So begins a series of posts on my trip to the West Coast. This isn’t a business trip per se (so I’ll spare you the inevitably tiresome third person delivery as much as I can), but my interest in food and drink culture will be extensively explored over the coming weeks. This series will make a focus of beer and beer culture, and my experiences great and small, but will also dip into food too. It strikes me as a bit odd to compartmentalise beer, and not examine its place within the wider world of food and drink. After all, the part of beer that isn’t H2O largely starts off as food, that gets made into food, that becomes a drink.
Prior to check in at our hotel in Seattle we elected to sit in the restaurant for a drink and some small plates. The first beer of the trip wasn’t a local, but when an opportunity arises to enjoy a glass of Dogfish Head’s 90 Minute IPA it would be foolish to pass. In the moment my usual search for dates (bottled on, best before, or any other such date that may help me determine the age of the beer) didn’t arise, as I sipped on a delightfully balanced IPA. Crisp yet rich, hoppy, bitter, yet malty. A most delicious start.
That evening we headed out to Capitol Hill and stumbled across Elysian’s brewpub, a warm and casual space with one of the longest beer python’s I’ve seen, a four FV brewhouse behind glass in one corner that's still in constant use since their new production brewery opened, and a tap list full of core beers and specials. To my surprise (I haven’t been to the US since a trip to Chicago and New York a few years ago) our server offered 6oz sample pours when asked for a small glass. Previously my impression of the US was of a nation stuck on 16oz and 24oz servings, a view eradicated on the first night of this trip. With 6oz, 12oz, 16oz, and 24oz available, and a long tap list of beers I’ve never tried before little desire arises for larger measures.
The Unite Red Ale, a Black Raspberry Berliner Weisse, was delicious, the Superfuzz Blood Orange Pale perfectly nice (if a little lacking in orange flavour), and the Immortal IPA perfectly session-able and balanced. Tables around us were mostly taken up with family gatherings, with couples and smaller groups around the bar. Later, the Dayglow IPA stood out in a flight of three, with $6 bottles purchased for take out and tastings back home against our own IPA. I’m determined, much to the eventual excitement of my colleagues, to bring back some utterly delicious beer with which to measure our beer against. Oh A-B taste testing, you cruel mistress! Surprisingly relaxed for a Saturday evening, I could imagine this place as a haven as we passed much busier bars and pubs on the walk back to the hotel.
The following day started with a slight low as it dawned on us that we ate dinner almost across the road from Seattle’s famed Tap House Grill. We were falling asleep over our food, so I’m not sure we’d have been able to experience much from their 150 taps, but it was painful to know the chance might not arise to visit. We set off and started with a delicious brunch at Rock Creek in a neighbourhood I wished we had some time to explore. The wife’s Baller Bloody Mary (complete with oyster, poached prawn, pickles, and peppers) appeared to be the drink of choice from an impressively stocked bar with just two taps – one rotates ‘light’ beers (resist that macro-industry recoil please, this refers to Pilsners, Lagers, and the like), and the other IPAs. The first plate to arrive to our upstairs loft table was clementine and ricotta, with roasted marcona almonds and shredded mint, and was as delicious as the rest of the meal.
A short drive up the road, in a seemingly normal neighbourhood, we stopped at what is easily the best bottle shop/bar/growler fill bar I’ve been to. The land of a thousand beers, with each fridge devoted to a different beer style, blew me away. Short measures (accompanied by the joy of discovering Elysian weren’t alone in their sample measure size) of Tahoma Kriek and Super Rad Saison with Grapefruit (remarkably similar to our Farmhouse Radler) were delicious as I marvelled at how such a wonderful place existed, with a patio full of relaxed people, food truck parked up outside (and food truck schedule posted on the wall), LCD tap list of the 40 beers available that changed at the push of a button when the guys changed a keg, and said one thousand beers. If Chuck’s Hop Shop gets knocked into second place during this trip I’ll be surprised, but the guys gave me their top tips for Portland so let’s see.
The rest of the afternoon was spent up at Boeing’s Everett factory, the largest factory in the world, having our minds blown that the son of a timber merchant (who did make a fortune) can start a company just 100 years ago that now employs over 160,000 people, and turned over $90.78 billion in sales in 2014. The scale of the production was immense – if I recall correctly the guide said 40,000 people work shifts in the factory. If you’re ever in the area I can’t recommend enough that you take the drive and the tour.
On our way back to the hotel we dined at The Walrus and The Carpenter, after delicious Italian styled aperitifs at Barnacle. Immaculately fitted out, and with a real buzz to the place, it comes as no surprise that this eatery in the heart of an industrial area is worth the trip.
Regrettably jet lag took its toll and we never found the energy to head back out to the Tap House Grill after a disco nap turned into a full nights sleep.
Seattle, you were superb, and I can’t wait to return to sample more of your beer and food culture.
I’m going to attempt to finish these posts with any lessons I learn and observations I make along the way. There’s an old saying “A rising tide floats all boats.” It’s similar to that film quote “If you build it he will come” in some respects. I think both are somewhat true, but need a little modification. A rising tide floats all seaworthy boats, and if you build it extremely well people will come. The four of Seattle’s neighbourhood venues we managed to visit not only attract city wide and regional attention, but international attention too, such is the quality that creates their appeal. Aim high folks. Whilst many of Washington state’s breweries will likely forever be in the shadow of it’s southern neighbours from Oregon and California, the beer culture in Seattle is head and shoulders above what you can expect in the UK. As a long term Manchester resident I’m prone to my fair share of ‘but it’s not as good as what’s in London’ sad faces. Thank goodness Washington doesn’t feel like that because of Oregon’s triumphs – rather more usefully inspired and motivated by them no doubt. Benson Grocery store, rather unremarkable in many senses, on the way to Pike/Pine, is lined on one side with beer fridges filled with bottles and cans that would make a specialist beer shop in the UK glow with pride. From the recommendations I got before I came and those since I arrived must total over 400 taps, all devoted to very good beer, and that can’t even be a tenth of what’s truly on offer. If this is where our trip begins I can’t even imagine how I’ll feel when it ends in some weeks in San Diego.
Next time, The Drive to Oregon and Cannon Beach. Additional photos from this trip will be uploaded here (once I’ve found the time to prepare them and an internet connection rapid enough to upload them).