Tuesday, April 10, 2012 @ 5:30pm
There's a new kid on the block up on Capitol Hill. He moved into a beautiful old building on Melrose Ave and he's brought a new toy to mix into the Seattle microbrew scene. His name is The Pine Box and the new toy is a Randall, a flavor infusing piece of beer serving equipment.
The Pine Box opened it's doors in late March to a densely populated neighborhood craving good beer. After a full remodel of the bar formerly known as Chapel, The Pine Box began pouring some of the best microbrews from Washington and beyond.
The vibe is spacious and airy, with a warm essence radiating from the hardwood which fills the room. The bright atmosphere and high ceilings reminiscent of German beer houses echo softly with the conversations of happy beer drinkers and encourage everyone to join in the vibrant and jovial atmosphere.
The Pine Box, as of now, is the only place I know in Seattle with a Randall. If you have not kept up with your Dogfish Head news in the past decade, you might not be aware of what a Randall is. Developed by the crack team at Dogfish Head for an IPA competition. Its original name was Randall the Enamel Animal, as there was a concern it might remove the enamel from your teeth with the intense hop oils it produces. This is an over exaggeration, sure, but how much of an over exaggeration? I don't know. Anyway, it is essentially a chamber that is filled with hops, spices, coffee, fruit, or anything else that you can imagine, in which beer is introduced into. The alcohol of the beer then strips the flavor from the chambered ingredients, and the beer is tapped from the other side, carrying hop oils, chocolate fats, fruit flavor or coffee into the pint glass.
The day that I visited The Pine Box they had Firestone Walker Velvet Merlin infused with cocoa nibs in the Randall. The result was a thick, smooth oatmeal stout with the aroma of cocoa and a back bone of rich bitter chocolate. It was quite...indulgent. That word reminds me of some chocolate commercial directed at house wives. Indulgent. But it fits. The Velvet Merlin in a Randall with cocoa nib is not a beer I could drink several of, but to fulfill my curiosity in the device and get a nice chocolate oatmeal stout truly was.. indulgent.
I highly recommend heading to The Pine Box on Capitol Hill (1600 Melrose Ave Seattle, WA) and having a couple pints. It is warm and inviting with a friendly and knowledgeable staff that will answer any beer questions which might arise. And while you are there, be sure to check out the Randall. I can't wait to go back and get something from the Randall a little less safe than a chocolate oatmeal stout. Something like a Thai chili and lemon grass hefe, mango and lemon peal pale, or an IPA so intense it will confuse the hell out of my dentist.
(Post and Photos by Dean Westling)
Thursday, April 5, 2012 @ 6:15pm
With the 29th annual Skagit Valley Tulip Festival already underway, locals and tourists alike will once again be descending on the Skagit Valley to see millions of tulips bursting with color. For the past several years now my wife and I have made a tradition of venturing up north to celebrate the arrival of spring by wandering through the tulip fields and having lunch in one of several beer-centric brewpubs and restaurants in the area.
The more we explored and experienced what the Skagit Valley communities of La Conner and Mount Vernon had to offer, the more surprised I was at the quality and selection of beer. Call me naive; I never expected it to be this way, but I have seen the light and thought I'd share the wealth with all of you in case you're planning a trip to see the tulips and find yourself parched and craving a beer.
This information I'm providing is good all year round, and I strongly encourage you to discover all that Skagit County has to offer, from Deception Pass State Park, to the majestic North Cascade Mountains, and the sprawling farmlands in between. Taking any number of day trips or longer outings in the area will make you realize why so many people love the Pacific Northwest. But let us not lose sight of our true love, beer, and where to find it in the Skagit Valley. This is not meant to be a comprehensive list, as no doubt I'll leave something off worth mentioning, but rather a list of places I have experience first-hand.
La Conner Brewing Company -
The first few times my wife and I experienced the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival we would simply meander through the valley, drinking in the vibrant colors of spring, stopping to take a closer look here and there. Ultimately our unplanned drives would lead us to La Conner for lunch at the La Conner Brewery for a pint or two and a delicious wood-fired pizza. Open daily at 11:30am, this brewery fills up with diners quickly so expect a bit of a wait. Don't hesitate to accept the hostess' offer to seat you in their garden terrace even if it's a bit chilly out, there are ample heaters and the ambiance is quite nice.
