First Draught: How do Bellingham brews stack up in the beer aisle?

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJuly 17, 2014 

Caleb Hutton, First Draught

Caleb Hutton

THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

It's a savvy move by Kulshan Brewing Co., to release canned six-packs of the brewery's signature India Pale Ale, Bastard Kat, just as the summer heats up for hiking, tubing and all things outdoors.

Flats of the IPA got shipped to grocery stores around the region in recent weeks.

Cans beat bottles by a mile when it comes to ease of packing in and packing out, and the crew at Kulshan knows their clientele will appreciate that. I did. Earlier this month I hit the trail with a couple Bastard Kats in my pack for this round of Take Five's monthly brew review. I also grabbed some bottled beer from Chuckanut Brewery and Boundary Bay, for the fridge, to see how our local microbreweries fare in the beer aisle.

You can find all of these at Haggen, the downtown Food Co-op, or any grocer that carries local beer.

Kulshan Bastard Kat IPA. If beer built for the outdoors should taste like the outdoors - earthy, piney, uncompromising - then Bastard Kat does its job. An understated citrusy aroma comes from the Cascade hops. (As a reference point, that's the same hop featured in Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.) On the tongue there's a sharp bitterness that, if I had to guess, must come from the most extreme hop in the brew, Apollo. Honey malt eases the bite a bit - very noticeably, given how it cuts through the light, almost frail body - but we're talking about a dry, dry-hopped IPA here. It's crisp and bitter, with an unexpectedly lasting sap-like aftertaste. Zero metallic bleed-over from the can. Best IPA in the whole world? Nope. But it's a cut above most. B

Chuckanut Pilsner. This delicate lager should be in the conversation for Best Beer in Town. There's little to nitpick. From the bottle Chuckanut's take on the classic, storied European style pours golden-yellow with a gorgeous fluffy white head. Don't expect frills. Expect a well-rounded, fresh Pilsner, a rarity around here, where ales dominate brewpub taps. It's balanced and bright, flavorful and subtly resinous, mildly bready, but never too busy for its own good. The label confidently calls this "liquid sunshine in a glass," and it's right. That said, the drinkability paired with the price-per-ounce - $4.50 at the co-op for 500 ml of beer - makes it a once-in-a-while luxury. It might disappear too fast for you to feel like you got your money's worth. A-

Boundary Bay Scotch-Style Ale. For a change of pace, here's a popular warm wintry ale tailored to Bellingham's long windy, drizzly season. Not bad on a summer day, either. But it falls short of other readily available Americanized versions of the Scotch Ale, like Oskar Blues' Old Chub or Great Divide's Claymore. One finger of off-white head with little retention. The dark roasted malty body glows orange in sunlight. On the nose there's an underwhelming date-like sweetness. That mild caramel flavor, along with something like raisin, lingers after each sip. Not unpleasant, but in the end it lacks complexity. C+

In other brews ...

- The Green Frog's house beer, the Dry Hopped Immortal IPA from Elysian, was officially renamed the Green Frog IPA this month. Elysian makes this 6.3-percent alcohol, 54 IBU brew exclusively for the tavern at 1015 N. State St.

- A German-style beer garden with German-style beer and German-style sausage, Schweinhaus Biergarten, opened a few weeks ago at 1330 N. State St., across from the Copper Hog.

- The next tour of Chuckanut Brewery, led by brewer and craft beer pioneer Will Kemper, takes place at noon, Aug. 9. For more info, email info@chuckanutbreweryandkitchen.com.

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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