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Good Lord, the sad Brown Ale…for years, now, I’ve tasted Browns that seemed to be made as an afterthought; something the brewery decided to do mostly because they had run through the entire British Ale canon and said, “Oops, we forgot to make a Brown!” The Brown Ale, that delightful little roadside attraction between the Pale and ESB and Porter/Stout Territory, used to be something that was made with as much care as any IPA or Stout or Sour. Breweries took pride in their Browns. Rogue’s “Hazelnut Brown”, Lost Coast’s “Downtown Brown”, Big Sky “Moose Drool”, Bell’s “Best Brown”, Duck Rabbit Brown Ale, even Dogfish’s flamboyant “Palo Santo Marron”, all made a splash when they were introduced and those – along with the best of the lot, Cigar City’s epic “Maduro” core ale and its daring variations – should have pointed the way for a logical continuation of what was shaping up as a lasting evolution of the style, but then…Nothing Happened.

Brown started to fade. It faded and faded and faded to anemic beige. Watery, unfocused, a little graham cracker here and a hint of nuts there, little body, less complexity, missing most of what makes a great Brown (and some people will actually tell you there is no such thing) great. I’ve tasted EXACTLY two in the past five years that took me back to times when the Brown was given proper attention; just enough to let me know that Brown Ales ARE still possible and that people are trying. Those two were from Reuben’s Brews and Holy Mountain…which figures.

IMG_20171031_084224Last weekend, purely by chance, I yanked a bottle of this one from a store shelf and bought it. I just had a feeling that, if Snoqualmie Falls Brewing could make what is still, after 20+ years and well over 200 tastings of the style, the best American Porter I have EVER tasted – the immortal “Steam Train” – they could probably make a dandy Brown. I took ONE sip and my wife and I looked at each other, eyes big as saucers, and simultaneously said “Oh, WOW!” This stunning stuff carries the trade name of Snoqualmie Falls Brewing “Bunghole” Double Brown Ale; “bunghole” being a term which is now far better known for Bevis & Butthead than for the wine barrels from whence it came. They could have called it “Mud Puddle Contents” and I would still have had this reaction. (Although I really DO kinda like “Bunghole”) This is what a great Brown Ale is supposed to taste like. It’s bustin’ with cocoa and roasted buts and subtle molasses and hints of fruit leathers and brandied cherries and black currants and cafe au lait and caramel. And you don’t have hunt for any of it. It’s fat and potent and states “BROWN ALE!” with a bullhorn. Is this as good as the Reuben’s and Holy Mountain?…YES, it by-damned is. Just a hair less viscous than the HM but equally as complex and assertive as either.

IMG_0239Snoqualmie Falls Brewing is one of the great overlooked gems of Pacific Northwest beer; yet another classic victim of an ailment called “Not Being In Seattle”, a disease which has been overcome by exactly ONE brewery, the inimitable Chuckanut. Even devoted beer fans in Seattle look at me like I’m speaking Swahili when I say, “Snoqualmie Falls Brewing” and have ZERO idea where it is. Other people know, however. Here’s what Jason Alstrom, co-owner of BeerAdvocate.com, has to say about Steam Train:

Seriously, this porter rock and rolls; all of its attributes work together to form a nearly perfect brew. Cheers to Snoqualmie Falls Brewing Company for putting out such a stellar porter.”…And gave it 100 Points.

If you have live in the PNW and have never tried these beers, SHAME on you. I know Snoqualmie is not close to very much else around the Seattle area – which is getting to be quite a feat – but it’s not exactly in fuggen Siberia. You’ve even seen Snoqualmie’s Number One visual before. Doubt that? Take a look…

snoqualmie-falls

 

Yep…the opening sequence closer from the classic TV series “Twin Peaks”, many scenes from which were shot in Snoqualmie, including some in the hotel owned by the character Andrew Horne, which is actually the luxurious Salish Lodge. You can see it in the photo, just above and to the left of that raging torrent.

If you get on Interstate 5 and drive due west from downtown Seattle’s SODO District, it’s 28.3 miles, door to door from SafeCo Field, about as easy a drive as you’ll find to any brewery in the region. Snoqualmie is a lovely little OLD railroad town, built in a time when logging companies hauled huge pine and fir logs out to area mills via a major train depot, the remnants of which are downtown’s main feature. The brewery serves exceptional pub grub and these beers on tap – especially the stunning “Steam Train”, which is almost always available – are arguably even better than what was in my bottle. Snoqualmie Falls Brewing is exactly 42 miles from my own door and my wife has now decreed that we will, By Damnit, be making that trip out to sample this shocking Brown in its natural habitat, this very weekend. “Bunghole” – and yes, I said “bunghole” – is one of the great American Browns and shows what is still quite possible when a great brewers treats this style with respect.   100 Points

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