Restaurant News & Reviews

First Draught: On the hunt for Bellingham’s best IPA, Part II

Most craft breweries have a signature IPA. Few have an IPA that captures the spirit of the brewery like Boundary Bay and Kulshan.

One’s heavy, cloudy and robust. The other’s crisp, bubbly, pale and uncompromising. Both are hop-heavy, taste like the Northwest and have come to define a slice of Bellingham’s beer culture.

Boundary Bay IPA. This ale holds a special place in the livers — and hearts — of many craft beer lovers in our fair city, as it was, for a long time, the only IPA in town. Times have changed, of course, but overall this still stands as a solid go-to beer for those of us who appreciate the magic of hops. Its airy honey-like aroma feels a little thin and uneven, but it graces a burst of floral-orange-citrus in the body from Cascade, Centennial and Amarillo hops, which wind around a base of pine and grapefruit. Somehow, these bitter flavors don’t get overshadowed in the weighty body. A soapy thick grainy character to the body knocks down the overall impression a few points. The sticky sudsy off-white head dissipates very slowly, long enough for you to imbibe at your own pace. B

Boundary Bay Imperial IPA. This titanic IPA is anchored by a weighty, hazy viscous pale ruby body only a shade-and-a-half-darker than the regular India Pale Ale. But it’s so much thicker you’ve got to wonder just how many hops it took to pierce this malty-ness, and to come to the forefront, like these hops do. Any citrus flavors have been buried beneath a hoppy Northwesterly mix of earth, grass and tree sap. Somewhere in the ballpark of 10 percent alcohol, and with a strong alcohol bite, it gives off a hard-to-define, medicinal, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink aroma. Boundary Bay’s best contributions to craft beer are its biggest, boldest brews. Here’s a great example. You can find it in 22-ounce bombers ($8 each) at the brewery, but even there it’s a seasonal that comes and goes almost at random. A-

Kulshan Dry-Hopped Bastard Kat (Citra). This limited release might have found the missing piece to Kulshan’s already respectable India Pale Ale. Dry hopping, in this beer, softens and balances out some of the harshness that felt like a distraction, to me, in the regular Bastard Kat. Yet even as it de-sharpens some aspects of the beer, it’s by no means declawed. If you've ever opened a fresh bag of Citra hops, the aroma reawakens that memory. A-

Kulshan Bull of the Woods Double IPA. A heavier, headier India Pale Ale than Kulshan’s flagship Bastard Kat, the double IPA falls in that sweet spot — yes, there’s a good deal of sweetness in the body — of 90-ish IBUs and almost 8 percent alcohol, with a passing interest in being drinkable. A golden-orange body hosts strong, complex bittering hop flavors, as if most of the hops were added a bit earlier in the boil than usual. That makes it a great antidote for spicy food, but the aroma doesn’t come through on the nose as much, or as well, as you might hope. B-

Past IPA (& ISA) grades:

Aslan Brewing Co. Organic IPA, C.

Chuckanut British IPA, C+

Boundary Bay Bellingham Traverse Red IPA, C+

Boundary Bay Safety Break ISA, C+

Menace IPA, B

North Fork IPA, B-

Kulshan Bastard Kat IPA, B

Wander Shoe Toss Rye IPA, B+

Wander Boot Toss Triple IPA, C

Wander Chota Session IPA, B

In other brews …

— One year after opening, Wander Brewing will basically double its brewing capacity, giving the team space and equipment to do more barrel-aged beers and to experiment with new recipes. This follows recent news of major expansions at Kulshan Brewing Co., Boundary Bay Brewing Co., and Chuckanut Brewery, and an increase in capacity by Menace Brewing Co. This whole beer thing might be catching on in Bellingham, after all.

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