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TPFThis time of year – every year for the past six – I’ve compiled my most memorable experiences from travels around the Pacific Northwest – my heart and ‘hood – to come up with those I especially want you to know about. I say this just about every year because just about every year it’s true: This was a real banner year. The creaky Washington paradigm of “Nothin’ but Brits” is beginning to crumble. Oregon and Idaho breweries are not just pushing the envelope as much as ignoring the very existence of an envelope. Good breweries, promising breweries, and some right out of the wrapping paper have become great.

You’re going to read some names, here, that you’ve never heard or read. Two in particular – Tin Dog Brewing of Seattle and Big Block Brewing of Sammamish, Washington – are barely larger than the changing rooms Nordstrom’s. John Julum’s operation at Big Block, especially, is easily the most intelligently conceived, laid-out, and strategized nano-brewery I’ve ever come across. The whole brewery, because of his neighborhood’s CC&Rs, is in his garage! And he routinely has ten or twelve beers on tap, all amazing and all in decent quantities. This level of ingenuity is what sets the NW apart from the rest of the US and 2014 was the year of its full flowering, when breweries like De Garde, in sleepy Tillamook, Oregon, are birthed fully formed and hit the ground absolutely flying.

Another first…one of the Small Breweries of The Year, maker of three beers listed here, abruptly suspended operations late last week. Wild Earth Brewing, located in Roslyn, Washington, opened the day the Seahawks thrashed Denver in Super Bowl 48. Owner/brewmaster, Dave Kilgour sent me a message that explained that he needs to rework his business model. This hits me hard because Wild Earth is, with NO exaggeration, one of the two or three best new breweries I’ve found in a decade. I suspect that, despite a growing core of fans and beers of unsurpassed excellence, being in Roslyn – which is close to exactly nothing but maybe some ghosts of the characters in “Northern Exposure”, the Peabody Award-winning TV series which was shot there – even my relentless cheerleading didn’t persuade enough people to drop off of Interstate 90 and buy some refreshment. According to a hurry-up calculation, for Dave to make a go of it in Roslyn, every citizen of Kittitas County would have had to fill a growler daily and maybe two on each weekend day. At any rate, Dave plans to be back, in some form, and I can only hope it’s pretty SOON, lest all of you miss some of the truly great new beers to hit the NW in many, many years. And to those who did read about Wild Earth here and didn’t stop by…you bastards owe me a beer.

That said, the virtual tsunami of brewed wonders in this soggy, mildewey corner of the US has produced this list below, and what a flippin’ roster of miracles it is! This is the Pacific By-God Northwest, beer fans, and what we have here is something truly special. So, in that spirit, here ya are…The Best of The Northwest for Two Thousand and Fourteen AD, Planet Earth…



Best Brewery, Washington: Reuben’s Brews, Seattle

Best Brewery, Oregon: Crux Fermentation Project, Bend

Best Brewery, Idaho: Selkirk Abbey, Post Falls

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Best New Brewery, two years or less:

Bale Breaker Brewing, Yakima   /    Holy Mountain Brewing, Seattle   /     De Garde Brewing, Tillamook, OR

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Best Small Brewery:

 Wild Earth Brewing, Roslyn, WA   /  The Ale Apothecary, Bend, OR    /    Big Block Brewing, Sammamish, WA

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Best Beer: American Pale Ale
Wild Earth Brewing “Tamarack” Pale Ale

Best Beer: Euro Pale Ale
White Bluffs Brewing Biere de Garde

Best Beer: British-Style Pale Ale
Big Block Brewing English Pale Ale

Best Beer: India Pale Ale
Boneyard “RPM”   /  Boundary Bay Brewing IPA

Best Beer: Double, Triple/Imperial IPA
Reuben’s Brews “Blimey, That’s Bitter”  /   Boneyard Brewing “Hop Venom”

Best Beer: Belgian-style IPA
Sound Brewery “Humulo Nimbus”   /   Deschutes Brewery “Foray”

Best Beer: Red/Amber Ale
Grand Teton Brewing “Pursuit of Hoppiness”   /   Wild Earth “Ponderosa” Red

