This year was complicated. Some drinking milestones were unequivocally good, while others were mixed. Murray Stenson needing surgery? Bad. The outpouring of love (and cash) from around the world? Good. Depending on who you ask, our new liquor store landscape inspires either rage or relief, while one of the biggest shakeups in Washington wine won't yield any actual product for another year or so.
Overall it's still an embarrassment of riches around here; breweries and distilleries continue to open, while bars venture even further into the realm of housemade ingredients. But here's a look at a few specific moments and movements that shaped the way we consume beer, wine, and spirits in 2012.
The Beering of Ballard
Hilliard's got things rolling last fall, but the arrival of Reuben's Brews and news of the forthcoming Populuxe Brewing cemented the eastern corner of Ballard as a brewery row of sorts. The newcomers join NW Peaks and Maritime Pacific, and keep your eyes peeled for Peddler Brewing to arrive in 2013. Even Urban Family Public House on Ballard Ave is finally brewing its own beer, which should be released in March. Washington Beer Blog's Kendall Jones christened this area the Redhook District, in honor of the Woodinville brewery's Ballard origins. Side note: It's nice to see some diversity in beer styles, from Reuben's German-inspired roggenbier and Kolsch to the saisons currently in progress at Urban Family.
Big-Box Booze Arrives
Once voters privatized liquor, chains like BevMo and Total Wine and More swooped in and started planting flags from Spokane to Silverdale. Existing outfits like Wine World and Costco (duh) got in on the action, too. Here’s how the superstore experience stacks up.
The Eastside Catches Up With the Brewery Boom
Four new breweries in Woodinville. Another planned for Redmond. A major project that just opened in Bellevue. A slew of new beermakers are still planting flags within Seattle city limits (and far beyond) but the 425 felt a little underserved until this year.
Major Chardonnay Shakeups
Well this was a surprise. Efeste’s Brennon Leighton, considered one of the best winemakers in the state, departed to join up with Charles Smith, another big names (with big hair) in Washington wine. Leighton, Smith, and fellow winemaker Andrew Latta are on a mission to reinvent Washington chardonnay. Now we just have to wait until 2014 or so to see if the product measures up to the hype.
In late October, legendary local barman Murray Stenson was diagnosed with a heart condition that left him unable to work and staring down an impending open-heart surgery—without health insurance. What started as a Facebook post eventually grew into a website, an avalanche of events, and a full-on movement. Since then, Stenson fans around the world and at home have raised more than $200,000. Surgery is tentatively scheduled for early January.
Specialty Spirits Bars
Bars that honor brown spirits are a longstanding love around here, but 2012 saw the arrival of a rum bar, a vodka bar, er, lounge, and next year a cider bar is due to open. Can a gin bar be far behind? Perhaps an establishment dedicated to amari? The more drinkers and bartenders know about spirits, the greater the temptation to specialize. Though it's not as if the all-encompassing cocktail bar is in any danger of going away.
It only took 20 months, but one of the city’s original cocktail havens resurfaced this August in its masculine new digs at Seventh and Olive. Owner Jim Romdall designed a so-crazy-it-just-might-work system wherein a different bartender designs the menu each night of the week.
Washington State Wine Commission's New Leader
Steve Warner has a background in pharmaceuticals and relocated back home to Washington from a stint in Romania this past spring. His task: Bring fresh eyes and a new approach to putting Washington wine on the national and international map. Speaking of local wine hotshots, Metropolitan Grill’s Thomas Price also became only the fifth Washingtonian to earn the status of Master Sommelier.