Unlike later in the week in Portland where on average two microbreweries were covered per day, Seattle boasted so many other (often non food and drink related) sights to see that only the exceptional Fremont Brewing Company’s tasting room was the only one visited. Even despite best attempts, some of Seattle’s best craft brew bars were missed, in particular Brouwer’s in Fremont and the Noble Fir in Ballard, due to rushed travel arrangements.
Which is all too bad considering that Seattle isn’t very far behind Portland at all as first and second for number of craft breweries in American cities. Seattle’s metropolitan area boasts over 30 microbreweries, most of whom have brew pubs or tasting rooms, plus numerous nano breweries that occasionally open their garage doors for tastings. Pyramid is probably the most recognizable name, with a massive brewpub by Safeco Field, and brewpubs even in California. Not far behind would be Elysian, with its original pub on Capitol, and two others around the city, serving its classics like the Elysian Fields Pale Ale and new releases such as the Peste Chocolate Chili Ale (which I had hoped to sample at Brouwer’s). Redhook Brewing in Redmond is also a commonly known brewery, most notably for their (somewhat weak) ESB.
Our beer tastings happened at two unlikely spots–Revel, an innovative Korean comfort food restaurant in Fremont, and at the biggest bar in Seattle, Safeco Field.
Safeco Field has hands down the premier craft beer selection of any Major League ballpark. It’s not even a debate. This is coming who researches the topic each summer, having visited now 25 stadiums (I don’t think Minnesota or either Florida or Texas ballpark will compete with Seattle). Most ballparks take pride in having perhaps four or six if you’re lucky local craft brew options. Some you’re lucky to find one. At Safeco Field, there are dozens of Washington breweries, from the Universale Pale Ale by Fremont, to the outstanding Sculler’s IPA with its beautiful floral and caramel notes, from Skagit River Brewing in nearby Mt. Vernon. Only AT&T Park in San Francisco can really compete with Safeco Field, but only if you go to the adjacent Public House and are willing to miss three innings for the walk back and forth to procure a craft beer. Safeco wins.
For a newcomer to Seattle’s brewing, the two longtime classics of the Seattle micro brew scene were the targets: Manny’s Pale Ale from Georgetown Brewing Co. near the stadium (available all over the ballpark) and Mac and Jack’s African Amber Ale, from Mac and Jack’s in Redmond (also known as the home of Microsoft and Redhook Brewing.
Not to seem overly critical, but Manny’s Pale Ale leaves a fair amount to desire. Every Seattle beer drinker I told this to agreed and defended it by saying it’s easy to drink for a while. I can understand this. There are pleasant floral notes, though nothing like the Sculler’s IPA. It’s a smooth beer, sip after sip. If it sounds like I’m being vague, you get the point. It’s a perfectly average pale ale, a bit too pale even.
Far better is the African Amber Ale. In fact, Seattle simply calls the African Amber “Mac and Jack’s” because the beer itself is far more famous than the brewery. Think toffee meets vibrant malts, with a touch of bourbon. It’s truly a unique beer experience, a far cry from the hop heavy ambers such as New Belgium’s Fat Tire Ale. Mac and Jack’s hit a home run this afternoon at Safeco just like Jesus Montero did for the Mariners.
The impromptu beer tasting happened at Revel, where only four beers are on draft, but each one is local, and each one noteworthy. The Fremont Interurban IPA again showed its strength, hop heavy, but balanced and refreshing. I appreciated the Old Seattle Lager from Maritime Pacific in Ballard, a terrific, bold version of a lager that could hold its own in Munich. Schooner Exact, a tiny brewery in SoDo near the ballpark, presented a pitch perfect rendition of a coffee-chocolate, heavy on the dark chocolate, porter with its Profanity Hill Porter. The most unique sips came courtesy of Two Beers Brewing’s So Do Brown Ale, that resembles nothing of a traditional English brown ale such as Newcastle. There is far more depth, with hints of pecan mixing with a little maple, and a slightly creamier body than most. It’s a fascinating brew, very different than anything I’ve encountered.
No visit to Seattle is complete without a taste of Hale’s Pale Ale, the rival to Manny’s for pale ale supremacy. I guess my visit wasn’t complete. Then there is always Big Time Brewing in the U District, Naked City Brewing, Baron Brewing known for its Three Skulls Bacon Ale, Trade Route Brewing, Big Al Brewing…you get the point. Seattle may be the city of coffee. They know how to make fantastic craft brews too.