Best Beer: Brown Ale
Reuben’s Brews American Brown Ale

Best Beer: Porter
Reuben’s Brews “Robust Porter”   /   Caldera Brewing “Mogli”

Best Beer: Stout
Skookum Brewing “Breakfast in the Hooskal”   /   Crux Fermentation Project Nitro

Best Beer: Imperial Stout
Fort George Brewing Rum Barrel Aged “Cavatica”   /   Boneyard Brewing “Suge Knite”   /   Crux Fermentation Project “Tough Love” (Banished Series)

Best Beer: ESB
No-Li Brewing “Crystal Bitter”   /   7 Seas Brewing “Reign Man”   /  Big Al Brewing “Bridge Bitter”

Best Beer: Scotch/Scottish Ale
Laht Neppur Brewing “Piper Canyon”   /   Iron Goat Brewing “Cap’n Kidd”

Best Beer: American Blonde
Seapine Brewing “La Fantasma”

Best Beers: Strong Ale
Tin Dog Brewing “Hoppe The Belgian”,

Best Beer: Aged Ale
Reuben’s Brews Barrel Aged “Auld Heritage”   /   Oakshire Brewing “Hellshire IV”

Best Beer: Barleywine
Pelican Brewing “Mother of All Storms”   /   Boundary Bay “Old Bounder”   /   Old Schoolhouse Brewing Brewer’s Reserve

Best Beer: Belgian-Style Saison/Farmhouse Ale
Logsdon Farmhouse Ales “Seizoen”  /   De Garde Brewing “Unblended Connak”   /  Wild Earth Brewing Saison

Best Beer: Belgian-Style Abbey Ale
Sound Brewery “Dubbel Entendre”  /   pFriem Family Brewers Tripel*

Best Beer: Belgian-Style Dark Ale
Crux Fermentation Project “Freakcake” Oud Bruin

Best Beer: Belgian-Style Experimental
The Ale Apothecary “La Tache” Rum Barrel Aged with Peaches

Best Beers: Wheat Ale
pFriem Family Brewery “Wit”   /  Wander Brewing/Reuben’s Brews “Koyt”

Best Beers: Lager
Heater Allen Brewing “Lenz Bock”   /   Full Sail Brewing Passport Lager

Best Beers: Pilsner
Airways Brewing “Pre-Flight” Pilsner   /  Chuckanut Brewing Pilsner

Best Beers: Dopplebock
Grand Teton Brewing “Double Vision”   /  Heater Allen Brewing “Mediator”

Best Beers: Smoked Beer
Silver City Brewing “Punk Rauchen”

Best Beers: Imperial Red Ale
Fish Brewing “Starfish”

Best Beers: Rye Ale
Reuben’s Brews “Roasted Rye”  /   Block 15 Brewing “Super Fly Rye”

Best Beers: Wood Aged
Reuben’s Imperial Stout Aged in Bourbon Barrels   /  Old Schoolhouse Brewer’s Reserve Imperial Stout

Best Beers: Coffee Beer
Fort George “Java The Hop”*  /   Elysian Brewing “Splitshot”

Best Beers: Herb and Spice Ale
Upright Brewing “Special Herbs”

Best Beers: Fruit Beer
Logsdon “Peche ‘n’ Brett”   /   Big Block Brewing “Raspberry Blonde”

Best Beers: Pumpkin Ale
Elysian Brewing “Punkaccino”

Best Beers: Sour/Wild Ale
Upright “Fantasia”  /  The Ale Apothecary “Sahalie”  /   Engine House 9 “Nefilibata”

Best Beers: Brett Ale
Logsdon “Seizoen Bretta”

Best Beers: Berlinerweisse-Style Ale
De Garde Brewing “Bu Stone”   /   De Garde Brewing “Black Raz Bu”   /   Epic Ales (Seattle) “Party Time”

Best Beers: Experimental
The Ale Apothecary “Sahati”  /   De Garde Brewing “Fleur Rose” Gruit-Style Ale

