Trade Route Brewing (formerly Laughing Buddha)

In the beginning the Laughing Buddha created a brewery in Seattle. And the brewery was just one of many, for in 2007 the local beer scene was not a formless void…

And the Buddha said, knowing the multitude of IPAs and other such hoppy brews, I shall beget beer that is different.

And so the Buddha went forth and fused exotic Asian ingredients; Mango and Ginger, and Palm Sugar and Pandan leaves, with traditional Western ale recipes, and Seattle beer fans saw that it was good.

But then a competing Buddha whose mind may have been addled by too much UV from the Antipodean ozone hole said crikey mate, it’s not bloody good, you blokes must cease and desist.

So the Laughing Buddha, in his infinite wisdom, said OK dude, no biggie: for he was a laid back Buddha; we’ll change our name to Trade Route, and continue making our fusion beers just like before. And the Seattle beer fans said, hell yeah! And they saw that it was still good.

OK, I’m done with the Genesis parody: soon demand so outstripped supply that the young brewery decided to move 25 miles south to more spacious premises in small-town Pacific located just across the King/Pierce County line.

Now, two years later, October 2011, Trade Route Brewing celebrates its second anniversary in Pacific; and the time was right for yours truly to pay them a visit. So this past Thursday I made the trip from Bellevue to Pacific via Auburn (about a 1 hour ride via Renton & Kent).

Right off the bat, based on my own experience, which by the way was under perfect conditions, I must issue a major caveat for this Fueled by Beer transit trip: it’s not for the faint hearted. For starters it involves a 1.1 mile walk from the bus in each direction. And I would go as far as saying it is not suitable for women without male companions, or anyone who is uncomfortable walking close to traffic on a roadway without sidewalks.

Most importantly, with shorter days approaching, do not attempt this after dark. Having said all that, under ideal daylight weather conditions, this is a worthwhile transit trip for the stout of heart. It is of course worthwhile anytime by car – but then that’s not exactly in the spirit of this blog.

The problem I had with the walking part is evident from a satellite map. Notice how the first half mile along Milwaukee is residential – a very pleasant walk. Then notice how, after County Line, the stretch along Valentine to the brewery is all industrial.

The road is narrow, without sidewalks, and you now share the space with all manner of commercial traffic including 18-wheelers. Actually the big rig truckers seemed more aware of the pedestrian’s plight along this stretch than the yahoos screaming up and down Valentine in their pick-ups, vans, and SUVs.

Trade Route Brewing occupies the typical warehouse space of a production brewery: brewhouse on one side, taproom on the other. The taproom space is no-frills; a long bar and a few tables. The only food offered in-house is Bratwurst, Beef Jerky, Pepperoni Bites, and Chips. There is also a free popcorn machine. The “Alpac” menu on the website that features pizzas, subs, wings & pasta is from a nearby pizza joint that delivers to the taproom. I was too early so I tried the Brat while I was there: inexpensive and a perfect accompaniment for sampling beer. The fixings included Kraut, pickles, and mustard – all for $2 – pretty decent.

So what about the beers? Well, the Asian fusion thing has been tempered somewhat: only the Mango Wiezen and Ginger Pale appear to remain unchanged from the old Laughing Buddha lineup. Now most of the taps pour more conventional brews; something I have mixed feelings about. I will say this though: I was impressed by the Jet Stream Lager and the Midnight Ale.

Jet Stream is one of the best attempts I have yet come across in the NW at emulating American-style pilsner: the style I expect was everywhere in pre-prohibition days. And while I don’t know if it is by design, I would suggest Jet Stream is perfect for someone weaning off the atrocious macrobrews from the likes of Bud/Miller/Coors.

Midnight Ale struck me flavor-wise as a nut-brown ale, although closer in color to a Porter: it’s flavored with palm sugar, which relates it to the Laughing Buddha Pandan Brown; but I believe it lacks the exotic herb or spicing, such as Pandan, so I think it’s a different recipe. But as nut-browns go, it’s pretty good.

I found the Joker Amber and the Hoppy Bitch IPA, both mainstream brews, to at least fit their profile, but they are unremarkable by NW standards. And I was extremely disappointed with the Ginger Pale. As an exotic brew and as a mainstream ale, it fails on both counts. In my sample, the ginger character was almost non-existant both in terms of aroma and in flavor. As an ale, the IBUs tell the story (3 IBUs ??). A weak, incipid flavorless beer: a shame because I know this style can work; at the Washington Brewers Festival, Boundary Bay and Two Beers both featured quite good Ginger brews.

Which brings me to the Mango Weizen and the Sumatra Stout…

I quite enjoyed the Sumatra, a pretty decent coffee-infused oatmeal stout. However, it absolutely cries out to be served from a nitro tap, not the standard CO2. I would also suggest stout lovers check out the coffee stouts produced by Two Beers and Fremont for superior examples of the style.

Mango Wiezen is a very drinkable Hef, made more interesting by the addition of Mango. Unlike the disappointing Ginger Pale, Mango Weizen is arguably Trade Route’s best main offering. However, the standout brew of my visit, the one I had a pint of following my eight beer samples, was a brewer’s special.

Coconut Mango Weizen is essentially the standard mango brew except coconut is added after fermentation. This brought down the sweetness noticably and gave the brew a nuttier, more robust character. The color was only slightly darker than the standard Mango brew. Excellent – this brew alone made my trip worthwhile. I think I’ll be back when the other seasonal (Feuerbier) comes on.


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