Saturday, November 27, 2010

Chuckanut and an aside on glassware

   Of our two breweries here in Bellingham, I think I stop in at Chuckanut more often.  They rotate their eight or nine brews in and out of their six taps and can always offer some nice choices. In clement weather, their outside tables are right by Whatcom Creek as it flows into Bellingham Bay.  Several nights a week they follow a routine, and Tuesdays is Kolsch night. Kolsch is a beer that originated in Cologne and is traditionally served there in these skinny little glasses. You can get one of these wee tastes for $1.50 every Tuesday at Chuckanut.  Here is Rachel, serving up a Kolsch glass.
  I had thought this glass was traditionally used only for Kolsch and went and googled the subject of beer glassware.  Beer Advocate has this great article out, that tells you everything on the subject.  It seems there are nine recognized styles of glassware for serving up our favorite beverage. The flute, the goblet, the mug, the pilsner stein, the tumbler, the snifter, the stange, the tulip, and the Weizen glass. The stange (German for stick) is what the Kolsch comes in. According to Beer Advocate, it is also proper to use a stange for a bock, a lambic, a Czech pilsner, and several other beers as well as Kolsch.  I kind of wondered about the pilsner, as that is the only beer that has its name on a type of glass, the tapered stein. BA says one may serve Czech or German pilsners and about twenty other beers in this glass.
   You can learn something new every day.
    Once a month or so, Chuckanut offers a tour of the brewing works, across a driveway from the pub area.  Brewmaster Kevin led the tour on a Sunday afternoon in January, enlightening about a dozen people with facts and factoids about the process.  He pointed out that the lauter tun they use right after the mash tun is a necessary component for German brewing processes (not necessarily for English styles).  Chuckanut goes through a rotation of eight beer styles throughout the year, with six being on tap in the pub at any time and the other two being listed as "in production."  The six fermenters are very visible from Holly Street, B'ham's main drag as it runs from downtown through the Old Town harbor area.

(Visited numerous times, photos 11/23/10 and 1/09/11))

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Laht Neppur: ready for wild hops?

  Laht Neppur brews in one of those rounded metal buildings I grew up calling a Quonset hut, beside the highway, U.S. 12, in Waitsburg.  I failed to take a picture when I stopped by in July 2009, but I did get an illustration at the Hopfest in Yakima last October. I can't recall what the name means, but I do remember this was the first brewpub where I saw a guy getting a quart mason jar filled for off premise consumption. Waitsburg is a little wheat-and-grapes growing town between Walla Walla and Dayton; it has plenty going on, which got it a nice spread in the Seattle Times travel section last June.
  Fast forward to the Yakima Hopfest. Brewer-owner Court Ruppenthal is standing in his booth, dispensing Whiskey Creek IPA, made completely with free range hops.
 His helper Don says the hops grow wild in a few canyons in the Blue Mountains south of town. Some grow vertically, like the trellised kind we see in the fields, and some grow flat on the ground. They all put out nice buds and the crew just goes in the mountains in a pickup truck and tosses those good wild hops in the back. This is a very seasonal production, of course; the brew list on Laht Neppur's website won't show any Whiskey Creek as one of their ten or eleven brews.
  A last note: Laht Neppur took something called Booted Rear, a 10% ABV root beer flavored concoction, to the Strange Brewfest in Port Townsend last January, and took high honors.
(Visited 7/09; 10/02/10)

Friday, November 19, 2010

Dead Frogs in Langley

   What's with frogs and craft brewing?  The Green Frog here in Bellingham is a tavern with a wonderful array of craft beers on tap.  At the North Fork Beer Shrine on the Mt. Baker Highway, Son of Frog is what owner Sandy Savage calls his English red ale; this, I learned recently, is his homage to the Triple Rock brewery in Berkeley, where he created something called Tree Frog Ale. Now I come to the Dead Frog Brewery in Langley, B.C.  These folks do not want frogs to die; they say they support campaigns to protect threatened and endangered frog species, such as the Vancouver Aquarium has been leading.
  This is a production brewery, no pub service or samples, located in a vast industrial park area on the east side of Langley (Aldergrove).  The walls of all the warehouses and manufacturing plants make their front a pretty rare site in B.C.; a vantage point from which you cannot see any spectacular mountain scenery.
They ship six-packs and bigger bottles (our 22 oz. bottles work out to 650 ml bottles in metric) throughout B.C. and say they have some sales in Alberta, too.  I took home a bottle of their seasonal winter ale, which they call Christmas Beeracle. This has a much spicier nose than most of the winter ales out there now.  They toss in fresh ginger, nutmeg, and cinnamon sticks in the boil.  The spices aren't at war with the hoppy bitterness; I found the result pretty tasty.
(Visited 11/16/10)