Best Beers: Chili/Pepper Beer
Elk Head Brewing “Blast Zone”   /   Populuxe Brewing Peppercorn Saison

Best Beers: Winter Seasonal
Ninkasi Brewing “Sleigh’r”   /  Boundary Bay “Cabin Fever”

Best Beer: Summer Seasonal
Geaux Brewing “Gulf Coast” Session IPA   /   Elysian “Men’s Room ‘Summer Gold’ “

Best Beers: Fresh-Hopped
Deschutes Brewery “Chasing Freshies”   /  Bale Breaker “Piled High” Imperial Fresh Hop  /  The Commons Brewing “Fresh Hop Myrtle”

Best Beers: Other
Cascade Barrelhouse “Vlad the Imp Aler” / Reuben’s Brews “Crikey” / Block 15 “Gozer the Gozerian” / Bale Breaker “Field 41”  / Seapine Brewing “Super C” French Saison / Propolis Brewing “Beltane” Herbal Golden / Elysian “Gourdon’s” Gin Barrel Aged Pumpkin Ale / Laurelwood Brewing “Moose & Squirrel” Imperial Russian Stout / Elysian “Mr. Yuck” Sour Pumpkin Ale / Tin Dog Brewing Saison / Rambling Road Brewing “Grisette” / Perry Street Brewing Kölsch / Seaside Brewing “Black Dynomite” Imperial Stout / Mount Hood Brewing “Old Battleaxe” Barleywine / Buoy Brewing English Porter / Barley Brown’s Baker City Brewpub “Palate Jack” IPA / Ex Novo Brewing “Elliot” IPA / / Holy Mountain Brewing “Equinox” Fresh Hop Ale

Best Beers: Best Attempt to Define Cascadian Dark Ale
Airways Brewing “Midnight Departure Seven Series IPA #5

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Crux Fermentation Project “Freakcake” Oud Bruin-Style Dark Ale

The single best Belgian-style ale ever made in the US. Dark, rich, crammed to every crevice with complex, interesting flavors of white raisins, Brandied cherries, dark caramel, cocoa, fruitcake, dried fruits, coconut, black currants, smoke, roasted grains, and chestnuts. The texture is wickedly smooth and, oh yeah, like all the beers I’ve ever tasted from Larry Sidor, the first watchword is “delicious”. This was the first beer I thought of when making this list and no list of the “Best Of” American ales is complete without it.

Wild Earth Brewing “Tamarack” Pale Ale

Yes, it’s made by a brewery you probably never heard of and, yes, that brewery is a major drive away from you…or anybody, except the characters on “Northern Exposure”…Now, add to that the fact that owner/brewmaster Dave Kilgour just announced that, due to demand that far exceeds their capacity, Wild Earth is closing to retool its business plan(!), and you have an impossible situation. The beer, however, is inarguable. Folks, I’ve tasted a blue zillion Pale Ales from the NW; many of the traditional Brit variety and, lately, all sorts of takes on the American Pale Ale and the unformed Northwest Pale Ale. This is the best, even including Deschutes’ benchmark “Red Chair”. This is startling, revelatory, utterly addictive Pale Ale; one that IPA freakazoids could easily drink without their hallmark sneer. It has a malt core than’s almost exotic, tasting of currants and coconut and vanilla and caramel and Amaretto biscotti, and bright, edgy hops that rev it up for sheer refreshment. My Christmas wish? That Dave Kilgour reopens Wild Earth SOON, and maybe a scosh closer to Seattle?

Selkirk Abbey Brewing  “12º”

A bottle of pure, unabashed Decadence: fruit leathers, Brandied raisins, cola, caramel, nougat, roasted nuts, tobacco, glove leather, burnt sugar, coconut, molasses, coffee…I could keep going for days. What Jeff Whitman and his crew have done at Selkirk Abbey, in less time than it takes to build some breweries, is phenomenal. Post Falls, Idaho, is not one of America’s brewing meccas and yet Selkirk’s gorgeous tasting room stays full regularly and, despite not catering at all to the knee-jerk NW IPA Obsession, their reputation is growing almost exponentially with each passing year. 12º is a spectacular ale but I get the distinct feeling that’s its but a shadow of things to come.

