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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 out.

Washington’s craft brewers have done a great job of reviving lager-brewing traditions, making pale, refreshing beers with character and style.

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 invitation.

Don Scheidt is an associate editor of the Celebrator Beer News and author of the Northwest BrewPage (nwbrewpage.com). He also writes about beer for the Seattle Weekly (seattleweekly.com) and can be reached via e-mail at dgs1300@hotmail.com.


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