Restaurant News & Reviews

First Draught: Cozy up to Chuckanut Brewery’s gold medal beers

Chuckanut Brewery brewmaster Will Kemper at the controls off the automated system they use for the brewery on Feb. 28, 2012 in Bellingham.
Chuckanut Brewery brewmaster Will Kemper at the controls off the automated system they use for the brewery on Feb. 28, 2012 in Bellingham. THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

Chuckanut Brewery has crafted some of the most impressive beers in town and, in some cases, the nation.

Yet sometimes it feels like, locally, Chuckanut doesn’t get the respect it deserves. Maybe it’s because European-style lagers don’t fit with the Bellingham beer ethos like robust American ales do.

But beer pioneer Will Kemper and his team at Chuckanut tend to get plenty of respect at national competitions, and the proverbial trophy case got a little more crowded this year. On Black Friday the brewery tapped a fresh batch of its Dunkel (“dark” in German) lager, a brew named the best in the country, for its style, at this year’s Great American Beer Festival.

All three of the beers below earned national gold medals at one time or another. You can find them on tap at the brewery and, now, in pint-sized bottles around Bellingham.

Chuckanut Vienna Lager: Toasty, mildly sweet malt stands out, among a host of subtleties, in this calm traditional lager. The crisp, smooth, bright, bronze-orange body is dangerously drinkable. The lager’s lighter on the palate than it looks, and sweeter, too. Noble hops, subtle on the nose, resurface tastefully in the finish, imparting a clean, almost minty aftertaste. Pairs great with spicy food. If it’s your first trip to Chuckanut, don’t walk out the door until you’ve tried this beer, one of the brewery’s greatest hits. A

Chuckanut Dunkel Lager: Pours ruby-brown and gives off a very faint aroma. Starts out sweet, then on comes the roasted malt bitterness, and almost zero noticeable bitterness from hops. A subtle rich candied sweetness lingers. Here in the Pacific Northwest, beer people might expect more potency. Maybe, given the hype that comes with national awards, you’ll find this Dunkel underwhelming, and to put it bluntly, some people will wonder what the fuss is about. But be patient. Sip very slowly. Get to know it. You might fall in love with this German lager for its dark, faintly woody, rich roasted refinement. And even if it’s not your thing, there’s little to dislike. B

Chuckanut Kölsch Ale: Like a shy cousin to Chuckanut’s sparkling Pilsner, the cold-conditioned Kölsch delivers a mild honey-like sweetness in its straw-colored, brisk and icy body. Light in flavor, it’s refreshing in summer or a welcome break from more portly ales in winter. Trying to describe this style often boils down to a few entirely accurate, yet entirely unhelpful, adjectives: crisp, light, clean. That means nothing until you try it for yourself. How does this Kölsch distinguish itself from the next one? By being crisper, lighter and cleaner than any Kölsch I’ve tried in the region. Like almost every beer at Chuckanut, expect delicate flavor and nothing overpowering. The best time to try it —and try it and try it — is on Tuesdays, Kölsch Night, when it’s $1.50 per Stange glass. A-

In other brews

Check Chuckanut Brewery & Kitchen’s website,, to see what’s on tap and what’s brewing. Coming up at the brewpub, 601 W. Holly St., is another round of the well-received Bean Stop Porter. Kitten Mittens, the adorably named winter warmer, is pouring at Kulshan Brewing Co., 2238 James St.
Need an excuse to visit (or revisit?) all the points of interest in our burgeoning craft beer scene? Pick up a Bellingham Tap Trail pamphlet at just about any local brewery or taphouse, and collect a stamp from all 15 locations to get free swag. For more beer news check out the Tap Trail blog,; like them on Facebook; follow @BhamTapTrail on Twitter.

Find Chuckanut Brewery's beer with this handy map.