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BoTNW15

 

TPFBest of The Northwest has been, since I started this blog in 2008 in the online pages of the Seattle P-I, the most popular regular feature of The Pour Fool. Every year, more and more people read it, for which I thank everyone who stops by for a look. From the beginning, I’ve said that the ambition behind it is simple: this is a Buyer’s Guide for those interested in tasting great Northwest beers. It is and will never be anything more than ONE GUY’S OPINIONS as to what constitutes “great” and YOU should attach no more importance to it than that. Admittedly, my tastes are NOT universal. There are several breweries in my own home state of Washington that are routinely fawned over by thousands, while I find them inconsistent and prone to some severely routine beers. There’s the grain of salt with which to take this and every other list you read here. I started this reluctantly because people like lists and I was asked…a LOT.

My tastes are fairly Everyman-ish and that’s on purpose. I started writing this blog because I tasted literally thousands of beverages a year, in my capacity as a beverage buyer and I wanted to SELL wines, beers, and spirits, not just find stuff for me to drink. To do that, I had to try to understand why certain people enjoyed things I found unappealing. Personally, I believe in Balance Before All and that’s not the normal view. There have also been questions, which I’ve answered privately, in most cases, but I’ll address a few here:

If this list included other states, would it be different?”   YES. It would have to be. I cover Washington, Idaho, and Oregon with BoTNW and have been frequently asked to do more. I MAY include Montana, Alaska, and British Columbia, at some point, but that probably won’t happen soon. I can say that, if I included only Colorado, for example, maybe half the list would change. Ditto for California and, to a lesser degree, Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico. I focus on Here because I live Here. But that’s not to say that I think all the best of the US is made Here.

If you name five beers in a category, which one is the best?”   That’s for you to decide. This, as I said, is a Buyer’s Guide; a way for you to maximize your beer $$$ when traveling about our soggy, mildewey, gloriously beautifully region. I toyed with the idea of making one bold-faced or a different color but I don’t want to suggest a preference. I can tell you this: whatever appears first is probably the first one on my mind, so…make of that what you will.

Are you going to omit breweries that are bought out by Anheuser-Busch?”   YES. They’re no longer craft breweries because they’re part of the world’s largest and most questionable beer company and that’s their trade-off for taking the big bucks from corporate thugs. The one in Seattle, the one in Bend – GONE. And they’ll stay gone until that day when they’re sold to some company that’s not a sworn enemy of craft brewing. That seem unfair? Life ain’t fair, folks. No apologies, no exceptions.

Are all of these available in bottles or cans and can I get them in _______?”  Not necessarily. A couple of years, I put an asterisk beside beers that were tap only but, by the time I made the list, many had been packaged. Here in the Northwest – especially in Washington – we have been VERY slow to offer cans and bottles for one very good reason: we used to drink all the beers. Really. Washington breweries only started offering packages, with certain exceptions, about six years ago. Now, many do it but certainly not all because us Northwesties LOVE us some craft beer and we drink LOTS. Sadly, if you want a lot of what’s here, you’ll have to seek it out on a brewery-by-brewery basis. Email the brewery and ask where you can get their beers. Most times, they can ship to you and, if not, they can probably give you a source. Good luck. The search WILL be worth it!

I called this installment “The Year The Beer Arrived” because so many of our emerging NW breweries hit their stride in a single year. Beer, let’s face it, is trendy. The new shiny bauble will always be more visible and talked about than the six to ten-year-old producer who’s just Figuring It Out. But you ignore those veterans at your own peril. You know the names Stone and Dogfish and Russian River and Great Divide and AleSmith because they GOT good, not because they popped up running full speed. Breweries grow into their excellence and thousands of new ones seem to fall away within a year or two because the novelty wears off and trendies move on to the Next Big Thing. In 2015, dozens of those veterans got their acts together at once and that’s made it one of the best beer years I can remember, in my quarter century in the Soggy Corner of the US.

One small note: as opposed to previous years, the Beers of The Year are NOT included under their categories in the body of The List. It’s more dramatic that way and, well, I like Drama.

