Thursday, June 07, 2012


Drinking through Seattle and Alaska

A trip to Seattle is like wading into a museum of America's craft beer history. At a time when non-Boulder craft beer remained a mere idea in Colorado, the state of Washington was jump-starting the microbrew revolution. Even the frontier land to the northwest of it was an early adopter, when Alaskan Brewing opened in 1986.

Today, the region is no longer solely synonymous with experimental American beer - it's fair to argue that Colorado holds that title more - but its selections are even more diverse. And a recent 10-day trip through Seattle and Alaska demonstrated this quite well.

The first thing one might note about the Emerald City beer scene is the profusion of craft beer available seemingly on every restaurant menu. Brunch place? Check. Sushi restaurant? Yep. Waterfront seafood place? Why would you think otherwise?

And the IPA selections were laudable across the board. Skagit River Sculler's IPA (pictured in the capable hands of the Beer Geekette) was aggressive, though more earthy than acidic. Boundary Bay IPA presented a well balanced ambiance perfect for mid-day enjoyment. And Fremont Brewing, worth a trip off the beaten path, rocked a flowery, viscous, hop-heavy Brother Imperial IPA that made one appreciate small breweries.

All of that was but prelude for the highlight of any beer journey to Seattle - a trip to Elysian Brewing, whose Great Pumpkin earned this blog's award for the beer of the 2009 GABF. But one run through the specialty beers taster menu informs you how much more it has to offer.

Space Dust - "a totally nebular IPA" - exploded with a sweetly bitter bite of grapefruit and apple. The White Woods Wit was a complex marriage of ginger and carbonated wheat. And the Peste chocolate chili ale lit up the palate with waves of coffee, cinnamon and a late-breaking heat that excited your taste buds; it was so good that we felt it necessary to sneak one onto our cruise ship.

Combine that nationally known treat with local finds like Pike Pub and Brewery, which was offering a bubbly and sharp honey saison, and there was little that could steer you wrong in the city. The only big disappointment was pioneer (circa 1983) brewery Hale's Ales, which presented an array of bland and light-bodied offerings more appropriate for the time of its founding, its Supergoose Double IPA being the exception.

While one couldn't trip over a grande mocha latte in Seattle without landing on a hefty craft beer menu, it was admittedly a little harder to find such variety in Alaska.  That can be blamed partially on our chosen mode of transport - a cruise ship that, not shockingly, had a minimal craft selection. But there still were a few goodies to be found.

Alaskan Brewing, known foremost for its often-imitated smoked porter, also makes a sturdy, if unspectacular list of more standard beers. The IPA is hoppy enough to please without assaulting the tongue. The amber has a surprisingly full body. And the Belgian white, which seemed all the rage at the port-side bars (such as the Red Dog Saloon pictured above), was light for its style but still pleasingly refreshing.

But The Hangar on the Wharf, a Juneau beer bar, served a Kodiak Nut Brown from Midnight Sun Brewing of Anchorage that was nutty to the point of being chocolaty and served at an appropriately cold temperature to heighten its taste.

And the find of the trip was Skagway Brewing - a good-sized pub in a noted former Gold Rush town that every beer fan on the ship seemed to visit when we stopped in town. And for good reason - its hop-heavy Chikloot Trail IPA had a deep but not overly biting taste, its Boom Town Brown had a surprising hop backbone and its Blue Top Porter had a simplistic chocolate-java goodness that was comforting far from home.

There shouldn't be too much surprise, I suppose, in discovering a land of beer goodness in Seattle and Alaska. But until you actually visit to find it, you don't know what you're missing.

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