Restaurant News & Reviews

First Draught: On second take, Aslan beer still a work in progress

Earlier this year Aslan Brewing Co. opened its doors, and I wrote a column about the modest, but promising, first impression made by their first few brews. Most of their ales seemed adequate, to say the least, and it seemed likely they would improve in the coming months. So I promised to follow up once the Aslan crew had really gotten settled and comfortable.

Here we are, five months later. On a recent Tuesday I revisited the glass-cube-slash-brewpub on North Forest Street that is Aslan Brewing. We ordered flights of beer, and sampled close to a dozen Aslan ales and lagers that night, then took home a couple of growlers for further testing. Aslan seems to be doing good business. It was packed, both inside and on the patio, on a chilly evening in the middle of the week. The food was great, the atmosphere’s youthful and alive, and their graphic designer deserves a raise.

But it’s a brewery, and as someone who direly wants to see Aslan succeed, I’m sad to report that so far most of the beers still taste, to me, like works in progress. And frankly, the beer is still a rung or two below the other fine brewing establishments in Bellingham.

Three examples from across the spectrum of beer styles offered at Aslan …

Disco Lemonade (Berliner Weisse). There’s an audience out there that will enjoy Disco Lemonade, this modern twist on the Berliner Weisse, a sour wheat beer style with roots in the 1600s. But then again, there’s an audience out there that still enjoys disco music, too. That doesn’t mean they should. This is a light-bodied, audacious, very rough approximation of the style, and there’s nothing quite like it in town. Mit schuss, aka with a shot of wheatgrass syrup, it’s the pale color of weak, yellowish green tea. (Aslan also offers a raspberry syrup version.) I tried it the wheatgrass way on three different days, to make sure I wasn’t getting a bad pour. Each time the taste bordered on rancid, and by the bottom of each glass, I sincerely feared for my health. Limey sourness overpowers a mélange of off-flavors. Quotes lifted from my notepad: “expired fruit juice,” “rotten lemonade,” “lemon drops dissolved in watery, bready Pabst,” “undrinkable.” Bottom line: It’s just not good. Someone at a table behind us had one too many drinks and decided to prove to her college friends she could drink ketchup straight from the bottle, and for a split-second, while drinking this beer, I felt a little envious. F.

Flagship Pilsner. American beer wouldn’t be where it is today without fearless experimentation, and there’s nothing wrong with reimagining the classics — as long as the end result works. This lager markets itself as a “Northwest Pilsner,” and while it’s an intriguing thought, this is a window into why distinctly American hops, like Cascade, don’t often find their way into European-style lagers. They’re great hops, but man, here, they don’t mesh with the German malt in this beer. Something in the bitter aftertaste, especially, feels off. As for appearance and texture, think Rainier. Then add some odd, clashing, too-strong hop flavors. There’s some crispness to this lager, but it’s buried under too many distractions. D+

Stout-ly Man Ale. This almost jet-black bitter stout pours with a healthy browned head that leaves a thin lacing. The body’s loaded with cutting bitterness from hops, chocolate malt and coffee overtones. Or is it overloaded? Maybe, but if you order an Imperial-strength stout, you likely know what you’re getting into. There’s something strange about how the flavors interact in the body, though. “It’s like drinking tires,” a beer-drinking friend said that night, after taking one sip. Those oily, malty off-flavors don’t complement the hops, or even the other bitter elements in the malt. In the language of the locals, Stout-ly Man Ale doesn’t have the thick smooth richness of Boundary Bay’s Oatmeal Stout, or the layered complexity of Chuckanut’s dark-bodied beers. Instead, it feels like the result of homebrew trial and error, with not enough trial. D.

In other brews …

So, wasn’t Bellingham Beer Week great? Sixty-plus events, jam-packed with great beer. You can still find some leftovers of the festivities around town, as of press time. For example, Fremont Brewing’s Cowiche Canyon No. 3, which earned a solid ‘A’ grade last month in this column, was being sold in bottles at Haggen, and on draft at places like Goat Mountain Pizza, 215 W. Holly St.

Small-batch Menace Brewing Co. still had some fantastic, unique beers you need to try — like the Chile Bravo, the Earl Grey Extra Nitro Mild and the Sorachi Wheat — left over from their brewer’s night at The Local Public House, 1427 Railroad Ave.

Wander Brewing’s Belgian Tripel, made especially for beer week, sure looked good in a liter stein at Schweinhaus Biergarten, 1330 N. State St. Speaking of Wander, their pumpkin ale took the People’s Choice award at Oktoberfest. It’s been on tap lately around town, at the brew hall on Dean Avenue and, just to name one example, at Bayou on Bay, 1300 Bay St.

Chuckanut Brewery, 601 W. Holly St., plans to tap a coffee porter, brewed in collaboration with Bean Stop, at 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 17. The same evening, Aslan Brewing Co., 1330 N. Forest St., will tap their coal-colored No Coal Porter. A dollar per pint goes toward RE Sources for Sustainable Community’s efforts to promote clean energy.