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Puget Soundings : Beer In The Pacific Northwest
By Don Scheidt

Summer started warm in the Puget Sound area, and there is plenty of great beer to cool off the parched throats of beer lovers looking for something refreshing. The summer got off to a great start with the Washington Brewers Festival at Seattle Center’s Fisher Pavilion. The event was well-organized and well-attended, but one limitation was a damper for some. The previous festivals held on Father’s Day weekend at St. Edward State Park were family-friendly, but the powers that be at Seattle Center changed that, allowing in only those over 21. You can find great beer, a variety of brewpubs and any number of good beer bars in Seattle, but there are still reminders of the prohibitionist mentality that should have been put out with the spent grain a long time ago.

The annual Seattle International Beerfest at Seattle Center, at the very beginning of July, featured its usual excellent array of beers from around the world. But again, we are reminded by the beers we can’t get in Washington that it’s challenging to do business here. Washington state liquor authorities require that all beers sold in the state be “posted” — essentially, registered — in order to be allowed for retail sale. Other states have no such laws (and some have even more ridiculously draconian state interference). In spite of this, we manage to have access to an excellent and increasing range of interesting, exceptional beer.

Elysian Brewing is on the rise once again, opening its third location, Elysian Fields, just a short walk from Seattle’s Qwest Field football stadium and not a terribly long walk from baseball’s Safeco Field, at 542 First Avenue South in Seattle. The newest Elysian brewpub is a substantial venture, bigger than the original Elysian brewpub on Seattle’s Capitol Hill and the smaller Elysian TangleTown in north Seattle. Elysian Fields has a planned capacity of 400, providing significant competition for the Pyramid Alehouse just down the street.

The new Elysian Fields brewpub should be up and running not long after this edition of the Celebrator hits the streets.

In spite of the stadium-friendly location, Elysian Fields will be less a sports bar than a good place to go for the good eats and great beers for which Elysian has become well-known in the Pacific Northwest. Brewer Kevin Forhan is also well-known in the brewing community, having served stints at Pike Brewing and the Big Time brewpub. The newest Elysian brewpub should be up and running not too long after this edition of the Celebrator hits the streets.

Charles and Rose Ann Finkel have returned to the Seattle beer scene by reacquiring the Pike Brewery and Pub from specialty beer importer Merchant du Vin, a company Finkel founded in the 1970s and grew to success before selling it several years ago. Pike had been sold along with MdV, but the Finkels took advantage of an opportunity to buy Pike back from MdV when the importer put the craft brewery up for sale. The Finkels have always been active in the Seattle beer community, so it’s great to see them back in the saddle again. Welcome back, Charles and Rose Ann!

Seattle also has a new specialist beer bar, Über, on Aurora Avenue North. The pub itself isn’t terribly fancy, just a little storefront place on a busy main road. But pull up to the bar and take a look at what’s on tap and in the coolers, and it’s immediately apparent that this is no ordinary local pub. When it opened in late June, Über featured an impressive range of imports on draught, including Poperinge Hommelbier and Scotch de Silly from Belgium; St. Georgen Kellerbier from Germany; and domestic favorites like Lagunitas Pils and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.

The coolers hold a superb selection of ales from all over, heavy on Belgian and German specialties but with plenty of beery representation from elsewhere, too. With the Duck Island Saloon just a couple of blocks way, we have the makings of a good little Aurora Avenue pub crawl in the works.

Washington’s brewers continue to work hard and creatively, and every so often something interesting and new arrives on the scene. Such was the case in June in Ellensburg, east of the Cascades, where Iron Horse brewer/owner Jim Quilter offered samples of his latest beer, a wheat and rye ale. It was deceptively light in appearance, but tasting revealed a substantially malt-laden beer with just a light touch of hops. This could have been tagged an American-style blond weizenbock, but Quilter has always been more about the beer and will probably continue development on this unique brew — a real attraction for those who like a big, strong malt monster that’s deceptively easy to drink.

So there you have it for summer 2006. July is associated with the date we celebrate American freedoms, and in the Pacific Northwest, as always, that includes freedom of choice in great beer, both locally made and from countries with long brewing traditions. May it always be that way, as we evolve our own traditions of brewing and beer culture.

Maybe I’ll see you at the Great American Beer Festival this year, running September 28–30. I can tell you that there will be, as always, no shortage of Pacific Northwest brewers in attendance. Next time, I’ll have welcome news on a local brewpub’s plans to expand by opening a second location.

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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