By Iron Chef Leftovers
I am insanely lucky to live where I do – we have over 130 breweries in the state and by the end of 2013, I should have at least 10 breweries within a mile of my house. It is a good thing that I like beer. In visiting all of these breweries, I have had some great conversations with the owners, brewers and patrons about beer in general and Washington beer specifically and one topic that usually comes up is who are your favorite/who are the best breweries in the state? I have been floating around the idea of writing a post about this for a while, so I am finally putting pen to paper and coming up with my list.
A few lines about how I came up with this list. First, I thought about the brewery’s overall lineup; how consistent are their beers, do they regularly exceed my expectations, how often do they make a beer that falls flat on its face? Second, would I order their beers if I was out at a pub and saw it on a tap list, over everything else on the list? Third, would I recommend a couple of beers from the brewery or would I recommend everything they have on tap without hesitation? Finally, the below list is not ranked by preference, but rather in alphabetical order. I don’t know that I could actually rank these in my order of preference because they each excel at something different and that list would change depending on my mood.
So, without further delay, the Iron Chef Leftovers Top 5 Washington Breweries:
– Anacortes Brewing – The Masters of Hops
For those who know me, this is really no surprise. I have been a fan of Anacortes for almost as long as I have lived here and (contrary to popular opinion) long before I got to know the guys from the brewery. Anacortes excels at IPA’s, so much so that I firmly believe their regular production IPA to be one of the 10 best beers that I have ever had. I ranked it higher than Pliny the Elder in 2 separate blind tastings and I have been known to make the 160 mile round trip to Anacortes just to get a growler of that beer. As good as the IPA is, the rest of their lineup ranges from good to outstanding, only occasionally faltering. The My Oh Maibock is an outstanding summer beer, their Klosterbier is one that I will go out of my way to drink when I see it on tap and their Dopplebock is probably the best in the state. They usually don’t disappoint at beer festivals and I feel that their brewer, is as good as anyone in the world with his barrel aged beers – the oak character is there when he uses them, but they are restrained so that the oak compliment, rather than overpowers the beer, so you get to appreciate the beer and all of its character rather than just drinking liquid oak. Anacortes flys under the radar in Seattle since they are not widely available, but their stuff is usually gone in a couple days when it shows up on tap here. Website
– Elysian Brewing – The Master of Pumpkin
Elysian is like the Rick Barry of Washington Brewers (In case you don’t know who he is, he is one of the greatest free throw shooters in NBA history) – the produce a ton of different beers and are successful with a very high percentage of them. One of the highlights for me every year is the release of their pumpkin beers, especially Dark of the Moon, another beer I would put in my 10 ten beers in the world. They make around 12 pumpkin beers a year, and most of them are excellent with the occasional miss (The Dill Pickle Pumpkin beer from a few years back was a mess). They are not just about pumpkin – their Apocalypse series last year produced 12 (mostly) wonderful and bizarre beers; their Maniac IPA series gave us such stellar beers as Idiot Savuin, and Prometheus; and they cover beer styles from a Corona clone, to a Yeungling Porter knock-off (which was as good as the original), to just about every beer style imaginable. I love going into their pubs just because you never know what new and interesting beer you are going to find. Website
– Reuben’s Brews – The Master of Rye
Reuben’s is the new kid on the block and is probably a surprise to most people that I would have them on my list. They have an impressive lineup and got through their growing pains very quickly, producing some of the most outstanding beers in the state (and winning actual awards for them). I named their pumpkin beer my “Best Beer of 2012” winner and called the cask version of their Imperial IPA one of the 10 best beers I have ever had. They are more than just rye based IPA though – their Mocha Stout was outstanding, they make a fantastic Kolsh, their Brown is easy to drink and tasty and Porter is a great beer for a cold winters day. The even are daring, producing little know styles like Roggenbier (a rye base Hefe) and Auld Heritage Ale, both of which have received high marks from me. These guys have been raking in the awards, and deservedly so. You want to know how good Reuben’s is – they won the 2010 Phinney Beer Taste People’s Choice award against about 30 other breweries, while they were still hombrewers. How about them apples? Website
– Sound Brewery – The Master of Belgian Yeast
Sound Brewing is finally getting the recognition it deserves by beer drinkers. For a long time, Sound had been known for their outstanding Belgian style beers like Monk’s Indiscretion and Dubble (and Triple) Entendre, while their other beers lurked in the shadows. Unknown to most people, Sound produces a top flight IPA in Reluctant IPA and an exceptional double IPA – Humulo Nimbus as well as what I think might be the top Imperial Stout in the state with Ursus Spelaeus and incredibly good stout called Ursus Americanus. Their beers tend to be high alcohol brews, but they are incredibly well balanced and you should seek them out whenever you have the chance. Website
– Walking Man Brewing – The Master of Playing Hard To Get
The selection of Walking Man might surprise most people and a good number of people might say “who”, but Walking Man produces West Coast IPA’s that I feel are second to only Anacortes in terms of how good they are. In case you don’t know, Walking Man is located in tiny Stevenson, Washington, on the shores of the Columbia River, about 45 minutes from Portland and their beers are hardly available anywhere outside the brewery. Heck, they don’t even have a website. Their best beer is probably their Double IPA – Homo Erectus but they have also produced some other outstanding beers such as Fire Walker Jalapeño Lager (one of the few I have ever liked), Walking Stick Stout, Jaywalker Russian Imperial Stout and Knuckle Dragger Pale Ale. Their barrel aged beers, like Anacortes, are incredibly well balanced and worth seeing out under any circumstance. If you haven’t had Walking Man’s beers, make the drive from Portland next time you are there. Heck, forget Portland, just go to Stevenson and try their beers. It would be worth the trip. No Website, but here is their beer list from ratebeer.com.
You are probably wondering how I could leave Fremont or Black Raven off this list. Well, stay tuned for part 2 where I give out a few honorable mentions and explain to all of you pissed off Black Raven fans why they are not in the top 5.