First Draught: Wander Brewing stands out in crowded field

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDMay 22, 2014 

Six or so years ago, if a Bellingham local told you to meet up at the brewery, there would be no confusion.

But things have changed a lot since then - hold up, did you mean Boundary Bay? Or Chuckanut? Or Kulshan? - and now, with a healthy seven breweries in the mix or in the works, we're well on our way to hosting one of the most crowded and diverse craft beer scenes for a city our size in Washington.

In the past few weeks, Wander Brewing and Aslan Brewing Co. opened their doors. For a while Wander had a few beers on tap around town. Since early May their beer hall, a big metal warehouse at 1807 Dean Ave., has been in full swing, with outdoor picnic tables and rotating food carts. So you can swing by for a Belgian waffles and a Belgian blonde ale. Doesn't that just sound ... nice?

This month I sampled about half of their beers in growlers and barkers (a 32-ounce growler). Here are some notes.

- Wanderale Belgian Blonde. Bold and refreshing. There's nothing subtle about the estery overtones of fruit up front. Is that orange rind and coriander? Or just a tasteful, rich balance of citrusy hops and Belgian yeast? Either way it's a fine blonde for late spring or summer, with a body that's neither too flimsy nor too stiff. It pours a deep golden yellow, slightly hazy, not too heavy, not too light. This beer, or at least the pint I got last month at a downtown pub, would hold its own next to most pricey saisons. "It's their very first beer," our bartender marveled. And it makes a good first impression. A-.

- Global Mutt Coffee Baltic Porter. It's almost cheating, but in a good way, to infuse a porter with coffee, chocolate and cacao nibs. This brew doesn't distance itself from the growing pack of coffee porters. It just does a solid job of playing to its strengths, while not overplaying the bitterness of the hops, chocolate and coffee. It pours a deep, rich black with slight browning on the edges if you look hard enough. Strong aroma for such a dark ale. There isn't much to complain about. But I almost wish it took more risks. B.

- Shoe Toss Rye IPA. If you ask for a rye IPA, you probably know what you're getting yourself into. Yes, it's going to be aggressive. Once in a while it's nice to stray from the beaten path and try an IPA with some zip that doesn't just come from the hops. This brew excels in its toasty, malty undertones. It's a honeyed amber color with a rich, well-balanced body. Wander Brewing has a knack for making sure delicate flavors don't get lost in even the most assertive beers. This one's no exception. B+.

IN OTHER BREWS ...

-This week Aslan Brewing Co. tapped their first real live kegs at the new brewpub and restaurant at 1330 N. Forest St.. We can all drink to that.

-There are more breweries coming soon, too, including Stone's Throw Brewing, a tasting room getting ready to open at 1009 Larrabee Ave., and Gruff Brewing, at 104 E. Maple, almost next door to Boundary Bay. (Gruff took home two People's Choice Awards at this year's April Brews Day.) And at this pace, there are probably a few dozen others on the way that I don't know about. Stay tuned.

-The Washington Trails Association will host Trails and Ales, a meet-and-greet for hikers to (have a beer and) get involved in protecting our trails, at 5:30 p.m. June 12 at Kulshan Brewing Company, 2238 James St. It's free and open to everyone. Visit wta.org/events/trails-and-ales-northwest to RSVP.

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

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