Upon arriving in Seattle I was greeted with the stereotypical Pacific Northwest weather: rain, fog and a generally dreary disposition. After a quick stop at Beecher’s in Pike Place Market for some mac and cheese, followed by dropping my things off at my friend’s apartment, I went straight to Pike St Beer & Wine. This tiny little shop in the Capitol Hill neighbourhood is almost entirely filled with beer from around the world (the wine section feels like a token gesture). The first thing you see upon entering is the racks of big Belgian beers – 750ml bottles of St. Bernardus, Achel, Westmalle, Chimay, Delirium Tremens and much more. As enticing as these were, this trip was all about trying American beer and the store had lots to offer in that respect. Being in Seattle, obviously many more west coast breweries were featured (the eastern big boys of craft beer like Sam Adams and Brooklyn were scarce). The sight of many varieties of Port Brewing/Lost Abbey beers brought out an unhealthy dose of girlish glee, as did a number of seasonal beers starting to come out for Christmas. Lots of Washington and Oregon breweries were in the store, from the well-known places like Elysian to much smaller breweries. A small bottom shelf was reserved for Scandinavian breweries like Mikkeller, which I only saw once I had purchased all my beer. Toss in their last bottle of Russian River Consecration and I was good to go.
One great aspect of Pike St Beer & Wine, especially as a traveler, is that they specialize more in single bottles rather than six-packs. Most of the American beers were bombers or expensive 355mL bottles, making this a specialty beer shop rather than grocery stores that cater to the person looking for a six-pack with their produce (more on the local grocery stores later on). The down-side is that most beers are therefore rather costly and you run up quite the tab, though I noticed that it was only slightly more expensive than other beer selections (about fifty-cents or a dollar more than average). I was quite happy to pay that for the increased selection and the proximity to my friends’ apartment.
After a short nap it was time to start the drinking! You may remember that it had been over a week since my last beer, so the Caldera IPA (Ratebeer) was probably going to satisfy me no matter what it tasted like. Starting a trip to the western seaboard of the United States, it was also apropos to start with an IPA. It hit the spot after my day of traveling as the Caldera was more of a refreshing IPA than a big, dominant one. The caramel malt profile is strong in the beer, but there is still plenty of pine and a luxurious peach note. Medium bitterness, quickly fleeting. Good start to the week!
My successful attempt at a nap meant that we could hit the town for dinner and drinks without having to worry about me falling asleep in a plate of rainbow chard. I couldn’t have asked for a better first night than going to the Brouwer’s Cafe, a wonderful Belgian-inspired joint in the Fremont neighbourhood. The 64 beers on tap come from Belgium, Washington, Oregon and California, giving a wide variety that should be able to match your mood on any given night. Of course it makes for tough choices when you realize you may never (ever!) be back here, these beers will never make it to your province in a bottle or can, and here they are on tap! All you can do in this situation is man up and start drinking.
My first beer (up at the top of the post) was the St. Bernardus Christmas Ale (Ratebeer), chosen over the Abt 12 for the simple reason that I had not tried the Christmas yet (and yes, you read that correctly – both the 12 and Christmas were on tap). Lots of dark fruits in this beer – stewed cherries are most present but there are prunes lurking as well, along with a good dash of brandy. It is almost too sweet, but then this rich malt comes forward alongside a hearty bread. A dense, viscous beer that was perfect for a slightly chilly night. I would have ordered another if there weren’t so many other great options.
My second beer was actually really disappointing and was another reason to think that Stone may be one of the most over-hyped breweries in the States. The beer in question was the 10.10.10 Vertical Epic Ale (Ratebeer), brewed with grapes, dandelion flower and other things from the bag of “Why the hell not?” Unfortunately all three members of our table found the beer all but undrinkable – the grapes and herbal notes just emphasize the alcohol, making the dry finish taste almost completely like booze. Maybe time would help to meld all the flavours together, but my pint was impossible to finish.
While I probably should have opted for another draught beer, the 3 Fonteinen Oude Geuze (Ratebeer) was calling out to me from behind the bar. It was everything I craved at that moment – tart Belgian funkiness, definite champagne qualities and that mysterious funk that only comes from lambics.
Brouwer’s was the perfect setting to drink some delicious Belgian beers. Between the great tap list and huge array of bottles, it is a place to drink at before you die. We were seated up on the second floor, which is the perfect spot to gaze at the beautiful bar below. There was so much dark wood to gaze upon, nicely accented with stone pillars. The bar runs the length of Brouwer’s, as does their massive fridges stocked with all sorts of goodies. The whole bar felt quiet and serene, like a log cabin somewhere in the wilderness where you can put your feet up and slowly sip your beer. The food was ambitious but only decent (my maple and pecan sausage was a little dry, but the rainbow chard side and pumpkin spice cake were excellent), but that doesn’t stop Brouwer’s from being a gem and an excellent start to my trip.
- Only the Belgian ales were served in the appropriate glassware. All others got the standard American pint glass.
- Half the men look like Steve Murray in The Life Aquatic and a good smattering of women as well (minus the beard, though I imagine they would grow one if they could).
- You know you’ve got a broken bottle in your luggage when it smells like baking bread. I didn’t mind all the wet clothes, just that the Garrison Imperial Pale Ale didn’t survive the trip and couldn’t be gifted.