Recently, I participated in the 2014 Bellingham Beer Week media tour, sponsored by Bellingham Tourism. A media tour is where a group of writers is invited to tour an area and learn what makes it great, so they can write about it. In our case, we toured Bellingham’s craft beer scene, getting an insider’s look at the people behind the breweries, tap houses and pubs, and the crowd-pleasing product they proudly purvey: craft beer.
We came. We saw. We drank beer. And, we had a great time. I can honestly say I’ve never seen a group of people more collaborative and enthusiastic—not to mention just plain nice as can be—than Bellingham’s brewing community. After reading my highlights of Bellingham Beer Week 2014, I’m sure you’ll agree.
Our first BBW stop was McKay’s Taphouse, where Fremont Brewing Brewer’s Night was just getting started. Paul Christiansen, the bar manager, arranged for us to sit down with Casey Gish and Carrie Guest from the super-popular Seattle brewery. Little did we know we’d be treated to some very special beers.
We first tasted the seasonal Summer Ale, then a special Pale Ale with vermouth, soaked oak and lemongrass. We also tried the First Nail, an Imperial Stout with cinnamon, licorice and smoked barley (11.5 ABV!), and of course The Bellingham Beer Week #3, Cowiche Canyon Hop Lab #3, which is made with 100% organic Citra hops form Cowiche Canyon. Casey even brought out some limited release beers, including the Bourbon Dark Star Oatmeal Stout, a bourbon barrel-aged beauty. It was a real treat to taste such a diverse representation of Fremont’s brewers’ talents.
Between McKay’s pizza and Fremont beer, it was a perfect kick-off to Bellingham Beer Week!
Our next stop was the femALES “Celebration of Women in the Brewing Industry” event to benefit Bellingham’s Dorothy Place at Boundary Bay Brewery. The ladies involved in Bellingham’s breweries and Evolve Chocolate Truffles shared their best with the enthusiastic crowd. Each brewery poured something extra-special:
- Aslan Brewing Company (Megan Lee): Le Tigre IPA
- Boundary Bay Brewery (Janet Lightner): Traverse Red IPA and Oktoberfest Lager
- Chuckanut Brewery (Mari Kemper): Chuckanut Pilsner
- Kulshan Brewing: (Jen Lamb): TransPorter
- Wander Brewing: (Colleen Kuehl): Ramble on Roggenbier
- Menace Brewing (Jacqui Robrets): X Porter
- Island Hoppin’ Brewing (Theresa Collins): Berry Weisse Women (get it?), a special collaborative brew created by the femALES group and brewed at Island Hoppin’ Brewery on Orcas Island.
After the event, we headed to Boundary Bay’s taproom to sample some of their standards, as well as the Bellingham Beer Week Collaboration Whatcom Wheat beer. This kristallweisen was created by brewers from all the local breweries, and brewed and canned at Boundary Bay. Janet Lightner and her son, Casey Diggs, told us the story of how Ed Bennett came to start Boundary, and lots of other stories from 19 years of brewing. We snacked on Ralf’s Bavarian Pretzels, from the bakery right across the street, which paired very well with the Whatcom Wheat beer.
The next morning, we previewed Stones Throw Brewing Co., which will soon be opening in Fairhaven. Owner Jack Pflueger and brewer Tony Luciano plan to house the brewery in shipping containers—a developing story I’ll tell you about in an upcoming post. In the meantime, we enjoyed samples of their Kolsch, Pale Ale, IPA and Brown Ale. All were solid beers, and delicious with donuts. The Stones Throw guys are working hard to bring their brewery to the people, so stay tuned!
We were joined at Stones Throw by BBW volunteer organizer Aubrey Laurence, as well as Shannon Larkin and Scott Pelton from Bellingham Tap Trail, a printed map and website featuring Bellingham’s breweries, pubs and beer-related events. We all walked from Fairhaven to downtown Bellingham to burn a few calories in preparation for our next stop: Aslan Brewing Co.
At Aslan, owner Jack Lamb sat down with us at one of their big, movable tables, in front of their big, street-facing windows, and told the story of starting Bellingham’s first 100% organic brewery. We sampled brews including Ginger Rye Ale, Bellingham Brown, and Flagship Pilsner, as well as the Disco Lemonade. The latter is a Berliner Weisse—a sour wheat beer that was very popular in Germany in the 1800s, and is served with a wheatgrass shot to offset the sour.
Jack also showed off his chef’s substantial skills. Our thoroughly delightful lunch started with elote (fire-roasted corn on the cob with chipotle mayo, cotija cheese and cilantro), followed by the freshest-tasting summer salad I had all year SO. GOOD. Not that I needed them after all that, but grilled rockfish tacos followed, and we all gobbled them right up.
