Beer Trek 2012: Fremont to Ballard

It’s been quite a while since I last beer-trekked my way along Seattle’s Burke-Gilman Trail. And just like the trail’s non-stop foot and pedal traffic, its breweries present an ever-changing scene. So, last weekend it was time to pull on the hiking boots and hit some tasting rooms…

This trek – 3 miles one way – provides the opportunity to visit seven breweries now open between Fremont and Ballard. It is best on a Saturday starting at noon; check the brewery websites for opening hours on other days. Along the way we revisit some old brewery favorites, visit some recent brewery additions, and we include a chocolate pit-stop. The brewery scene along the Burke-Gilman, particularly between Fremont and Ballard, is more vibrant than ever.

Update September 2014: there are now 16 breweries along the Burke-Gilman from Ballard to the University District. The map below shows all the locations:


As a Fueled by Beer trip, this is about as good as it gets. From pretty much anywhere in King County there are bus connections to and from Fremont and Ballard; and of course there’s Link light rail providing a fast connection to the U-District from downtown too. So, after checking Sound Transit’s trip planner, get yourself to Fremont, then walk to our starting point: the “Urban Beer Garden” located along 34th Street at Woodland Park Avenue (refer to map below).

Fremont Brewing Co (“Urban Beer Garden”)

fremontI think it’s fair to say that most Seattle area beer fans are now familiar with Fremont’s standard and seasonal lines such as Universale Pale, Interurban IPA, Wandering Wheat, Dark Star Oatmeal Stout, Summer Ale, and Abominable Winter Ale.

What attracts me to the Urban Beer Garden for repeat visits is the chance to try a Fremont brew that is not available anywhere else. There will typically be a special cask-conditioned ale or a barrel-aged brew. They’re always great. And it’s not just about adult specials either: there are often kid-friendly specials too.

For our visit this time around I was treated to a special cask-conditioned IPA infused with Harissa, Rosemary, and Cascade Hops. It was excellent. The Spouse had an easy choice: her beloved Oatmeal Stout, this time an Imperial version served via nitro tap – seriously yummy. Meanwhile The Daughter enjoyed a homemade blueberry-vanilla soda which she gave two thumbs up.


Theo Chocolate

After visiting Fremont Brewing, particularly if you tasted their oatmeal stout, you’ll be craving chocolate. So stop by the facory store at 35th Street and Phinney Avenue. Taste free samples, take the tour (reservations required), buy some chocolate for the road. You can thank me now!


Outlander Brewery & Pub

This was my most eagerly anticipated stop on the trek and, as it turned out, the most disappointing. Outlander recently opened for business in a converted Victorian house on 36th Street at Greenwood Avenue. Brewery in the basement, pub on the first floor, with a covered wraparound porch providing outside seating.

I had high hopes that Outlander might provide an experience similar to San Francisco’s Magnolia Pub & Brewery, my favorite among the several excellent brewpubs in that great City. So, why did Outlander disappoint?

Before visiting I scoured the Outlander website and their Facebook page: nowhere did they disclose any age restriction. So, when we arrived at the pub, to be greeted by “no under-21s” signs on the door, longtime readers of this blog know how this establishment fared on my Fueled by Beer test – a resounding FAIL !!!!

Onward we trekked – to Hale’s Ales – where families are welcome.

Update: after contacting Outlander I received a reply apologizing for not disclosing their age restriction. This has since been corrected on their website, and we’ve since been back and had a great experience (read about it).


Hale’s Ales Brewery & Pub

Mike Hale is a living legend among the pioneers of Washington craft brewing. After learning his craft at the George Gale Horndean Brewery in Hampshire, England, he returned to Washington in 1983 to start brewing his own world-class ales and lagers.

Hale’s Ales has since become one of the State’s most important breweries with its products found on tap in most good bars and restaurants, and in bottles in mainstream grocery stores and bottle shops throughout the Puget Sound region.

I’ve long considered the connection between Mike Hale’s “HSB” (Hale’s Special Bitter) and George Gale’s original flagship brew, also named “HSB” (Horndean Special Bitter), to be more than coincidental. After all, the George Gale Horndean Brewery is where Mike Hale got his start: at the place where the original “HSB” was brewed.

So I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to suggest that after Fullers acquired George Gale, then moved HSB production to London, and closed the original Horndean Brewery, the legacy of Gales HSB may now live on in Seattle rather than Chiswick.

One thing I am sure of though is that Hale’s HSB on nitro is the closest thing to a southern English pub ale among all American brews I have sampled. This, along with some of the best pub-grub in Seattle provides, I believe, one of the most authentic English pub experiences you can find without getting on a plane.

My latest visit was no exception. After sitting down to a pint of cask-conditioned Supergoose (IPA) – the HSB was off – and a plate of bangers and mash (featuring real English-style pork sausages) smothered in mushroom gravy, I soon forgot the disappointment at Outlander.


Jolly Roger Taproom (Maritime Pacific Brewing)

I don’t know if our arrival during the mid-afternoon ‘catch-their-breath’ period between the lunch rush and dinner time was to blame but service was decidedly lacklustre by the Jolly Roger’s usual standards. The place was almost empty and we only stayed long enough to down one schooner; we passed on ordering any food.

