Guest Post: Why Washington is a Top Rate Beer State

Looking at Mount Baker makes people really thirsty. That might explain why the good stuff never leaves Washington.

Well, our “Best Beer State” poll has certainly stirred the pot, with lots of folks arguing why their favorite beer brewing state is the best. We’ve seen many impassioned arguments for Oregon, California, Pennsylvania and Colorado.  It seems these are the top dogs when it comes to crafting and exporting great beers.

But one guy just would pipe down about his home state of Washington.  His name is Evan, and we offered him the chance to tell us why Washington is such a great beer state, even though we’re hard pressed to name three breweries up there.  And he makes a pretty solid argument, which is posted below.  Take it away, Evan…

When the conversation of “best beer states” comes up, the West Coast usually dominates the list:  Oregon, California, Colorado, and Washington.  On the East Coast, the list may vary a bit, and for obvious reasons.  Beer lovers, no mater where they’re from, always take massive amounts of pride in their home region’s brews.

Washington has long been touted as a top-tier beer state; but ask anyone from out of state to name a Washington beer (besides Redhook), and you’ll usually get a blank stare, as they’ve probably never heard the name of a single one… 

While some other states have multiple large craft breweries with names we all recognize, Washington has spawned a different kind of culture.  What you will find is a lots of smaller production, sometimes all the way down to 10gal brewhouse, neighborhood breweries and brewpubs.  While a few of the older Seattle area breweries have distribution out of the state (such as Elysian, Pike, Hale’s, Redhook, etc), you’ll be hard pressed to find a Washington beer lover that will so much as breathe a word about them.

So why is it that Washington can’t seem to build up any new breweries that ship beer out to other regions to show that we can hang with the best of them?  The Seattle area, to put it simply, is in love with craft beer.  The best selling beer in Seattle is the locally made Mac & Jack’s African Amber, handily beating out the “big 3” in tap handle real estate and sales.  Mac & Jack (and the other small, extremely high quality breweries that grace the state) don’t need to leave the local area to thrive because of the high demand.

Our love of cask beer might also have something to do with it.  Washington has large contingent of cask beer enthusiasts, and the breweries cater to them in a big way.  This phenomenon has spawned the annual Cask Beer Fest, held at Seattle Center every March.  Thousands attend the two sessions of the fest, which boasts more cask beer than you could ever hope to take on in one day.  Tickets sell out weeks in advance, and is quickly becoming a favorite of Washington beer lovers.  Because of this enthusiasm, breweries are allotting more beer to cask conditioning, meaning they’re probably not going to let it go far from home.

Black Raven Brewing in Redmond (winner of two golds, and one silver medal at the 2010 World Beer Cup) is great example of Washington’s local-first phenomenon.  Black Raven is a 1yr old production brewery with a taproom and beer garden.  Even in their relative youth, they can sell out of a 15 barrel batch of their Wisdom Seeker Double IPA in less than a week, with most of it being sold in the taproom.  They’re having a hard time keeping up with the demand under their own roof.

People just 15mins away in the heart of Seattle have a hard time getting their hands on Black Raven beers, so perhaps that can paint a little bit of a picture of our craft beer scene as a whole.

Frankly, we’re thirsty for the good stuff, and given our large, concentrated population of craft beer lovers, there isn’t a whole lot left to share unless you come have a pint with us on our home turf.

If you’re thinking of making Washington a future “beercation” destination, here’s some stuff to check out:

Black Raven Brewing (http://www.blackravenbrewing.com)

Big Al Brewing (http://www.bigalbrewing.com/)

Brouwer’s Café (http://brouwerscafe.blogspot.com/)

Chuckanut Brewing (http://www.chuckanutbreweryandkitchen.com/)

Iron Horse Brewing (http://www.iron-horse-brewery.com/)

Maritime Pacific Brewery (http://maritimebrewery.ypguides.net/)

Naked City (http://nakedcitybrewing.com/)

Snipes Mountain Brewing (http://www.snipesmountain.com/)

7 Seas Brewing (http://www.7seasbrewing.com/)

Washington Beer Commission (http://www.washingtonbeer.com/)

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Categories: Beer

Author:Jim

Craft beer nerd, frequent beer blogger and occasional home brewer.

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16 Comments on “Guest Post: Why Washington is a Top Rate Beer State”

  1. Evan
    May 26, 2010 at 12:42 pm #

    Thanks for posting this Jim! There is so much I wanted to write about, as there is a lot going on here; last week’s Seattle Beer Week, the upcoming Washington Brewer’s Festival, the small minority of breweries that even bother to bottle (and now can) their beers, etc. Hopefully I touched on the topics that best define our beer culture here, and that it’s informative and enjoyable to others.

    AND DON’T FORGET WHO GROWS YOUR HOPS!

