The Pacific Northwest is well known, and loved, for the reinvention of craft beer and the Seattle area has several of the finest breweries around. And even better yet, most are available for visits either as tap rooms or brew pubs. Prepare for a slightly blurry two days of some of the best beer fresh from the tap.
You may as well start with one of the biggest and, arguably most popular, the Pyramid Brewing Company and their alehouse on 1st Avenue South, right across from Safeco Field. Pyramid has the distinction of being in business since 1984, which in brewery years is an eternity.
Their signature beer is an unfiltered wheat, Hefeweizen, as well as several fruit beers that are derivatives of the Hefeweizen such as Apricot. Pyramid consistently wins gold medals for their beer at festivals and they have 15 on tap at the ale house to choose from. The best bet is to try the sampler which has cute little Pyramid glasses of five to seven beers for you to taste including the seasonals such as Snow Cap in the winter and a kolsch, Curve Ball, in the summer.
The alehouse has a complete pub menu so you can soak up the brew with fish and chips, burgers, or a nice selection of appetizers like spicy chorizzo dip. While you eat you can see the brewery itself through huge windows overlooking the gleaming kettles.
Not far down 1st Avenue and within in walking distance from Pyramid is one of the three Seattle Elysian Fields. Having tried Pyramids rather mainstream selections it is time to be really challenged by Elysian’s brews with far more complex flavors that can truly test the palate. Again go for the sampler to get the big picture and take a sip of the super hoppy Immortal IPA, or the malty Dragonstooth Stout. Elysian also has their seasonals and the fall Night Owl Pumpkin Ale is a local favorite.
Elysian’s menu is as interesting as their beer with entrees like Stuffed Squash with lentils, roasted garlic, mushrooms and kale or Shepherd’s Pie made with lamb. For appetizers try the bruschetta or the cheese plate.
The last stop on Day One is in the historic Pike Place Market and the Pike Brewing Company. Opened in 1989 under the market the brewery has been cranking out small batches of a wide variety of beers including their Pike Kilt Lifter ruby ale and Naughty Nellie golden ale. Their logos are as interesting as their beer so shop for a few t-shirts while you’re there. This too is a brew pub so not only can you see the brewing kettles in action but have a bite to eat while you sample the beer. The menu includes burgers and sandwiches as well as pizza with unique toppings such as shrimp and Dungeness crab.
Now, go sleep it off and prepare for Day Two.
Day two requires a bit more navigational skills as the breweries are spread throughout various Seattle neighborhoods, but it’s worth the effort.
Stop number one is in the Ballard area at Hale’s Ales, a Seattle tradition since 1983. Hale’s brews on site with the brewery on display behind huge windows and specializes in English style ales with awesome names and logos (think t-shits here too) such as Red Menace with a picture of the Fremont Lenin statue on the label. They have a sampler so you can taste a variety of beers, including the seasonals. Be sure and try the one of the nitrogen conditioned beers like the Cream Ale, which is incredibly smooth and rich.
Hale’s food is good too and they have a complete menu with entrees from sandwiches to full dinners of steak and salmon. They also serve breakfast on the weekends, should you desire eggs with your beer.
From Hale’s it’s a short hop to Maritime Pacific and their Jolly Roger Taproom. The good news is the beer and food are great, the bad news is everyone knows it and since the taproom is small, the wait can be very long. But if you are the patient kind, or time it right, belly up to the bar and try some of Maritime’s ales and lagers including the hoppy Imperial Pale Ale with a 7% alcohol content that is guaranteed to knock you on your butt.
The beer at Maritime is incorporated into the menu and specially paired with the food by the chef and is much more upscale then the taproom’s décor might suggest. You may want to try the Three Squash and Ginger Bisque to start then decide between the Grilled Duck Breasts or Crab Stuffed Sirloin or stay light with an appetizer of Spreaders, three spreads and bread including the incredible pistachio-curry baba ghanoush.
Next stop is just up the road in Fremont at Dad Watson’s which is one of the many McMenamins brew pubs in the area. McMenamins is actually based in Portland but they have managed to spread their beer far and wide through their numerous pubs, each one uniquely decorated by their very own traveling artist in residence. Dad Watson’s is reminiscent of an English pub with lots of wood and a huge curved back bar and they serve all of the McMenamins brews, which total a whooping 200 varieties a year at their various locations. Standard offerings include a classic wheat, and several stouts including Terminator which is plenty dark and strong. Dad Watson’s has a complete pub menu with burgers, salads, pasta, and a variety of lighter appetizers.
Last stop is in West Seattle and the Elliott Bay Brewery and Pub, where you know you’ve made it when you have your own mug behind the bar. Elliott Bay has been around for over ten years and have been successful enough to have opened a second pub, with a much larger brewery just south in Burien. They still brew in West Seattle but the new addition allows them to make a larger variety of beer and experiment with techniques like aging beer in wine and whiskey barrels. Elliott Bay also has the distinction of having a dozen beers that are certified organic.
The offer several IPAs, including one that is dry hopped, a wheat called Luna Weizen, and numerous seasonals. Suffice to say, you will find something worth putting a tonsil to at Elliott Bay.
Elliott Bay does not sell their beer anywhere but at their pubs with the intent of having a personal relationship with their patrons. This care is also reflected in their food which is consistently tasty, filling and reasonably priced. Try their killer fish and chips, burgers, or go lighter with the cobb salad. And if all else fails, go for the No Doubt Stout ice cream smothered in hot fudge.
If these seven don’t satisfy your craft beer craving reserve a Saturday for visits to breweries that only have tap rooms and are open limited hours. Included in this list are the Georgetown Brewing Company, Big Al Brewing Company, and a new entry in the field, Laughing Buddha. Suffice to say if you want quality hand crafted beer Seattle is the place. And unlike the exclusive nature of wineries beer lovers are an inclusive bunch and love to not only drink beer but talk about it. So, feel free to ask lots of questions when you visit any of the breweries and you will be up to speed in no time on the styles of beer available and before long you’ll be discussing ABV like a pro. Enjoy!
What & Where:
Pyramid (1201 1st Ave South; 206-682-3377)
Elysian Fields (542 1st Ave South; 206-382-4498)
Pike Brewing (1415 1st Ave; 206-622-6044)
Hale’s Ales (4301 Leary Way; 206-706-1544)
Maritime Pacific (1514 Leary Way; 206-782-6181)
Dad Watson’s (3601 Fremont Ave; 206-632-6505)
Elliott Bay (4720 California Ave; 206-932-8695)
Georgetown Brewing Company (5840 Airport Way South; 206-766-8055)
Big Al Brewing (9832 14th Ave SW; 206-453-4487)
Laughing Buddha (9320 15th Ave South; 206-274-7869)
Marion L. Head is an educator and freelance writer who lives in Seattle, WA. Marion has published fiction in various anthologies and nonfiction on various websites. Marion is author of South Dakota: An Explorer’s Guide for Countryman Press.