BEER CLINIC :: Sunless in Seattle

by Dr. Carol Westbrook on November 20, 2013

indexExploring the Pacific Northwest in search of the elusive … (1) Yeti (Bigfoot), (2) glimpse of Mt. Rainier and (3) an exceptional beer. I will elaborate. I had a business trip to Seattle in October, so I asked Rick to come along to give me a hand with some beer tasting after hours. After all, Washington State has 194 breweries, more than any other state except California. It was, of course, raining continuously, so we did not have any spectacular views of Mt. Rainier, which appears in the background in most travelogues of this friendly, casual town. Though we didn’t get to visit any breweries because I had to spend my days at the conference in a downtown hotel, we made it up after hours, searching for our exceptional beer.

The Doc

The Doc

In general hotel bars don’t have extensive beer selections, but I was pleasantly surprised to find ours had a good selection of regional craft beers. In fact, this was true for most restaurants and bars we visited, so we didn’t have to go far to get a good sampling of local Seattle brews. All we had to do was eat our way through the town, which we proceeded to do. You could start at the Pike Place Market, near my hotel, with food stalls, restaurants, and its own brewery. Tourist trap? Yes. Authentic? Absolutely. That’s me in the picture, eating local oysters paired with a Pike IPA. A perfect pair. Me and oysters, that is.

Seattle’s cuisine is known for exceptionally fresh seafood, smoked salmon, handcrafted cheese, and fresh produce — all of which pair remarkably well with IPAs. And that pretty much sums it up. In Seattle, they drink IPAs. On occasion you will see a double IPA, or sometimes a lighter IPA masquerading as a pale ale. Every beer we tasted was hoppier than its midwest or east coast cousin, no doubt because Washington is such a hop-conscious state. (The Yakima Valley in Washington State produces more than 75% of the hops used for brewing in the US!) Yet we found that most beers contained well-flavored hop mixtures, and were generously dry-hopped with good aroma. With all this excellent beer, it was difficult to pick out one that stood head and shoulders above the rest.

The Taphouse

The Taphouse

Continuing our quest, we made our way to The Taphouse Grill, a beer bar that I would recommend to every YBN reader as a place you must go before you die. The photo explains why. The Taphouse has 160 beers on draft, with the taps in a beautiful, curving array that is a delight to behold! How do they manage to store and serve 160 draft beers? Our bartender, Raul, was kind enough to take us to the back to show off the keg room, with row upon row of fresh kegs.

Among the good local beers we enjoyed here were: Hop Chops IPA, from North Sound Brewing Company, Elysian’s Immortal IPA, and Lucille IPA from Georgetown Brewing. Lucille stands out as a hoppiest among hoppy beers, with an IBU of 85! The brewers threw in the kitchen sink on this one, as the hop mix includes Columbus, Centennial, Amarillo, Simcoe, and Cascade. The name Lucille? As the brewery notes state, “anything so innocent and built like that just gotta be named Lucille.” Certainly a memorable beer, very enjoyable. But not the exceptional beer I was seeking.

Raul

Raul

With a draft list like the Taphouse’s, Rick and I found we couldn’t resist the opportunity to sample Belgian beers on draft. So we shared samples of: Duchese de Bourgogne, Kwak, Chimay Tripel (white), La Chouffe, St. Bernadus Abt 12, Caracole Nostradamus, and Bornem Dubbel. The Bornem Dubbel was new to me, and I have to admit that I’ve tasted much better Belgian Ales; the others were excellent beers.

We continued our quest along the Pacific coast to Vancouver. Still raining, and still no sighting of Bigfoot, no view of Mt. Rainier, and no beer rated as “exceptional.” That’s 0 for 0 on our quest.

