Unless beer geeks here have been walking around with buckets on their heads, they’ll know all this already. But, as The Pour Fool is – to my utter, flummoxed astonishment and gratitude – read by thousands of people literally all over this planet, call this a heads-up on beers and breweries that, with any luck, you may one day find in shops in your hometown. If you don’t find them now and you have any realistic hope of visiting Oregon or Washington any time soon, dropping in to any (or all!) of these places will guarantee you great atmosphere, friendly people, and superb beer…and “superb” may be too mild a description.
This post is NOT about the hot new brewery. I don’t have a lot of respect for or patience with that sort of trendiness. This is about breweries that have hit their stride; whose work just keeps moving ahead, from strength to funky strength, almost every time they release something. This is about Accomplishment at a high, A-to-Z, roster-wide level. If you read this blog, you already know of my tremendous regard for outfits like Deschutes, Dogfish, Stone, Great Divide, Chuckanut, The Bruery, North Coast, etc., etc. This is the next wave of those, the breweries which have Figured It Out and are just arriving at that happy place where they just simply excel at whatever they try. There are two notable breweries in the Northwest that were crafty enough to start manufacturing their own social media buzz over a year before opening the doors. As a result, they opened to fanfare and have cemented a lofty reputation. Good on ’em, I say. But their beers are, in both cases, wildly uneven. Both are occasionally brilliant but both routinely turn out mediocre beers. This is all just my opinion, of course, and has to be taken with a grain of salt but I’ve got 45 years into the study of beer and the names below fulfill every definition of “accomplishment”.
MURDERER’S ROW / NORTHWEST
At just eight years of age, Fort George Brewing, located in the small, achingly picturesque river town of Astoria, Oregon, is really just hitting its stride, after at least six years of being considered one of the best “new” breweries in Oregon. Their Festival of Dark Arts is one of the very few beer fests that I find myself compelled to attend because nowhere on the planet will you find a roster of Stouts like that in one place and hardly anybody, anywhere manages to organize and execute a festival as logical and user-friendly as this one. FG’s growing success has been built upon relentless creativity, careful and expert execution, and an unfailing eye for what Northwesties like to drink. Their beers usually remain at least rooted in the British ale traditions but with inspired twists, like the delightful Java The Hop, a coffee IPA made from blonde-toast beans “roasted” expressly for Fort George by a great Portland coffee company. Their barrel program is least the second-most comprehensive in the two states and their big Stout, Cavatica, has now been offered in at least four variations that I know of and probably several more that I’ve missed. Their recent release, The Optimist IPA,is one of the most aptly named ales ever; a bright, lively, complex, maddeningly drinkable beer that amounts to a complete rethinking of the NWIPA. Vortex, their Imperial IPA, is practically an industry standard around these parts, and the list of experimental ales (last year, they made Surf Heather – an effin’ GRUIT!) goes on for pages. And their now-annual collaboration with a rotating list of friend brewers, “3-Way IPA“, improves every year. The 2015 model, a collabo with Seattle’s Georgetown Brewing and Hood River’s pFriem Family Brewers, is nothing less than a work of Art; an ale that somehow manages to show definite, distinct, and unmistakable characteristics of all three breweries, from the delicacy and subtle Belgian-inspired fruitiness and dry finish of the pFriem IPAs to the lusty hoppiness of Georgetown’s “Lucille” to Fort George’s own seamlessness and deft hand with a malt bill.
Brewmaster and co-owner Jack Harris seems to be incapable of producing a bad beer (or even a mediocre one) and keeps his eyes firmly on the prize: pleasing drinkers. If you’re traveling in Oregon and don’t allow yourself a short lay-over in Astoria and miss Fort George…you blew it, Bubba.