Jack and his team have a passion for organic beer, but above that, they aspire to make outstanding beers that honor time-proven brewing traditions. Their dedication to continuous improvement was obvious as we took a peek at the brewing operations and observed their biochemist doing some serious yeast testing and analysis.
From Aslan, we walked a block to Das Schwienhaus, where owner Aaron Matson sat down with us and told his story of transforming a former drive-through coffee stand into a German biergarten. Most interesting was hearing how he went to buy a washer and dryer and ended up with the ancient International Harvester truck-slash-wood-fired oven used to heat up their sausages and pretzels.
After Aaron and Aubrey told a few hilarious stories about Jim Parker, legendary Bellingham bartender who, along with Aaron, co-founded BBW, we wandered down the street to—where else—Wander Brewing. There, Chad and Colleen Kuehl welcomed us and showed off the results of many, many months of hard work.
My first choice was the Collaboration Koyt, which Chad brewed with Adam Robbings of Reuben’s Brews. They raised the bar by choosing Koyt, a rarely seen Dutch style ale made with malted oats. Chad came up with the recipe, which was a challenge because neither of them had ever had it before. But like Chad said, “When two brewers get together, you should do something innovative and fun, that makes people ask questions.” They did, and we did! “Why malted oats?” “Where did they come from?” “What do they look like?” Then we just enjoyed it, along with their BBW#3 Tripel, brewed specially for Beer Week. It was made with three malts, three hops and came in at about 9 (3 squared) ABV.
That evening, since we clearly had not had enough beer, we set out on a cruise of Bellingham Bay on the San Juan Cruises BREWers Cruise. Each week in the summer, two area breweries join host Boundary Bay on the cruise, pouring their favorites and telling their stories. This time, we enjoyed samples from Island Hoppin’ Brewery and Schooner EXACT Brewing, from Seattle.
The evening was cool, with low clouds and light rain that kept us inside, instead of hanging on the deck gazing upon the beautiful scenery. Luckily, we had beer to keep us warm and happy. Boundary was pouring their Thai PA, which is available only on the BREWers Cruise, along with their Oktoberfest Lager. Island Hoppin’ featured the Blackberry Weiss Collaboration brew, while Schooner EXACT poured the Three Grid IPA and King Street Brown. It was cool to visit with the brewery folks while watching the islands and Bellingham Bay fade as the grey evening turned into a dark night.
We started our final tour day with a beautiful hike to Clayton Beach, and Mari Kemper of Chuckanut Brewery led the way. It was a low tide morning, and Mari pointed out all the cool marine life left behind in the tide pools.
We then toured Kulshan Brewing Co., and were treated to a sample of everything they had on tap, which was quite the lineup! Jen poured us tastes of the Dude Man Wheat, Good Ol’ Boy Pale Ale, Red Cap Red, Bastard Kat IPA, Dry Stout, Transporter, Russian Imperial Stout, Bull of the Woods Double IPA and the Saison.
Kulshan brewer Abe Ebert answered all of our questions about the beers we were tasting, and then Chris Noskoff and head brewer Tom Eastwood led us into the brewery for a behind-the-scenes look at their operations. We were all excited to see the counter-pressure growler filler, which keeps Kulshan’s delicious beers fresher longer, so to-go customers get the same experience as those enjoying a pint at the bar.
Next, Mari and Will Kemper delighted us with a wonderful lunch, tour and tasting at Chuckanut Brewery and Kitchen. They first told us the story of their Beer Week special brew, the Local Malt Alt, which is the first beer made with locally grown and malted barley. The barley was grown in the Skagit Valley and was malted at the new Skagit Valley Malting Co. It’s exciting that Washington State University scientists are testing barley strains that grow well here, so farmers have an extra cash crop to sell, and local brewers can add even more flavor and dimension to their ales and lagers.
Our lunch was created by Chef Joel Shulmate and paired with Chuckanut’s fine beers. First up was the KO Korral Pickled Egg, made with eggs from hens that feed on Chuckanut’s spent grains. It was served with the Kolsch, and was just perfect as a starter. Next we had a delicious Bacon Bleu Salad, paired with Bohemian Pilsner, followed by a fabulous local salmon fillet with aged Gouda risotto. Dessert was a chocolate pots de crème, paired with the Local Malt Alt.
