Sunday, March 14, 2010

Crawling through the Emerald City. A Seattle Six Shooter

(Jenn's note: Apologies for my lack of posts. New job apparently means less time for blogging. I'm working on developing this balance, don't worry.)

I don’t think Justy knew what I had in mind when we started drinking Friday afternoon. Shortly after booking my flight to Seattle the week before, I started considering a Six Shooter for my last night there. When Justy and I started counting the bars and breweries we intended to visit that day, I realized we could actually accomplish it. Keeping it simple, the theme was Seattle beers. Not hard to accomplish when you’re visiting Seattle breweries.

1.18 p.m.

The Pike

1415 1st Ave. Seattle, WA

Pike XXXXX Extra Stout, $5

Something about this bar feels so very, very Seattle. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but to drive the point home, Nirvana starts playing as I try to describe the bar in my notes.

The walls are decorated like a Hard Rock type bar, with nick-knacks and paraphernalia all over the place. Only, instead of music or Americana themed decorations, it’s all Pike’s beer related. The bar is downstairs in a shopping center. There isn’t even a ceiling, just beams that create a sort of overhang. Looking through the ceiling of the bar, you can even see a clothing shop on the second level of the mall. It’s like the perfect escape for the guy who got dragged along shopping. I wish we had a bar like this back home; I might be more willing to shop if good beer was included.

Justy orders the IPA and I decide to try the XXXXX Extra Stout. Anything with that many xes in the title will either be awesome or terrible.

Justy told me that he likes the Extra Stout because of its strong chocolaty flavors. I refrain from looking at him like he’s crazy – all I’m getting from this beer is smoke. I mean charcoal-like smoke. Really nothing but smoke. About a third of the way through my pint, my palate adjusts to the smoke and the chocolate starts to make itself known; I guess there was more to the beer than just smoke. But I still think Justy’s crazy.

Halfway through my pint, I start counting the breweries we were planning to visit that afternoon: Pike, Pyramid, Elysian and Fremont. That’s four. And we had plans of going for drinks that night. Five pubs. Obviously I needed one more. I explain the situation to Justy, and he agrees. We left the decision for our last two destinations to a later time. But it was official: We were going Six Shooting.

3.15 p.m.

Pyramid Brewery

Alehouse Amber Ale, $5, and free tasters(!)

Pyramid is not a brewery that I would rank highly on my Breweries I Respect list. It produces a lot of mediocre beers. They have good starter-beers – something you’d suggest to someone who insists that they don’t like beer, if you’re determined to prove them wrong. Visiting the brewery changed my opinion of Pyramid quite a bit.

The atmosphere of the place strongly resembles New Belgium, if New Belgium were more restaurant than tap house. Light wood, slight industrial feel, copper pipes and decorations, high ceilings with huge windows peering into the brewery.

My rule about beer is always order what you haven’t had before. If there’s a beer that is only available on site, I must drink that. Alehouse Amber was an Alehouse exclusive. So I was obligated to order it. While I perused the menu for food, Justy started chatting with the bartender. Apparently it was a worthwhile conversation – when I looked up there were three eight-ounce tasters sitting in front of us.

I failed to write down anything about the Alehouse Amber and only noted two of the three tasters, but Justy and I agreed that the beers available at the brewery were by far the best Pyramid brews we’d found. That being said, two of the samples were from MacTarnahan’s brewery in Portland (I *will* visit that brewery someday).

The waitress tells us that Spine Tingler, a MacTarnahan’s brew with a dragon’s head tap (yes, that *is* why we ordered it), is 9% ABV. As a result, there’s a two pint limit. I appreciate the let’s-keep-people-from-getting-too-drunk efforts, but I can’t imagine this happening at a place like Great Divide. An image of a particular friend of mine being limited to two Hercules pops in my head: “what do you mean ‘only two pints’?!” It wouldn’t go over well. Ah well, Coloradans are a different breed of people.

4.23 p.m.

Elysian Brewery

Bye-bye Frost (failed to notice the price, it was Justy’s round)

When I was on the Obama campaign my producer would frequently quote “Ghostbusters” saying, “Jenn has gone bye-bye, Egon.” The description for Elysian’s Bye-Bye Frost was “Too much Bye-Bye will make you gone gone.” Thinking of Greggers, I couldn’t pass up ordering this beer.

The beer is 10.6% ABV and other than that I have nothing to say about it. It’s a standard pale ale. That’s all I’ve got. For comparison, Great Divide’s Hercules is 10% ABV and Espresso Yeti is 9.5%. Strong beers, yes, but I don’t immediately worry about them making me “gone gone.” (For reference, see above.) And they’re more exciting than Bye-Bye. The Coloradans win on this one.

Lacking anything more to say about my beer, I’ll talk about the brewery and the other beers. The place reeks of malt. The thing about that smell is, as an avid beer drinker, you come to love it. It’s like dating a smoker – no matter how much you want to dislike the smell, you’re attracted to it because of what it represents.