RECOMMENDED BEERS: The Optimist IPA, Cavatica Stout, Vortex IPA, Tender Loving Empire NWPA, The “North” Series, OMEGATEX, The Sweet Virginia Series, Spruce Bud Ale, Suicide Squeeze IPA, Bourbon Barrel Cavatica Stout, Rum Barrel Cavatica Stout, Sunrise Oatmeal Pale Ale
Sound Brewery of tiny, Norwegian-intensive Poulsbo, Washington, is run by a guy, Mark Hood, who is quite possibly the most devout beer geek I have ever known. If the true requisite for being great at what you do is a passion for that thing, Mark’s lust for beer makes Don Juan’s more conventional lust look like a casual hobby. When he and brewmaster Brad Ginn started Sound, just five years ago this month, their stated goal was to make great ales and lagers rooted in the German and Belgian traditions ONLY. His other stated goal was to never make a friggin’ (I cleaned that up a bit) IPA. Today, because Mark is a realist and Washington drinkers are among the most rigidly traditional in the known universe, he makes FIVE friggin’ IPAs and all are as, uh, sound and approachable and compulsively drinkable as his core Belgian stuff…which is flat-out astounding. After tasting almost 15,000 beers in the past five years, one of only five or six that immediately come to mind when I want a beer that’s just purely delicious and complex and fun is Sound “Monk’s Indiscretion”, a downright freaky, twisted take on a Belgian amber-red as made by the Marx Brothers. The stuff is just damned impossible to describe and I’ve tried – many times. They also produce a gin-barreled version of it that makes me see stars and departed relatives. Their two HUGE Stouts – the Americanized “Ursus Americanus” and the Belgian-inspired “Ursus Spelaeus” – are among the best Stouts produced in the somewhat Stout-challenged state of WA; rich, viscous, mouth-coating ales that whisper sublime hoppiness and scream coffee/molasses/chocolate/licorice/smoke. The five IPAS – the original, tellingly-named “Reluctant”, Latona IPA (brewed for Seattle’s iconic Latona Pub), the Imperial, “Humulo Nimbus”, the Belgian-style “Bevrijder”, and newcomer “Humonkulous” Triple – are superb and all, especially the near-legendary Humulo Nimbus, would be sorely missed had Mark’s customers not been such persistent sticks in the mud. His two trad Belgians “Dubbel Entendre” and “Tripel Entendre” – have been heavily lauded and awarded gaudy scores by press and beer fests, alike. His Winter Seasonal, “Entendre Noel Quadrupel” is a rich, satisfying, complex, and yet classic Winter Warmer that ages in barrel better than most red wines. And the new Sound “Quad Pro Quo“, is simply a masterpiece, easily one of the best Quads being produced in the US.
Add to all that the fact that Mark and Brad – and all their crew – are among the most friendly, funny, down-to-earth, and fiercely intelligent brewery staffs in either state and you have a recipe that’s, in just another month or two, propelling Sound into a facility more than twice as large as their current shop space and a bottling program as comprehensive as any brewery in Washington. If you get to Seattle, BY ALL MEANS, take the Bainbridge Island ferry, drive out route 305 13.8 miles to Sound’s friendly, cozy taproom, and get ready to have your socks rolled off. Visit their inspired neighbors, too, while in P’bo: Valholl Brewing, Rainy Daze Brewing, and the quirky, iconic Slippery Pig Brewing. A day in Poulsbo is a day in Beer Geek Heaven.
RECOMMENDED BEERS: Old Scoundrel Barleywine, Monk’s Indiscretion, Dubbel Entendre, Tripel Entendre, Humonkulous Triple IPA, the new Greenwood Triple IPA made for Seattle’s Chuck’s Hop Shop, Quad Pro Quo, Mosaic Pale, Bevrijder Belgian-style IPA, Ursus Americanus, Ursus Spelaeus Belgian Imperial Stout, Sommerweizen German Style Kristallweizen, Bombshell Belgian-style Blonde
pFriem Family Brewers is one of those “begatting” deals; a whiff of the Biblical concept of lineage, in which the young Josh Pfriem took a job with Washington’s towering brew guru, Wil Kemper, whose seminal Washington brewery, Thomas Kemper, begat the world-class Chuckanut Brewery, of Bellingham, WA. T-K’s occasional German-style leanings begat Chuckanut’s full-frontal dedication to German/Austrian/Czech-style beers, which begat Wil Kemper’s exalted status us one of the world’s – not just America’s – foremost producers of those styles. Which, in time, begat an ambitious Pfriem kid whose eyes were firmly On The Prize: his own brewery, which wound up about 300 miles south, in the picture-postcard village of Hood River, Oregon.
