Like so many great American cities, Bellingham, WA is situated right on the water. But unlike New York, Chicago or Baltimore, Bellingham is also surrounded by snow-capped mountains and picturesque islands—which adds up to spectacular scenery that can only be fully appreciated in certain conditions: that is to say, on the bay, in a boat and under clear skies. Oh, and while quaffing craft beer from a few of our outstanding regional breweries, of course!
I spent a recent Wednesday evening on a Bellingham Bay Brews Cruise, hosted by San Juan Cruises. This is the second summer for the Wednesday evening series of Brews Cruises, which feature beers from Bellingham’s Boundary Bay Brewery, as well as two regional guest breweries. The weather was just perfect, and I anxiously awaited our boarding time with about 100 fellow beer lovers.
After boarding the Victoria Star, I ran into Ed Bennett, owner of Boundary Bay. Ed told me that San Juan Cruises owner Drew Schmidt (no relation to the author) started the Brews Cruises last year, and they went over like pancakes on a hot griddle. In other words, people flipped for the idea! This year, they thought it would be great to expand the number of cruises, so they could bring even more people out to enjoy more styles of beer. Ed and Drew, I like the way you two think! This year, Ed asked about 20 regional breweries to join in the fun—and they all said “heck, yeah!” (or words to that effect). The two guest breweries rotate each week through the summer.
This week’s guest breweries were Birdsview Brewing Co., from Concrete, WA and Scuttlebutt Brewing Co., from Everett, WA.
Birdsview Brewing Co. is a seven-year-old, family-owned brewery that’s located southeast of Bellingham in Skagit Valley. I keep so busy covering Whatcom County breweries that I haven’t ventured out that way, so I was happy to have a chance to try their beers. They did not disappoint!
Bill Voigt is the brewmaster, and he’s assisted by his daughter, Julie. Julie and her sister Jessie happily provided samples of the three beers the Voigt family brought along for us to taste:
- Pail Ale: No, that’s not a typo. This beer is named after the pails used in the old days to carry beer home from the brewery. Can you imagine the spillage? Are you glad we have growlers today? Unlike most pale ales, this one had a rich caramel taste to go with its medium-hoppy finish. It was a nice change for one of my favorite styles.
- Witless Belgian Wit: Brewed with Washington-grown hops and malts, as well as bitter orange peel and coriander. I love Belgians, and this one had the light, orangy-spicy taste I expected, and then some! My brews-cruising companion also tasted some pineapple-tropical fruit flavors.
- SasScotch Ale: Love the name! The beer was delightful, too. Nice and smooth with a malty flavor and roasted chocolate finish.
Scuttlebutt Brewing Co. has been around since 1996 (that’s almost as long as Boundary Bay). Serving their lineup of beers were owner Phil Bannan and his daughter, Janet.
Phil said they enjoyed last year’s cruise so much, they were happy to come back. They brought us six beers to try: Homeport Blonde, Gale Force IPA, Tell Tale Red, Tripel 7, Hoptopia and Golden Mariner.
I needed to pace myself, so I had to be choosy. I’ve enjoyed Scuttlebutt’s Homeport Blonde and Gale Force IPA many times, so I thought I’d expand my palate:
- Tripel 7: I had to try this one. It’s a strong Belgian-style ale, with 9% ABV. It was nicely spicy, but also sweet, with notes of pear and a dry finish. I heart you, Tripel 7!
- Hoptopia: This is an Imperial IPA, stronger than the Gale Force. With 2½ pounds of hops per barrel, it suited all the hopheads (like me) on board.
- Tell Tale Red: It had a nice balance of hops and malts, with just enough bitterness to round it out.
Phil said they decided to serve out of bottles, rather than draught, so they could provide a wider variety. Scuttlebutt’s beers taste great either way!
Boundary Bay’s crew brought an exclusive brew to the cruise: Thai-PA, which is a special IPA, heavily dry-hopped with Thai flavors of kaffir lime leaves, galangal and lemongrass. It was crisp and refreshing, but a true IPA; the hops were definitely there underneath the Thai flavors. We practically begged Ed to make it available at the brewery, but he just smiled. So, if you want to try Thai-PA, you’d better book a Brews Cruise!
Boundary also bought along their Calypso Single Hop Pale Ale and Pilsner. Each is a summer favorite of mine. Did you know that a pilsner is fermented at a lower temperature than an ale, which creates a drier body and less fruity esters? I didn’t either—turns out the Brews Cruise is as educational as it is enjoyable!
Since it’s never a good idea to imbibe on an empty stomach, the San Juan Cruises crew kept the tables filled with great snacks, like meats and cheeses, chips and salsa, seven-layer Mexican dip (of which I think I ate seven helpings), raw and grilled veggies, hummus and pita bread, pasta salad, and Boundary-Bay-beer-brined chicken wings.
If the San Juan Cruises Brews Cruise sounds like a perfect way to entertain out-of-town visitors, enjoy a view of Bellingham and Mt. Baker from the water, treat someone you love to a very special evening, or just enjoy a variety of amazing beers—you’re right!
Along with beer and snacks, every brews cruiser gets a free raffle ticket for drawings held throughout the cruise. The breweries gave away fun swag like t-shirts, hats and other goodies.
Whether they were pouring or drinking the beer, everyone on board had a great time. San Juan Cruises’ Brews Cruise is a great way to entertain your Uncle Walt, your cousin from Peoria and all the other beer lovers in your life this summer. Book your cruise before they’re sold out!
San Juan Cruises Brews Cruise
When: Every Wednesday through September 11
Time: 6:30 p.m. until 8:00 p.m.
Price: $35.00 per person (over 21, of course!)
Where: Board the Victoria Star at the Bellingham Cruise Terminal in Fairhaven
Check the upcoming brewery lineup here.