This, then, is The Pour Fool’s Best of The Northwest for 2015…

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BREWERIES OF THE YEAR FOR 2015

 

Best BreweryWashington: Engine House No. 9, Tacoma

Best Brewery, OregonFort George Brewing, Astoria

Best Brewery, Idaho: Selkirk Abbey, Post Falls

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Best New Brewery, two years or less:

Ecliptic Brewing, Portland

Holy Mountain BrewingSeattle

Cloudburst Brewing, Seattle

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culmination-brewing

Best Small Brewery:

Standard Brewing, Seattle

 Big Block Brewing, Sammamish, WA

The Ale ApothecaryBend, OR

Culmination Brewing, Portland

 

THE BEERS OF 2015

 

Best Beer: American Pale Ale

Holy Mountain “Kiln & Cone” / Silver Moon Brewing “Get Sum”

Best Beer: Euro Pale Ale

Standard Brewing Bière de Garde / pFriem Family Brewers Belgian Strong Blonde / The Commons Bière de Garde

Best Beer: British-Style Pale Ale

Reuben’s Brews Cream Ale

Best Beer: India Pale Ale

Reuben’s Brews “Crikey”/ Fort George “Three Way”/ Crux Fermentation Project Lemondrop IPA / Holy Mountain & Engine House No. 9 “Five of Swords”

Best Beer: Double, Triple/Imperial IPA

Reuben’s Brews “Blimey, That’s Bitter”  /   Wingman Brewing “Abogado” / Fort George Brewing “Magnanimous” / Sound Brewery “Humonkulous

Best Beer: Belgian-style IPA

Double Mountain Brewing “Pale Death” / pFriem Family IPA / Sound Brewery “ReDonkulous” / Selkirk Abbey “Infidel”

Best Beer: Red/Amber Ale

Deschutes “Cinder Cone” / Ecliptic Brewing “Phobos” Extra Red / Northwest Brewing Chinook Copper Ale

Best Beer: Brown Ale

Reuben’s Brews American Brown Ale / Holy Mountain Espresso Bourbon Barrel Aged “King’s Head” / NoLi Brewhouse “Crony”

Best Beer: Porter

Selkirk Abbey “Guilt” (DOMA Coffee) / Cloudburst Brewing “Boom. Roasted!” / Bend Brewing Cherry Baltic Porter

Best Beer: Stout

Cloudburst Brewing “Cure All” / Mount Hood Brewing “Hogsback” / Iron Goat Brewing “Goatmeal”

Best Beer: Imperial Stout

Boneyard “Suge Knite”/ Gig Harbor Brewing Imperial Stout / Block 15 Brewing “Imagine”

Best Beer: ESB

Buoy Brewing ESB / Ecliptic Brewing “Pegasus” / Brewer’s Union Local 180 “The Gov”

Best Beer: Scotch/Scottish Ale

Selkirk Abbey “Selkirk Grace”

Best Beer: American Blonde

Seapine Brewing “La Fantasma” / Tin Dog Belgian Blonde / Airways Brewing “Nelson/Citra Blonde”

Best Beers: Strong Ale

Bend Brewing “Outback” 

Best Beer: Aged Ale

Reuben’s Brews Barrel Aged “Auld Heritage”   /   Crux Fermentation Project “Freakcake” Barrel-Aged Oud Bruin (Banished Series)

Best Beer: Barleywine

Pelican Brewing “Mother of All Storms”   /   7 Seas “Wheelchair”

Best Beer: Belgian-Style Saison/Farmhouse Ale

Engine House No. 9 “Farmhouse Deux”  /   De Garde Brewing “Unblended Connak”   /  Holy Mountain “River of Ash” / The Commons “Field & Furrow”

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

Belgian-Style Quad

Sound Brewery “Entendez Noel” 

Best Beer: Belgian-Style Experimental

The Ale Apothecary “La Tache” Rum Barrel Aged with Peaches / Engine House No. 9 “Nameless on Brett” / Gigantic Brewing “Catch 23” Experimental Pale Ale / Selkirk Abbey “St. Stephen” Imperial Saison

Best Beers: Wheat Ale

pFriem Family Brewery “Wit”   /  Ecliptic Brewing “White Asteroid”