Even before opening, pFriem’s star was firmly planted in the NW beer heavens. A protegé of Wil Kemper, after all, is going to generate buzz. The only thing which could have muted expectations was for the beers to suck. You heard it here: pFriem beers do not suck. They’re the polar opposite of suck. I’ve been a devoted fan of what’s going on in that handsome new facility in Hood River – a festival of imagination, salvaged wood, and good ol’ American initiative – for one compelling reason: pFriem is the definitive antidote to the excess and happy-puppy clumsiness that is both the prime virtue of and greatest question about Northwest beer. Opening in the jaundiced heart of the Age of The Bitch-Slap IPA, Josh’s first and still best, simply called pFriem IPA, is the virtual template for the graceful, complex, nuanced, delicious-over-resiny style which is only now beginning to emerge from the dark days of hops excess. This is genuinely one of the masterworks of Northwest beer, a firmly approachable IPA that’s all about Balance. It’s as purely delicious as any IPA you will ever taste and yet it’s only the entré to a roster of beers that stacks up with any brewery in the US. Josh has run considerably past Chuckanut’s devotion to middle European styles and clasped the Brit tradition in a bear hug. Their Belgian Stout, BSDA (Belgian Strong Dark Ale), Oatmeal Stout, and especially Josh’s remarkable Schwarzbier show his masterful hand with darks and the five other IPAs – Belgian, Double, Down Under, Session, and Triple – form a sextet of resiny art that matches anybody in the soggy corner of the country. Josh also honors his roots, with Euro styles like Pilsner, Dunkelweizen, the Schwarzbier, Belgian-style Strong Blonde and Strong Dark, and Tripel or Belgo Tripel. If the power and overall aesthetic of these ales is a tad outside the NW mainstream, the stunning drinkability and literally flawless consistency stacks up with any brewery in the country. And lest anyone get the idea that a little whimsy is not part of the package, I submit that the pFriem Christmas Ale and Pumpkin Beer are among the best of their styles available in our three-state region.
“Exceptional” is the nutshell of pFriem, a brewery which is just beginning to show the miracles yet to come.
RECOMMENDED BEERS: pFriem IPA, Triple IPA, Belgian IPA, Belgo Tripel, Cascadian Dark Ale, “Ella” American Pale Ale, Rakau Single-Hop Pale, Flanders Red, Flanders Blonde, Lemon Saison, Winter Ale, Schawrzbier, Wit, “Green Bullet ” Single-Hop Pale, BSDA, Double IPA
The NKOTB of this line-up is Seattle‘s Holy Mountain Brewing, a long-anticipated project of partners Adam Paysse, Colin Lenfesty, and Mike Murphy. They landed this wild notion in a converted warehouse on the main drag between downtown Seattle and the city’s main beer mecca, Ballard, and opened their doors just about 100 days before this post is written. In that short time, Holy Mountain – with zero exaggeration – has rocked the Washington brewing scene. In a state in which stagnation has long been the rule and “weird” styles like Belgian ales or Goze or experimental ales were literally drowned in a small ocean of IPAs, Ambers, and Pales, Holy Mountain came right out of the chute with Belgians out the wazoo, a stunning Gose, an array of Farmhouse ales, and experimentation that happily skips right on past Washington’s usual stylistic boundaries. The result? A very Seattleish white tile taproom, recalling both an operating room and a shower but still oddly warm, that’s full every one of the four times I’ve been and every time any of my network has checked in. Brewmaster Lenfesty, who cut his teeth at local veterans like Big Al Brewing, Schooner Exact Brewing, and Bainbridge Island Brewing, became the first beermaker to prove that I wasn’t just bitching and whining when I pointed out, in December of 2012, in a post called “The Splendid Isolation of Washington Brewing“, that I thought this state could and should support a brewery that was not primarily about British traditional ales and the financial safety net of Endless IPA Fest. I took a small tsunami of s__t for that post, with brewers – including Colin Lenfesty! – chiming in to inform me that those IPAs pay the bills and Ya Gotta Give the Customer What They Want.
