Washington State Beer Adventures

Going Back to Washington


In July 2015, I had the good fortune to take a family trip to Washington State, first to Seattle and then on to the San Juan Islands. I was really looking forward to this trip since it has been ten years since I've been there, plus I'd never been to that part of the state. Another huge factor was my appreciation of beer has grown a good bit since then. I remember being picked up at the airport in Portand Oregan (business later took us into the Columbia River Valley) and the fellow had been living there for some time. He knew and better appreciated the craft beer scene than me — at least that's how I'm assessing it now — because he ordered a very hoppy beer for me and it seemed terrible. Now knowing how to appreciate the big hopped beers and that Yakima Valley is just to the East of where I will be, well, as stated, I was excited to go back.

Pliny and The Fool

Now one of the elusive beers on my beer bucket list is Russian River's Pliny the Elder. I came close to having this once, but that is a story for another day. Not sure if I might be able to find this beer in Seattle, I took along two Dogfish Head's 120-Minute IPAs in hope of some far-fetched bartering. I have learned that the 120s can be highly sought after beers in some areas, so my thought was a trade, two for one. I discovered a highend beer shop in the city on Yelp and contacted them, asking about Pliny. As I landed, their response popped up on my smartphone. Russian River has pulled out of Washington state some years ago. Oh well, I would just have to have the 120s myself (shared with company).

First Stop

We would be meeting family at a rental house in a couple days but we wanted to take in Seattle before our rendevous on San Juan Island. Our first stop was Pikes Market and lunch. We had read about Lowell's at Pikes Market.  They have an incredible view of the Seattle waterfront. They have a wide selection of local food favorites. Crab cakes are a Maryland tradition, so I had  to give theirs a try. They also had a decent selection of local beers. I had the Pikes IPA. It seemed fitting that my first beer in Seattle be an IPA. I liked it, but was it just the dizziness of finding myself in Seattle.

Pike's IPA at Lowell's at Pikes Market

Pike's IPA at Lowell's at Pikes Market

A Craft Beer Museum

“The 9,000-year history of beer is rich,” says Charles Finkel, co-owner of Pike Brewing Co. and the enclosed breweriana museum, which, in 2008, was named the city’s best local attraction by both the Seattle Times and the Post-Intelligencer.
— All About Beer Magazine - Volume 36, Issue 2

I had read in an All About Beer article (All About Beer Magazine - Volume 36, Issue 2) about the Pikes brewpub and their museum to craft beer. It also was at Pike's Market, so I slipped my head in to look around. We had already eaten so all I brought out was a beer coaster (see pic). There was a lot of interesting beer tidbits around. It reminded me a bit of a Hard Rock Cafe with all the momentos about the walls, only this was beery stuff.

Finding Local Beer

I knew we would be on San Juan Island for the better part of a week along with some fellow beer drinkers. Therefore, being the beer aficiando (tongue in cheek) that I am, I wanted to pick up some local beer to have ready at the house for sipping and meals. Fortunately, we discovered there was a Total Wine & More. Score! I'd never been in one of their stores but have been given stories of their legendary beer selections. Lets say we did okay finding some bombers of Nikasi, Elysian, Alesmith, Double Mountain Koelsh, Pfriem, Pikes Scotch Ale, and a Selkirk Abbey quad.

A Happy Mistake

If you've never been to the Seattle area you should know that to get to many great places from there requires a ferry ride. And its always a good idea to have a reservation so you can insure a ride on said ferry. And its also a good idea to have your reservation clearly written down so you don't show up an hour late. Gotta feeling where I'm going? We missed our ferry because we got the time wrong. So we had few hours to spend in the launching off town of Anacortes, WA. So, why not grab a beer and a bit to eat. As serendipity would have it, we found the Rockfish Grill. Wait, it gets better — they also own Anacortes Brewery. We noticed there was a back courtyard so as we entered to meet the host, we requested a table in the back yard. It was an traditional shotgun style bar with patrons watching the final of the womens World Cup Soccer. In the back, they have a small courtyard with tables were we enjoyed the fine weather and fleeting daylight. Being from Maryland, I always have to test the local versions of seafood (see Lowell's above). Ooo, they have crab cakes. Now, I'm sure if their chef were to come to the Chesapeake Bay region they would say we put too much seasoning on the delicate crab. So while I thouroughly enjoyed my crabcake, it left my pallate wanting for some Old Bay seasoning. 

Wish I could have stayed longer to sample more of their beer selections. I had the Aviator dopplebock served in a small goblet. Very nice beer, I only wish we had time to sample more goods from their brewery.  We didn't have long to enjoy this place and will definately stop in if ever in town again. But we did have time for dessert, especially since they said they have a vanilla porter icecream. Wow, good stuff. Delicate and full of flavor. (see pic)

Porter Vanilla Ice Cream at Rock Fish Grill, Anacortes, WA.

Porter Vanilla Ice Cream at Rock Fish Grill, Anacortes, WA.