Best Beers: Lager

Heater Allen Brewing “Lenz Bock”   /   pFriem Family Brewers Helles

Best Beers: Pilsner

Airways Brewing “Pre-Flight” Pilsner   /  Chuckanut Brewing Pilsner / Wingman Brewers “Old Plank” Pilsner /  pFriem Family Brewers Czech Pilsner

Best Beers: Dopplebock

Fort George Brewing “Illuminator”   /  Heater Allen Brewing “Mediator” / Pacific Brewing & Malting Company “Venerator”

Best Beers: Smoked Beer

Barley Brown’s Brewing “Whiskey Malt” /  Big Al Brewing Smoked Porter                  The Commons Rauch Alt

Best Beers: Rye Ale

Reuben’s Brews Imperial Rye IPA  /   Block 15 Brewing “Super Fly Rye”

Best Beers: Wood Aged

Reuben’s Imperial Stout Aged in Bourbon Barrels   /  Deschutes Brewery “The Dissident”

Best Beers: Coffee Beer

Fort George “Java The Hop”  /   Selkirk Abbey “Guilt” DOMA Coffee Porter

Best Beers: Herb and Spice Ale

Upright Brewing “Special Herbs”

Deschutes “EHop” Collaboration (With Harpoon Brewing) Amber with Sage & Thyme

Best Beers: Fruit Beer

Logsdon “Peche ‘n’ Brett”   /   DeGarde Brewing “Nectarine Premiere” / Double Mountain “Tahoma” Kriek

Best Beers: Pumpkin Ale

Dick Cantwell “He Said” Baltic Porter / Worthy Brewing “Super Creep” / Ninkasi Imperial Pumpkin “Sleigh’r”

Best Beers: Sour/Wild Ale

Upright “Jeux D’eau”  /  The Ale Apothecary “Sahalie”  /   Engine House 9 “Nefilibata” / Wingman Brewers “Brux 2 the Cu”

Best Beers: Brett Ale

Engine House No. 9 Tacoma Wild Ale / Logsdon Farmhouse Ales “Szech ‘N’ Brett”

Best Beers: Berlinerweisse-Style Ale

De Garde Brewing “Bu Stone”   /   Engine House No. 9 “Fruit Cup”   /  DeGarde Imperial Apricot BuWeisse / Bend Brewing “Ching Ching” / Pacific Brewing & Malting Company Black Cherry Berliner Weisse

Best Beers: Experimental

The Ale Apothecary “Sahati”  /  Standard Brewing “Auld Alliance” / Selkirk Abbey “Cuvee de la Nuit Profonde”

Best Beers: Chili/Pepper Beer

Populuxe Brewing Peppercorn Saison / Fort George Brewing “Hellcat” Peppered Tripel

Best Beers: Winter Seasonal

Sound Brewery “Old Yonder Star”   /  Crux Fermentation Project “Snow Cave” (Banished Series) / Hopworks Urban Brewery “Abominable”

Best Beer: Summer Seasonal

Geaux Brewing “Gulf Coast” IPA / 7 Seas “Lifejacket” IPA

Best Beers: Fresh-Hopped

Deschutes Brewery “Chasing Freshies”   /  Double Mountain “Killer Green” Wet Hopped DIPA  /  pFriem Family Brewers Fresh-Hop Citra Pale

Best Beers: Best Attempt to Define Cascadian Dark Ale

Mac & Jack’s CDA / Grand Teton “Trout Hop” Black IPA

BEERS OF THE YEAR

 

Selkirk Abbey “Guilt” Porter

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAJeff Whitman has taken a virtual monastic vow of Belgian-ism and has violated it exactly one and a half times. The “one” is his massive, near-perfect Scotch Ale, “Selkirk Grace”, and the “half” is this…this startling, Belgian-inspired retake on the weary old Northwest Porter. I’ve been so profoundly bored with our regional Porters lately that it makes me cry…and then I get this. Flamboyant background flavors of spices and bananas and bubble gum just barely whisper behind a classic, muscular dose of traditional Porter character, the coffee and molasses and horehound and bitter chocolate that underpins all great Porters. There are hops, too, brightly outlining the fruits, spices, and dark delights. This is SO immediately and startlingly different that the usual reaction is, “Whoa!” That’s a pretty good thumbnail descriptor for almost all the Selkirk Abbey beers but this one…well, this is a whole other animal. “Guilt” breathes new life into the Porter style and I want MORE…lots more!