It turns out now, happily, that that mythical “customer” has a tad broader palate than any of us knew. What the customer wants, here in 2015 Seattle, winds up being HM’s sublime Gose, a roster of SIX (and counting!) Farmhouse Ales, including my favorite HM beer, “River of Ash” dark, brett-fermented “The Goat”, The Grey Tower, The Seer, and The Arrow. Their “Astral Projection” (in both normale and Brett-fermented versions) is a towering Imperial IPA that measures up to any Double/Imperial produced in this hop-addled state. Their first IPA was the collabo, “Five of Swords”, co-brewed with Tacoma’s dazzling Engine House 9 Brewing, and featured door-bustin’ doses of Citra, Simcoe, and HopUnion’s experimental HBC 342. It’s distinct melon characteristics and citrus/stone fruit grace notes give this creamy gem a lively, smooth, fun mouth-feel and flat-out delicious finish.
Holy Mountain, in just over three months, has turned out almost forty beers and each one has been better than the last. Co-owner Paysee chalks this up to their “measure twice/cut once” philosophy, a natural caution that led the three friends to start actively test-brewing batches of these very ales and lagers a full three years before the doors ever opened. “Hit the ground running” understates what Holy Mountain has done, possibly the fastest and most successful ascendance of any new brewery ever in this corner of the US. Their finely-honed technical acumen, coupled with a rather shocking willingness on the part of the formerly-reluctant (or maybe formerly deprived?) Washington drinker to move past the IPA/Amber/Pale/Porter/Stout rut has resulted in a landmark brewery that is certain, if prospective beer entrepreneurs are paying attention, to spawn other breweries not comfortably wallowing in the Brit cradle.
RECOMMENDED BEERS: “River of Ash” Dark Farmhouse Ale, “Ceremony” Saison, “Equinox” Saison, “Grisette” Farmhouse Ale, Gose, “The Goat” Brett Farmhouse Ale, “The White Lodge” Wit, “Watchman’s House” Oaked Lager, Zwickelbier, “Five of Swords” IPA, “Bonne Nuit” Belgian-style Dark, “Celestial Lineage” Milk Stout, “Silent Sun” Tart Wheat Ale, “Deadfall” Dark Farmhouse Ale
By a country mile, the most under-the-radar brewery on this list is tucked away in a tiny, vest-pocket, semi-industrial park at the corner of Northup Way and 120th Avenue NE, in brewery-deprived Bellevue, Washington. They’ve been working, quietly, in the shadows of another brewery just up the road which did the social media trick and which is owned by a guy who believes in tossing money at problems until they go away and is maybe the most relentless self-promoter since P.T. Barnum. But this glaring contrast has actually worked to their benefit. The other guys work out of a colorless, soulless taproom that looks like a church fellowship hall, while Geaux Brewing sits in one of the most delightfully intimate and atmospheric taprooms in the Seattle area. Owner/brewmaster Jeremy Hubbell is a NOLA native and so, here in the heart of Seahawks Nation, the walls of Geaux are festooned with NOLA Saints paraphernalia, while New Orleans soul, funk, blues, and jazz warm the air and hop vines swaddle the tiny patio. I wanted desperately to dislike Geaux (mostly because of the Saints thing) but tasting the beers rendered that impossible.
Jeremy has crafted a roster of soulful, utterly delicious, distinctive, beautifully-crafted beers that include one of the most voluptuous coffee Stouts I’ve ever tasted (“Au Lait”), a superb collaborative Barleywine, brewed with Naked City brewmaster, Don Webb, (“Geaux Naked”), and one of the two best Belgian-style Wheat IPAs (along with Three Taverns Brewing’s “A Night in Brussels”) I’ve found anywhere (“Camellia”). Along that dewey path lies a near-perfect Robust Porter (“Poydras”), a stunning Imperial IPA (“Ragin’ Cajun”), THE best summer-weight IPA I’ve found in all of Washington, the sublime “Gulf Coast”, a textbook basic IPA, (“Tremé)”, and one of the most twitch-inducing ales I’ve ever come across, the toasted pecan-infused Belgian-style Strong Dark, “Bayou”.