The beer though was good as always. One of my favorites at Maritime is their interpretation of one of Germany’s lesser known beers, the Altbier, a top-fermented ale similar to a British Pale Ale, but less hoppy, more malty,  and smoother due to being lagered. During our visit the Altbier was being poured from a nitro tap, thereby enhancing the smoothness still further: I had to have a glass of that. The Spouse had a float: a dollop of vanilla ice cream in a glass of Nightwatch Dark Ale. Good stuff!


Hilliard’s Beer

Hilliard’s continues to go from from strength to strength. The taproom is always busy, as was the case during this visit. And the beer lineup is expanding nicely. New (at least to us) on this visit was Nautical Reference Pale Ale and an interesting twist on “ESB” (Extra Special Belgian). The Spouse and I shared pints of both: I have to be honest and say I’ve had better pales but I was quite impressed by the Belgian, a very tasty brew.

While we were enjoying our beers I noticed eight sherry barrels over in the brewery aging a variety of different beers. They were all labeled “Thing” (1, 2, etc.) like in Dr Suess. I could make out Doppelbock, Belgian, and Pils among the brews being aged. I asked about these and was told some of them may be kegged for the upcoming first anniversary in October. That’ll be worth checking out. Also, another batch of Chardonnay barrel Saison was aging in the brewery.

Update 2016: Hilliard’s Ballard to become a Lagunitas brewery and taproom.


NW Peaks Brewery

It’s been more than a year since I first heard about NW Peaks and I eagerly anticipated my opportunity to visit this innovative Ballard nanobrewery. Brewing less than 1 bbl at a time, each batch is a different and distinct beer. The brewery’s website currently lists more than 40 different brews: roughly two per month since they opened.

NW Peaks started out in 2011 selling beer primarily through “mountainBeers” the brewery’s monthly growler exchange program. Members pay a subscription to receive freshly filled growlers of the latest NW Peaks brews. If we lived in Ballard I have no doubt we would have signed up.

This year has seen NW Peaks kegs appearing on an increasing number of taps around Seattle. Places like Naked City, Brouwer’s, Chuck’s 85th St. Market, Noble Fir, and perhaps most notably, as a permanent tap at Flying Squirrel Pizza.

However in all this time I didn’t see any set opening times for the taproom so we held off visiting. Recently this situation changed: there are now opening hours posted for Thurs/Fri and some Saturdays. Be sure to check the website.

We enjoyed a great visit to NW Peaks as part of this beer trek. Owner/brewer and avid mountaineer Kevin Klein was pouring from four taps so we opted for his sample platter – a taste from each tap. I have to say these were absolutely superb brews. If every NW Peaks brew is as good as these I have to believe Kevin has a bright future in the Seattle brewing community.

As an aside, we chose a gorgeous sunny day for our beer trek and we weren’t the only ones. We met some great people at NW Peaks beer garden, including a couple who, like us, had ventured over from the eastside. Another couple we met at NW Peaks, who left just before us: they were already working their way through a tasting tray when we arrived at our next brewery… Reuben’s Brews.


Reuben’s Brews

OK, for those with short attention spans: award-winning home brewer Adam Robbings and wife Grace start brewery, name it after toddler son Reuben; Adam’s a fellow Brit; he makes great beer; ’nuff said.

Seriously though, if I didn’t know Reuben’s Brews opened less than three weeks before our visit I would never have guessed this brewery is a startup. And after that successful grand opening, to have 9 of 12 taps pouring Reuben’s Brews (remarkable given the brewery’s production capacity) shows how well this brewery is being run.

I think during the time I have been writing this blog there have been only two or three brewery startups that impressed me as much as Reuben’s Brews: they are Sound Brewery and Bainbridge Island Brewing, and maybe American Brewing too. Another brewery that I was reminded of, but whose start predates this blog, is Schooner Exact in Seattle’s SoDo neighborhood.

But the Reuben’s brews, oh wow the brews! Just look at my taplist photo, and then look at the tasting tray. Among all Seattle area breweries, even the established ones, I can name only two or three where a more extensive lineup of house beers can be found in one place at one time. And to include two Rye beers (I love the flavor of Rye beers) – fantastic!

Against these, both The Spouse and I agreed, the overall quality and taste of the Reuben’s Brews we sampled were superior to Maritime, and they rival the best from Elysian and Elliott Bay. All this from Reuben’s Brews right out of the gate – the next opportunity for us to make a return visit can’t come too soon.

I realize it’s early days but after meeting Adam and talking with him I can’t help feeling that Reuben’s Brews is going to be a significant force within the Seattle brewing scene. And as we all know, beside every good man there stands an equally good woman: in this case Grace. 🙂


Conclusion

The Burke-Gilman Trail is a wonderful resource for the people of Seattle. As a conduit for a beer trek it has no equal. Naturally I hope people will manage to complete at least some of this trek, if not all, and visit as many breweries as possible. If time is an issue I recommend focusing attention on the Ballard breweries.

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