Tasting Room Test: Hilliard’s Beer

It’s light, it’s lovely, and good beers are just $4.

By Allecia Vermillion January 26, 2012


When Hilliard’s Beer opened its tasting room in October, the Ballard brewery didn’t have a sign. Now a 55-gallon drum painted with the logo sits outside (it’s less likely to fall over than an A-frame sign). And the word “BEER” is painted on the facility’s outside wall, the former service garage for Nelson Chevrolet.

There, people. What more do you want—a hand-lettered invitation?

While it’s a few blocks removed from the glutton’s row of excellent new bars and eateries populating Ballard Avenue, Hilliard’s kind of feels like a discovery. The taproom is a rare place where straight-up production commingles with artfully unstuffy furnishings and some great beer. On weekends it’s not uncommon to see a food truck parked outside (right now Snout and Co. is there Saturdays from 4-9).

Right now you can drink the brewery’s two mainstsays: a saison and an amber ale, both available only in tallboy form. Four other beers are on draft, including a pilsner dubbed Hil’s Pils, a Cast Iron Stout, and the brewery’s Regimental Scottish Blonde. Apparently “regimental” is the term for “going commando in a kilt.” That newfound knowledge alone made my visit a success. Hilliard’s also does an ESB, though in this case the acronym denotes an Extra Special Belgian, fermented with the same yeast as the saison.

The interior is spare and surprisingly light for a brewery, thanks to banks of lofty windows and many a coating of white paint. In the tasting room, a pair of surprisingly sleek chandeliers, modern productions of an Italian design from mid-century, preside over some tables, chairs and rugs that appear to be dragged out of the nearest basement rec room. Other seating is basically a concrete slab. And yet the whole thing works work quite well together.

There’s no happy hour here, but each can or draft pint of beer costs a reasonable $4. Right now founders Adam Merkl and Ryan Hilliard (the namesake and the brewer) open the doors on Thursday and Friday from 3 to 10pm, and Saturday from noon to 10. The space draws in neighborhood folk and beer geeks, some of whom drift over from tiny nearby brewery NW Peaks. Another major bonus in familyriffic Ballard: This place is all ages. The guys do have plans to take things 21-and-over later at night, and bring in some local bands for live music.

Bars and breweries around the state are embracing microbrews in cans, but Hilliard’s is a rare establishment that deals entirely in cans and kegs. No bottles here. The machinery on site can fill 24 cans per minute, and as you sip your beer, you can eye the pallets of empty cans, stacked to the ceiling as they await. Hilliard and Merkl placed an original order of 150,000 specially printed cans when the brewery started production, and estimate they’ve filled nearly 30,000 cans.

If you can’t make it to the taproom, Hillard’s beers are increasingly appearing in beer-oriented bars around the city, including Montana, The Upstairs, Locol, Brave Horse Tavern, The Publican, and newcomer Bitterroot BBQ. Another big milestone happens February 1, when the amber and saison will start appearing in area Whole Foods—$8.99 for a four-pack of tallboys.

Hit up the slideshow for more shots of the tasting room, including a vending machine repurposed to dispense beer.

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