 

Engine House No. 9 “Raspberry Wild”

raspwildcomboWhat Shane Johns and his crew at Tacoma’s Engine House No. 9 have done to Washington’s brewing culture may never be undoneat least, that’s my  fervent hope. Against the wishes of his employers (at first, anyway) and wildly counter to the stolidly British-traditions tastes of his own customers, Shane, an uber-creative former chef, embraced wild and sour and brett beers with a desperate bear-hug, in a time, about three years ago, when those beers simply did not exist in this, the nation’s third-largest brewing state. And he did it in a way that just could not be denied. From almost Day One, these beers were shocking in their completeness, character, and ferocious drinkability. People who never drank sours, in blue-collar old Tacoma, wound up pouting when Shane ran out. And all us WA sour/brett freaks turned their converted firehouse into a Pilgrimage. In 2015, Shane really hit his stride and his Raspberry Wild Ale has become a virtual flagship beer for the Wild Side of this slightly-schizo brewery. The raspberry character is as fresh and authentic as any fruit ale I’ve ever tasted and the sour edge is perfect. It’s creamy, in a way that sours seldom are, and the glorious bright red color beckons like a siren to beer fans of any stripe. This beer is one of the best sours I’ve tasted from ANY American brewery; an absolute Achievement.

 

Fort George Brewing “The Optimist” IPA

Photo by talkbeer.com

Photo by talkbeer.com

This is an absolute can of Bliss…one of the most purely and compulsively drinkable Northwest IPAs ever made by anybody. It’s the antidote to all those overdone herb-fest IPAs that have become synonymous with the term “Northwest”; a sunny, citrusy, resiny daydream of complex but uncomplicated IPA pleasure. Built along the lines of Stone’s “Delicious”, The Optimist carries that light ‘n’ bright ideal to its logical conclusion. This is the beer that you’d pour for your hard-core Northwesty guests on a warm(ish) Oregon afternoon but also the one you’d serve those visiting Easterners and Midwesterners, so they’re not stunned by our level of hops mania. I can’t say it any better than I did in my original review: “lime leaf, lychi, faint buttermint, a lurking intimation of spices that remains tantalizingly out of reach. It’s complex and shows , dare I say it, an elegant hops presence that shows pretty florals, citrus even beyond lemon and into tangerine and pink grapefruit, and a beautiful gilding of spruce tips and pine needles that lays back on the finish.”  This is a totally captivating, crowd-pleasing, complete ale that was on my table and in my glass more than any other single beer in 2015.

Reuben’s Brews “Hop Tropic” Pale Ale

HopTropicIf there is such a thing as a best of this list, Hop Tropic might just be it. Brewmaster Adam Robbings concocted this ale for the Seattle institution pizza chain, Zeek’s, as a sunny complement to their eclectic toppings and as an alternative to the tired old tradition of pairing watery Pilsners like BudMillerCoorsPabst with flavors that completely cover them up. And I’m here to tell you that it works – BIG time. Hop Tropic is one of the most expressive, complex, juicy, engrossing, and creative beers that most of us will ever encounter. It is so wildly drinkable that we polished off an entire growler of it within forty-five minutes, after tasting it at the grand opening of Reuben’s new, expanded brewery and taproom. The flavors here are spiritually akin to The Optimist but moreso, despite the fact that The Optimist is an IPA and Hop Tropic is (technically) a Pale. The hops are beautifully assertive and bitter but varied and colorful, hitting every note from resins to citrus to wildflowers to herbs. But the balance is what sets this ale apart. The soft, chewy malts and a dazzling, robust spiciness play off the hops in perfect harmony and the texture is like drinking a glass of silk. The catch here is that Reuben’s, as of this writing, is not packaging Hop Tropic and maybe it won’t happen at all but it WILL, guaranteed, be worth a swing by Reuben’s Ballard taproom or any neighborhood Zeek’s to taste this little glass of Miracle.