Rick and Friends

Rick and Friends

Vancouver is only 120 miles from Seattle, and it has a lot in common with its US neighbor, including rain, mountains, seafood & salmon. In addition, Vancouver has excellent totem poles and outstanding Chinese food–due to its large and ongoing Hong Kong immigrant population. There’s Rick pole-watching. We had a great time during our short stay in this cosmopolitan town. The traffic is awful, but the city has a lot to offer; great culture and good restaurants, all in a dramatic location, situated on a peninsula surrounded by several scenic inlets and tall hills, all interspersed with a lot of green parkland. The scenery gets more beautiful as you venture further afield.

Whistler

Whistler

We took a drive up the coastal road to the town of Whistler, the site of the 2010 Winter Olympics. The drive itself was worth the trip, with many scenic stops along the way, including waterfalls, spectacular mountain vistas, and dense rainforest. Whistler is a pleasant, touristy town; unfortunately for us, the summer season was over and the winter ski season hadn’t yet started, so there wasn’t much to do except gaze in awe at the mountains and heart-stopping scenery, in hopes of spotting Bigfoot, who apparently frequents these areas. There was no sign of him.

Back to Vancouver. Vancouver’s craft beer style is similar to Seattle’s, which I would describe as Pacific Northwest, though it has many fewer breweries. Nonetheless, there are a number of very good beer bars in all areas of the City. We found The Alibi Room, an extraordinarily friendly, hipster-type watering hole built on the gentrifying edge of the old ski-row area. They had a good beer list featuring regional beers. I had a chance to sample many of the area beers because there were very few pumpkin beers on the draft list, even though it was September. Thankfully, these spicy concoctions are not as popular here are they are in their neighbor to the South, so the taps were free to feature the local craft beers.

It was at The Alibi Room that we discovered Storm Brewing’s Imperial Flanders Red Ale. As the brewery notes state, this is a “Belgian style sour. This crimson hued monster is aged at least a year in the same oak barrels that produced James’ insane 12 year aged Lambic. And like the Lambic, this beer is not for the faint of heart. Notes of oak, barnyard and goat complement its high ABV and puckering yet malty sourness. 11% ABV.”

All I could say was “wow.” This is the Duchesse of Bourgogne on steroids. I was tempted to order another though at 11% I knew I couldn’t drink that much alcohol. So finally, I found my exceptional beer of the Pacific Northwest. That’s one down.

And then it was time to drive back to Seattle. Once we got past the hour-long wait at the border, the ride back was delightful. The sun was bright, the sky was partly cloudy and it wasn’t raining. We drove the famous Chuckanut Highway, one of the great scenic byways in the country. This highway hugs mountains that spill to the sea, wandering through the rainforests and small towns with oyster farms. Along the coast we stopped for a seafood lunch, followed by a side trip to San Juan Island and back by ferry. We kept our eyes peeled, but still no Yeti.

Mt. Rainier

Mt. Rainier

Finally, on the ferry boat, the ever present Seattle clouds lifted for a few hours and that is when we finally got our glimpse of Mt. Rainier, in all her glory! The clouds returned by the time we got back to Seattle. We departed the following day. Still no Yeti. Two out of three ain’t so bad, is it?

Dr. Westbrook’s invaluable book, Ask an Oncologist is available through Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

mikescraftbeer November 21, 2013 at 9:40 pm

Glad you enjoyed Storm Brewing’s Imperial Sour Flanders Red. It is one of my favorite sours of all time. So good and yes on steroids. For 1L or 34 Oz at the brewery it’s around $16 and so worth it. James brews amazing beer.

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Stan Klecha November 23, 2013 at 12:39 pm

Not Fair. No matter how much you elaborate, I can’t taste them.

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Dr. Carol Westbrook November 24, 2013 at 3:24 pm

Thanks for your comments, MikesCraftBeer (Mike?) and Stan. This is the joy and sadness of craft beer. it’s a joy because it’s so good, and brewed in small batches, locally. Sad for the same reason — you just can’t get it outside of the region. If it were distributed nationally, it wouldn’t be a craft beer.

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