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'Beer, Here!': A guide to craft breweries on the Eastside
Additional reporting by Josh Stilts
While Seattle mourns the sale of Elysian Brewing Co. to Anheuser-Busch let’s not forget the surviving quality breweries right here on the Eastside.
Whether you’re stocking up for a special occasion or a lazy Saturday, here’s your guide to craft brewers in the suburban crescent.
Bellevue Brewing Company
The first entry on this list is also one of the youngest. Friends John Robertson and Scott Hansen founded the company in 2010 and spent nearly three years afterward powering through the recession to build their dream brick-by-brick.
Their work paid off in dividends, resulting in a large, modern beer hall that serves healthy food with fresh suds. Robertson and Hansen keep things simple with a handful of beers, mostly ales, on tap. However, they push those beers’ quality as far as they can with their cask-conditioned ale program and a nascent barrel-aging system.
TRY: Medina Malt Liquor
Malt liquor gets a bad rap as a cheap and foul concoction delivered in 40 ounces a dose. But this isn’t Olde English or Colt 45 — this is the hipster older brother who enjoys apple juice and Crenshaw ale.
OR: Oatmeal Stout
Light for a stout — making it a great introduction to dark beers for people who walk on the light side.
Black Raven Brewing Co.
Located in an unassuming beige office park in the heart of Redmond, Black Raven’s environs conceal a classy tasting room with some of the best brew this side of Lake Washington.
Seriously, this place has award-winners out the wazoo. Do yourself a favor: Try a sample of anything recommended by the friendly staff. Then order a growler of it.
TRY: Morrighan Nitro Stout
It’s easy to be skeptical of flavored beers. Who wants to bring home a six-pack of espresso stout only to take a sip of vaguely boozy dirt?
The Morrighan Nitro Stout is a breath of fresh air. Black Raven promises a brew with hints of caramel, chocolate and coffee and, lo and behold, it delivers. This baby goes down smooth as a milkshake, thanks to masterful use of nitrogen carbonation. This is a pure pleasure stout, with a 4.4 percent alcohol content and comfortable 40 IBU.
Snoqualmie Falls Brewing Company
Deep in the heart of Twin Peaks country, the Snoqualmie Brewery and Taproom has the pack beat for scenery. The pubfront sits on nostalgically idyllic Falls Avenue on the edge of the Snoqualmie River; it’s just a short drive away from the Falls overlook, but a simple walk down the block will give you an eyeful of the Rattlesnake massif’s treeline on the southern horizon. The brewery itself feels like a working man’s clubhouse — no frills, no preeningly overdone “ambiance,” just a comfortable space to enjoy a beer and a meal.
TRY: Spring Fever
Snoqualmie Falls’ Head Brewer Rande Reed has been brewing this seasonal Belgian-style grand cru ale for more than a decade, but it’s not the same-old-same-old. Reed recently pulled back the amount of malt barley used in the recipe.
What does this mean? Other than lowering the alcohol content from 7 percent to 6 percent, the malt reduction has allowed the ale’s other flavors room to shine. Orange and coriander come forward to deliver a truly refreshing flavor.
This one might seem like a bit of a cheat to the uninitiated: The Issaquah Brewhouse has been owned by Rogue Ales & Spirits, the pride of Oregon, since 2000.
But Rogue is no faceless corporate overlord. The Brewhouse was the company’s first out-of-state “meeting hall” (the only other is in San Francisco) and Rogue wanted to make sure it remained a destination spot for its unique Bullfrog ales.
Less than a block away from Front Street in Issaquah’s Olde Town, the Brewhouse is a true-blue neighborhood bar, from the storefront setting, to the solid wood bars to the names of its Brew Club regulars on brass plates.
TRY: Menage A Frog
As the name suggests, there’s more kink in the flavor of this Belgian-style Tripel than you might expect from other beers.
The key word here is “layers.” As you take a sip, this bright yellow guy hits you with a yeasted flavor that lives up to the nickname “liquid bread.” But savory soon gives way to sweet, with strong bubblegum — yes, bubblegum — notes and an almost impossible to place fruity quality. We took away hints of apple, but reviewers are all over the place on this point: The taste has been compared to lemons, peaches — even bananas.
It’s hardly bitter at all at 30 IBU but boasts a higher alcohol content at 9 percent — if you don’t like a noticeable alcohol taste in your Tripel, this one might not be for you. But it impressed the judges at the 2008 World Beer Championships enough to award it a 90 rating and a gold medal.
OR: White Frog Ale
For lighter fare, the Brewhouse’s signature White Frog Ale goes down easy without sacrificing flavor. This is a spicy treat with notes of orange peel, chamomile and cloves.
Triplehorn Brewing Company
Rich and Ray Nesheim started Triplehorn with a guiding belief in using the best available ingredients. There’s no rice to be found here — though it’s the second-most popular fermenting adjunct in the industry they don’t believe it’s a proper substitute for malts.
The brothers take their beer seriously and little else, bestowing names like “Intervention” and “Enabler” onto popular batches. Beers straight from the tap are served in pint glasses blown into the shape of a 12-ounce can.
The brewery itself, located in a commercial warehouse in northern Woodinville, is a casual space with plenty of TVs tuned to sports programming and a front-row seat to the brewing process from house to tank. Meals come from a rotation of visiting food trucks and outdoor seating consists of an open garage door in the summer.
The place has an intense following that always seems to show up like clockwork on 3 p.m. Thursday. The Nesheim brothers have been able to start construction on a bottling assembly line for its most popular suds.
TRY: Smokey the Beer
A malty brown porter that isn’t nearly as smokey as the name suggests. Smokey the Beer actually opens with a sweet creaminess that gives way to pleasant bitters, with a light mouthfeel. The smoke manifests in a light roasted flavor that lingers without overpowering.
Comparable to Triplehorn’s Saxon, yet stronger in every sense of the word at 8.2 percent alcohol content and 60 IBU.
OR: Falcon Cloak Golden Blonde
A golden ale with light hops. Along with the Pepperbelly Blond, this is probably Triplehorn’s crispest beer at 18 IBU, without sacrificing strength at 6.9 percent alcohol content.