Mission Springs: B.C. fun spot

  Just ten miles north of the border, provided you enter Canada at Sumas. WA, the adventurous beer tourist will find the Mission Springs Brewery, restaurant, and package store on BC Rt. 7, on the north bank of the Fraser.
This place must be mad crowded in the summer.  On a gray, windy November afternoon with a storm coming in, it wasn't hard to get a seat.  But imagine it on a clear summer day: they have hauled in enough sand for two beach volleyball courts. One can sit in the pub or the restaurant and watch lissome volleyball players, or behind them, the Fraser, and Mt. Baker. OMG! The beer wouldn't even have to be that good.
As a bonus, though, the beer is pretty good, too. They will bring out a tray of six samples, about an ounce each, and give that away.  Yes, a sample tray is free. I settled on their IPA, nicely hopped but not over the top hopped.  I took home a bottle of their Blonde Bombshell.  If you follow the link, it tells you that a group called the Collectors of Canadian Brewery Advertising gave their label of the year award to this label in 2009. We should have such an award here in Washington!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Astoria Brewing Co.

  The 11th Street stop must be one of the most popular on Astoria's waterfront trolley line, as it's just a few steps to Astoria Brewing and its Wet Dog Cafe.  Literally.
Inside, they were pouring a nice selection of beers, including two IPAs and two blonde ales. I had to try Strawberry Blonde as the menu declared that they do add strawberries to the boil.  It came with a nice cloudy appearance, berry taste on the tongue, but not too sweet.  Went well with a bowl of chowder.
  The brewing works were right up front, streetside, and this little table offered a great seat for watching brewers at work.
(Visited 10/4/10)

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Dock Street Brewng in Philly

   One fun stop om my east coast trip last summer was to Dock Street Brewing in West Philadelphia with my daughter.  It's not on Dock Steet, of course, but on 50th St. and Baltimore Ave.  It sits in a solid brick structure that hints at its past existence as a firehouse.
Inside it was mad crowded, we were lucky to find two stools at the bar to split a pizza and have a couple of brews. The walls were given over to mural-sized work by various artists.  Philadelphia has more elaborate murals on outside and inside walls than any city I know.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Four Peaks in Tempe

  A few days ago, I flew down to Mesa to hang out with three old friends from high school and celebrate that we all have our birthdays in November.  Which birthday?  Well, let's just say it has biblical standing. Class of '58, North Phoenix High, do the math.  One sunny afternoon (aren't they all, down there?) we walked through the ASU campus to slake our thirsts at the Four Peaks Brewery.  My friends took my pic walking into the joint.
  Inside, we saw a whopping big space, originally built as an ice plant in 1892 and turned into an ice cream operation called The Creamery early in the 1900s. The capacity is around 40,000 barrels a year and they claim to be the largest craft brewer in Arizona. The kettles extend way into the back of the cavernous building.
  My friends and I each had a couple of pints from the nice range of choices they had put up on the chalk board that day.
Can you see what's in the leadoff spot?  Yes, they call their Scotch ale Kilt Lifter, too.  Good people at Pike Brewing, I hope you're cool with that.  What are the odds that you'll be shipping your Kilt Lifter down to Arizona, or that Four Peaks will be shipping theirs up to Seattle? Can we spell minuscule? Can you tell I am still steamed about Pyramid suing Georgetown over the 9-Pound Hammer Ale? The irony is that Pyramid is no longer even owned by Magic Hat; they were sold to the Genesee people in Rochester, NY this fall.
  Enough digression. Even conceding that beer tastes better in the warm sunshine, Four Peaks is cranking out some pretty good brew.  Cheers.
(Visited 11/9/10)

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Laurelwood & McM's-Van: two ways to cross the river

  Laurelwood, a Portland brewery that proclaims its organic/sustainability commitment in all its beers, moved across the Columbia about nine miles into Washington, in the Vancouver suburb of Battle Ground, in 2009. Their location is in one of those faux-downtown little malls, the kind where they tuck the parking spaces in here and there instead of making acres of asphalt, and make the new stores look distinctive and maybe a little "old."  Hey, it looks better than mega-malls by a long shot.  It just reminded me of James Kunstler's The Geography of Nowhere, where he talks about designs that play on nostalgia for real downtowns, epitomized in Disneyland's Main Street. Here's an exterior of the Battle Ground brewpub, looking across the street at the town houses.

