AUG/SEP 2005 | REGIONAL | PACIFIC
Puget Soundings : Beer In The Pacific Northwest
By Don Scheidt
Midway through the Northwest summer, and with a couple of
brewfests behind us, it’s as good a time as any to stop
and enjoy the cooler, lighter side of beer. The state of Washington,
like others, no longer has any large, mass-production brewers
putting out oceans of cheap lager, but the state’s craft
brewers have done a great job of reviving lager-brewing traditions,
making pale, refreshing beers with character and style.
Craft lager is nothing new in the Pacific Northwest. Thomas
Kemper came out with small-batch pale and dark lagers that
were optimistically dubbed “Munich Helles” and
“Munich Dunkles.” They weren’t quite up
to stylistic snuff, since nobody could point to a Munich-style
malty lager that had a blueberry-ester aroma, but it was a
start. Today, lagers come from all manner of Northwest brewers.
Oroville’s Alpine Brewing and Seattle’s
Baron Brewing lead the pack in concentrating
on classic Germanic styles. Both of them have done pilsners.
Alpine’s is a classic pale pilsner that would be at
home in Bavaria or Bohemia, balanced between malt and hops,
while Baron’s seems just a touch hoppier but still refreshing.
We start here, but we have so much more to choose from: Elysian
Brewing makes seasonal bocks and lagers, Maritime
Pacific features Old Seattle Lager and Pilsner in
its lineup, and Anacortes Brewing brought
its Helles and Mai-Oh-Mai Bock to the Summer Brewfest.
Georgetown Brewing’s Roger’s
Pilsner has been seen on tap handles all over Seattle, and
Roslyn Brewing has been featuring its pale Brookside and dark
Roslyn lagers for a few years now. Then there’s Skagit
River Brewing, which went just a little over the
top this year, adding chilies to its Dutch Girl Lager and
naming the result Voodoo Lager.
Road-trippers driving through Washington’s North Cascades
would do well to stop in the small town of Twisp, where the
Twisp River Pub offers a range of Methow Valley Brewing
Company’s beers, including some surprisingly
good lagers. I enjoyed the malty Vienna lager there on a road
trip in 2004. If this isn’t enough, there are the “lager-like”
blonde ales, beers that tread a fine line between ale and
lager, including Alaskan Summer Ale, Snipes Mountain’s
Golden Ale, Scuttlebutt’s Homeport Blonde, Boundary
Bay’s Bellingham Blonde Ale, Hale’s Cream Ale
and Hale’s Kölsch, a seasonal well worth seeking
brewers have done a great job of reviving lager-brewing
traditions, making pale, refreshing beers with character
Wheat beers are also popular warm-weather refreshers, and
we have them in abundance: Baron Brewing
has featured a Hefeweizen, Diamond Knot is
known for its Weihenstephan Hefeweizen, Grant’s
now features Mandarin Hefeweizen as a flagship beer, and Mac
& Jack’s has its popular American-style
Serengeti Wheat. Rye is also showing up in some Northwest
beers: Redhook’s Sunrye Ale, Harmon’s White River
Rye P.A. and Baron’s Roggenbier, just to start you off.
And if you’re headed for any of Seattle’s major
league sports stadiums, the Pyramid Alehouse beckons nearby,
featuring Coastline Pilsner and Curveball Kölsch in the
lineup. Brewing operations have been consolidated in Portland,
but the beers seem to make the 180-mile trip up Interstate
5 none the worse for the wear.
Washington’s brewers have to work hard to keep making
great beer, not least because competition is on the rise.
Newer, smaller brewers like Walking Man Brewery
and Iron Horse Brewing are getting beers
on Seattle handles, and breweries from the eastern U.S. are
also showing up. Delaware’s Dogfish Head went one step
further in late June, when founder Sam Calagione came to the
Pacific Northwest to promote his beer and his book, Brewing
Up a Business.
Calagione showed up for afternoon book promos at the Collins
Pub in downtown Seattle and then moved on to Brouwer’s
Café in Fremont for more book promos and brewery swag
giveaways. Randall the Enamel Animal was featured at both
pubs, giving drinkers the chance to sample Dogfish Head’s
90 Minute IPA run through a contraption that resembles a blender
on steroids, packed with hops. The effect is a bit like a
final instant “dry-hopping,” more evident in the
aroma than the flavor.
Pennsylvania’s Victory Brewing has
also been sending bottled beers out our way, including its
extraordinary, almost perfumey, Prima Pils. And now we’re
seeing the impressive Belgian-style specialties from Maine’s
Allagash Brewing. A recent tasting event
at Seattle’s Click Wholesale distributor featured an
impressive lineup from Allagash, including the barrel-aged
Curieux, made by aging the brewery’s Tripel Ale in Jim
Beam bourbon barrels. These are impressive entries into the
crowded Pacific Northwest beer market, and their presence
here is a reminder that excellent craft beer is capable of
raising the quality bar, no matter where you find it.
In September, Seattle’s annual rite of summer’s
passage will come right at the beginning of autumn, with the
Fremont Oktoberfest on September 23–25. The Fremont
Oktoberfest was written up as a “Top 10 American Oktoberfest”
by USA Today a few years ago, and it still attracts
a sizable crowd in good weather. There’s live music,
a crazed chainsaw pumpkin-carving contest and plenty of beer,
including autumn seasonals and Oktoberfest brews. C’mon
over to Seattle and enjoy. It’s not like you need an
Don Scheidt is an associate editor of the
Celebrator Beer News and author of the Northwest
He also writes about beer for the Seattle Weekly (seattleweekly.com)
and can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.