Ballard's Hyperlocal Beer Bars

Ballard’s brewery boom spawns the Ballard-focused beer bar.

By Allecia Vermillion January 6, 2016 Published in the January 2016 issue of Seattle Met

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Illustration: Majesta Vestal

Greg Anderson can see one of Ballard’s newer breweries from his front porch. Nearly a dozen more await within a half-mile radius. Most of them make very good beer. The neighborhood, an ale stronghold ever since Redhook was founded here in a transmission shop in 1982, has experienced a brewery boom nonpareil in recent years.

So Anderson, a financial analyst by day, and his wife Lena opened a watering hole of their own, where 15 taps would always be dedicated to the breweries plying their trade within these blocks (plus two from elsewhere in the region). Ballard Beer Company occupies a cavernous space on Northwest Market Street; it’s a sort of minimalist beer hall where locals and the occasional visiting brew nerds fill trestle tables, drinking IPA and stout from tiny operations like Lucky Envelope or sages like Maritime Pacific. Sketches hanging on the wall capture the seafaring history in this rapidly changing neighborhood. In a different way, so do the two house beers—a dry-hopped pale dubbed Dead Wreckening and double IPA known as Sir Mix-a-Locks.

In some parts of the country, asking a barkeep for a local beer means something from within the region—say, the Northeast, or the Great Lakes. In the beer-savvy Northwest, that term means drinking within state lines, or even city limits. And then there’s Ballard, a rare locale where breweries proliferate, but so do residents. It’s perhaps the only zone in the United States where neighborhood bars can limit their taps to what’s made in the immediate vicinity. 

Ballard’s preference for its own beers hasn’t escaped the notice of Ethan Stowell; the restaurateur recently opened a beer bar called Bramling Cross, full of handsome shelving and vintage books and specializing in brews from the immediate neighborhood. Here the concept of neighborhood beer is a bit looser, making special allowances for breweries in nearby Fremont and Interbay and even exotic imports from as far afield as Greenwood.

While nothing could be more Ballard than the bartender knitting a blanket in between pouring drafts, there are plenty of nights when the majority of Ballard Beer Company’s taps hail from elsewhere in Washington. The problem, admits Anderson, is customers guzzle his local stuff faster than he can replace it—“We often have to fill holes with non-Ballard beers.” Sourcing from a brewery just eight blocks away is surprisingly difficult; some fledgling operations are only open certain days of the week, or produce hardly enough beer to supply anyone outside their own taproom. Forget ordering from a distributor; Anderson’s been known to run out on a busy Saturday night to personally retrieve more kegs from a brewery. As any good restaurant can attest, sourcing hyperlocally is hard work.

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