There are gigantic windows peering into the vats of brewing beer. As I sipped my Bye-Bye Frost, I watched one of the brewers climb a ladder up the vat and proceed to tend to his craft. From a beer drinker’s perspective, nothing beats watching beer get brewed while drinking it from a few yards away. Actually brewing the beer yourself probably tops this, but it’ll still be a little while until I can vouch for that.

We met up with two of Justy’s friends, who did a better job of choosing beers than I did. Justy, showing a bit of his Colorado roots, ordered the Trip V – a New Belgium and Elysian collaboration. The waitress and my friend explain how New Belgium and Elysian have been working together for the past year and a half to help promote their beers in a more environmentally friendly way. I’d heard a bit about New Belgium’s work with other breweries on their tour, but hadn’t seen it in practice. I was delighted to see how well it worked – Trip V was a gorgeous chocolate cherry brown ale, like a liquid Godiva truffle.

While we all agreed on the Trip V, I was the only one who enjoyed the XOXO Chocolate Chili Stout that one of the friends ordered. This was my first chili stout and I found it incredibly interesting. The flavor had a chocolate front with a sharp chili back. I don’t know if I could drink an entire pint of it and certainly didn’t love it as much as Golden City’s Javapeno, but it was exciting to try.

6.38 p.m.

Fremont Brewery

Little Woody $5

Justy and I stopped by Fremont the day I arrived in Seattle to find out what time their tasting sessions took place. Between our brief visit and Friday night, I had thought of little else but going back to Fremont. Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but I was excited about this brewery.

It’s a warehouse, just like Great Divide’s (random note: how many times can I bring up Great Divide in a post, sheesh!), but without a tap room. Walk in the door and you are surrounded by kegs, barrels and vats. During our visit on Wednesday a man, who we guessed was the master brewer, explained that the hours of drinking at the brewery were limited because of the liability it created: they were concerned that people visiting might get injured by forklifts when the brewery was in operation. That’s how small a place this is.

Considering the size of the crowd, Fremont won’t last much longer at such a small location. The picnic tables (held up by kegs) were full and the line for beer wound through the brewery. It was easy to imagine that during the summertime people would spill out onto the sidewalk through the garage door of the warehouse. Even on a February night, a cluster of people gathered on the sidewalk outside. Between that and the dogs and children wandering around the place, the brewery felt like a block party.

Little Woody was as unique a beer as the “bar” that served it. It’s based off Fremont’s flagship beer, Universale Pale Ale, but aged with medium-toast American White Oak, dryhop with Chinook Hops. I still don’t know enough about hops and the beer brewing process to comment on the production of Little Woody, but however they make it, they need to keep doing it. If Jameson made a beer, this is what it would taste like. It’s light, smells of wood with flavors of whiskey and honey. It’s amazing.

If I forget everything else that happened in Seattle, this is the one experience I want to remember.

10.15 p.m.

Naked City

Naked City Desantis $4.50

We took a break for dinner and Olympics after Fremont. Probably a good thing too, anything after the last bar was bound to disappoint.

Naked City took me back to the days of Justy living in Denver. It felt like the Thin Man, only bigger and without the Jesus paraphernalia.

Justy tried to tell me about how Naked City isn’t a brewery, but they have beers brewed for the bar offsite. About halfway through the explanation a bright shiny object distracted me or maybe I started reading at the chalkboard listing their beer selection, but something happened that made me tune out.

We played cards and talked beer. We ordered a Jubel 2010 so I could finally try it. Again, fruity beers and I don’t get along. But it made me like the Desantis a lot more. Overall, a relatively unremarkable experience. Guess that’s what happens when you break up the Six Shooter over 10 hours.

Aside from the selection of beers, I wasn’t too impressed with the bar. I wrote in my notes “I wonder how I’d feel about it in Denver.” Too much time has passed between writing that and now, as a result I can’t remember what I meant by that. The rest of my notes were random comments and questions: “have I had many Belgian style reds?”, “second time we’ve heard the modest mouse ‘all all something all right’ song tonight,” “total beginners luck at ‘Oh Hell’” things of that ilk. It was time to move on and finish up the night.

11.10 p.m.

Pillager's Pub

Black Boney Porter $4.50

This place was ridiculous. It was situated in a building that looked like one of the new brick structures on Broadway in Denver. The inside was like Black Bart from Casa Bonita had opened a bar: horrible wood paneling, silly pirate flags, netting, murals and fairy lights, complete with a little toy cannon. Again, this place was ridiculous.

I didn’t bother to find out about the beer. It obviously had some specific relationship to the bar, but couldn’t have been brewed onsite. Frankly, I don’t care enough to find out. Fruit forward, smoke back. Not what I want in a porter. I wrote in my notes “some fruity theme based on Caribbean/pirate beer?” Judging from my comment, I must have found the others’ beers to be just as excessively fruity as my own. The flavors fit the porter about as well as the music fit the bar (back to back Johnny Cash songs, on a Friday night, in a pirate themed bar. Really?). I wasn’t having it. Drank up, headed home.

At least Casa Bonita has cliff divers.

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