Address: 117 1st Street La Conner, Wa 98257
North Sound Brewing -
The newest brewery in the Skagit Valley, North Sound opened its doors in September of 2010. Don't let their youth fool you though, they make quality hand crafted ales. My wife and I actually happened upon their brewery and tasting room in route to the tulip fields driving along SR 536, or the Memorial Highway. Having no previous knowledge of their existence we made a quick u-turn to grab a pint. I've since made it a point to stop into this friendly outlet to have a beer whenever I am adventuring in the area. I am particularly fond of their creamy, dark and smooth Slainte Stout and would highly recommend it. It should be noted that they do not offer any food, but allow you to bring in your own fare.
Address: 17406 State Route 536, Unit A Mount Vernon, WA 98273
Skagit River Brewery -
Visible from the freeway, the Skagit River Brewery has served me many burgers and pints of beer over the years. Because Mount Vernon is roughly the halfway point between Everett (where I grew up) and Bellingham (where I attended WWU) I'd often stop in while heading north or south for a quick bite to eat, and while I don't make the drive as often as I used to I still venture in for a pint of Sculler's IPA and a growler fill when I'm passing through on I-5. The brewpub features outside seating allowing for leisurely meals and drinks in the sun, weather permitting of course.
Address: 404 S. 3rd Street Mount Vernon, WA 98273
Empire Ale House -
Located in old town Mount Vernon, Empire Ale house features warm and inviting earthy tones and perhaps more importantly 17 rotating taps of delicious craft beer. Easily my favorite eatery on the list, this beer lover's outpost pours several beers brewed by local Skagit and Whatcom County breweries, as well as those from more distant locations. On one particular visit last December they had a 2010 Boundary Bay Cabin Fever on tap, which is proof positive Empire Ale House is not content with offering your usual microbrews. Their daily 3-6 happy hour features 5-dollar appetizers and drink specials.
Address: 314 W. Gates Street Mount Vernon, WA 98273
Trumpeter Public House -
The Trumpeter's website describes their public house as being 'an amazing old world atmosphere within our community of downtown Mount Vernon'. I couldn't have said it better myself, the Trumpeter boasts dark woods, cozy booths, warm lighting, and the soft glow of a fireplace all which invite you to relax and enjoy yourself with friends and family. With 18 beers on tap you're sure to find something you like. For the scotch and whiskey fans out there, the Trumpeter will not disappoint and is a must on your Tulip Festival excursion.
Address: 416 Myrtle Street Mount Vernon, WA 98273
If you're looking for a friendly neighborhood pub atmosphere that serves up pints of beer and delicious comfort food look no further than the Porterhouse. The friendly laidback atmosphere of the pub is the perfect way to relax and get away from the crowds of the tulip fields. Order up a pint of Boundary Bay IPA, some steamed clams or perhaps the Porterhouse Cheeseburger and enjoy.
Address: 416 Gates Street Mount Vernon, WA 98273
It should be noted that all of these locations, except for the La Conner and North Sound Breweries are located within a short walking distance of each other in downtown Mount Vernon, and would make for a great pub-crawl. Regardless if you're planning to make a day of it, looking for a bit to eat, or just need to fill a growler before traveling to destinations beyond, you'll be in good hands in the Skagit Valley.
(Post and Photos by Jeff Soderquist)
Monday, April 2, 2012 @ 7:12pm
One of the greatest advantages that micro beer has over the macro market is its ability to be creative. If it can be imagined it can be brewed. This does not always mean the results are going to be as intended. I know from home brewing experience that sometimes an experiment goes awry, and a batch is undrinkable. But I also know the joy of victory, when an experimental beer turns out perfectly, flavor, color and aroma melding together and a new beer is born. It is this experimental nature, this bold, sometimes wild creativity that births a vibrant microbrew culture.
This unbridled creative was in full force this weekend at Cask Fest at the Seattle Center. Brewers from all four corners of the state brought their most innovative, boundary pushing, style crushing, hop explosive beers to pour for a room full of eager beer lovers.
For those unfamiliar with cask beer, I'll do a quick summary from The Oxford Companion to Beer. A cask is a barrel shaped container in which beer is allowed retain live yeasts and ferment naturally within the cask. This is why cask beer is also know as "real ale". For the last decade or so, American brewers have begun adding special ingredients to the cask, allowing the ale fuse with the new flavors as it carbonates.
At Cask Fest 2012 there were more beers that I could possible try, even though I tried my best. I sampled traditional cask ales, as well as some off the wall brews. Vanilla, lavender, oyster brine, new hop strains, chilies and dried mangos. Nothing was off the table. Here are a few of my favorites:
EvoIPA, Two Beers Brewing - Dry hopped IPA infused with dried mango, dried apple, dry orange peals, and dried marigold petals. Aromatic and fruity, this well designed IPA is an example of the ever changing infused beers coming from Two Beers Brewing.
