This is an unabashed revision of a post that first appeared back in February of 2017, in response to a list written by a young writer for Paste Magazine and I thought it deserved an update, as the Pacific Northwest beer landscape, battered by Covid and its attendant economic upheaval, has changed radically.
Jim Vorel is a beer writer from Atlanta; a guy who – despite what he probably thinks – I actually like but have frequently gone after like a dog on a hamburger for some of his apparently uninformed lists, many of which read as though he had simply scanned RateBeer and BeerAdvocate and then compiled them. He has also done several lists which I thought were dead-on. I know he has the capability of doing them well and, in fact, five years later, he IS doing them fairly well, with only occasional lapses. But I go after him because I’m hoping he’ll devote the same care to all of them that he does to that occasional gem.
Back in ’17, I saw a list from Vorel’s home base, pastemagazine.com, listing the fifty most underrated breweries in the US. This was apparently posted in June of 2016 but it had just popped up on my radar and I addressed it, anyway, because these posts rattle around and take on lives of their own and happen when they happen. I skipped immediately to Washington, Oregon, and Idaho and stopped…because those three were…well, let’s just say, “ill-advised”.
By actual count, I actively disagreed with 34 of the states but set that aside to focus on my own region. Here are the breweries Vorel names for Washington, Oregon, and Idaho…and the breweries which would have been FAR better choices for each state, updated for 2022, post Covid (sorta), and the vagaries of time and the marketplace…
WASHINGTON: Vorel chose Georgetown Brewing of Seattle, using a very shaky rationale: “There does exist something of an us vs. them mentality at times between the huge beer community of Seattle and the rest of the state, and one almost feels it would be appropriate to name an underrated brewery from both the city and the rest of Washington State, but for the sake of this entry let’s just pick it: Georgetown.“…”Let’s just pick it…” Sure, Jim. Just pick one. Doesn’t matter if it’s at all rooted in any sort of logic or reason. It’s just a list, after all. But here’s why this is the wrong pick for Washington:
1. Georgetown IS in Seattle and so wears a presumptively higher profile than those breweries not located in Sea-patch, where the balance of the state’s true beer geeks cluster. Would it have been appropriate to name one from Seattle and one from the rest of WA? NO, it would not. Because “underrated” is an un-level playing field, to begin with. Georgetown is far higher “rated” than equally fine breweries which are not in Seattle and cannot, then, be one of the “fifty most under-rated breweries”. That word “most” is the catch: you cannot be “most” if there are other great breweries that are more under-appreciated.
2. That statement that about the duality of Seattle versus the rest of the state is true of most states…Portland versus Oregon, Asheville versus North Carolina, San Diego versus California, Denver versus Colorado, and Tampa versus Florida, as well. So…do we assign two slots to every state that contains a major brewing nexus? Fail.
3. Georgetown makes Washington’s second most popular beer, the iconic Manny’s Pale Ale. And when we say “second most“, it means just that: second most popular beer, not “craft beer“. (Mac & Jack’s African Amber is Number One) Manny’s outsells Bud and Miller and Coors, hereabouts, and it is only the fact that G’town doesn’t can or bottle that keeps the brewery from being as omnipresent in WA state as New Belgium, Sam Adams, and Sierra Nevada…or Budweiser. Ask any Washington beer fan to list their five favorite beers for just basic drinking pleasure – even your Faithful Fool – and they are going to name Manny’s…Hard to be “Underrated” when your beer is, literally, on everybody’s lips.
So…what are Washington’s actual “most underrated breweries”? Here’s a list. The update acknowledges some rather significant changes. Tacoma’s Wingman and Pacific Brewing & Malting are gone, one to the quarantine and one to lack of trade. Seattle’s Populuxe folded and is greatly missed, especially by their Ballard neighborhood, where they were a virtual community center, and by me. A couple just plain became too big and successful to remain on a list of “underrated”. Arlington’s Skookum Brewing languished for its entire history in its Far North (in beer terms) industrial park obscurity…and then hazy beers arrived, Skookum jumped in with both feet, and became one of the PNW’s first and most successful makers of hazy anything, from Pales to Stouts. Bale Breaker Brewing, of Yakima, is now known pretty much nationally, both for jaw-dropping hoppy ales (the brewery is located IN a hops field on the owners’ family’s B.J. Loftus Ranch hops farm, one of the largest growers in the West. So Bale Breaker is Out.
