Restaurant News & Reviews

First Draught: Structures Brewing gets high marks on first beers

A black saison from Structures Brewing.
A black saison from Structures Brewing.

This month downtown Bellingham got another new brewery.

There are a lot of things to talk about when a brewery opens — the food (or lack thereof), ambiance, yada yada — but the most important question by far is, “How’s the beer?”

The short answer, in the case of Structures Brewing, is that the early output has been extremely promising. Eventually barrel-aged beers will be a large focus of the brewery, but that takes patience. So in the meantime Structures serves saisons, pale ales and IPAs out of a cozy brick-walled former auto shop at 1420 N. State St., a block from four other local beer hubs: Aslan Brewing, the Copper Hog, Schweinhaus Biergarten, and The Local.

There’s no kitchen here, just beers, and space for perhaps 30 or 40 customers. Yet what the brewery lacks in hours, amenities and seating it more than makes up in funky, genre-bending ales. So let’s talk about the beer.

Structures Black Saison. Taste this with your eyes closed and you might not realize it’s a dark beer. Open your eyes and the look is blackish but not jet black, with brown and ruby around the edge of the glass. Head recedes to a slim beige lacing. Aroma gives off Belgian funk, melon and citrus. Tang lingers on the palate, but with a conspicuous absence of a roasted backbone. That’s fine, if that’s what you’re looking for. Sometimes I caught a hint of black peppercorn and spice, if barely — how weird is beer? — but here, malt doesn’t add flavor so much as texture. Body’s thin to medium, and slightly silkier, slightly less crisp than the slightly more alcoholic regular saison. Sourness clings in the aftertaste, not near as intense as a full-blown sour beer, but more than many saisons. B-

Structures Table Beer. The pour is bright gold, with mild haze, beneath a crisp white pillow of head. Great full Belgian funk and citrus on the nose preludes more Belgian funk on the palate. That’s followed by an afterglow of just-right mild sour tang. The body’s on the brighter, lighter side. At 5.4 percent alcohol, this take on the Euro style bends the traditionally very low alcohol definition of tafelbier, but honestly, who’s complaining? If it’s good, it’s good. And this is so drinkable. Some of these early beers, I’m sure, might get tweaked and leave this review obsolete. Last week, for example, there was one keg with Galaxy hops added, and on one visit I tried a version flavored with peaches. The regular recipe is already a winner. A-

Structures Mandarina/Blanc Pale. An opaque hazy glow of golden-orange, like a Wit, gives this ale a dreamy appearance. What gives Structures beers such a neon alien glow? Yeast? Malt? Stemware? All of the above? Whatever it is, Structures might have the most radiant beers I’ve seen. Contrary to the look, the flavor profile from hops and body gives a gritty undertone like wet earth that works, somehow, by melding with the sweeter, fuller, fruitier notes of apricot and, of course, mandarin. Snowy head, lively carbonation. At 4.8 percent alcohol, it’s dangerously easy to session. B+

In other brews …

— A few stragglers from the first run of Boundary Bay’s Bootlegger Series — classic wintry Boundary beers aged in barrels from their next-door neighbor, Chuckanut Bay Distillery — remained for sale at the time of this writing. Meanwhile, Aslan Brewing Co. released a Pilsner aged in red wine barrels with Brettanomyces (read: sour) yeast. And of course, bottles of barrel-aged beer have been on sale for a while from Kulshan Brewing (Shuksan Russian Imperial Stout), the North Fork Brewery (Son of Freud), and Wander Brewing (Wild Warehouse, and many others to come).

— Also, on the more conventional side, Aslan has plans to start canning their Dawn Patrol Pacific Ale, a pale ale; Chuckanut Brewery’s bock lager and altbier have been on tap lately; Kulshan released an ESB they’re calling Backcountry Bitter; and the Cedar Dust IPA from Boundary Bay was voted the best beer of the year on the Bellingham Tap Trail.

Caleb Hutton: 360-715-2276,