Local beer is alive and well in the great state of Washington. This Christmas, my lovely wife Heather, and trusty bulldog Mo set out for the rolling hills of the Palouse.
Miles upon miles of wheat fields laid out like a giant patch work quilt stretching across the land, carried us along until we reached our final destination, Pullman. Pullman is a town approaching 30,000 people, made up of 2/3 students and 1/3 university support or farmers. Wheat and lentils. I grew up there, my family moved there in 1983 from Canterbury, Kent in the UK. Culture shock; we went from school uniforms, marmite, beans on toast and the real football to dirt bikes, hamburgers, baseball, and soccer. I talked funny, didn’t have a dirt bike, and couldn’t play baseball. In England, because my parents were American, I was called a Yank, in the U.S. I was called a Limey. Both countries like beer.
Between all of the students, thirsty professors, and hard working farmers the consumption of beer thrives on. In the last few years, in answer to the need, two breweries have opened up giving beer drinkers a much needed alternate to consuming the watered-down corn-rice swill knows as the domestic (BUD, COORS, etc.), or as I’ll refer to them here as DOMS. I see it happening all over, beer lover’s want something more than those DOMS, and craft breweries are opening up all over to provide towns and cities with wonderful local beer.
Armed with a growler from one of my Portland, OR favorites, Occidental Brewing Co., and a healthy appetite for beer, I set out in search of brew. In Pullman, there is Paradise Creek Brewery and Palouse Falls Brewing Co. Both are brewing up great beers.
Paradise Creek lives in Pullman’s Old Post Office building. Built in 1930, and opened in 1931. Pullman residence took great pride in their post office. The building cost a whopping $107,000 80 years ago and served as a “fine example of design from the modern influence of Neoclassical style prevalent in federal buildings at the time.” The main lobby was finished in 3 types of marble; Gravena from Alaska for the base, Alaskan Tokeen marble for the wainscoting, and Vermont Metawee for the threads of the stairs. All of the light fixtures and hardware were solid bronze, while the woodwork was red birch with a mahogany finish. Modern plumbing throughout, barred windows, window guards and lookouts, and steel caging made this structure the pride of Pullman. In 1976, Pullman had outgrew the post office, and a new one was built. A sad day for the building, but maybe this had to happen so a path could be laid for Paradise Creek. In 1978 the building was bought by an entrepreneur, and after making some alterations opened the building as the Old Post Office Theater, with a number of other businesses operating in the NE corner of the building. As a child I remember seeing Goonies there, among many other great movies. In 1992 I worked at the Theater selling movie tickets and popcorn. Fast forward to 2010, Pullman opens it’s first in-house-production microbrewery. Paradise Creek operates with a 7 barrel system. And they do make some fine ales. Their pub serves up great food in a comfortable setting with a much needed change from the usual sports bars and dives that serve the community.
Palouse Falls opened around the same time, although I’m not totally sure about the exact date.
They seem to have a larger brewing space, but no pub. They do have a tasting room for sampling their brews, and picking up growlers. Unfortunately, most of my visits to Pullman occur during holidays when much of the town shuts down. Both breweries were closed, but I did manage to drink a pint of PFs Crimson Pride at South Fork Public House; another much needed dining option for the Pullman community. They have a great beer list with a few locals, and a number of other beers from Washington and Oregon. The food is pretty good too. The Crimson Pride is a deep crimson colored ale with a solid hoppy bitterness, and a clean refreshing finish. If you ever find yourself in Pullman, or given the possibility to pass through, definitely make these two locations stumbling stops along the way.
After spending 5 days in the Palouse, Heather, Mo, and I set out to pay her Dad a visit for NYE at his place near Blaine, WA. A short 5 miles to the Canadian border, and a Pacific NW paradise nestled in the forest with amazing ocean views. On our way, we made a quick stop at one of my favorite Washington Breweries, Boundary Bay Brewery in Bellingham, WA.
I love this place, and after 7 hours on the road, I was thirsty and excited to see what Boundary Bay had on tap. They had my favorite of theirs, an Imperial IPA; full bodied, copper hue, strong alcohol content, and an aggressive hop blast. This is an amazing IPA. I also sampled their Scotch Ale, and picked up a 22 oz bottle of that, along with a growler full of their house IPA. Over the next few days I managed to finish off the growler, and started planning our next destination beer stop. Touring breweries can be hard work, but it’s nice to make them a final stopping point after a day of exploring the countryside. A few miles down the road lies the Skagit River Valley. The SRV hosts a plethora of organic farms, a number of great microbreweries, and one the best places to view eagles. In the winter, a vast amount of bald eagles travel from as far away as Alaska to eat the dead salmon carcasses that abound the Skagit River and it’s tributaries. The best time to view this is from late November through January with a peak from Christmas to the mid January. From the I-5 we headed east of WA20 for Rockport and the Skagit River Bald Eagle Interpretive Center.
In Rockport, and all along the 20, which follows the Skagit River for a bit, I counted at least 15 eagles swooping through the sky or perching in the trees. A rare occasion to view these majestic winged creatures of the sky; I was in awe of their beauty.
After heading back down the 20, we took a turn north at the town of Seedro-Wooley and headed up the 9 for our beer stop. About 40 minutes from Seedro-Wooley, on the way to Mt. Baker lies the Beer Shrine of the North Fork Brewery.
Love this place! Great ambiance, as if I stumbled into a Swiss chalet – rustic cabin – German beer lodge pizzeria all in one! The walls were lined with beer bottles from the past. So many I had never heard of. The place was packed with people who mostly had just finished a day on the slopes of Mt. Baker, we had to wait 20 minutes for a table. After getting seated I was quick to order, and started out with a fine example of the Barleywine. It was delicious; dark in color, with a sweet malty alcohol finish. After that I tasted 3 oz samples of their Strong Scotch Ale, IPA, and nitro Extra Special Bitter, which lead me to a pint of IPA. A nice balance of malt and bitter hops, North Fork makes a nice IPA with clean crisp finish. We dined their too, and gorged our selves on yummy cheese sticks, which was basically a cheese pizza without any sauce cut into smaller strips, a massive ceasar salad, and a great veggie / meat combo pizza. A much needed meal after a long day of exploring the area, and an excellent match when sampling brew. Pizza and beer, pizza and beer, come on everybody PIZZA AND BEER! Yes that was a beer chant!
Local breweries rise up! While munching on pizza and enjoying my IPA, I got to thinking about those beer bottles along the wall, and wondering who drank them and where they were brewed. Burger beer, brewed in Cincinnatti in 1934, Holiday Beer from Wisconsin, Grand Prize from the Gulf Brewery of Houston from 1935 – 1964. Jax Beer from the French Quarter of New Orleans; constructed in 1891, and at one time was the 10th largest brewery in the world, but went bankrupt in the 1970s. Kamm’s beer’s history threads back to the late 1800s, coming into fruition in 1935 and holding strong until the 1950s. And Oretel 92, the flagship beer of Oretel in Kentucky in 1906; an earlier version of this began in 1892, hence the name, but like the others it either went bankrupt or lost it’s independence to some corporation. It’s time for the little people, or more accurately the real people to take back beer production and bring a local spin to the citizens who love their beer. Take that money out of the pockets of major beer producers and distributors and give it back to the hard working business owners, brewers, and give folks something to be proud of. Beer is more than a beverage just to get drunk on, back in the old days everyone drank beer because it was the only safe beverage children, adults, and old folks could consume. Everything in moderation! Beer provided liquid sustenance for folks; a meal in a mug! Remember that, along your travels, and remember to stop in at the local brewery and enjoy a pint for the people.