No-Li Brewing of Spokane more or less willed themselves into a small degree of national prominence, taking home some serious hardware at major beer fests and issuing an increasingly skillful line of bottles and cans. Today, No-Li is everywhere, around the Soggy Corner and wears the term “self-made” better than Adolphus Busch. 7 Seas Brewing, formerly of Gig Harbor (just across the Tacoma Narrows Bridge from T-town) moved its brewing operations into downtown Tacoma and has become one of the few outside-Seattle WA state powerhouses, so again “underrated” really doesn’t apply, now. And Bremerton’s Silver City Brewing won Brewery of The Year at GABF, a couple of years back, so any taint of “underrated” no longer applies to that wonderful, quirky bastion of crowd-pleasin’ ales. And two more simply fell off the list for plain ol’ lack of quality, one in Tacoma and one in East King County.
One which SHOULD have been on the 2017 list was Sound Brewery, of Poulsbo, which tragically was driven out of business by the corporate chicanery of a client who commissoned a line of specially-brewed and brande beers…and then refused to pay for them. Sound’s brewer emeritus, Mark Hood, was hired by new owners, after he sold Sound, and is now the brewmaster of the new Echoes Brewing. (“Sound” gone, “Echoes” remains, get it?) And Echoes is flat-damned killin’ it but is still – and, though it makes me tired to say it, will probably remain underappreciated, here in the age of Milkshake IPAs, Imperial Stouts with Twinkies and gummy worms, and the Curse of The Hard Seltzer. Mark is back to turning out achingly authentic AND wildly creative Belgian-style ales, including – happily! – the most popular and eccentric Belgian ever made in Brit-centric Washington, the towering “Monk’s Indiscretion”.
So, here is the 2022 version of Washington Underrateds. Pick one and you’re already a LOT closer to the truth than Paste’s 2017 list:
- Echoes Brewing, Poulsbo
- Walking Man Brewing, Stephenson
- White Bluffs Brewing, Richlands
- Dwinell Country Ales, Goldendale
- Old Schoolhouse Brewing, Winthrop
- Slippery Pig Brewing, Poulsbo (For sheer creativity and inspired weirdness, one of the best anywhere)
- Diamond Knot Brewing, Mukilteo
- Propolis Brewing, Port Townshend
- Standard Brewing, Seattle
- Tin Dog Brewing, Seattle
- Hidden Mother Brewing, Spokane (Mike DeTar is Tryin’ Stuff and MOST of it works like crazy. This may be THE most underrated brewery in the Northwest.)
- Perry Street Brewing, Spokane
- Grains of Wrath, Camas
- Wander Brewing, Bellingham
- Airways Brewing, Kent
- 7 Seas Brewing, Tacoma
- Geaux Brewing, Bellevue
- Counterbalance Brewing, Georgetown, Seattle
- Iron Goat Brewing, Spokane
- Garden Path Fermentation, Burlington
- Farmstrong Brewing, Mt. Vernon
- Loowit Brewing, Vancouver
- Seapine Brewing, Seattle
- Yoked Farmhouse & Brewery, Port Orchard
- Headless Mumby Brewing, Olympia
My own choices are in red.
OREGON: In what has to be the oddest choice in the whole list, Vorel chooses – from a state literally bursting at the seams with incredible breweries – a brewer and name that is literally known world-wide. For many of us, very much including me, Hair of The Dog is THE iconic Northwest brewery. European brewers regularly seek out HoTD’s eminence grise, Alan Sprints, for collaboration. Their warehousey digs down in East Portland’s industrial ghetto, is a virtual mecca for every serious beer geek who has ever set foot in PDX. For me, Hair of The Dog is my church; a hallowed place where immortal beers like Fred and Adam (in their many incarnations) Blue Dot, Doggy Claws, Ruth, Lila, Otto, Maja, Mike, Rose, and Michael were conceived and ultimately born.
But here in 2022, a seismic shift has occurred. As of Sunday, June 26, 2022, Hair of The Dog is no more. Alan Sprints, the man most commonly named as the most important and respected brewer in the PNW, and maybe the West and possibly the whole damned country, decided to retire. As jit would be categorically impossible for ANY brewer to step in and take over HoTD, and as Alan knew that he could not abide anyone diminishing the name, he chose to simply close the doors, sell everything off, and walk away. He plans to collaborate with other brewers and that waiting line of people who want to work with him may well circle the globe. There is probably no brewer, nowhere, who would not barter off an appendage to work with him. “Underrated”? Even back in 2017, hardly…but how would it have been possible to properly rate Hair of The Dog? It was one of those things in life that actually is in a class by itself. If we want to say, “occasionally overlooked in the trendy rush toward The Next Shiny Bauble“, okay…maybe. But Oregon is bustin’ with breweries that are achieving at a stratospheric level without 10% of the reverence shown to Hair of The Dog, daily. I’m limiting this Oregon list to 25, only because that’s what I wound up with in Washington. There could be MANY more from what is arguably THE most fertile and beer-centric state in all 50…
Big changes here, too. Buckman Botanicals, the ’17 #7 folded. Logsdon Farmhouse Ales moved to Washington and declined notably. Coalition Brewing (#9) of Portland was sold, reopened and renamed. Lompoc Brewing closed for good. The wonderful, occasionally brilliant The Commons Brewery closed and was replaced in its space by California’s Modern Times…which also closed. The consistently good Burnside Brewing closed abruptly, apparently the victim of either slow sales or mismanagement, sending staffers into unemployment lines and shock waves through Oregon brewing.