    • May 26, 2010 at 2:02 pm #

      It’s our pleasure Evan. I thought it was interesting how the good stuff never leaves the state because you people drink it as fast as your breweries can make it.

      And yes, many, many props on the hops!

  2. May 26, 2010 at 12:46 pm #

    Neat. Sounds like they make just enough good stuff for the locals and that’s about it! Nothing wrong with that I suppose – it keeps a very local feel to the beer, and it also keeps it exclusive to the area. You want it? You have to go get it! I think a lot of places might be in a similar situation though, not just Washington where only the locals know how good they have it.

    • May 26, 2010 at 2:03 pm #

      I know you’re not talking about New Jersey, Scott. Here the locals wonder where beer comes from. The stork? No – bottles from other states mostly.

  3. May 26, 2010 at 6:06 pm #

    You’re right, not NJ. I’m afraid most people don’t flock here as a Mecca of craft beer, but perhaps it will change. We do make some fine beer here, we just don’t have the culture which is understandable when you’re sandwiched between Philly and NYC.

    And yes, thanks for the Hops!

  4. May 26, 2010 at 6:08 pm #

    I found this piece reeking of misplaced misguided snobbery, for one;
    “While a few of the older Seattle area breweries have distribution out of the state (such as Elysian, Pike, Hale’s, Redhook, etc), you’ll be hard pressed to find a Washington beer lover that will so much as breathe a word about them.

    Really now ? Those companies each respectively have some great beer going for them, and a few in particular are stand outs. I will breathe a word about them, and so will most people I know.

    And this :
    “Frankly, we’re thirsty for the good stuff, ”

    Well I say who is the judge of the good stuff ? I think the good stuff is all a matter of opinion, and if a person is not even going to try something because “Company X” makes it, they may be missing out on something great. Smaller is not always better, and because it is a larger brewery, it does not mean it is lacking in quality.

    • Evan
      May 26, 2010 at 8:03 pm #

      I didn’t say there was anything wrong with any of those breweries actually. What I was saying is that they’re not typically the talk of the town in the washington beer scene while the newer, smaller ones are becoming the dominant force. Pike, Elysia, Redhook, and Hale’s are staples of our craft beer scene, and were an integral part in paving the way for how great things are now. I would never undermine that. I think that in my attempt to keep this article short, a lot got lost in the translation.

      • May 27, 2010 at 8:50 am #

        Oh ok cool. My bad.

        I do sometimes, (okay often), pick up on a vibe around here in the Seattle area that once a beer starts selling it somehow magically loses its luster or integrity somehow.

        It is somewhat like that “I used to listen to these guys when they were playing back in a garage” thing after a bands gets real big time sometimes it loses some of the original followers for no apparent reason.

        I think if Mac N Jack’s went completely nationwide and had tv ads that people would not drink them as much anymore around here, and it’s be dumb because the beer would physically be the same.

      • Evan
        May 27, 2010 at 1:40 pm #

        I know the vibe you’re talking about. I feel the same way. Hale’s makes a few of my favorite beers made around here: Their Imperial Stout, Kolsch, and Supergoose are absolutely fantastic. Elysian’s collaboration beers with New Belgium are top notch, and Redhook is making a good effort with the Big Ballard and a few of its other new special releases (though I have a bias against Redhook being a former employee of the brewery). Pike’s I still haven’t yet had anything that impressed me… Not so say it’s not well brewed, they’re just not my bag.

        A few of the biggest craft breweries out there are some of my favorites: Deschutes, Samuel Adams, Boulevard and others. I don’t think size has anythign to do with it. In fact, the worst beers I’ve ever had have been from a few of the nano-breweries nearby.

    • Ty
      April 22, 2011 at 6:49 pm #

      Not snobbery, but true. As a Seattleite and beer geek, I never buy Hales, Red Hook, Pyramid or really Pike all that much. They also never get real estate at the true beer bars because there are in fact, over a hundred better breweries in the state.

      For the record, there are 143 breweries in Washington with a dozen or so more waiting to get approval right now.

      http://www.washingtonbeerblog.com/breweries-and-brew-pubs/

  5. Evan
    May 27, 2010 at 7:23 pm #

    another excellent resource i forgot to share: http://www.washingtonbeerblog.com/

  6. Evan
    May 27, 2010 at 7:35 pm #

    http://www.communitywalk.com/map/303396

  7. June 5, 2010 at 12:20 pm #

    Good post, Evan. There are so many good breweries, it tough to mention them all. Last year at the Washington Brewer’s Festival, I had my first from Big Al… it was their peppery 3-pepper IPA. Also had some Black Raven for the first time. Their porter blew me away. Two Beers Brewing also left me with a lasting good impression after tasting their amber.

    All in all, the craft beer scene is alive and well here in WA. Most are smaller, but damn it’s good!

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