  Inside, they were pouring eight brews, all made across the river at the main brewery in Portland. Brew kettles were visible through a glass wall, and the staff was hoping to bring in their first batch of pale ale soon.  However, as of the end of September, all the Laurelwood-branded beer dispensed here was coming across the river from Oregon.
    Now, nine miles south, right on the river in Vancouver, sits one of the McMenamin Bros. pubs.  McM's on the Columbia.  It was built by the company in 1995, burned to the ground and was rebuilt in 2000.  Here, they make all the McMenamin brands for their own sales and some for their new East Vancouver operation.  My server said the company does not ship any Oregon-made beer into Washington because of legal limitations on their licenses in the two states. I had to wonder why Laurelwood and McMenamins took such different approaches.  Some states have a "come-to-rest" law for beer that comes across their borders, meaning the product must first be unloaded in the warehouse of a licensed distributor.  Whatever the law may say in Washington, it does not prevent a transfer of beer from one Laurelwood corporation in Oregon to another Laurelwood corporation in Washington.  McM's just chooses to jump through different hoops. It lets them decorate their Vancouver brewkettles in their usual style.
Even if the building is new, the brothers will be looking for a history hook.  In this case, it is the World War II shipyard that had been here.  They have written up the history of the site, including the shipyard, and put up a number of photos from the WWII era in the back of the pub.
  This was a supper stop.  I had a very nice smoked sturgeon with roasted veggies and a Monster Truck IPA.
(Visited Laurelwood 10/3/10, McMenamins 10/4/10)

Monday, November 8, 2010


  You just can't beat Pike Brewing for a great location in the city.  Not only is it at the south end of the world famous Pike Place Market; it is also catty-corner from the Seattle Art Museum. The SAM has been running this terrific exhibition of Picasso's art (on loan from Paris while the National Picasso Museum over there is being renovated for a couple of years), which I went down to see.  A couple of hours of looking at great art can make one thirsty, y'know? 
  In the main pub area, they had turned on a neon sign that read "Museum Bar Now Open."  Although I had been in the main area several times, I didn't remember a museum bar. What a treat!  This is a long room that houses founder Charles Finkel's breweriana collections. I have noted other interesting collections, like growlers, bottle openers, coasters, and quotations.  Finkel has created one wall for the history of brewing, a timeline from Egyptian days to the modern brewpub laws in the 1980s.  Elsewhere around the room you see great posters, miniature beer bottles, all sorts of stuff. That this museum room was open meant it was staffed by a bartender, which is not always the case.  I gather that even when it is unstaffed it is open for wandering around in, unless it is being used for a private party.
  Here is Pike's interior entrance from one of the main corridors in the Market:
(Visited most recently 11/5/10)

Schooner Exact: history class never tasted so good

   The Schooner Exact was a ship that brought the first English-speaking settlers to the Seattle area on a rainy day late in 1851: the Denny party. The McClungs have named their brewery, down First Avenue in SODO, after this ship.  They name their beers after various events in the city's early days.  Thus, Regrade Pale Ale refers to the regrading of the hilltops with water to move the mud down to the shore.  Seamstress Union Wheat, a summer seasonal, refers to the officially listed occupation of many of the single women who came here to pursue the oldest profession. I like this one: 3-Grid IPA, which "pays homage to the three competing grid systems in downtown Seattle."  Here in Bellingham we already have three grid systems smooshing the streets together downtown, and the Port Authority wants to add a fourth as they redevelop the old Georgia-Pacific mill site on the waterfront.
   The tasting room drew a nice crowd on a Friday afternoon.  My server pointed out a community canvas in one corner and said the staff and regulars were each painting a single square, about 8" X 8", on this work.
The goal is to replicate the logo for Hoppy Holidays, their seasonal winter ale.
   I had a glass of their dark pale ale (craft brewing knows no oxymora), called SSCXWC Skidmark, and pronounced it good. Here's a view of the brewery and tasting area from out by the street; it's in an industrial area like most of the SODO breweries.
(Visited 11/5/10)