I Hate to Taste and Run

We wanted to wander over to the beautiful city of Victoria, British Columbia on the Canadian side. And what a wonderful place it is, extremely beautiful. We walked along the waterfront and toured the Parliment building. My family tolerates my beer fascination but I have to be careful not to push their patience too far, especially on a family vacation. But since Vancouver Island Brewing was just a few blocks away, they did allow the beer drinkers in our group to visit the taproom. They have been around for some thirty years, a long time for a craft brewery. They have won some national and international awards with their beers and had a large selection. We did a flight and were very impressed with their beers and the breath of their pours. 

Part of a community building effort by the BC Craft Brewers Guild is to pair new brewers with established ones. They had done a brown ale collaboration with a new brewery, Steel & Oak. I really wanted to take one of these back with us but learned that we would have to pay taxes going back into Washington and were not sure how that would affect making our ferry reservation. So the only thing we were able to take back was one of their bottle openers as a souvenier and great memories. (Pic of opener)

Tasting Room at Vancouver Island Brewery, Victoria British Columbia

Tasting Room at Vancouver Island Brewery, Victoria British Columbia

Orcas Island Adventure

One of our group has spent some time on Orcas Island hiking to the top of the 2,409-foot Mt. Constitution in Moran State Park. It is the highest point on the San Juan Islands and features a stone observation tower built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1936. The view from the top offers a panoramic view of the surrounding islands, the Cascade Mountains, and on a clear day, a variety of Canadian and American cities.

But the best part is getting there. Well, that is if you hike the 3.4 mile trail to the top. Which we did and it was grandeur with the trail meandering amoung old growth Douglas fir, western red cedar and western hemlock with lakes and vistas to keep your attention. After a series of leg-burning switchbacks we made it to the top only to see kids and well dressed tourists pouring out of their SUVs. They had drove to the summit. It seems that if we did the hike, the view shoud be better than for those that drove. Just saying.

Island Hoppin' Brewery

Before we left Orcas Island, there was time for a quick swim in the lake and of course to catch a sip at the local brewpub.  This was the only brewery on Orcas Island, but the fact that they had one was surprising. After finally finding our way there, a couple of us ventured in to the Island Hoppin' Brewery

Now, I probably should have given it more of a chance, but the place is like a shack for a bar. I guess that could be alluring in itself being your on an island. It is small, really small, fifteen people and its was packed inside. There was more room outside, with foosball and some other games available, too. To get a quick idea of their beer brewing prowess, I decided to have their paddle (flight to some) of seven beers, five ounces each. It was a hefty pour, so more than just a taste. They had a kölsch, porter, saison, IPA, schwarzbier, imperial red and brown ale. I began with the saison. Not impressed, hardly characteristic of the style at all. Looking at their discription, it read more like a witbeer. The kölsch was off-flavor.  The table next to ours was complaining about it too. The coffee porter was simply too much coffee. For me, the highlights were the brown ale and the Old Madrona. It was a fun taproom in a fun place. Too bad I didn't enjoy their beer more.

The Treasure That Almost Got Away

Near the end of our stay on the island, we wandered to a local cidery and distillery. The San Juan Island Distillery and Westcott Bay Cider is more than just a great distraction while on San Juan Island. The cider and distillery tastings were a great learning experience. The three business partners all took turns displaying, sharing and pouring their goods. Richard was up first, telling us all about how they pick local apples for their ciders and how they are made. He carefully explained how to pair their ciders with food. Next up was the distillery tastings, gins, brandys and liquors. Their apple brandy is aged for five years and not available for tasting. At $250 a bottle, you can understand why. It was awarded the gold medal and best in class at the 2014 American Craft Spirits Association competition.

We ended up bring back apple liquors, thimbleberry brandy and the Spy Hop juniper gin flavored with locally collected botanicals. These are extremely nice people with a passion for their products and the island that provides them the local apples, herbs, and other flora to make them.

Getting Beer Home

One of the things I've learned is how to bring beer home that I've found during my travels. US Transportation and Security Administration (TSA) has restrictions about taking liquids on board, but you can bring them in check-in luggage. I have brought as many as ten bottles home during a business trip without an issue. This is surprising after watching some airline baggage handlers throw luggage as if it were a sport and height was measured for the medal placements. Even though I've not had a problem, I feel better with some insurance and that has come through Franmara wine bottle protectors. These are heavy duty plastic bags have bubble wrap built in, a ziplock seal, with a felcro flap keep the bag from coming undone. These have worked so well, I now keep six of these in my suitcase. I ordered a two-pack from Amazon for less than $20.

Final Thoughts

We found ourselves at Kings Market, located at 160 Spring St, Friday Harbor, WA, more than once during the week. We found this a good place to pick up groceries and they had a good selection of regional beers. Surprisingly, the prices were not outrageously expensive as I had expected for being on an island only accessible via a ferry.

At the end of our week, we had a wonderful trip with great experiences, food, drink and weather.  The San Juan Island archepeligo is a beautiful place and one I hope to get back to some day. 

Dogfish is everywhere. Waiting to board the ferry from Friday Harbor, WA.

Dogfish is everywhere. Waiting to board the ferry from Friday Harbor, WA.