San Juan Brewing is a brewery not many will ever go to, or have a chance to try their beer. Besides the $50 ferry ride (car plus one passenger), San Juan Brewing only serves from their brew pub located in Friday Harbor. We happened to go during my trip up north, and decided to spend one night in Friday Harbor. If first impressions are anything, I should have jumped into the water and swam back to the mainland. The brewery area, easy to see for anyone walking by, was either where they made the beer, or a scale model of what would happen to a brewery after a bomb attack. It was disgusting beyond belief, and I find it hard to make good beer from a dirty brewery. I do not know if it was in the middle of a renovation, but it appeared to have not been cleaned or used in a very long time.
We enter. What I did like, and wish more brew pubs would learn from, is their beer menu. It included the brew date, batch number, ABV, IBU’s, and original gravity. Great. And, it stayed at the table and was not whisked away by an over caffeinated waitress. Unfortunately a few of their beers were unavailable. My guess? Rat stuck in hose. I started with the Oktoberfest Lager. It was very grape-fruity on the mouth, and finished with a mix of lemon ice tea and dishwater. It was thin, and lightly carbonated. It was anti any other Oktoberfest I have ever had. I know it is a broad category, but this was like a bad IPA with an identity crisis. The other beer we did not care for was the Starboard Porter. Clever name aside, the porter was puny, and tasted of cheap chocolate. The nose gave nothing, and at 4.2%, it was something that couldn't even keep a fire warm on a winter’s day. We have only up to go from here. A beer that was truly pleasant was their Raging Man Ale. It was their big winter ale. It had a complex taste that hinted at brown sugar, cherry, and a bit of grapefruit. It was not thin, was 6.6%, and something I could easily of had more of. If more of their beer had the quality of this one, it would be an amazing little brewery. SJB is located very close to the ferry terminal, and other great restaurants. They also have a full bar, and offer a few of their beers for take home in 22oz bottles. The waitress we had was very pleasant, helpful, and I have no complaints about her at all. All in all, if you find yourself in Friday Harbor, what the hell, stop by and see what you think. I was just hoping the beer would match the amazing views and natural beauty of the island. It didn't. But hey, that is some stiff competition that would be hard to beat.
Chuckanut Brewery marks the return of a Kemper making brew to the state of Washington. Will Kemper has returned, not to Poulsbo, the original home of the Thomas Kemper brewery, but to Bellingham. During Will’s time away he has traveled throughout Europe, and been a brewing consultant across the US. Now, his 10-barrel house is thriving, and giving northern Washington some very tasty beer. Currently they do not bottle but do have growlers for sale, and of course fill whatever you bring. During my time up in Mt. Vernon I drove the 20 or so miles north and had a good time. My visit was on a Tuesday night, which meant I was treated to the special of $1.50 Kolsch’s. The beer was very light, crisp, and when served in the 250ml glasses resembling test tubes, looked almost like a urine sample. That is the appearance anyway, the taste was nice, mellow, and delivered a sweet finish. At only 5%, you could easily put a few of these away. The second beer up was a style I had never heard up before, it was a Marzen. But, from what I can understand, it is really another name for an Oktoberfest. They describe it as a mahogany lager, which makes sense once you drink it. It has a very toasty taste, grassy and bitter are other notes I wrote down. It is also pretty malty, but after saying all of that, it was also light, and easy to drink. A very good beer, and one of the best Oktoberfests I have had. Chuckanutbrews 18 different styles, from Dortmunder to Vienna. They use very selective choices in their malts and hops, including organic hops from New Zealand, and organic malts from Canada. The food seems to get as much attention as the beer. I didn’t have much, but what I did have, the roasted yam fries, were awesome. During the summer I am sure the place really rocks with their awesome waterfront patio. Definitely worth a stop, and it’s proximity to Boundary Bay make for a interesting night.
A little north of Mt. Vernon lies the town of Burlington. It is easy to zoom right by, but a few blocks east of I-5 is a cool little spot, that goes by the name of the Train Wreck Bar & Grill, to grab a beer and a bite. I have to thank the good folks at Red Barn Cider for the recommendation. I haven’t ever seen a bar that looks more like “The Brick” from Northern Exposure than the actual Brick in Roslyn, WA. The exposed brick walls are covered with randomly covered with intriguing, and some times haunting, images of logging, railroads, and a man being hung on a bridge. The long and narrow room is illuminated from above by wagon wheel chandeliers. The menu seems as eclectic and the clientele, which included die hard regulars, and curious travelers such as myself. Fried edamame joins forces with fried cheese curds to round out the starters. The crab shooter I chose as an appetizer was amazing, and the main course of Irish style fish & chips made for a mighty meal. For my brew, I had two pints of Boundary Bay’sCabin Fever, which is their winter seasonal. The beer poured quite dark with a small head. I detected little nose. The taste was a mix of malt and chocolate, and the body was very full and it left a nice crisp caramel aftertaste. According to the Boundary Bay website, “This big beer is deceptively strong, yet tastes very smooth thanks to extra long cold conditioning.” I really liked it, and wish I could find it closer to home.
The Porterhouse is Mt. Vernon’s tap room. It is a great place to sample brews not available in our Portland market. The 20 taps and one cask has interesting offerings from Scuttlebutt,Boundary Bay, Georgetown, Hale’s, Anacortes, and Lazy Boy brewing. You would probably be hard pressed to find such a great selection of harder to find Washington beers outside of the Seattle area. Inside, the room is very warm and inviting, thanks to the dark green and wood walls and the central fire place. The Porterhouse is also the only bar in Mt. Vernon that I have managed to find not one, but two steel tip dartboards. The beer I would like to chat about is Anacortes Brewing’s seasonal release, Noel. If you have thumbed through my past blogs, you may have noticed I am not usually not an Anacortes fan. During my last two visits there, I was unimpressed with the beer, service, and food. That being said, I was blown away by the Noel. At 7.0%, it nicely warms you up during a chilly December night. The beer had a complex nose of caramel, oak, and whiskey. The color was a strawberry red, and was poured with a nice head. It had a wonderful, spicy mouth feel. It also had notes of wheat, malt, and caramel. It is a pity that those who do not travel that far north may never try this beer.