Jeremy is an industrial designer by day, who founded H-Squared in late 2005, a full-fledged fabrication and manufacturing business, designing products that integrate with today’s high-tech lifestyle. The company’s customer base includes Apple, Google, Disney, the BBC, Intel, and the US Government, just to name a few, so Jeremy’s low-key approach that set him behind his far louder neighbor actually served to draw the real, hard-core craft beer fans – a very non-trendy bunch, lurking in the nooks and tech crannies of Seattle’s Eastside communities – like catnip. Geaux is the passion that Jeremy suppressed while building a successful business and it’s now become a daily, delicious reality. If you’re visiting Seattle, Geaux will be a bit hard to find, but it sits right across 120th Avenue from the Bellevue Lowe’s and a quick email to me will get ya exact directions..and I’ll probably show up and buy you a beer. Geaux is only slightly over two years old but it is already building a reputation that’s going to stand for a very, very long time.
RECOMMENDED BEERS: Poydras, Bayou, Gulf Coast, Camellia, Tremé, Geaux Naked, Au Lait, Lafitte, BTR, Ragin’ Cajun, Equinox Rye IPA
Breakside Brewing, situated in funky Northeast Portland, OR, is one of the most experimental producers of beer and/or beer-like substances that ever existed in the United States. The difference between them and the handful of other semi-whacked-out, oddball breweries that have tried to turn out even a fraction of the inspired weirdness that Breakside does routinely is that, at Breakside, these beers Work. Brewmaster Ben Edmunds is blessed with having an ownership that not only allows his flights of creative (some would say “eccentric”) fancy but encourages it. Originally started with a 3BBL system, the small batches let Ben and assistant brewer Sam Barber work fast and freely and what’s been the result? Even for weird-beer-centric PDX, Ben’s ales almost defy description: Beet Saison, Mango IPA, Kombucha Barleywine, Gruit with chili peppers, a French blonde ale using a saison yeast; split three ways and aged on three different types of white wine grapes, “Bellwether” Gin Barrel-Aged Sour Double Wit with Kaffir Lime, “Bonfire Walk With Me” experimental sour with cherries, lemon, caramel, and oak…getting the picture? But Edmunds can also play quite well in the shallow end of the weird pool. His Toro Red is among the two or three best Reds ever made in the PNW and his Wanderlust IPA has become one of the most celebrated basic IPAs produced in the West, taking Golds at both the Great American Beer Festival 2014 and North American Beer Awards 2014, as well as inclusion in the “100 Best Beers in the World” in Men’s Journal Magazine.
By 2011, Ben and his small crew had produced 96 beers in just over one year(!) and that number has more than tripled by now. There are simply too many choices for me to name a realistic Recommended list, so let me just hit the highlights below and urge anybody with a palate that yearns for Something Different – and a difference that actually works as a delicious beverage! – to make the pilgrimage to either Breakside’s Deekum Street Pub or their taproom on 5821 SE International Way in Milwaukie, Oregon. Both are places that are very dear to my twisted old heart and palate and Ben Edmunds seems to have no envelope he’s afraid to push and no limit to his prodigious creativity and imagination.
RECOMMENDED BEERS: Tropicalia, Toro Red, A Saison in Hell, Amuse, Aquavit Barrel Aged IPA, Bonfire Walk With Me, Kellerbier, New World Bruin, Summer Gruit, Brett Saison, Fortunella, Juggling Plums Gose, Szechuan Blonde, Wanderlust, Peach Golden Sour
Say “Tillamook, Oregon” to any Northwest Native and they’ll probably tell you about their favorite cheese or ice cream (Mine? Oregon Hazelnut with Salted Caramel…Oh, God!) , since Tillamook’s largest employer and sole attraction used to be Tillamook dairy products. Today, there’s a new place in town that’s drawing in beer geeks the way Tillamook’s creamery brings in the full-fat dining crowd. de Garde Brewing wouldn’t be quite as glaringly obvious in its eccentricity in Portland or Denver as it is in this seaside village of less than 5,000 souls, sitting astraddle Oregon’s Route 101. With 97 beers currently listed on BeerAdvocate and only THREE showing scores under the 4 aggregate point threshold, de Garde is both hyperactively industrious and brilliantly inspired. They specialize in gruits, saisons, gueuzes, goses, wild ales, fruit beers, Oud Bruins, and especially the vastly underserved Berlinerweisse, which they seem hell-bent on perfecting – and are very close to doing exactly that.