Holy Mountain “The Third Nail” Belgian Pale Ale

Photo by venturinginvancouver.files.wordpress.com

Photo by venturinginvancouver. files.wordpress.com

Holy Mountain Brewing is less than six months old. Even as I write that, it seems impossible. Their influence upon Seattle’s and Washington’s brewing scene has been on the scale of gravity or a mega-watt electromagnet: irresistible. Within one month of opening its doors, Seattleites were talking about it as one of the Northwest’s best breweries…and it was not hyperbole. Brewmaster/partner Colin Lenfesty and his partners, Adam Paysse and Mike Murphy, are old hands; veterans of several area breweries who used the old carpenter’s adage to get HM open: “Measure twice, cut Once.” I’ve now done four tastings in their dead-on Seattle-ish taproom – an aesthetic cross between a shower stall and an oddly-homey operating room – and have come away more impressed each time. “The Third Nail” is one of the best of the rising tide of the West’s Belgo-American hybrid ales that I’ve ever come across; the only West Coast ale that compares, for me, to “A Night in Brussels”, that lovely, resiny masterpiece from Atlanta’s Three Taverns Brewing. (If a collaboration between these two breweries happened to, y’know, come about, I wouldn’t be exactly broken-hearted. Hint, hint…) Brewed with Belgian yeasts, this ale drips spicy citrus, aromatic florals, and eccentric tropical notes by the fistful and perfectly expresses that Seattle hallmark, semi-ironic Uber-Cool that’s the backbone of the brewery’s appeal. Holy Mountain, despite the fact of being better funded than many Washington breweries, is the perfect expression of the idea of the word “Seattle” and it’s a must-see beer destination for any beer lover visiting here. Great as Third Nail is, it’s not even my favorite HM beer. That title goes to their gorgeous dark Saison, “River of Ash”, but, purely in terms of what makes a great beer, The Third Nail is almost unsurpassed in Washington brewing.

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BREWERY OF THE YEAR

 

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Reuben’s Brews, Seattle

Adam Robbings

Adam Robbings

There are people in Seattle who have not yet been to Reuben’s. Not many, for a fact, but as I said above, we’re trendy here and there are a lot of see-and-be-seen types who mainly visit breweries because they’re chic or hot and all their friends go there. But, on any given day, you’ll find other brewers, beer writers, visiting beer geeks, beer scholars, and even a rugby team or soccer side, all seduced by some of the country’s best and most eclectic beers, made by a guy who was formerly one of America’s best homebrewers and whose British roots run deep. Adam Robbings is a mild-mannered Englishman who makes Clark Kent look like a drama queen. He’s bespectacled and studious and a quiet and absolutely bursting with brewing knowledge and ideas. The growth of Reuben’s, in just its first two years, took everyone by surprise, including Adam, who expected to do well but maybe not to explode like a land mine.  They operate at a constant backlog, even after almost tripling their capacity in August of 2015. “Hop Tropic”, one of our Beers of The Year, is brewed almost around the clock to satisfy demand, as are “Crikey”, Adam’s dazzling IPA, and “Blimey”, his huge, aromatic Imperial. His barrel-aged Imperial Stout, the perennial anniversary beer, is easily the best Stout made in Washington, and experimentation goes on daily.

reubensbottlesIf you haven’t heard of Reuben’s Brews, that’s understandable. We’re a bit isolated, waaay up here in this freaky corner of the country (many Washingtonians considered “Twin Peaks” a documentary), where our innate weirdness runs headlong into our resolutely normal beer tastes, but people here value quality over normalcy and Reuben’s massive skill is evident in every sip. I thought about which brewery should occupy this spot for months and several others could have been a solid choice but, after all that, it had to be Reuben’s Brews as The Pour Fool’s Brewery of The Year for 2015.

One thought on “Best of The Northwest 2015: The Year The Beer Arrived

  1. Great list, some beers to look out for in the future and a good selection of beers I agree with here too. And yes, Third Nail was a wonderfully unique take on the Belgian / American hybrid beers, I’ve yet to have a beer that tasted quite like it.

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