Washington is now home to more than 300 breweries, so it’s just about impossible to keep track of what they’re all doing. I admit that I have not sampled every new beer brewed in Washington, but I can assure you that I try. It’s a noble mission, something of a quixotic endeavor that annoys my wife and worries my doctor.
As in years past, hops seemed to be a recurring theme in 2015. Perhaps it’s because of our proximity to the world’s most productive hop-growing microclimate, the Yakima Valley, or perhaps it’s a reaction to the insatiable appetite of Washington’s hop junkies, whose collective love of uber-hoppy beers appears undying. For the more severely afflicted beer geeks, Washington brewers pumped out plenty of barrel-aged and sour beers this year, continuing to put their own Northwest spin on time-honored European styles.
In all, it was a very good year for Washington breweries, but here are the beers that stood out.
Wonderland Trail IPA by Two Beers Brewing – The brewery’s owner survived a life-altering, death-defying adventure on the 93-mile trail circumnavigating Mount Rainier, which inspired him to make a new beer. Every drop of this philanthropic brew benefits Washington’s National Parks. None of that would matter if the beer wasn’t delicious, managing to blend assertive, tropical hop flavors with soft, malty sweetness. Enjoy the taste of adventure without the blisters, bug-bites, and torn meniscus.
Market Fresh Saison by Cloudburst Brewing – By the time the Anheuser-Busch Beer Borg had completely assimilated Elysian Brewing, Steve Luke was already planning to leave the company and open Cloudburst Brewing in Seattle, which fired up the brew kettle in November. Market Fresh Saison is a playful version of a Belgian classic style and features different ingredients every time it’s made, leveraging market-fresh, seasonal ingredients from the nearby Pike Place Market. They infused the first batch with sage and cranberry, the second with rosemary and grapefruit, and for the third they plan to use whimsy and giggles.
Wild Warehouse by Wander Brewing – According to the judges at the Great American Beer Festival, this is the best barrel-aged beer in America. After bringing home a gold medal from one of the most prestigious beer judging competition in the world, this beer earmed almost-unobtainable status. If you’re lucky enough to try it, in addition to bragging rights, you’ll get to enjoy an oddly pleasant blend of funky barnyard and citrus flavors: earthy, dank, slightly sweet, and tart.
Hop Tropic by Reuben’s Brews – Most “brewed exclusively for” beers are token efforts and fail to impress beer enthusiasts. However, when Reuben’s Brews created this beer exclusively for Zeeks Pizza, they bucked the trend and created a beer that earned a silver medal at the North American Beer Awards. As the name suggests, the overwhelming flavor of this beer involves lots of fruity hop character. Only available at the brewery’s tasting room and Zeeks Pizza locations around the Seattle area, which provides a plausible reason for you to eat more pizza.
Kiln & Cone by Holy Mountain Brewing – After opening in Seattle last January, Holy Mountain Brewing became the talk of the town, primarily for its uncommon, complex, and contemplative beers. The Kiln & Cone is as close to “normal” as this brewery gets, appealing to craft beer simpletons and sophisticates alike. They call it a pale ale, which sounds simple enough, but you’ll notice fruity flavors, like overripe oranges and mangos, the result of heavy-handed hop usage. You’ll have visit the brewery’s taproom to taste it, but that gives you a great excuse to try some of the other, less-common brews.
Watchstander Stout by Ghostfish Brewing – Another gold-medal winner, this robust and rich stout offers plenty of goodness but no gluten. Seattle’s first gluten-free brewery took home top honors at the Great American Beer Festival, winning the gold and silver medals in the gluten-free category. Watchstander’s deep, toasty character comes from five different types of roasted millet, and not barley. Until recently, gluten-free beers were either bland or putrid, but Ghostfish Brewing is redefining the style and setting a new standard.
Bodhizafa IPA by Georgetown Brewing – If you like IPA, you’ll soon learn to love Bodhizafa IPA, a beer so unapologetically hoppy that it makes hopheads blush like schoolgirls. I suspect you’ll see a lot of Bodhi tap handles around Seattle in the near future. The flavor is dominated by a massive explosion of hoppy fruit character that envelopes your tongue in a magical, resinous, citrus blanket.
Crony NW Brown Ale by No-Li Brewhouse – Most brown ales are mild, malty and wholly unremarkable, but Spokane’s No-Li Brewhouse spits in the face of that tradition. This super-hopped version of a traditionally dull British style of beer will put a kink in Uncle Albert’s stiff upper lip, providing a pungent, resinous hop character that adds a bright and crisp compliment to the malty sweetness.
Beer is a lot like life: it’s not about the destination, as much as it is the journey. In other words, although it is impossible to keep up with all the new beers Washington’s 300 breweries are churning out these days, the effort is its own reward. My new year’s resolution for 2016 is the same as it has been for many years gone by: seek out new beers and don’t be afraid to try everything. Join me?