Upright, in Portland, is the mecca of hard-core beer geekiness for the entire Northwest.
- Upright Brewing, Portland (Possibly one of the five most underrated breweries ANYWHERE)
- Bend Brewing Company, Bend
- The Ale Apothecary, Bend
- Alesong Brewing & Blending, Eugene
- Wolves & People, Newberg
- Misty Mountain Brewery, Brookings
- Wayfinder Brewing, Portland (Celebrated as Wayfinder and brewer Kevin Davey absolutely are, Wayfinder is STILL vastly underrecognized. But that’s changing, FAST.)
- Solera Brewing, Parkdale Mount Hood
- Yachats Brewing, Yachats
- Block 15 Brewing, Corvallis
- Double Mountain Brewing, Hood River
- Ecliptic Brewing, Portland
- Ex Novo Brewing, Portland
- Gigantic Brewing, Portland
- Heater Allen Brewing, McMinnville
- Laurelwood Brewing, Portland
- Ferment Brewing, Hood River
- Mazama Brewing, Corvallis
- Monkless Belgian Ales, Bend
- Silver Moon Brewing, Bend
- Terminal Gravity Brewing, Enterprise
- Oakshire Brewing, Eugene
- deGarde Brewing, Tillamook
- SunRiver Brewing, Sun River
- Mystic Roots Brewing, Terrebone
My picks are in red.
IDAHO: For the Sexy Potatoes State, Vorel basically named the only ID brewery that most Americans can think of: Laughing Dog, of Ponderay. Given that just being in Idaho guarantees any brewery a certain degree of “underratedness”, choosing LD, while somewhat accurate, shows a, uh, howling lack of ambition. Poll any fifty PNW beer geeks – never mind the rest of America – and say, “Name an Idaho brewery“. Go…
All fifty – or, at least, all the ones who could come up with any at all – will say “Laughing Dog”. If Vorel had just observed that, “The whole state of Idaho gets my vote for underrated”, I would have just said, “Here, here” and dropped it. But since he persevered and decided to name one, it cannot be Laughing Dog. LD is, for a fact, vastly underappreciated. People who confess to having tried the beers invariably like them BUT…they’re over there, in the wilds of ID, and fall eternal victim to the principle of “out of sight, out of mind“. But the name of the list, again, is “…most underrated” and the only brewery in the state that has a widely-known name cannot be the “most underrated”. The only brewery in ID that has arguably risen to the point of universal prominence of LD is Grand Teton Brewing, the Victor behemoth that’s winning brewing awards as though they were printing their own. But there are somewhere north of fifty breweries in the state and there are some very good ones that you are more or less guaranteed to know nothing about…
- Selkirk Abbey, Post Falls
- Woodland Empire Ale Craft, Boise
- Payette Brewing, Boise
- Cloud 9 Brewing, Boise
- Salmon River Brewing, McCall
- Crooked Fence Brewing, Garden City
- Idaho Brewing, Idaho Falls
- Mad Bomber Brewing, Hayden
- Boise Brewing, Boise
- Daft Badger Brewing, Coeur d’ Alene
My pick is in red.
If you were to opine that picking on another beer writer is dirty pool, I’d agree with you. It IS dirty pool. But it happened then because I have communicated this idea – that turning out a list of “The Best of” or “The Top Fifty…”, etc. actually means something – directly to Jim, several times, as have DOZENS of other commenters on his list posts. Jim’s response, many times, has been to argue and over-explain and then go crank out another half effort. I wouldn’t have his job for anything because his job IS to create these lists and it takes a LOT of actual work, if you hope to get it at all right. Jim’s a young guy and, eventually, he will advance beyond being compelled to do insane stuff like this and become a respected writer. Indeed, here five years later, he’s making great strides in that direction. He has the ability. If this seems patronizing, I’ll own that. Patronizing dirty pool. There: stipulated. But this is here, nonetheless, and it will remain here because, as I found out the hard way, young writers who hope to be good get most of their lessons in life by being called out on what they do. I have been on the receiving end of that sort of tough-love instruction in my own youth and if I am now the instrument of it, so be it. I wouldn’t bother with it at all of James Vorel were not so promising. But the thing about promise is…you have to deliver on it.