First Draught: Low-profile Menace Brewing makes a nuanced IPA, Dry Stout

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJune 19, 2014 

Caleb Hutton, First Draught

Caleb Hutton

THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

We're lucky enough in Bellingham to have so many breweries sometimes we lose count. So it's forgivable if you haven't tried a beer from Menace Brewing, a small-batch brewing company based in Ferndale.

It's an offshoot of Kulshan Brewing Company's recent high-flying success. (Some of the breweries' founding members overlap.) Menace has, by comparison, stayed under the radar. At the Local Pub on Railroad Avenue, owned by the same people who helm Menace, other craft beers from around the region routinely take the top billing on the rotating taps.

But just because it's an open secret shouldn't be a mark against the beer. Because it's good beer.

Earlier this month Menace's Chili Bravo raked in the gold medal for spice, herb and vegetable beers at the Washington Beer Awards. This week I tried the two Menace beers on tap this week at the Local.

Given the brewery's name, you might expect brash, assertive ales. But nope, these are more nuanced Northwest-style ales.

Menace IPA. No IPA can please everyone. But Menace's flagship version of the classically aggressive craft beer style takes on the impossible task of finding a happy medium, and does about as well as you could hope. It's more mellow, and almost timid, compared to what you might expect from IPAs. So maybe think of it as bold pale ale, if it helps to temper any expectations that you'll be unleashing all-caps, 149 IBU fury on your palate. Lemon-citrus on the nose, crisp body and a modest lacing. It pours a clear late-summer orange color. Hop addicts will crave more hoppiness, but what else is new? This IPA, while it doesn't distance itself too far from the crowd, would make a fine session ale, and sometimes that's what hits the spot. B.

Menace Dry Stout (Nitro). One of the creamiest local brews you'll find on tap around town. This deep, dark brown ale reddens around the edges and, thanks to the nitro, the thick, off-white head hangs around for ages. The malts takes the spotlight: It has a rich character and - in case you were playing Find the Beer Snob - a hint of, ahem, a bready undertone. (No, really, it does.) Once again, this ale doesn't assert itself. But this time I wish it did. Alone, it might seem unremarkable. It could work great as a complement to a meal, however. Or just pair it with $4 pub fries and coconut-chili aioli dipping sauce, and it comes to life. B-minus.

In other brews ... -- Kulshan Brewing Co., earned the title of Washington's Large Brewery of the Year this month at the 2014 Washington Beer Awards. Kulshan brought home two gold medals, for their Trans-Porter (porter) and Hop Howdy (Belgian strong ale), and had three other top-three finishes. Chuckanut Brewery, never a slouch at tasting competitions, won the gold for their Kolsch (German hybrid) and Yellow Card (American light ale). For the full list, visit wabeerawards.com.

-- Yes We CAN!, a Fourth of July festival for canned beer, will host 30 breweries, meaderies and cideries from around the Northwest, in the street outside Elizabeth Station, 1400 W. Holly St., to kick off the three-day weekend with a bang. Music, food carts, non-alcoholic root beer floats, and a nice view of the (still legal) fireworks show in Bellingham Bay. It's organized by RE Sources for Sustainable Communities. Find out more at re-sources.org/events/yes-we-can.

-- Schweinhaus Biergarten, a new beer garden across from the Copper Hog on North State Street, should open before the end of the month, in time to catch most of the World Cup outside in the sun, wolfing down German beers and sausage.

First Draught runs monthly in Take Five. Disagree with the reviews? Got a brew we should know about? Send beer news and tips to caleb.hutton@bellinghamherald.com. Or call 360-715-2276.

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