Attempting to encapsulate the wild and eccentric variety of what Trevor Rogers and Linsey Hammacher are pursuing in Tillamook (and I think “pursuing” is the exact term) is probably beyond even a hyperverbal yahoo like me. Suffice it to say, between the serious whimsy of Breakside and the whimsical seriousness of de Garde, those of us who cherish and seek out the unusual and uber-creative have a once-in-a-lifetime day trip from PDX to Fort George in Astoria to deGarde’s genteel madness in Dairy Town, all with the dead-on promise that what you will taste will be unlike any beer experience available anywhere on the face of Planet Earth.
deGarde is all about barrels and nearly everything (I suspect their morning coffee may not be barrel-aged but who knows?) gets some time in one. Their primary aesthetic is spontaneously-fermented ales, a dicey proposition that fails as often as it works…except, strangely, in the little storefront in CheeseVille. Thisa barrel devitional is inspired by Rogers and Hamacher’s long-held love of wine. “We want to create product that isn’t a quick fix, but one that is an evolving and growing experience, though has an immediate hedonistic potential.” Rogers told Portland’s New School, shortly before the brewery opened. Now, at two years in, barrels have become de Garde’s raison d’etre and what comes out of them is so genuinely inventive and, yes, weirdly wonderful that some of their original plans – like making a few “normal beers”, have simply been lost in the mad rush of Northwest beer fans crowding into their tiny taproom to get a taste.
de Garde may well wind up being the most significant brewery development to emerge in the uber-fertile PNW brewing scene since Upright, Crux, Cascade, The Ale Apothecary, and Logsdon. Stay tuned…
RECOMMENDED BEERS: Unblended Connack, The Lucy, Stone Bu, Apricot Bu, Belle Ensemble, Black Raz Bu, Cherry Rum Bu, Citra Goze, Corbeau Noir, Dark Harvest, Fleur Desay, Imperial Apricot Bu Weisse, Imperial Blu Bu, , Raspberry Bu
I saved Reuben’s Brews – located in new digs in Seattle‘s beer-centric Ballard neighborhood – for last because what I’m about to say is bombastic and I know it.
It is also the Absolute Truth.
At just three years of age, Reuben’s Brews is making a serious case for inclusion in the top ranks of America’s best breweries. Right up there with your Stones and Dogfishes and Deschuteses and Three Floydses and New Belgiums. Seriously. Brewmaster/co-owner Adam Robbings (one of the nation’s most decorated home brewers), along with brother-in-law Mike Pfeiffer, has simply become a Juggernaut; a brewery that turns out brilliance as casually as you and I change shirts. I dont use that word, “brilliance”, lightly. There is about Reuben’s beers a quality of perfection, polish, completeness, and utter, compelling drinkability that would out them even in a blind tasting of similar styles.
Adam Robbings is a quiet, slightly wonky Englishman whose mild manner belies a raging creativity and mammoth technical acumen that seems to have no holes in it. From the Northwest’s first year-round Roggenbier to huge, Hunahpu-ish Imperial Stouts – barreled and not – to the best Black IPA I’ve ever tasted to his two high-octane IPAs (the Double “Crikey” and the triple “Blimey, That’s Bitter!”) that somehow manage to pack in the IBUs and still remain approachable even by craft newbies, Reuben’s just cannot seem to turn out even a beer that sinks to merely exceptional. Their fistfuls of awards in this short history attest to their effect on the country’s beer community (A noted California brewer told me last week that he flew up here two weeks ago, for no other reason than to go to Reuben’s) and Washington’s beer fans are finding them at their new, expanded facility in literal droves. On the Saturday noon that we wandered in last week, the beer line ran out their door, across the patio, and fifty feet down the block.