Hello everyone from chilly northern Washington. Since posting last, I have been to Skagit Brewing, Chuckanut Brewing, Boundry Bay Brewing, and I am heading off today for San Juan Brewing. It's good to be alive. Though sparse, the beer scene up here is impressive, and what I have had so far has been excellent. Some highlights in the bottle have been Scuttlebutt's 10° Below and Elysian's Bifrost Ale. Sorry for the lack of links or descriptions, I'll come back to it. For now though, I have to run off to catch a ferry to San Juan Island. Stay warm!!
I am going up to northern Washington for a week. Besides taking part in an advanced cider making course, I'll also be checking out Skagit River Brewery again, and also going to San Juan Brewing for the very first time. Before leaving, I'd like to put in another post in my winter beer series. This beer was suggested to me by the staff at Beer Mongers. I never would have taken notice to it otherwise, who knew good beer came from Missouri. So without further nonsense, here it is... Boulevard Nut Cracker Ale. The beer pours with a very nice, dark caramel color. I know it sounds crazy, but the beer had for me a very distinct, piny nose, also with hints of lemon. Not unpleasant, but, kind of nice. Although they make no mention of any spruce tips used, it has a close kinship to the Alaskan winter seasonal. The spiciness, according to the website, is due to the use of Chinook Hops. It is a little spicy, and doesn’t have an overwhelming sweetness to it. What’s weird is it doesn’t fit my aforementioned qualities. The ABV is relatively low at 5.9%, and it doesn’t have a super heavy malty body. But, the taste is so....unusual..in a tasty way. The spiciness tastes festive. The beer is like a holiday session ale, light enough to put back a few, but interesting enough to make the seasonal release one to look forward to.
First up, Lost Coast’s Winterbraun. I am Lost Coast fan, and enjoyed many 12 packs of Great White throughout the summer. But what can they do for my winter needs? A lot. The beer is a very nice brown color, and I can instantly pick up the smell of malt. It is brewed with a mixture of pale, caramel, and chocolate malts. Saaz hops simply balance it out, and add no noticeable bitterness, except on the very finish. The beer is not super sweet, and is a lot like a Brown. At 6.5%, this does fill this blogger’s rule of higher winter ABVs, especially when compared to Great White’s 5.0. In fact, except for a tie with their Raspberry Brown, rates it as the brewery’s beer with the highest ABV. A very pleasant beer at a good price. But, the question is, is it a great winter warmer? It is malty, it is heavier than a summer ale, and the alcohol content is higher. Mmmmm, I’m not so sure. It just doesn't have the full, heavy body I was looking for in my quest.
Avery’s Old Jubilation is their winter seasonal. This is the first year I have tried it. It pours very dark, with a very nice nose of cherry and malt. The first taste is an interesting blend of Two-row barley, special roast, black, chocolate, and victory malts. There is no bitterness, even on the finish. At 30 IBUs, it is definitely heavier on the malty than hoppy side. The hops used are bullion hops, which do give it a noticeable currant flavor. The bullion hop is one I have not come across before, and has an interesting story of it’s own. The beer’s 8% ABV surely fill the needed for a strong brew for the winter. Check. The body leads itself to sipping, not guzzling. The complexity of the beer is amazing. Every time I grab my glass for another drink, I notice more and more flavors emerging. Brown sugar, caramel, slight citrus notes. The website suggest hints of hazelnuts, toffee, and mocha. Like the Winterbraun, this is an excellent value beer. Let’s face it, there are some epic beers out there, but we do not always have, or want to spend the money for them.
It’s getting cold. Do we reach for and enjoy the same beer during this time of year? No, probably not. We look forward to heavier beers, beers we refer to as winter warmer’s. But is there anything we can definitely point to as hard core rules while describing this style? Sort of is a good answer. I think of maltier beers, beers with more body and higher alcohol than their summer counter parts. I think it is clear the difference between a Widmer Brothers Drifter and a Deschutes Jubeale. Or, a Saison DuPont and a Scaldis Noël. Beer Advocate describes a winter warmer as having “Big malt presence, both in flavor and body. The color ranges from brownish reds to nearly pitch black. Hop bitterness is generally low, leveled and balanced, but hop character can be pronounced. Alcohol warmth is not uncommon.” Sounds good. Use of spices, herbs, or, in Upright Brewing’s case, trees, all can go into a rich, fully flavored winter brew. The “rule” gets broken though, such as my recent experiences. Fish Tale’s Winterfish, for example, proudly exclaims to be “the hoppiest winter ale we know of!” At 70 IBUs, they may be right. But is super hoppy what we want as the temperatures plummet? Aren’t we looking for something a wee different, after the previous beer push of fresh hop ales? So I am doing a bit of in house and out of house tasting. I will break it up into different posts, and not one long one. For my in house tastes, I will have the aforementioned Winterfish, Deschutes Jubeale 2008 & 2009, Anchor Brewing’s Christmas Ale, Pyramid’s Snow Cap, Avery’s Old Jubilation, Boulevard’s Nut Cracker, Lost Coast’s Winterbraun, and some overseas love in the form of Scaldis Noël. Out of house will consist of Upright Brewing’s winter offering of Holy Herb, and Widmer’s Brrrr at Beer Mongers. Until then...