Spanish Cedar IPA, Schooner Exact - Session IPA with Amarillo, Simcoe, and Falconer's Flight hops. This session (around 5% abv) IPA is very drinkable but could have used a little boost in the bitter department. Still, a very tasty beer.
Smoked Brine, Epic Ales - Smoked stout made with oyster brine. When going over the pamphlet of beers available, my group of beer enthusiasts all grimaced as they read, "Oyster Brine". But I am a man of adventure at my core, and had to give it a shot. The beer was significantly different than I expected. Sour and crisp, it has a pronounced smokiness, slight saltiness at the end, and sour to close out the flavor. The Smoked Brine from Epic Ales may have been polarizing on paper, but on my tongue the flavors were rich, complementary, and truly interesting.
Bungslayer IPA, Diamond Knot Brewing - A pepper IPA with a flavor that starts grassy and vine-like, and rounds out with an earthy hop note and a heavy spice to burn the throat. The bungslayer was the most interesting IPA at the festival, that is for sure. I don't think I could drink a pint of it, but a 4 oz taster was perfect.
Somersault w/ Ahtanum, New Belgium Brewing - A citrus heavy summer ale with soft fruit flavors dry hopped with Ahtanum hops. I approached this beer knowing that I enjoy the Somersault, and intrigued about the Ahtanum hops. I have never heard of this strain, and was interested to talk to the gentlemen pouring at New Belgium. When I enquired, he directed me to the Santa Claus looking man to my left that just happened to be Alan Moen, the editor of Northwest Brewing News. After expressing my love for his publication, which you can find here he gave me a quick run down of the lesser known Ahtanum hops. Similar to Cascade hops, the floral flavors of this hop take hold in the aroma and flavor without the bitterness found in similar hop strains. The Ahtanum hops are a perfect addition to the Somersault, clean and fruity, crisp and refreshing. This cask was a welcome addition to a festival overflowing with intensely bitter beers.
So, after all these tastes, what was my #1 favorite beer of Cast Fest 2012? My favorite beer of the fest changed about seven times. When I was drinking the Bungslayer, that was the best beer of the day. When I was drinking Somersault, that was my favorite beer of the festival. They, honestly were all worth a taste. Was there any that I found undrinkable? Sure. There was one in particular, but I'm not going to be negative and talk about it. This was a festival of creativity; of drinkable art. If no one took any chances it would have been boring. And when a brewer pours his heart into a beer and goes out on a limb to try something new, who am I to point out the short comings? Do I have to drink it? No, I can have the young men from Airways pour it out for me, and fill my glass with one of their wonderful ales. But all creativity, regardless of its result, needs to be applauded. That is what micro brew culture and Cask Fest is all about, supporting wildly creative dreams of the brewers of Washington State with like minded beer lovers. Good and bad, let's give 'em a whirl.
I am counting down the days until next years Cask Fest. What can I say? I'm hooked.
PS. Thanks to the Washington Brewers Guild for all their hard work in organizing such a wonderful festival. Congratulations on a wonderful event.
Thursday, March 29, 2012 @ 8:02pm
Like a red comet ripping the night sky asunder, this Sunday, April 1st, HBO brings A Game of Thrones back into our living rooms. The new season follows the great houses of Westeros as they clash on the battlefield as well as behind the stone walls of great castles. Blood will be shed, alliances broken and families ripped apart as the War of Five Kings reaches its apex.
It was 2005 when I first cracked the spine of A Game of Thrones and within eight months had consumed all four available books in the Song of Ice and Fire series (A Game of Thrones being book 1). The books are crafted expertly with incredible depth of character, vibrant atmospheres, complex mysteries, and gut wrenching losses. There is something else that stands out in the books which plays little part in the story but works magic in developing the atmosphere; food and drink.
These books tell tales of food that would make the most particular foodie's mouth water. Venison Stew, candied onions, trout baked in clay, creamy chestnut soup and potted hair are just a few of the succulent dishes set before the Lords of Westeros. Hippocras, mead, beer, sweet red wine and Dornish Sours are just a few of the beverages found with in the pages of a Game of Thrones. In honor of these fine food and drinks conjured from the mind of George RR Martin, I've come up with my own food and drink recommendations for this Sunday's glorious return of A Game of Thrones.
The first is a crock-pot pulled pork that tastes as if it was hunted in the Wolfswood and roasted in the kitchens of Winterfell.
