In part 1 of my visit to Bellingham Beer Week, I covered some of the craft beer veterans in town that have helped pave the way for new establishments and breweries to open up. As the saying goes, a rising tide lifts all boats, and that is definitely what’s happening in Bellingham’s emerging craft beer scene. For its 2nd annual Beer Week, Bellingham stepped up their exposure to a new level by getting a wealth of local businesses involved and having events that would appeal to casual beer drinkers and hardcore craft beer geeks alike. Let’s examine Bellingham’s beer future.
Elizabeth Station- Family Friendly Bottle Bar
Elizabeth Station is a bottle shop that doubles as a craft beer bar. Imbibers can consume any of 20 craft beer offerings on draught, fill a growler to go, or choose from the shop’s thousands of bottles in cold cases. Want to open a bottle there and drink it? That’s just fine. Want to take it to go? No problem. Elizabeth Station has one of the best bottle selections I’ve seen anywhere, period. They claim to have the best bottle selection north of Seattle and I don’t for one second doubt it.
Owner Patrick McEvoy’s mission from the beginning was to “carry every beer available for distribution in the state of Washington.” McEvoy is so dedicated to this task that he drives the 90 miles to Seattle multiple times a week to pick up bottles from distributors that don’t make it up to Bellingham. The store has been open for about a year and a half and has grown organically along with the clientele who support it. Special requests for bottles are welcomed and McEvoy makes sure that when rare beers come around, the system for purchasing is as fair as possible.
When planning the store, McEvoy wanted an establishment that was family friendly, since he himself has two small children. “I didn’t want a place where I couldn’t bring my kids,” he says, while discussing some of Station’s philosophy. To make the bottle shop more interesting for little ones, McEvoy made sure to have a candy station and cereal bar, some memories that he really cherished from childhood. Many visitors compare Elizabeth Station to the pub environment of the United Kingdom, and I think the comparison is apt. Also of note in the family friendly category is that the shop has a 3 drink limit. Of course after 3 drinks, patrons are free to take beer to go if they wish, but the drink limit helps maintain a healthy level of moderation, safe to have children around. Although open only a year and a half, this “bottle bar” has clearly become a fixture of the craft beer scene in Bellingham.
Kulshan Brewing Comapny- Bellingham’s Fast Rising Star
A few days after I left Bellingham Beer Week, Kulshan Brewery entered their Kulshan Fresh Hop Ale in the Yakima Valley Fresh Hop Ale Festival of 2013 and went home with first place. I was not surprised to hear this. During my stay in Bellingham, one standout beer and my absolute favorite of Kulshan’s lineup was their Fresh Hop Ale. Owner Dave Vitt gave fellow writers and myself a taste of the beer a few days before it was officially released in Kulshan’s taproom. The lively hop resins wafting from the glass were amazing. It was one of those magical moments where you taste something sublime and you know the brewer captured lighting in a bottle.
To give some background, Kulshan Brewing Company (named after the Native American name for Mt. Baker) has only been around since April 2012. In this time, they’ve undergone multiple expansions and they are currently in the middle of taking over another building in an effort to keep up with their growing customer base. “There seems to be no limit to demand so far, “ says Dave Vitt, while giving us a tour of the brew house. The brew house is fully of shiny new tanks, as well as a few interesting pieces of refurbished farm equipment, specifically a former grain silo that was made into Kulshan’s grist case and installed by the brewers. One of the things that impressed me the most about Kulshan was that Dave built his own hopback (a device to run the wort through fresh hop cones after the boil) in order to embed some fresh hop flavor in his beers.
Kulshan does not serve food but frequently features food trucks, such as StrEAT Food . During my tour of Kulshan, fellow writers and myself were treated to a medley of food from StrEAT Food, all of which was either cooked with some of Kulshan’s beer in the recipe, or came with a menu pairing suggestion. My favorite of the lot was a Po’ Boy with Kulshan Trans-Porter braised beef, paired with Kulshan’s Trans-Porter. The beer and the sandwich truly complimented each other, and helped bring out each other’s smokiness.
Bellingham’s Beer Future
Bellingham currently has the perfect set up going to become one of the next big craft beer tourism towns in the Pacific Northwest. A new brewery, Aslan Brewing Company is slated to open in the first half of 2014, which will bring the brewery count to 4 in Bellingham. When picking places I want to visit, I look for a town that offers many outdoor adventures to partake in during the day, and then some good food and beer to wash down the experience at night. Bellingham certainly offers this. Mt. Baker with it’s fabulous views and hikes is a 90 minute drive outside of town. I promise even the most amateur of photographers can’t possibly take a bad picture in this setting. Lummi Island, a small community of about 900, is just south of Bellingham and is a short ferry ride across the water. The island is home to the Baker Preserve Trail, a well kept hiking path that leads to marvelous views of some of the other neighboring San Juan Islands. Lummi is also home to Beach Store Cafe, a local farm to table (the farm is literally right down the road) restaurant with wonderful food, and a small bar with some local craft beer favorites, as well as some classics from the Seattle area. They even offer growler fills for island dwellers who can’t make the ferry ride across to Bellingham, but still want some fresh and local beer. All in all, if you want some serene outdoor settings amongst an emerging and exciting local craft beer scene, Bellingham is the place to visit.