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Exploring Seattle’s Booming Beer Scene

  • July 21, 2021

I’d made a reservation at the brewery’s new Barrel House, a nondescript metal building that’s Ballard’s version of a distillery’s rickhouse: cool, quiet, a bit dim, the walls lined with 100 barrels of French oak that previously had held gin, red wine or bourbon, but now would help flavor the beer. The focus is on beers that take time. We ordered an apricot sour, and a barrel-fermented doppelbock in the Czech style. Both were excellent. But the third beer stopped us cold: Called Wormwood Scrubs, it was in the style of an English old ale and was two years in the making, including secondary fermentation in oak casks. “Tastes like a stinky blue cheese,” Tan said. “I love it. Beautifully crafted.” It was the best beer we had tasted all week. We sat in the cool warehouse, trying the big beer and the fig, vanilla and bourbon that it held, in no hurry to head elsewhere.

There’s no need to feel constrained by the borders of the Ballard Brewery District. You can walk off that last beer by heading about one mile west to Cloudburst on Shilshole, the shoe box outpost of Cloudburst Brewing (with ensconced dumpling truck), whose brewery lies near the Pike Place Market. Steve Luke, nominated for a 2020 James Beard Foundation Award, is a wizard, often building higher-alcohol I.P.A.s that don’t have any of the heat or sharp elbows such beers would exhibit in lesser hands.

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