The Ale Apothecary “La Tache” Rum Barrel Aged with White Peaches

We never have four Beers of The Year in The Pour Fool but there was just no way to leave any of these out…and especially this, this hedonistic, mind-bending bottle of tart, funky, vivid, mellow, maddening elixir – and that term doesn’t at all do it justice. The only remotely comparable peach ale is Logsdon “Peche ‘n’ Brett” and this shows every molecule of the fresh peach intensity and untampered flavor of that NW masterpiece. But La Tache goes past P’n’B:  light on the palate but intense, this ale ladles out citrus fruit lavishly, leading with candied lemon and lime zest and adding in subtle intimations of tangerines and mango. Apricot lurks beneath, with horse blanket funk on the nose and a fat pile of white peaches which, because of their drier, more firm-bodied character, shows as a more subdued peach than its boisterous yellow cousin. Atop that rides that wet rum barrel overlay, a dense, deep bass to the glorious grace notes of spruce and buttermint and bay leaf and baked custard. Paul Arney would get major props for just thinking of this combo. For realizing it, with this much complexity and outright drinkability…well, whatever his personal dream for Ale Apothecary was in the beginning, it’s hard to believe that he’s not already past that and heading into a really delightful New Frontier.

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Photot by (From top left corner) ohbeautifulbeer.com, oregonlive.com, brewbound.com, cargocollective.com, yelp.com, bananasforbeer.blogspot.com

Photos by (From top left corner) ohbeautifulbeer.com, oregonlive.com, brewbound.com, cargocollective.com, yelp.com, bananasforbeer.blogspot.com

Crux Fermentation Project, Bend, Oregon:   Just three years ago, Paul Evers, Dave Wilson, (who has now returned to his old stompin’ grounds as president of 21st Amendment Brewing of San Francisco) and former Deschutes brewmaster, Larry Sidor, set out to do something so ambitious and different that a lot of Northwesterners , when told about it, tilted like a well-shaken pinball machine. Barrel-Aged beers in limited editions, totally outside the box creativity, an almost disdainful view on styles and traditions? Yeah, but…as the guy who drove Deschutes from a really great small regional brewery into the national spotlight, Larry Sidor also knows a thing or twelve about making straight-forward beers that regular folks can just sip and enjoy, without a degree in zymology. And they’ve done just that, producing a full line of basic ales for summer drinking and Hops Madness and food pairing and just plain enjoyment. But it’s in the barrel room that Crux really stands apart. We’ve only seen a hair’s breadth of what Crux is capable of and the unfolding of  this brewery’s genius requires that rarest and most problematic of tasks, for beer-lovin’ Americans: Patience. While leaning strongly toward Belgium, Evers and Sidor, along with new addition, Cam O’Connor, former co-brewmaster at Deschutes, haven’t forgotten their Brit experiences, releasing one of the first real NW challengers to the Immortal “The Abyss” , the aforementioned “Tough Love (Banished)” Imperial Stout that just hit stores as this is written. I’ve already said that I think Crux will emerge as one of America’s top two or three breweries and, again, it’s just a matter of time. But I suspect, based on the quantum leaps with each new release, that even that prediction may be a bit modest.

The Honors List
Surpassing Ales that are retired from Best of The Northwest after multiple wins.

These are the Best of the Best and stand beyond comparison.

Deschutes Brewery “The Abyss” Imperial Stout
Deschutes Brewery “Jubelale”
Deschutes Brewery “Hop Trip”
Mac & Jack’s African Amber
Black Raven Brewing “Possum Claws”
Ninkasi “Tricerahops”
Hair of the Dog Brewing “Adam”, “Adam from the Wood”, “Cherry Adam from the Wood”
Bend Brewing “Scarlet Fire” Imperial Red

One thought on “Best of The Northwest 2014: Breakout Breweries Break the Mold

  1. Pingback: Professor Good Ales » Post Topic » Best of The Northwest 2014: Breakout Breweries Break the Mold

Speak yer piece, Pilgrim.

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