Reuben’s Brews is the best brewery in Washington, and perhaps even, someday soon, in the West. Period. No other brewery even comes close, in terms of range, erudition, skill, or results. Their roster of beers has become Deschutes-like: total skill and a high polish that still allows for whimsy and experimentation. (Adam brews a Cream Ale, not because anybody was clamoring for it but because, as an English kid, he just missed drinking them.) Because they aren’t overly concerned with the IPA Arms Race, many of the HopHead crowd tend to dismiss them in favor of those breweries that will crank out one-dimensional, herb ‘n’ resin IPAs, one after another, constantly packing in moire and more gratuitous IBUs. But those of us with a broader base of beer knowledge spot the distinctions in Reuben’s instantly. This is a brewery that simply never misses, even when taking on a project like their recent agreement to produce a house Pale Ale for Seattle’s hip local pizza chain, Zeek’s. Most breweries tend to do just well enough to please their contractor but save their real inspiration for their own products. Instead, Adam came up with “Hop Tropic”, one of the most unusual, compulsively-drinkable, flambouyant, Pales I’ve tasted in my life. The rich malt bill and bursting hops that show up as notes of mango, melon, apricot, pineapple, guava, and spruce tips simply swamp the palate. It’s joyously vibrant but light and refreshing and carries easily enough muscle to stand up to one of Zeek’s inspired, spicy, scrumptious pies. I live two blocks from a Zeek’s, so you can guess what my new after-hours stop is and what my beer order is going to be.
Want to know what I’d recommend from Reuben’s? Whatever they’re pouring today. Aside from those breweries I named earlier, I’ve never come across a producer of anything that shows no weaknesses or flat spots in their product roster. This past Saturday, I had never tried their Imperial Black IPA, so I ordered one. Instantly the best Black IPA I’ve found yet.
If you get to Seattle and do not make the short trip from downtown to Reuben’s Brews in Ballard – about a nine buck cab ride – you’re missing one of the great beer experiences of your life time.
RECOMMENDED BEERS: Blimey, That’s Bitter Triple IPA, Crikey Double IPA, Roggenbier, Robust Porter, Black Imperial IPA, American Rye Ale, Imperial Rye IPA, Imperial Stout Aged in Bourbon Barrels, Koyt, Emperor’s Son, Breakfast Stout, Doubloon’s India Wheat Ale, Hop Tropic
SPECIAL NOTE: NOTHING in the world gives me more pleasure than to find that my initial impression of a brewery has been knocked 180 degrees sideways and that is exactly what just happened this past weekend during a visit to Tacoma, Washington’s Wingman Brewers. In two visits I made to the place – one two+ years ago and then again last year – I was completely underwhelmed with Wingman and actually wrote a note of agreement to a blogger who panned them in his own page. I found the beers dull and unimaginative and my original scores are still on my phone, with none breaking four points on my personal 5-point shorthand scale.
What a difference a year makes! This Saturday’s tasting of six from Wingman was a freakin’ revelation: an absolutely dazzling cucumber Saison, (and there’s a phrase I had never envisioned writing. If Cigar City couldn’t get me to drink a cucumber ale, I didn’t think anybody could) called “Crux to The Cu”, followed by a Pilsner that, in Washington, is surpassed only by Chuckanut’s iconic version of same, another Pils that was brilliantly infused with tangerines(!), a slick and totally delicious basic IPA, and a black currant Saison that, By God, tasted like black effin’ currants. I had altready tasted their viretual flagship, the P-51 Porter, and found that just as good as the first two times (it was the only beer to score a 3.9) but with a tad more body and roasty character.
I feel almost like throwing these guys a party. I don’t have any idea what happened between my last two visit to Wingman, except to note that this entire post has been about breweries Figuring It Out, hitting their top gear, and letting their skills shine through. Just as with their neighbors to the North – Holy Mountain – Wingman is coming into its own and its own is looking very, very good.