3lb boneless pork shoulder
3tbl Brown Sugar
2 tbl Cajon seasoning
1 tbl kosher salt
1 tbl paprika
1 tesp ground cumin
1 tbl ground pepper
1 tbl dried chipotle powder
1 tbl mesquite powder
1/2 cup frozen apple juice concentrate
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1 teaspoon liquid smoke
Mix rub ingredients in large bowl. Cut meat into three chunks if large. Press rub onto all sides of meat. Place all pieces in a bowl and refrigerate over night. Next morning begin crockpot at low setting and add broth and pork. Once done remove from broth, use fork to to shred meat, empty half of broth and return meat to crock pot. Serve with bbq sauce, toasted buns and coleslaw.
And of course, any fan of A Game of Thrones will know that no meal is complete without lemon cakes. I happen to enjoy this recipe.
Now, what to drink. First of all, try and drink local. Why stuff the pockets of some Southern Lords (Sierra Nevada, Widmer Brothers, Stone Brewery), when the North produces so much good beer? My first recommendation would be Boundary Bay's Scotch Ale, a creamy dark beer with a malty, nutty aroma, and a dark bread, toffee, slightly chocolaty flavor.
If you are wanting something little less heavy than a Scotch Ale from Boundary Bay, try an Amber Ale from Hilliard's Beer. A crisp, hoppy amber that barely fits the style, it has a nice bitter profile that stands strong infront of the malt backbone.
If you are a wine drinker, well, I got nothing for you. Go back to the Arbor .
Be sure to catch the season two premier of A Game of Thrones this Sunday evening on HBO. If you are a reader, I strongly recommend picking up all five books in the Song of Ice and Fire series. Reading all five seems like a heavy commitment, but when compared to the Oath of the Nights Watch, Eddard Stark's honor, Daenery Targaryen's destiny and the repercussions of Rob Stark's love, it doesn't seem so heavy at all.
(Post and Photos by Dean Westling Except: Scotch Ale courtesy Boundary Bay, Game of Thrones courtesy HBO)
Sunday, March 25, 2012 @ 3:08pm
The Sunday Fill this week is the Agassiz Acai from one of my favorite breweries in Seattle, NW Peaks. This wildly creative beer is made with more than 60% rice and is fermented with sake yeast. After fermentation is complete acai puree is added giving the starchy profile a fruity, slightly sour note.
The Agassiz Acai's color is a warm orange and its aroma is of acai and blueberries. The flavor is starchy, yeasty with a brief sourness that departs quickly. Oddly, the sake yeast has imparted flavors similar to white ales, rather than Japanese rice beer. Truly a one of a kind growler fill. Happy Sunday.
For more information on NW Peaks, including tasting room hours and what's on tap, head over to NWPeaksBrewery.com
Post and Photos by Dean Westling
Thursday, March 22, 2012 @ 6:28pm
Widmer Brothers Brewing
$7.99 / Sixer
For the past eight years, Widmer Brothers Brewing has been releasing a new beer annually, branded under their "W' Brewmasters" series. These brews have been all over the map. In previous years we have seen an IPA (W'05), a red ale (W'06), a pale (W'07), a wheat (W'08), a Belgian style golden ale (W'09), a black IPA (W'10) and a Russian imperial stout (W'11). 2012's release is no less interesting, a sweet, yeasty, dark saison which has my taste buds getting down the the funk (HIT ME!).
The saison style can be traced back to the French Belgian countryside where it was brewed for farmhand consumption during the harvest season. These beers are traditionally fermented at higher temperatures during the summer so that they are ready to drink during the early fall. The style is fruity and spicy with heavy earthy and yeasty tones, and just a hit of funk (HIT ME! GOOD GOD!)
The W'12 Dark Saison from Widmer Brothers Brewing employs darker malts in order to put their own spin on this classic style. The foam is pearly white on top of a reddish-brown ale. The aroma is malty and yeasty with hints of citrus and pepper. The flavor is sweet and tangy with a dose of bitter earthy hops and peppery spices. There is also a bit of funk present. This tends to be the turn off for people who dislike the style, but happens to be my favorite part. Musty, earthy, barnyard-like. All of the above. Funk is a good term to describe it; different and fun.
Next time you are walking the beer aisle looking for something new and different, grab a sixer of the W'12 Dark Saison from Widmer Brothers Brewing, a limited release that may never again see the light of day. It may be right up your alley, or the light funk of the style may be a bit much for your taste buds, but either way you can say, "I was there in 2012, when the W'12 Dark Saison happened, man."
