Build It And They Will Come or Boy Who Cried Wolf?

For the better part of three years Bellevue Brewing Company (BBC) existed as a Facebook page. However last month beer began to flow in the Bel-Red corridor. Now that all the initial opening hullabaloo has subsided, and there are actually some house beers to sample, does BBC live up to all of its hype? To find out Mr & Mrs Fueled by Beer recently paid them a visit…

BBC is located a little off the beaten path on 130th Ave NE between NE 20th St (to the north) and Bel-Red Rd (to the south). The most well known area landmark is Angelo’s Restaurant next door. Metro routes 226 or 249 can get you there from Bellevue Transit Center. Use the trip planner or Google Maps to figure an itinerary.

In an area with only a couple of decent ale houses, most notably Bellevue’s Pumphouse, and Redmond’s Celtic Bayou, the eastside has been painfully devoid of a locally owned neighborhood brewpub along the lines of the many choices across the lake in Seattle. While waiting for BBC to open we’ve been making the trek wayyy out east to Issaquah and Snoqualmie, where two of King County’s best brewpubs exist outside of Seattle.

So how does BBC measure up? Well, in a few words, not very well I’m afraid.

Given how much time and effort was spent by the original founder and visionary behind BBC, John Robertson, and the calibre of the former Leavenworth/Fish Brewing folks who (I believe) really made the difference between this project coming to fruition versus remaining Facebook hype, I’m frankly surprised by how far they fall short.

Consider, for example, a project of similar size and scope: Elliott Bay’s Lake City pub. They completed their buildout in half the time, have produced a far superior restaurant product, and their beer offerings provide 4-5 x the variety and are simply better beers. Something comparable to EBLC is what I was hoping for with BBC. Instead we have a cavernous warehouse space for a restaurant, overpriced food not particularly well executed in soulless, spartan surroundings, and a limited and lacklustre beer selection – with one important exception.

We sampled all four beers on offer: the IPA was blah, the Stout overly smoky and unbalanced, the Scotch Ale would be embarrassed beside Black Raven’s, but the ESB – ah, the ESB – there is hope for BBC. A smooth, beautifully balanced example. You won’t find many to beat BBC’s ESB even with cask conditioning – two thumbs up there.

Our food was just OK – nothing to write home about – but too expensive for what we got. BBC’s menu is similar to Snoqualmie’s but at a price point 20-25% higher across the board, without any better quality. Compared to the likes of Elysian, Elliott Bay, Maritime, Hale’s, etc., BBC doesn’t come close.

If some of the glowing reviews on Yelp are anything to go by, perhaps BBC will satisfy Bellevue’s undiscerning yuppie beer culture, satisfied as they are by Rock Bottom and the Tap House Grill. But anybody with knowledge of Seattle’s best brewpubs, like the aforementioned Elliott Bay, Elysian, Maritime and Hale’s, plus Schooner Exact, and even McMenamins, will not be fooled by BBC. For Bellevue’s sake I hope BBC will improve their restaurant experience, expand and improve their beer offerings, and in time prove me wrong.

Judging by the size of the 20 bbl brewhouse and the amount of available space for expansion perhaps BBC’s real test is going to be whether they can ramp up a solid enough line of core brews to get themselves placed on enough taps around the Puget Sound region to meet their considerable production capacity. If they don’t achieve cost efficiencies in this regard then Bellevue may have some brewhouse equipment for sale on the used market in the not too distant future.

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