When you’re in Bellingham in November and December, you can count on rainy, chilly weekend afternoons. While it’s always great to spend them enjoying one of Whatcom County’s hundred-or-so choices for outdoor recreation, it’s also nice to spend them someplace warm (everything in moderation, right?). For lots of folks, that someplace warm is in front of a big screen TV, getting worked up over first downs, fouls and flags. For others, it’s a quieter place, where the focus is conversation.
For me, it’s the latter. But regardless of where you choose to be, you can always choose to cozy up to a craft brew—after all, everyone knows beer makes a chilly day much warmer.
Bellingham beer lovers know that this time of year, winter warmers hit the taps all over Whatcom County. From our local breweries—North Fork, Chuckanut, Kulshan and Boundary Bay—to regional favorites like Island Hoppin’, we are fortunate to have many varieties to enjoy.
We ventured out on a chilly Sunday afternoon to find a few seasonal brews to cozy us up from the inside out. I knew we couldn’t go wrong at my new favorite warm-me-up spot, the new downtown Bellingham public house aptly called The Local.
The Local clearly embraces its pub heritage. The best pubs in the world are an integral part of the community. They are comfortable and welcoming—so that you feel as though you’ve been coming through the door forever, even if it’s your very first time. Pubs fill your belly, but more importantly, feed your soul, giving you the courage to walk back out the door and face whatever the cruel, cruel world is ready to hurl at you. Maybe it’s best to just stay at the pub.
Open just a month now, The Local is already poised to fulfill its destiny as Bellingham’s own downtown pub. First, it’s comfortable. With a beautiful bar anchoring the space, a few stand-up bars for leaning in over a pint and ample table seating, the layout caters to everyone’s preferences. Catering to my personal preference, there are no TVs. Be warned: whether it’s yourself, your bartender, your companion or the stranger sitting next to you, you might just have to make conversation with a humanoid.
Next, The Local is as welcoming as it gets. On our first visit, we were invited to belly up to the bar by one of the owners, Benjamin Buccarelli, and given the lay of the land (or more specifically, the taps) by bartender and beer master Jim Parker.
Ben explained that he and his co-owners, Brandon Peterson (also the chef) and Tom Raden, wanted their pub to equally highlight good food and good beer. The three know good beer, as they happen to be the owners of Menace Brewing in Ferndale. The Local’s 14 rotating taps feature a Menace brew, along with several locals and regionals from the far reaches of the PNW, including some not always seen in these parts (Everybody’s, Pelican, Pfriem).
Pub patrons also need belly-filling fare to soak up their lagers and ales, and The Local really delivers. While most pubs offer up fish ‘n chips, fries and perhaps some bangers and mash, The Local elevates these items far above the run-of-the-mill pub experience.
It’s no wonder, since Brandon’s culinary talents recently graced The Fork—and anyone who has dined there knows the quality of their menu. At The Local, he’s creating dishes that range from wild—like beer-braised Wild Boar Shoulder—to exotic, like Moroccan Chicken. You can also choose from Pork Belly Tacos, Roasted Duck and Andouille Gumbo, Venison Banger (with house-made venison sausage), and much more. I’ve heard the Reuben is sublime, and I can attest that the hand-cut fries with coconut-chili aioli are, as well. And if you want fish ‘n chips, try their version, with curry-beer batter.
Each menu item is made to pair with the rotating beers, so we can expect menu offerings to vary, as well. If you’re into pairing your food with your brew (and why wouldn’t you be?), the menu conveniently offers suggested beer pairings for each item.
Speaking of beer, it’s high time I shared with you my first of many winter warmer tastings for 2013! (What took me so long, you ask? It’s time for lunch, and I’ve been completely distracted by the noises emanating from my belly whilst writing the above.)
Before we headed downtown, a quick glance at The Local’s often-updated Facebook page confirmed my suspicion that they’d have some winter warmers to try. You can also check their page on BeerMenus.com. Here are the three we tasted, from right to left:
- Island Hoppin’ Snowline – Jim Parker introduced it as the “optical illusion” beer, because it looks like an amber, but tastes like a brown ale. Its malty flavor stood out, along with a touch of hops. Snowline was smooth and drinkable, with a silky finish.
- Boundary Bay Cabin Fever (7. 0 ABV) – Boundary’s contribution to the annual winter scene is its much-anticipated Cabin Fever. This year’s brew was markedly darker and sweeter than the Snowline. It was complex and fruity, with hints of apricot coming through.
- Kulshan Brewing Kitten Mittens (7. 1 ABV) – The darkest brown ale of the three, the Kulshan winter warmer is less sweet, a little more straightforward, perhaps a bit stronger than the Cabin Fever. Quite quaffable!
Winter warmers are typically heavier, maltier and higher in alcohol content than what you’d want in summer. Here on the West Coast, they tend to be a little hoppier than others. If a European-style brew is more to your liking, try Chuckanut Brewery’s Dunkel Lager. And if you’re heading up to Mount Baker, or just want to check out what’s new at North Fork Brewery, stop in and order a Winter Warmer with your pizza.
When you’re in downtown Bellingham and want that “I’m a local” feeling, stop by The Local and sample whatever’s on tap. Whether it’s a winter warmer, an IPA, a classic lager or a gluten-free (and delicious) cider, I guarantee you’ll find something you’ll love—like the Snowline.
The Local 1427 Railroad Ave., Bellingham
Hours: Monday – Thursday 11:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m.
Friday 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 a.m.
Saturday – Sunday 10:00 a.m. – 1:00 a.m.