After lunch, Will took us on a tour of the brewery, which is completely dialed in and computerized, eliminating the guesswork and ensuring consistency. Computerization gives the brewers the information they need to better control the end product. Along with being a world-class brewer, Will is also an engineer, so our tour consisted of lots of graphs, charts and descriptions of temperature, pressure, density and yeast differentials. So interesting!
The food, drink and company was beyond fabulous. It was even more special to hang out with Will and Mari, who are considered brewing royalty, not to mention just lovely people.
We all rolled away from Chuckanut Brewery, with bellies and heads full of food, beer and information. Desperate for some more exercise, we walked up the hill to our next destination: Elizabeth Station. (How great was it that most of our Bellingham Beer Week touring was accomplished on foot?!)
At Elizabeth Station, we were again treated to a very special pairing. Earlier this year, Shannon and Christy Fox, the chef/chocolatiers at Evolve Chocolate Truffles, collaborated with each of the area breweries to create handmade truffles infused with beer. Their goal was to highlight the beers, and to educate people that chocolate pairs beautifully with the complexity of beer. They worked with the brewers to analyze the flavor profiles and discover why they used certain hops and other ingredients. Then, they created the truffles to bring out the many subtleties in both the beer and the truffles.
Elizabeth Station owner Patrick McEvoy graciously hosted our group, and provided each of the beers for our chocolate-beer pairing:
- Apricot Saffron truffle, made with Chuckanut Pilsner wort.
- Smokey Fig Balsamic, made with Kulshan Brewing’s Russian Imperial Stout.
- Coffee Date, made with Wander Brewing’s Baltic Porter.
- Brown Butter Hazelnut, made with Boundary Bay’s Scotch Ale.
- Apple Chili with lemongrass, made with Menace Brewing Company’s Chili Bravo.
- Bacon and Ginger, made with Aslan’s Ginger Rye.
- Lemongrass Blackberry, made with Island Hoppin’ femALES Berry Weisse Women.
Learning all about the layers of flavors in the truffles, and how they helped enhance the flavors in the beer, was super fun. I have never eaten seven truffles in one sitting before, and probably never will again. (To demonstrate my steely discipline, I only ate half of some!) Another exclusive Bellingham Beer Week experience!
Speaking of exclusive BBW experiences, one of the most anticipated was Menace Brewing’s tap takeover at The Local Public House. Menace always has one or two taps on at The Local, but on this magical night, all twelve taps and the cask were filled with Menace goodness—and the place was packed with Menace fans (including several of our friends from Kulshan Brewing). Menace owner, brewer and The Local co-owner Benjamin Buccarelli told us how he had been brewing up a storm and building up his arsenal of ales and lagers, just so he could have them all in one place for BBW.
To make it even more amazing, The Local served us a sampling of Chef Brandon Petersen’s fantastic menu. We started with the house pickled vegetables, followed by the Golden Beet and Heirloom Tomato Salad. Next, we tasted the spinach and mushroom mac and cheese, the Ahi tuna poke and the St. Louis Ribs. We shared garlic-lime shrimp and the famous Local Reuben. And dessert was a chiffon cake with chocolate truffle drizzle. Everything was outstanding! Three Menace beers at a time magically appeared, including Cascade Smash, Sorachi Wheat, IPA, ESB, Beer’s Light Beer, Ski Bum Scotch, X, Saison and Fresh Hop Ale on cask. Ben and Brandon both outdid themselves with a lineup of beer and food that I thoroughly enjoyed.
On my own, I bookended the media tour with beer week visits to Elizabeth Station, for Single Hop IPAs and Sourfest. The featured single hop IPAs were Hopworks IPA, Double Mountain Cluster IPA, and Boundary Bay Traverse Red IPA. Each was made with either Chinook, Cluster or Centennial hops. We got to try hop teas as well, which really helped distinguish the flavor of the individual hops.
Sourfest featured 40 or so different kegs of sours, Berliner Weisses, and Wild Ales, from a huge variety of brewers. I learned the difference between Gose and Gueuze (the former is German, and served younger, and the latter is Belgian, and a blend of Lambics) and ran into fellow beer nerds, like Aubrey, Aaron and Eric Jorgensen.
Bellingham Beer Week #3 Was a Success All Around
WOW! Can you believe how much beer and food action I packed into a mere few days? While I can’t (or at least shouldn’t) indulge like that more than once a year, I do feel a bit of a letdown, now that it’s over. I will miss the excitement and collaborative spirit of BBW, but I have to say that I feel it just about every time I walk through the doors of one of our breweries, bottle shops, tap houses or bars that celebrate our truly unique and growing craft beer community. And before we know it, Bellingham Beer Week #4 will be here. I’d better build up a big thirst between now and then!