Heading east on the SR520 freeway from Bellevue, it’s easy to believe that Redmond begins and ends with Microsoft. After all, Microsoft’s main campus straddles the highway for almost 2 miles, it’s buildings enclose almost 10 million square feet of office space, and close to 40,000 people work there (without counting the 8,000 additional Microsofties working in downtown Bellevue).
But if you go beyond the imposing campus, past the generic mall that calls itself Redmond Town Center, and across the railroad tracks to Redmond’s historic old town, you’ll see that there were windows here long before Bill Gates came to town.
Don’t get me wrong: Microsoft is a critically important part of Redmond’s economy. However the city is also home to many more businesses, including two microbreweries: one whose flagship product is well known; the other not so much.
Stop in at just about any small bar or tavern in the greater Seattle area and if there’s only one local brew on tap it’s very likely going to be Mac & Jack’s.
But while Mac & Jack’s African Amber is a familiar tap, most people assume it comes from a historic brewery in Seattle’s Georgetown or Fremont neighborhoods; they are surprised to learn that Mac & Jack’s occupies a small warehouse space within a non-descript industrial park out on the eastside in Redmond.
Founded in 1993, Mac & Jack’s is a production brewery – i.e. no on-site brewpub – but they do have a small retail store and tasting room. They sell kegs of various sizes, or you can get a growler filled.
Since African Amber is so widely available, and popular, most Seattleites don’t have a compelling reason to visit the brewery. However, if you’re already on the eastside or, like me, not such an African Amber fan, but interested in sampling other, less widely available, Mac & Jack’s brews, then a visit is well worth the trip.
My tasting experience included a very respectable IPA and a Porter; however what really grabbed my attention (and filled my growler) was the seasonal small batch Imperial IPA – this double-hopped monster was very, very good.
Compared to Mac & Jack’s, Redmond’s other brewery is a relative newcomer: Black Raven Brewing.
Also located in a non-descript industrial park, Black Raven is another production brewery sans brewpub. But I have to say that the Raven’s Nest tasting room, furnished more like a small pub than the typical industrial spaces found elsewhere, is the nicest non-brewpub tasting experience I have yet come across.
If you want to go for more than just a tasting, according to Black Raven’s website, food can be ordered in from nearby, or you can BYO.
I tried each of Black Raven’s six brews by way of their Flight of the Raven sampler: a 5oz glass of each served on a rustic wooden rack. Each one was among the best in class I have found. Standouts were the Trickster IPA, Tamerlane Porter, and Second Sight Scotch Ale (if you like Belhaven you’ll love Black Raven’s take on Scottish ale).
Prior to visiting Black Raven, I think it’s fair to say that my favorite across the board sampling of 5 or 6 ales in one place has been at Maritime Pacific in Ballard. While I can name individually preferred Pales, IPAs, Porters, etc., in each case the brewer’s other offerings do not necessarily stand out. So, for me the most consistently excellent brews across the spectrum of styles are at Maritime Pacific and now also Black Raven.
So, in conclusion, Redmond is much more than Microsoft, particularly for beer lovers. While I wouldn’t seek out Mac & Jack’s in local restaurants: Manny’s usually satisfies that role, the Redmond brewery is well worth visiting for the chance to try their other offerings.
Black Raven, on the other hand, produces ales I would go out of my way to seek out in bars and restaurants, and their brewery and taproom should be on everyone’s list of Seattle-area microbreweries worth visiting. The only downside for families – the taproom is 21+.
From the Fueled by Beer standpoint, Mac & Jack’s brewery, being not exactly a hang-out spot, is not really a transit-oriented destination. However it can be reached on the 253 bus from Bellevue – get off at 180th Ave NE and Redmond Way.
Black Raven Brewing is a better transit destination also reached using the 253 bus – get off at NE 90th St and Willows Rd. The bus takes about 35 minutes from Bellevue. Once there, I think you’ll want to stay awhile.
The 253 bus currently serves Bellevue TC, Crossroads, Overlake Park & Ride, Redmond TC, and Bear Creek Park & Ride. It runs along the following main arterials: NE 8th Street; 156th Avenue NE; NE 24th Street; 148th Avenue NE; NE 90th Street; and 160th Avenue NE.
During 2011 route 253 between the Bellevue and Redmond transit centers will be replaced by RapidRide B line.