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/// PUGET SOUNDINGS
 
FEBRUARY/MARCH 2008
 
Puget Soundings
Beer In The Pacific Northwest
So here we are in 2008, a significant year and special anniversary for the Celebrator Beer News, something that comes along only every 10 years. Yep, I started this column back in 1998, and we’re coming up on 10 years of ... er, wait, sorry, I meant the CBN’s own 20th anniversary, of course. I’ve been involved for just half that time but have been a reader since nearly the beginning. I still have a few yellowing copies of the old tabloid-format paper in a box somewhere. The Celebrator has followed the craft brewing industry since its first heady days of growth, right through the flattening of the late 1990s and on through the revived growth in recent years.

Fast-forward to now, and times are getting interesting. Mac & Jack’s Brewery in Redmond, Wash., has decided to stop brewing its IPA, a relatively recent addition to its beer line. The brewer’s flagship product, African Amber, does well in Seattle-area restaurants and pubs, and this may be just one of many ways brewers will be coping with the current and ongoing hop shortage.

In more cheerful news, Elysian Fields, the third and largest of Seattle’s Elysian brewpub group, really is a brewpub now, having put its own kettle to the fire to produce a range of in-house ales. The first beers were added to the tap lineup just before the end of 2007. Elysian also did well at last December’s Winter Beer Fest.

As consumers, the best we can do is be supportive with our beer-drinking dollars and choose breweries that work hard to satisfy our tastes.

Brouwer’s Café’s sixth annual Hard Liver Barleywine Festival will take place on March 15. Coming a month after the Toronado’s near-legendary Barleywine Festival in San Francisco, Brouwer’s festival has really come into its own, featuring an extraordinary lineup of more than 50 barley wines on draught from across the Pacific Northwest and elsewhere. Keep up-to-date at hardliver.com for more.

For Washington state’s beer lovers, one of my all-time favorite brewfests comes up on March 22, when the 2008 Washington Cask Beer Festival returns to the Seattle Center Fisher Pavilion. The Cask Beer Festival has now become well-established, and this year’s edition will be the perfect spring season kickoff. Last December’s Winter Beer Festival, the first to be held over two days to cope with popular demand, was well-attended, and this year’s Cask Beer Festival promises to be an early sellout.

The 2007 Winter Beer Festival, by the way, was well-attended for a very good reason: It was simply the best ever for the choice and quality of beers offered. This showed in the list of People’s Choice winners, with Ellensburg’s Iron Horse Brewery winning first place for its Black Belgian beer, Elysian Brewing taking second for its Bye-Bye Frost, and tiny newcomer Schooner Exact nicking third for its Hoppy Holiday Winter Ale. To see Elysian Brewing in a list of best-of winners is no surprise, but Iron Horse changed hands last year, and Schooner Exact is just one year old, brewing commercially on a tiny half-barrel system. Iron Horse is stretching out in new directions with a couple of Belgian-inspired brews, and Schooner Exact faces the dilemma of meeting demand in 2008 during times that promise to be challenging for all brewers.

Just a couple of weeks after the Winter Beer Festival, the Kerstbier (Christmas Beer) Festival in Essen, Belgium, provided an interesting contrast in organization and layout. Washington’s Winter Beer Festival is staffed primarily by brewers who pour their own beers at their own stands, with attendees visiting each stand to fill up their plastic tasting cups; Kerstbier is staffed by members of a local beer consumers’ association, so attendees go to a big central serving area to fill up their tasting glasses (no plastic here). The Winter Beer Festival provided relatively few places to sit and relax due to venue size constraints, but most attendees were content to wander from stand to stand to sample the winter specialty beers on offer.

The Kerstbier Festival venue provided plenty of space for seating in a big community hall with a sizeable parking lot out front. Whatever the contrasts, both venues were abuzz with happy imbibers basking in the pleasant glow of their respective regions’ winter specialty brews.

As beer-savvy consumers in 2008, the best we can do is to be supportive with our beer-drinking dollars and continue to choose the breweries that work hard to satisfy our ever-more-discerning tastes. Meanwhile, I’ll still be found at my local, the Beveridge Place Pub, which will most likely be relocated to new digs by the time this issue of the Celebrator hits the streets.

 

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