Saturday, June 12, 2010

A Thousand Growlers

There probably are a thousand or more bears growling along the Skagit River as it flows out of the North Cascades National Park but the growlers I'm talking about the  hang from the walls of the Birdsview Brewery, near Concrete, WA on state route 20. They aren't up to a thousand yet, but in three years of business they have already passed the 250 mark.
The pub and brewery sit in an octagonal log cabin designed and built by Bill Voigt, the brewer and paterfamilias of this family enterprise. They have grown this unique collection by offering one of their growlers, full, for an empty of any growler they don't have yet. They frequently update the list of their collection  so be advised that you had better bring an empty growler from pretty far away to win the full one.
The Voigts can put some nice beers in your growler or glass. They make eleven brews, which you can find off the last link. The most popular (today the Ditsy Blonde, the IPA and the pilsner) are not sold in growler quantities (new collection exchanges probably excepted). Not sure who the ditsy blonde is--Bill's wife Kris makes the food; her hair is brown and her mind is sharp. P.S. Later, at the Porterhouse Brewfest in Mt. Vernon, I learned from Bill that the Ditsy Blonde was named for Jessie, the daughter who went off to law school at Gonzaga. She has also inspired the Barley Legal this summer, a wheat beer with a whopping ABV.
I tried a few samples drawn by Jason, their son who tends bar. Settled on the ESB for a pint;
I liked it well enough to start one of their growlers with it. Combine the fine brews with the spectacular scenery looking up river into the park and this is one nice outing. (Visited 5/20/10, again 7/28/10)

Thursday, June 10, 2010



Recent issues of the Northwest Brewing News include maps of the four polities in its coverage region (Northern CA, OR, WA, and BC) with a number for each brewery in the area. For Washington, NWBN lists 95 breweries, alphabetized by town from Anacortes to Yakima. I have been checking breweries off this list as I visit them in travels around Washington
and am up to 36.

    A few days ago, I was sitting in the North Fork Brewery and Beer Shrine near Deming (# 14 on the NWBN maps), admiring the collection of breweriana that adorns every wall, windowsill, and nook in this cozy establishment. For those of us who remember beer brands long gone, like Falstaff, Blatz, and Narragansett, Sandy's collection in the North Fork is a real trip down memory lane. I fell to thinking about some of the more specialized collections of beer stuff I had seen around the state: coasters, growlers, bottle openers, to name a few. Then I mused some of the other things microbrewers have put out in their pubs that make them stand out as unique establishments.

    As I munched on a slice of pizza and sipped an E.S.B., I realized that someone ought to celebrate the elements of ambiance in these distinctive microbreweries. While I'm not a great taster of fine distinctions between one IPA and another, perhaps I can do something for the experience of other beer tourists by talking about the premises. Thus I begin with the North Fork.

    As you pull off the Mt. Baker Highway (S.R. 542) near mile 21, the first thing you notice is a small plot in the front with several hops plants growing in a trellis. My server told me the hops were grown for ornamentation and not used in the brewing. The signage proclaims the establishment to be the North Fork Beer Shrine and Wedding Chapel. The latter is not a separate part of the premises; the server said folks have gotten married in the main pub, in the garden area out back, maybe even among the brew kettles.

    The collection really is a lot of whatever, beer-related. There are window neons, trays, many, many bottles, and a fair number of coasters. Eric, the brewer, told me they have four permanent brews on tap and two rotating taps. Always there: a hefeweisen, an IPA, a house ale, and a porter. The rotating taps currently included a barleywine and the E.S.B. They brew British style, with open fermentation, and get a maltier taste than continental brewing styles produce.

(Visited 05/30/10; posted 06/10/10)