Just lately I have encountered several folks here in the UK who have visited Seattle either for business or pleasure and mentioned how much they enjoyed the city’s awesome craft beer scene. And after almost every conversation I have been left thinking, if only they had read my Seattle blog before going, then their experience could have been enhanced…
Washington State, with a population somewhat less than Greater London, now has 370 craft breweries. Of these, 110 are in Seattle and King County (source: Washington Beer Commission). Almost every brewery has a taproom and many operate a full service brewpub. However if a visitor to Seattle doesn’t venture beyond the tourist brochure brewpubs near the downtown core—no disrespect intended to Pike, Rock Bottom, Gordon Biersch, McMenamins and Pyramid—they are not getting anywhere close to experiencing the best that Seattle has to offer.
I can say this because between 2008 and 2013 I visited (and blogged about) every brewery in Seattle and King County; plus the majority in neighboring Pierce, Kitsap and Snohomish counties too. Since then many new breweries have opened and very few have closed, and the brewery taprooms and brewpubs I rated the best remain intact – in fact some are now better than ever.
So, in the spirit of helping my fellow man, or as is increasingly the case, lovely craft beer-drinking ladies, here is my guide to the best brewery taprooms and brewpubs of Seattle, USA…
First, on arrival in Seattle, which for most people will be Seatac airport, follow the signs out of the terminal to “Link Light Rail” and at the station go to a ticket vending machine and buy an Orca card ($5). Simply load the Orca card with enough E-purse for your stay (minimum $5) and use it just like you would a PAYG Oyster card in London.
Orca now also offers a Regional Day Pass ($8) but I’m not sure this is a good deal unless you’re making a lot of short trips in one day. Plan journeys using Sound Transit’s trip planner or use Google Maps.
To give an idea of fares, a single trip from the airport to downtown Seattle on Link light rail is $3. If you have to transfer to reach your destination, say Bellevue, Redmond, etc. just tap on and off each time and the fare will be adjusted automatically. If your trip is wholly within King County, using the same agency to get from A to B, transfers should be free. A trip across one or more county lines, or a transfer between agencies will typically increase the fare. However when you factor in the savings from transfers versus paying individual cash fares the card will pay for itself in only two or three trips.
For a detailed description of the regional transit system read my post Seattle’s Metro Transit System for Dummies. In keeping with the ethos of this blog it is assumed that all trips will be conducted on foot or via transit so your Orca card will get lots of use. Let’s get started.
Of all the brewpubs in Seattle’s downtown core the only one that might appear on a top ten list in my book is The Pike. It’s location in the thick of tourist-central Pike Place Market can’t be beat for convenience, but therein lies its problem – always jammed with tourists.
Nevertheless we have always experienced good food, good service, and reliably good beer no matter how crowded the place gets. It’s a little pricey, and it’s nowhere near the best, but if you’re in downtown Seattle and stuck for time, then The Pike is worth visiting. Read my original post.
As far as I’m concerned Elysian’s original brewpub sets the bar for all others, including their other brewpubs at Tangletown and Elysian Fields. During the first half of our time in Seattle the only brewpub to come remotely close to challenging Elysian was Elliott Bay. And although Elliott Bay eventually took my Puget’s Perfect Pint award in 2012, Elysian remained on top of my list of favorites throughout. Read one of my original posts.
Elysian’s combination of excellent quality food at reasonable prices, sheer breadth of mindblowingly superb beers, and that Capitol Hill vibe kept them in the top three throughout. Either walk up Pike from downtown or take the First Hill streetcar to Broadway – you won’t be sorry.
During our time living in the Emerald City one of our favorite neighborhoods to visit was West Seattle – and that’s without considering the Elliott Bay brewpub. West Seattle is where Elliott Bay opened their original brewery & pub in 1997 and although it is much smaller than their newer locations in Burien and Lake City it remains our favorite.
On any given day Eliiott Bay’s three brewpubs will offer a wider range of beer styles, at a higher overall quality, than any other brewpub in the Seattle area – including Elysian. Food is good too and prices are reasonable, plus we have never had a bad experience service-wise. Of course all this is purely subjective, just an opinion, but it comes from multiple visits over a number of years. Read one of my original posts.
From downtown Seattle take the RapidRide C Line to Alaska Junction. You’ll find Elliott Bay around the corner on California.
Just before we left Seattle Schooner Exact expanded their small taproom into adjacent space and opened a full service restaurant with a highly regarded chef running the kitchen. We had already made several visits to the taproom because the beer was always so good. When we visited the new restaurant we were instantly impressed; it puts Schooner Exact firmly in the top flight of Seattle brewpubs. Read one of my original posts.
Judging by glowing Yelp reviews since our departure the restaurant has gone from strength to strength. If there is a downside it’s the location – not easily reached via transit. However if you hop on any of the following buses 101/102/106/150 in the downtown tunnel stations and get off at the end of the Busway it’s about a ten minute walk along Spokane and 1st Ave South to Schooner Exact. It’s worth the effort.
Here’s another brewpub that’s not quite so accessible via transit but absolutely worth making the effort to get there. For a start it’s in Fremont, a neighborhood every visitor to Seattle should make a point of exploring at least once. From downtown Seattle take the 26, 28 or 40 bus to the Center of the Universe (Fremont Ave North/N 35th St.). Outlander is four blocks west of Lenin’s statue along N 36th St. across from Greenwood.
Outlander occupies a gorgeous converted Victorian house close to all the attractions in Fremont. The tiny nanobrewery is housed in the cellar while the bar and restaurant utilize the former living rooms. Furnished with a mish-mash of re-purposed antiques it’s like hanging out in grandma’s sitting room. However grandma never served beer like Outlander. Now sporting a dozen taps the brewpub does nothing ordinary; many styles border on the experimental. You just have to go see for yourself. Read my original post.
Good, bad or indifferent a visit to Seattle is not complete without a trip to Big Time. This is Seattle’s original brewpub having stood the test of time in the ever-changing U-District since 1988. Read my original post.
The U-District has always been easy to reach from downtown Seattle – just get on any of the 7x buses at a tunnel station or on the surface. Early in 2016 the trip gets even easier with the opening of the University extension of Link light rail. The pedestrian bridge from the new Link station over Montlake Triangle to the UW campus is open now. On a fine day the roughly 20 minute walk through UW campus to Big Time is truly beautiful (map).
I’m saving the best ’til last. While Reuben’s is not actually a brewpub; it’s a brewery & taproom, it is regarded by many (including Mr & Mrs Fueled by Beer) as the place where you’ll find the very best craft beer that Seattle has to offer. The taproom is now open every day of the week until 9 pm. They open at 3 pm Mon-Thurs and at noon Fri-Sun.
Even though Reuben’s is not a brewpub food is available: on Sun-Mon order Zeeks Pizza for delivery to the taproom (and receive a discount); Tues-Sat a regular rotation of food trucks serve the brewery from the parking lot. Check Reuben’s website for details.
Reuben’s Brews is now easier than ever to get to from downtown Seattle. Just take the RapidRide D Line to 15th/Leary, walk east one block to 14th, then north two blocks to 5010 14th Ave NW. This is Reuben’s Brews’ new expanded brewery & taproom. Between Reuben’s opening in August 2012 and our leaving party in January 2013 we visited several times at the original location – and blogged about it. With one of our two Navy Sons currently stationed at US NAS Whidbey Island, Washington we desperately want to get back to Seattle to visit ASAP. You can bet which brewery will be on top of our list… 🙂