First Draught: Aslan, downtown Bellingham's newest brewery, nails it with Ginger Rye Ale

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDApril 24, 2014 

Caleb Hutton, First Draught

Bellingham Herald reporter Caleb Hutton writes the monthly First Draught beer column in Take Five.

THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

There's something oh-so-Bellingham about Aslan Brewing Company.

Let's review: As a general rule, if something's good, it's "dank." (This applies to beer.) If it's sustainable, it's good. (Also applies to beer.) And if you're stoked on dank sustainable beer, I'm not surprised because you read past the headline.

Three dudes - who have the beards and the vocabulary to blend in just as well at a snowboard shop - plan to open Washington's first all-organic brewery in May, once construction's done on their new hangout and eatery at 1330 N. Forest St.

A handful of Aslan's beers are already on tap around town.

Last week I headed to their brewer's night at McKay's Taphouse - along with everyone else in town, it seemed. A lot of hype has built up around this brewery, which unveiled its first larger-scale microbrews earlier this month. So the line to the bar snaked across the whole restaurant, and it took close to an hour to grab a flight of five beers. Worth it? I think so.

Organic Red Ale. Pours a deep, clear maroon. Of these first five beers, the red ale's the darkest by a long shot. With summer creeping closer, it makes sense for a brewery to focus on the paler side of the color wheel, but this beer could do well year-round.

It seemed to be the big hit of the night. The hops are aggressive upfront. You could call it an India Red Ale and everyone would believe you. But like most of these beers, it felt unpolished to me. After the initial wave of hops, other flavors compete with each other instead of completing each other, and the delicate undertones of the malt feel buried. But it's drinkable. And for a first beer, it's not shabby. There's no shame in an imperfect trial run. Grade: B-

Organic Ginger Rye Ale. Maybe ginger and rye in beer sounds like overkill to you. It's not. Compared to Sierra Nevada's Ruthless Rye, for example, this Aslan beer comes off a whole lot less ruthless.

But there's more to this beer than its namesakes. It's balanced, with a sweet body that tastes like a medley of fruit. The rye could be even bolder, but the ginger makes up for it. Overall, it lives up to the advertised potency without overwhelming the drinker. Grade: B+

Organic India Pale Ale. A craft brewery without an IPA would just be a brewery. Aslan plans to make three: this flagship ale, a black IPA and something with the behemoth title of The Megathrust Imperial IPA, which I picture being measured in horsepower.

I'd tried this regular, copper-orange IPA at The Local a couple nights before. There, it had bite upfront, but the flavor never developed beyond that. It skipped straight to a bitter aftertaste that overstayed its welcome. Despite the lightweight body, the floral notes still didn't pop out like they should.

Then, at McKay's, it tasted like a different beer. The bite just wasn't there. It was crisp and never a chore to drink, but an IPA without hops isn't much fun. This one took a big hit, in my book, for the lack of consistency. Grade: C

To make sure I didn't just get a bad pour or two, I plan to revisit the IPA along with the other two beers on the menu, the Oatmeal Pale Ale and the smooth, lager-like Gold Ale, when the weather matches their profile. I could see all of these being different beasts by then, as the brewers figure out their new gear.

IN OTHER BREWS ...

- Want to know where to try Aslan Brewing Company's beer? Like them on Facebook, or check aslanbrewing.com. According to their site, you can get pints at Archer Ale House, the Copper Hog, the Up & Up and about 20 other fine establishments in Northwest Washington.

- Kegs from Wander Brewing, the Bellingham beer scene's other expansion team for 2014, have been tapped at select bars and pubs around town, too. Try the Belgian Blond if you can find it. (I did, and wow, it made me feel lucky to live here. But that's another story.)

- Happy April Brews Day, a benefit for Max Higbee Center at 5:30 p.m. Saturday, April 26, in Depot Market Square. Cherry-pick from over 80 microbrews by Birdseye, Ninkasi, Oskar Blues, Pike and, of course, our three established Bellingham breweries: Boundary Bay, Chuckanut and Kulshan. Tickets are $20 in advance, $25 at the door. For more info, visit maxhigbee.org/april-brews-day.html.

First Draught runs monthly in Take Five. Disagree? Have a brew we should review? Send beer news and tips to Caleb Hutton at 360-715-2276 or caleb.hutton@bellinghamherald.com.

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