In my About This Blog page I mentioned the fact that I moved my family to the Pacific Northwest knowing nothing about its beer heritage and how this now makes me the proverbial kid in the candy store. Of course, actually not knowing anything about northwest beer at the time of our move really meant I didn’t know my donkey from a mineshaft. However, I believe I struck gold from the very first beer and each discovery since then has only made the candy store bigger and more yummy. But what was that first beer you may ask?
Well, although I didn’t know it at the time, my first introduction to PNW microbrews was at Rock Bottom Brewery, horror of horrors, a national chain out of Colorado. Yet even before the spouse & daughter joined me over here I had already been introduced to Rock Bottom. So naturally it was one of the first places I took them to during their look-see visits. Our patronage of the Bellevue Rock Bottom continues to this day.
Update March 2012: due to significant price increases, less choice and reduced quality over the past year or so we now rank Rock Bottom below The Ram and McMenamins. These chains both now deliver better value for money. Sadly, at least in the Seattle market, Rock Bottom now joins corporate sibling Gordon Biersch as just another brewpub chain not worth visiting.
There is a very simple reason why Bellevue’s Rock Bottom retains its status as our most frequented brewpub – by a very wide margin – and it’s not just because it is conveniently located within walking distance of our apartment. Simply put, we never have a bad experience there. The menu offers lots of choices – you can spend a little or a lot depending on your choice. The food is always reliable and some of the items there are outstanding for the price. For example, we are yet to find a better Ceasar Salad that consistently delivers time and time again. The restaurant is extremely kid friendly, but the spouse and I have also been there on our own in the 21s and over bar area so we know it’s one of downtown Bellevue’s most lively places for singles at happy hour or the late night bar scene. Overall we have never left the Rock Bottom feeling disappointed.
Let’s put it another way: across the courtyard from Rock Bottom is the Tap House Grill, a restaurant and alehouse with 160 brews on tap. In the 2 years since we arrived we visited Tap House just once and never returned – the food was overpriced and not that great. The beer was overpriced and blah. As I write this post, our next visit to Rock Bottom will be #70 and we will have consumed 220 pints of their beer (stats thanks to myMugClub online).
So it’s an OK restaurant and bar – but what about their brews? First off, forget the generic chain brewpub stereotype – there is nothing generic about Rock Bottom beers. The Bellevue Rock Bottom’s claim to fame is that this is where their award winning Hop Bomb IPA, an amazing brew, was born. Kudos to their local brewmaster – every location has one – and I get the feeling they are encouraged to play with their chemistry sets pretty often.
Over the last 2 years We have drunk a lot of Hop Bomb pints but we have also sampled many others, both regular offerings like Humpback Pale Ale, and the Czech-style pilsner Liquid Sun, as well as seasonal specials. In truth, there has been only one beer we dubbed blah – a Belgian style ale called Uberwit (which we called un-beer), however the current seasonal, American Dream IPA, is really excellent – often going down better than Hop Bomb particularly at this time of year.
Rock Bottom’s Mug Club is like a frequent flyer program for beer drinkers. After signing up, as you accrue visits and pints, you earn various Rock Bottom merchandise prizes and after 50 visits each additional 10 visits earns you $10 of club cash to spend on food or beverages. And every so often limited time club cash is awarded as inducement for special events like new tappings. Earning visits and pints, and redeeming club cash works across all Rock Bottom locations. Our total credited visits include downtown Seattle (several visits) and downtown Chicago (when we were there in June).
Bellevue’s Rock Bottom is located in the Galleria Center halfway along the pedestrianized section of NE 6th Street between Bellevue Square and the Transit Center. If you must insist on driving they will validate up to four hours of free Galleria Center parking.
A brief word about the downtown Seattle Rock Bottom located at 1333 5th Avenue. In some ways we like the vibe there a little more than Bellevue. It’s menu is basically the same as Bellevue but with the exception of Hop Bomb its beers are different. Not sure if they brew the Bomb on-premise or if it is shipped over from Bellevue. It’s a short distance from University Street station; walk along University from 3rd Avenue to 5th Avenue then turn left. Rock Bottom is across from 5th Avenue Theatre. You’ll see their distinctive grain silo out front on the patio.