The year is 1994; I’m 8 years old and obsessed with the Seattle Supersonics. While I can’t recall actually even watching any games from the 93-94 NBA season, Shawn Kemp, Gary Payton and Detlef Schrempf are my heroes. This is mostly thanks to the 93-94 Upper Deck Basketball Card collection my brother and I spent all our money on, and the Super Nintendo game NBA Jam that we hired out from the local Video-Ezy every single weekend. At the same time, Nirvana’s Unplugged in New York and Pearl Jam’s Vitalogy can be heard on repeat. Let’s face it, I was always going to end up in Seattle.
It only took a decade but I made it. Unfortunately Lady Time has not been kind to the promised land. The Supersonics no longer exist, Shawn Kemp is in and out of court for drug offences, my basketball cards are mouldering in a folder somewhere, Video-Ezy is obsolete, Nirvana is gone and Pearl Jam is dead (to me).
Thankfully, something else happened in Seattle while all my childhood idols were being smashed. Seattle and it’s surrounds are now home to an incredible concentration of breweries and brewpubs. Seattle itself is estimated to have around 50 breweries currently operating, impressive for a city with a population of around 600 000 people. But then again, it’s not surprising considering that the nearby Yakima Valley produces around 75% of the 24 000 tonnes of hops the US pump out each year. For comparison, Australia as a whole produces a mere 600 tonnes per annum.
And as the saying goes, the proof of the pudding is worth two in the bush. There is so much good beer in Seattle it is utterly overwhelming. This was most clearly demonstrated on our first night when we visited the Tap House and Grill a mere 100m away from our hotel, where I was confronted with a tap list of over 160 beers with around 70% coming from in and around Washington State. Then there is the Yard House a few streets away which embarrassingly only boasts 130 taps. Pathetic, really.
It’s a very nice problem to have, but trying to prioritise the tasting of a combined total of almost 300 beers is daunting. It also makes it difficult to focus on the local beers when almost all the other big American names are there. So when you’re faced with the option of drinking a stout you’ve never heard of and North Coast Brewing’s Old Rasputin on nitro, you’re just going to have to pay your respects to everyone’s favourite private advisor to the House of Romanov.
So all in all, the standouts from my visits to the Tap and Yard Houses weren’t actually that local at all. If I was to single out two from each venue I’d have to say the Ballast Point Sculpin IPA and Old Rasputin from the Tap House, and Boneyard Beer’s Hop Venom IIPA and Deschutes’ Chainbreaker White IPA from the Yard House. Yes I know I could probably get them in Australia but fuck it, I don’t care. Get off my back.
Even though this holiday wasn’t actually supposed to be some sort of beer drenched, life-limiting odyssey, I still managed to harangue my lovely wife into going to two local breweries and a brewpub. The Pike Brewing Co. are in the enviable position of being smack bang in the midst of the always busy Pike Place Market. It’s a working brewery/restaurant/bar that is plastered head to toe in beer merchandise, beer memorabilia and various other beer and beer like products. Actually, it’s literally Uncle Moe’s Family Feedbag for adults. The six core beers are all solid but the standout was the seasonal Octopus Ink Black IPA straight from the bright tank.
The second brewery visited and easily my favourite place in all of Seattle was Fremont Brewing nestled on the northern shore of Lake Union. Fremont Brewing houses a working brewery and a 20 tap brewpub with a picturesque beer garden out the front. They put on 18 of their own beers including two casks and two Randalls plus two guest taps. Even though there were three versions of their Abominable Winter Ale, the tap list offered excellent diversity of styles including a sour weisse, a rye saison and the best session IPA I’ve had to date. It was hard to pick my favourite out of a generally excellent lineup of beers but I’m a sucker for a big creamy stout on nitro, and their Dark Star imperial oatmeal stout did not disappoint. The visit was made all the more pleasant with unseasonably lovely weather and the cooing of the flock of pigeons that had gathered to feast on the still steaming spent grain being loaded into the back of a truck out the front.
I couldn’t make time to visit Elysian Brewery but I did manage to spend a couple of hours in their newest brewpub. Like Fremont, they also offered 20 taps including two casks. The Elysian lineup was much more dominated by big hoppy IPAs which seems to be the norm around town. Despite how good the IPAs were, the standout Elysian beer and probably the best beer I had out of Seattle was a collaboration between Elysian and New Belgium. Named Trip XX to mark their 20th and final collaboration together in the Trip series, Trip XX started as a fairly stock standard pale ale that was aggressively dry hopped with the French Strisselspalt hop before brettanomyces was added before being kegged and left to warm condition for a month. The result was a light and very easy drinking beer with a complex florally funk and a touch of sourness. It’s something we’re definitely going to have to have a crack at homebrewing. Also, massive props to Elysian for providing me with my first taste of poutine. If Brisbane venues start pumping out chips, gravy and cheese curd I may go all Mr Creosote up in here.
And if you would indulge me a minute I would like to make a couple of observations about beer in Seattle and America in general. Firstly the cost. Coming from a city where a pint of good beer can and will easily cost upwards of $10, to get a receipt showing that pint of 7.5% IPA came in at $4.50 is figuratively and literally intoxicating. And that’s just at the bar. I went to a couple of drug stores where you can buy a tallie of Bridgeport Brewing Co.’s Hop Czar IIPA for $3.49 or six packs of local beers for eight bucks. Not only can you walk down to what is essentially a corner store and buy cheap beer, but the beer section is almost entirely composed of good beer. Sure there were slabs of Bud Light etc. but the majority of the range is local craft beer and it’s seasonal! There were multiple winter and Christmas ales available in both stores.
Which brings me to my second point, Seattle just gets good beer. It’s not just because there is a brewery or brewpub on every second block, or that you can buy fresh local beer pretty much everywhere – the fact that it all seems so normal is what really took me by surprise. You can go to an Italian restaurant and the beer selection won’t be massive but in addition to the standard industrial lagers you’ll find excellent local beer on tap and by the bottle. You can cram yourself into the Taphouse to watch the Seahawks game and there’s not a bearded, sport hating hipster stereotype to be seen. It’s just men and women of all ages, races and creeds smashing pints of Lagunitas IPA.
And therein lies the endgame. Being able to go out to dinner and know that the beer list makes sense. A magical place where you can walk into any bar where sniffing your beer before drinking it isn’t an invitation to being punched in the head.
Imagine a place where good beer is utterly mundane. And also basketball hoops are only like 8ft off the ground so you can tomahawk dunk all over your friends and shit. That's the world I want to live in.