Bellingham, just an hour and a half drive north of Seattle, has some amazing, first-rate breweries. My brew posse and I headed up to Bellingham on a sunny, Friday morning just a few weeks ago and had Washington beer experience that surpassed all of my expectations. First and foremost, it was a sunny day in the Pacific Northwest in January!
The only planning was finding a designated, non-beer-drinking driver (thanks Steve) and having both Boundary Bay and Chuckanut Breweries on our itinerary. Boundary Bay Brewery because of a delicious ginger peach blonde ale that haunts me from 2011 and Chuckanut because Bean and Jonathan had been there previously and loved their experience there.
Our First Stop: Boundary Bay Brewery
We headed to Boundary Bay Brewery first because we heard they served good food and wanted a full belly prior to our day of beer tasting. The place was bustling with activity especially given that it is a place that allows children, so many families were there. Luckily this Bellingham brewpub is a very large space and we arrived in between crowds. We asked our server what he recommended on the menu and he gave great advice. The grilled salmon sandwich on focaccia bread was delicious. Jonathan got the bangers and mash and it must have appealed because after five minutes only a belchy smirk and a fading essence of gravy remained of his place setting.
In our exuberance to start tasting beer we ordered the Russian Imperial Stout to go with lunch. Wonderful beer but with a high ABV. This followed with a 10 ounce pour of their barley wine exceeded my alcohol tolerance. Consequently, we did not taste through all the beers available but loved the two we had. Boundary Bay Brewery had a nice retail section at the entrance of their restaurant/brewery where one could purchase bottled beer, growlers and tee shirts. They just released an excellent winter ale that is aged in whiskey barrels and aged with brettanomyces called Bretta Whiskey Fever. Get it while it lasts. We brought a bottle of Bretta Whiskey Fever home for a group tasting, you can read about it here. Boundary Bay also had this excellent poster celebrating their Grumpy Hour (10-noon) on Saturdays and Sundays. I so wanted a t-shirt of this but they are not available. Perhaps in the future?
Next Stop: Aslan Brewing
If Boundary Bay is too crowded for you, Aslan Brewery is just a short 5 minute walk away. Aslan Brewery also server food which, according to one patron, was very good. Aslan Brewery has a very wide selection of Washington beers and are well known for their IPAs. With that in mind, we grabbed two flights of 5 tasters and a few others our nice bartender, Erin, recommended.
Of the beers we tried, four of them really stood out out for me. They were the Ginger Rye, the Chai Milk Stout, the 10K Battle Axes aged in whiskey barrels and their 10K Battle Axes aged in wine barrels. All of these beers were very intense in flavor so just one glass would do. If I was in a more session in mood to pick a beer and keep drinking it all night, I would definitely go for Mosaic IPA, a beer with a great hop profile, and their Dawn Patrol Pacific Ale. The Dawn Patrol Pacific Ale would definitely be my “Gaming Beer” for those who are into drinking games. They had just a fantastic selection of beers. In addition I just really liked the place. If I lived closer, you would probably find me here.
The staff and the clientele at Aslan Brewery were very friendly. It seems very open as several of the walls are just glass allowing for a lot of light. There were a lot of college students there from Western Washington University who were also quite friendly.
Next Stop: Wander Brewery
The tasting room for Wander Brewery is in a corner of their main operations. Although not as developed and large as the previous two breweries, Wander Brewery makes it up by the quality of the their beer and the friendliness of their staff. The Wander staff were very helpful in selecting our beer and we were fortunate to meet the founder/owner and head brewer Chad Kuehl.
It was a laid back atmosphere and families were allowed to bring their children and dogs here. We did not meet any of the clientele while we were there but that was most likely due to our focus on the award winning tasty brews. We tried the following:
- a) Plum Millie Sour – a “must try” if you like sour beers. Even if you are skeptical of sours it is worth giving it a taste.
- b) Blackberry Fruit Puncheon – great balance of sweetness and tartness. Deceptively high in alcohol with and ABV of 8.2 %.
- c) The Shoe Toss Rye IPA – I really enjoyed this beer and if I were to drink “in volume” this would be the one.
- d) 3-Ton Holiday Barleywine – This was my favorite beer of the evening but with an 11.6% ABV I stopped at only a few tastes.
- e) The last beer we tried was their beer on Nitro rotation, an English Style Bitter that was also very fine.
There were other beers we were dying to try but do to lack of time and in consideration of our livers we left off tasting those other beers for another day. Food is also available at Wander Brewery but we did not get a chance to see any of the fare up close. Unlike Aslan Brewery, where their tables are so close together and you are almost forced to meet those around you, which led to a very communal environment. Wander Brewery is on the other end of the spectrum, it has a lot of space between tables and people seemed to stay clustered in the groups they came with.
Fourth Stop: Chuckanut Brewery and Restaurant
We were beginning to feel peckish so we headed to Chuckanut Brewery in Bellingham (they also have a second location in Burlington they call South Nut) for dinner and a taste of their Washington beer. The clams were great and the gingerbread cream brûlée was amazing. They also offer great beer beer pairing suggestions to go along with their tasty local and sustainable menu options. It is easy to see why Chuckanut gets raves for its restaurant.
Chuckanut brews German style beers and as we were drying out from Wander Brewery we limited it to two beers: the Vienna style ale which was like a Weissbier and and Schwarzbier. The German style beers were absolutely “spot-on” as to style and because of this we were maybe not impressed as we should have been since we have access to great imported German beers in Seattle.
Later in the evening, Michael Armstrong from Farmstrong Brewery said that he thinks that Bryan Cardwell is one of the best brewers in Bellingham because those German beer recipes have to so be precisely followed or it is total failure. So both Jonathan and I were both educated that evening and have a whole new appreciation for Chuckanut Brewery. I understand that they have an amazing specialised computerised brewery that Bean was really impressed by that assists Brian maintain that precision. I have not had the opportunity to tour the brewery but I will look forward to doing so at the next juncture. If you sign up for their mailing list on their web site, they will let you know when they are doing their next Brewery Tour for the public or check the Chuckanut Event Page.
Last Stop: Farmstrong Brewery in Mount Vernon
Although we had tasted a lot of beer in Bellingham that day we couldn’t resist the temptation to stop in at Farmstrong Brewery in Mount Vernon on our way back south, based upon multiple recommendations.
It was a hopping joint and many a patron brought their dogs there; very fun. I did ask the bartender what she recommended and she poured me a pint of their amber ale. After a day of drinking I thought I would just take a few sips but it was so good I had the whole glass. Michael Armstrong, head brewer, gave a tour of the place and said he enjoys specialising in session beers. Farmstrong Brewing Company’s great friendly atmosphere was a wonderful way to end our day trip.
Bellingham and Mount Vernon showcase some fantastic Washington beers. The beers and the beer drinking experiences varied along the spectrum so you could find a watering hole to fit your personality.