-owner Mari Kemper explained the difference. “Northwest-style IPAs use big, powerful American hops, so they are very flavor forward, with a bouquet of hops and a bitterness in the front of the mouth,” she said. “We use a more delicate European hop for our British-style IPA. The bitterness comes on more slowly, from the back of the mouth. The aroma is more delicate and doesn’t overwhelm.”
Chuckanut’s British IPA finishes nice and dry, and is easy to drink in, say, larger quantities. It’s perfect for anyone who prefers a lighter hop flavor. Try pairing a British IPA with a hummus plate or chicken barbeque sandwich from the Chuckanut Brewery Kitchen.
The newest addition to the Bellingham craft brewing scene is Kulshan Brewing Company. Their Bastard Kat IPA is called “the beer that bites back,” and for good reason. It has a nice hoppy aroma, followed by a smooth caramel flavor and just the right amount of bitterness for a crisp finish. Kulshan also brews Midnight CDA (Cascadian Dark Ale), which is a Black IPA-style brew. It’s a darker beer, with a touch of roast, and a more orangey hop character. The Midnight CDA is a must-try for any hophead.
Brewer Tom Eastwood explained that Kulshan uses a hopback to capture a different flavor in their IPAs. After the wort is boiled, it’s filtered through the hopback, which is loaded with as many whole cone hops as possible. It’s then cooled and fermented. “We do this to extract more of the flavorful oils from the hops,” said Tom. “The result is a light, crisp, citrusy IPA with simple malt qualities.”
If the urge to snack hits you while at Kulshan Brewing, you’re in luck. Several of Bellingham’s best food trucks rotate through the parking lot, serving upscale American comfort food, Bar-b-que, Mexican fare, pizza or hot dogs, depending on the day. Chances are good you’ll find something to take care of your hunger pains while sipping on a Bastard Kat IPA or Midnight CDA. Or take a growler home and enjoy it with grilled salmon or stinky soft cheeses.
All of this IPA talk is great, but what if you’re just not a hophead? Don’t worry—you’ll find plenty of options. Each of our fantastic Whatcom County breweries offers a full range to accommodate every palate. From pale ale and porters, to amber and ESB, isn’t it nice to know that when it comes to tasty craft beers in Bellingham, everyone can be both hoppy and happy?