Post and photos by Dean Westling
Sunday, March 18, 2012 @ 9:16pm
Naked City. It sounds like a club from the 1970’s where car keys go in a fish bowl, or an erotic metropolitan planet from a Star Wars fan-fiction story. It is in fact, one of the best beer bars in the Pacific Northwest and one of the finest breweries in Seattle. Today, The Sunday Fill is of the Podunk Oatmeal IPA from Naked City Brewing.
A well put together IPA from start to finish, the Podunk’s aroma is floral and citrusy, with just the slightest hint of fruit. The hop flavor profile is a bouquet of light herbal tones and forward citrus zest which stands strong against a bready, malt backbone. The oatmeal added to this IPA gives it a full bodied creaminess and a smooth mouthfeel. The carbonation is moderate and the light lingering aftertaste is pleasantly bitter. Overall, an incredibly drinkable IPA.
Next time you are in Greenwood, Seattle, stop by Naked City Brewery and Taphouse and take a look at their tap list. It is impressive. Beer from all over the country shares equal time with beer made on site, just fifty feet from the bar. When I go to Naked City, I make sure that I have at least one of their beers. This is the only place you’ll find beers from Naked City Brewing, and they rotate in and out so fast, you might never see them again. I have had many of their beers and ever single one has been tasty and unique. (I still day-dream about their Amarillo by Morning IPA.) The Podunk Oatmeal IPA is no exception to the stellar Naked City line up and it holds its own on a tap list that includes beer from the greatest breweries in the country.
(Post and photos by Dean Westling)
Friday, March 16, 2012 @ 7:18pm
Happy St. Patrick’s Day everybody! As a red bearded, Irish-Norwegian-American, this is one of my favorite times of the year. What an awesome excuse to get dressed up in something strange and have your first beer before noon. Is that an Irish tradition? Not sure, but it’s an Irish-American tradition.
I sometimes feel like I am alone in the world when I admit, I’m just not that into Guinness. I like Harp and Smithwick’s just fine, but I can’t get on the Guinness patty-wagon. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll drink a pint of it on St. Patty’s Day and I enjoy dropping a shot of whiskey and Baileys into it, but it’s not something I can drink more than one of, once a year. Does that make me strange?
Just because I am not in love with Guinness does not mean that I am unenthusiastic about the Irish beer season. I most certainly am. Living in the Pacific Northwest it’s easy to find a nice Irish style ale, and with our fantastic micro brewing culture, they are some of the best in the country. In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, this post will highlight three flavorful, locally made seasonal Irish-ish brews, all of which get the Life by the Pint “St. Patrick’s Day Approved” seal.
First on the list of imported Irish beer alternatives is Slane’s Irish Red, from Diamond Knot Brewing. This fine Irish Red was recently featured on The Sunday Fill, and is back in the action this week. This russet colored beer smells toasty and nutty with a sweet edge and practically no hops. The flavor of Slane’s Irish Red is dry and clean, tasting of toasted malts and caramel. True to style there is very little hop presence as the bready malts and toasted profile take center stage.
Boundary Bay’s Irish Red is another wonderful option if you are looking to drink locally this St. Patrick’s Day. Deep red in color the Irish Red is a balanced, clean beer. This light bodied ale contains low levels of hop bitterness with a caramelized honey and toasted bread flavor.
Last, but definitely not least and my favorite of the three Life by the Pint “St. Patrick’s Day Approved” beer is Iron Horse Brewing’s Quilter’s Irish Death, an incredibly smooth, densely flavored beer. The Irish Death doesn’t exactly fall into any defined style. I’m going to call it’s style.. Delicious. That works. The same color as a stormy Irish night with a creamy tan head, an aroma of sweet malts, chocolate, dates, raisins, and toffee smacks you in the face. The flavor is equally dense and complex. Caramel, cocoa, dried dark fruits, hard candy and molasses all swirl around the tongue in a creamy wave of delicious goodness. A slight bitterness and a touch of alcohol comes through at the end, closing out a fantastic mouthful of beer. Time for another!
Don’t think just because it’s St. Patrick’s Day you have to drink $6 dollar pints of imported Irish beer. The Pacific Northwest is the beer capitol of the USA and while Guinness maybe the only beer on tap in Kansas or Nebraska this St. Patrick’s Day, it certainly is not in Washington State. We have the some of the greatest beer in the world at our finger tips, and no tradition, holiday or leprechaun is going to keep my lips away from these finely crafted brews this St. Patrick’s Day.
Enjoy a safe, happy St. Patrick’s Day.
(Post and Photos by Dean Westling, except Boundary Bary Irish Red, courtesy of Boundary Bay)