Saturday, November 6, 2010

RAM-Biersch-Rock Bottom: comparing three chain brewers

  I wanted to compare three national or regional brewpub chains with locations in Seattle that share the characteristic of building glitzy new premises in malls or the like (unlike McMenamins). An additional tidbit of interest is that Gordon Biersch and Rock Bottom have quite recently merged or somehow come under common corporate ownership. 
   First, the Ram Brewery and Restaurant. They started out as a restaurant in Lakewood, Wash. in 1971, more than a decade before microbrewing started taking off. Their site indicates that they have eight locations here in Wash., two each in Idaho, Oregon, and Indiana, and three in Illinois. Having stopped by their pubs in Lacey and Northgate Mall in Seattle, and judging by pictures of the others, it is easy to see that the mall is their preferred environment. In Northgate, they are on the outer edge of the mall, next to a Barnes and Noble.
   Inside, they have a restaurant that holds a couple hundred people and some big screens for watching sports. The taps dispense their standard brews; notably the 71 Pale Ale (named for the year the business began; the coasters have a lot of fun 1971 trivia on the back), Total Disorder Porter, and Buttface Amber.The ABV and OG values are listed for each, along with the grains and hops used. These recipes are used at all RAM breweries; however, they leave two or three taps for seasonals, where the head brewer on site may sometimes try his own thing.  The Northgate brewer had made Pumpkin Ale for a nitro keg and something called Locavore when I was there.  ABVs, OGs and ingredients were not printed for these.  I had a cobb salad and a cup of chowder off the pub fare menu, washed down with a pint of Buttface. 
   I seldom go to our malls in Bellingham or Burlington, but when I have to, I would think the experience would be better if they had a brewpub like this.  (Visited 11/5/10).
   Second, the Gordon Biersch brewpub downtown.  They are in Pacific Place, one of those downtown mall concepts; four stories of shops, restaurants, and a cineplex, across the street from the Norstrom mother store.  They started out in Palo Alto in 1988 and have quickly grown coast-to-coast.  The brewpub is on the top floor next to the cineplex. The entrance, seen from the atrium:
Their credo is to stick to the classic German recipes; hence no IPAs, porters, or other British innovations. It would appear that these eight beers (four permanent and four seasonal) are brewed the same way in every location, so a Gordon Biersch Hefeweizen in Florida should taste the same as it does in Seattle.
  The restaurant area is huge, seating for 500, and the large capacity kettles are used just to brew for consumption on the premises. The site indicates that they do bottle and distribute bottled beer in a number of states, but not in Washington.  (Visited 10/24/10).
  Third, the Rock Bottom Brewery and Restaurant is on the third floor of the Rainier Bank Tower, a skyscraper that lists as a 40-story building. (Visited 2/14/10, 11/5/10)  Their parent company, out of Louisville, KY, operates 43 brewpubs around the country, mostly under the Rock Bottom name, and 102 Old Chicago restaurants.
They have two in Washington, one in Bellevue and this one downtown, two blocks from the Biersch site.
  What's distinctive at Rock Bottom is that the brewmaster at each site has the discretion to experiment within the basic beer category to develop a distinctive taste and name. Thus, here brewer Josh Dalton makes Rain City Red, Peashooter Pale, and Flying Salmon Stout.  Across the lake in Bellevue, brewer Brian Young does Lumberjacks Red, Humpback Pale, and Liquid Sun Pilsner. Hop Bomb IPA, for which Brian has won a bunch of GABF and WBC medals, is the name at both bars here.  Notice the Northwest flavor of the names. Contrast them with the Rock Bottom in Scottsdale, AZ: Desert Trail Pale, Roadrunner Brown, Saguaro Stout, and El Jefe Hefeweizen.
   Plainly, there are some real differences in the approach to brewing at Gordon Biersch and Rock Bottom. How this shakes out in a merger will be interesting to watch.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Ferndale's Frank-n-Stein

  Hmm. Whatcom County, where I live, has four interesting breweries and I have only posted one visit to start this blog, up at North Fork Brewers in Deming.  I do drop in to the two in Bellingham, both of which won GABF medals in Sept. :), and now and then I drop in at Lloyd Zimmerman's Frank-n-Stein in downtown Ferndale. This is a blue-collar town about seven miles north of Bellingham, with an aluminum plant, an oil refinery, the Hempler meat packing and sausage works, and lots of berry farms just inland.  A PBR and Bud drinking town, you would think, and pretty much the grocery shelves and tavern signs reflect that.
   The brewing goes on a few blocks away and the pub is squeezed into a small retail space that may have held a cozy diner once.  But this is Lloyd's bully pulpit, from which he promotes his ideas for what would make Ferndale a better city. Tops on his agenda is a domed swimming pool--a natatorium? An architect's sketch for this building hangs on the wall, amid a series of really neat photos of World War II aircraft, autographed in some cases by the men who flew them. This is a collection donated by a WWII vet for the natatorium and hanging in the pub waiting for collectors to buy them and augment the pool fund.
  That's not all for collections. Lloyd also collects carved masks, many from Africa and Asia, and a couple dozen of these are hung behind the bar and elsewhere.
  Beer?  Well, they have four taps. I have yet to see more than two pouring their own production. More often just one.  I think they name each batch as the whimsey strikes: time before last, it was called Dark Sinister Ale, and the last time it was so-and-so (I forgot) Porter. They plug some kegs from Boundary Bay, or maybe Chuckanut, into the other taps so that there are choices. 
  Food?  Well, Hempler is the local sausage-maker and they can grill a wide variety of sausages. There is music some evenings, acoustic guitar by Dave, who also tends bar when Lloyd has to be elsewhere. There is no website but the hours seems to be 5 pm to 10 pm Thurs, Fri, Sat.  I recommend it for friendliness.  The first time I stopped in, one of the regulars on a bar stool  said to me, after a bit of chat, "welcome to the Cheers of Ferndale."  Darned if he didn't nail it.
  (Visited several times, May-Oct. 2010)