This newcomer’s pedigree is about as legit as it gets.
A supergroup of local beer names debuts a new brewery in June in the former Big Al Brewing space in White Center. But just try asking what sort of beer you’ll find there. Brewer Kevin Watson, one of the city’s most experienced beer minds and most recently lead innovation brewer at Elysian, says he’s partial to British styles. But also German and Belgian beer. And the American beer canon, come to think of it. Another partner, Ian Roberts, owns the Pine Box, where he’s learned that people appreciate just about any style of beer, as long as it’s done well. Which doesn’t exactly narrow things down. Watson, Roberts, and their partners, all veterans of the local beer scene, swear they aren’t trying to be cagey. They just want to produce a little of everything, an approach that guarantees wan, forgettable drafts in lesser hands. But listen to Watson wax scholarly on the difference between pilsner in the U.S. versus in its native Czech Republic, and how a beer imported from Europe is slightly different when it reaches the East Coast, and more so after the 3,000-mile journey to Washington. Not exactly the musings of a man who makes bland beer. futureprimitivebeer.com
Further proof: people love cheap beer
It’s easy to be cynical: The PNW can, with its noble elk on a grassy hill, trades in a sort of local nostalgia, even though the company is only three years old. But it’s a nostalgia for when our cheap tallboys—Rainier, Olympia—were still locally owned and brewed (well over a decade ago). Now Pabst makes those classics in California. So when Toshi Kojima and Warren Hellman, local boys and Seattle beer scene vets, decided to make cheap beer—a PNW tallboy runs you around $3 at bars like the Sovereign or Lost Lake Cafe (or $7 for a sixer at PCC), and tastes like carbonated water touched with hops and malt—they wanted to bring back some Northwest bona fides. The irony is that to compete with Big Beer, they currently brew in Wisconsin. Nothing will replace Rainier—it’s a literal icon here, neon-stamped into our skyline—but next time you need a “crushable easy-drinking lager,” as a PNW tagline puts it, it’s nice to have a (slightly) more authentic option. premiumnorthwest.com
Asian inspiration meets straight-up tasty standards.
To help their brewery stand out in beer-rich Ballard, Lucky Envelope cofounders Raymond Kwan and Barry Chan decided to make ales that draw from various cultures (many with Asian elements like lemongrass or buddha’s hand citrus). Sure, they’d have an IPA at the taproom, but also a crisp, biscuity lager in the German Helles style. But then that IPA, its hop character perched midway between fruity and resinous, won a gold medal at the Washington Beer Awards. Now the extra-large tank intended for lager helps produce enough IPA to fill orders from bars and restaurants eager to check out the young brewery that took home the gold in the state’s most competitive category (that Helles lager is also superb). Lucky Envelope still finds compelling ways to explore other cultures, like an approximation of China’s ancient Mijiaya-style beer, but it’s the beer that brewmaster Chan conceived as a means to fit in that really sets this place apart. luckyenvelopebrewing.com
Spreading the gospel of farmhouse.
Farmhouse beers are categorically loose, needing neither farm nor house to qualify. Often they’re saisonlike, mixed culture (a layering of wild yeasts with other strains), barrel aged, and involve whole fruit. It’s about as niche as beer gets. And yet last July the first 200 memberships to Floodland’s beer club—one of the more reliable ways to get this beer, since tap or retail appearances often occur without much warning—sold out in 45 minutes. While plenty of local brewers toy with farmhouse styles, few aside from Tacoma’s E9 and certain releases from Holy Mountain approach these beers like Adam Paysse. Floodland’s owner (and one of Holy Mountain’s founders) has an obsessive reverence for nuance. He began brewing nearly a year before he released his first beers, but once you taste a few—dry, tart, layered, lovely—the wait is worth it. floodlandbrewing.com
Bring on the British ales.
Taproom staff still field the question maybe once a week: “Is it supposed to be…warm?” But that’s less often than UK-born owner Bill Arnott expected when he opened Machine House, perhaps the only Pacific Northwest brewery committed to traditional English-style cask ales—hand pumped, served between 50 and 55 degrees, and faintly carbonated. For the last five years, in the Original Rainier Brewery building in Georgetown, Arnott’s beers have quietly held their own against constant trendy sea changes. Now, since few places in Seattle have the beer engine (basically a manual tap) required to serve cask ales properly, Arnott is expanding into a satellite taproom in the Central District. It’ll be cozier than the Georgetown space, with some English-style food, but sans Brit pub cliches: “I guess we could’ve gone super British, Union Jack flags and pictures of the queen on the wall, but I hate that shit,” says Arnott. Instead he wants focus to land on the beer, and in a city where cool gloom abides nine months of the year, a brew like his elegant Best Bitter—painstakingly pumped and served, yes, warmish—is very easy to focus on. machinehousebrewery.com
Finally canning after all these years.
When those first emerald green cylinders of Lucille IPA rolled off Georgetown Brewing’s new assembly line in May 2017, it heralded a new era for the brewery that gave us Manny’s, a beer so ubiquitous that ordering a pint is practically a form of civic engagement. Manny’s remains resolutely draft only, but the arrival of cans gives three other Georgetown favorites (the Lucille, easy-drinking Roger’s Pilsner, and the newer, wildly popular Bodhizafa IPA) more wattage in the drinking spotlight. When Seattle bars started pouring Manny’s in the drinking dark ages of 2003, every additional tap handle implanted craft beer more firmly in our collective psyche. How fitting that Georgetown will use its new canning operation to produce the official beer of Seattle Beer Week, an event conceived a decade ago to do the very same thing. georgetownbeer.com
Seattle Beer Week Is May 10–20
Ten years later, it seems so quaint: The inaugural Seattle Beer Week was an effort to get the word out about craft beer. Now our annual celebration of the city’s beer scene might offer beer-fueled yoga sessions, Big Buck Hunter tournaments, even a beer can derby and events for kids (the better to occupy them while parents have a beer). Find the full lineup of more than 200 events at seattlebeerweek.com.