Restaurant News & Reviews

First Draught: An Aslan pale ale, a Chuckanut lager, a Kulshan IPA

A Kulshan Sunnyland IPA on a partly sunny Bellingham day.
A Kulshan Sunnyland IPA on a partly sunny Bellingham day.

Last month I reviewed some very heavy oak-aged beers.

So, as part of the exhaustive “research” that goes into writing a world-class beer column, I spent a good deal of extracurricular time, shall we say, studying the world of stouts, winter beers and dark ales. Stuff that sticks to your ribs. And it left me needing a break from big aged beers — for a bit, at least.

Luckily, spring’s coming, and now’s the time when we start seeing a shift to lighter, more sessionable beers in Bellingham. Here’s a look at an extra pale ale, a lager and a not-so-imposing IPA.

Aslan Azacca Extra Pale Ale. This zippy pale ale pours clear copper-orange, with a finger of bubbly loose white head that recedes to ripples. Aroma is close to tropical fruit, rind and all, and gosh, what else? Strawberry? Coffee grounds, in a weird way? Azacca, a newer high-alpha acid hop, is supposed to have intense citrus and perhaps it does, somewhere hidden in this cutting, fizzling body. The other hop here, Bravo, is equally assertive, and even at 42 IBUs, this ale ends up feeling overpopulated with hops going in every which direction. Likewise the feel, in weight and in texture, seems heavier than the straight numbers suggest: 1.050 original gravity and 4.6 percent alcohol by volume. Hence, extra pale, but the result here could be called an India Pale Amber. The malt feels too raw and uneven — the weak point that sinks the beer, for me. Yet this still has the feel of a stepping stone on the way to something original and good. The elements are here for great beer(s). But those pieces need more space to breathe. D+

Chuckanut Landbier. This lager — a collaboration with Wayfinder Beer, a new Portland, Ore., brewery with Chuckanut ties — pours a deep gold color that looks just a hint hazier than the brewery’s other lagers. This is unfiltered? You could have fooled me. My research says Landbier is an often unfiltered German-style lager, with low to medium alcohol. Loosely, the name means “country beer,” as in countryside beer, and it’s more of an umbrella term than a specific style. So Landbiers range widely in color, flavor and character. Here, the head is off-white; aroma isn’t too striking but it seems to hit the target for a rustic lager; and on the tongue it’s bready, like a Helles with some more punch to it. Many of Chuckanut’s beers work through a delicate balance of sweetness and light hops. Here, it’s surprisingly biting up front, given the 21 IBUs, while most of the flavor comes on in the back end. Compared to the brewery’s other lagers, this one doesn’t try so hard to feel polished, and in some ways that’s refreshing. B

Kulshan Sunnyland IPA. Snappy up front, with a fantastic dry crisp finish: What else could you ask for in a session beer, even if the label says IPA? At 5.5 percent alcohol, this is a touch friendlier to the day-drinker, next to Kulshan’s 6.66-percent flagship IPA, Bastard Kat. The texture is light-medium, by IPA standards, but it still has more meat on its bones than Kulshan’s Full 90 Session Ale — also a good beer! — and I’m partial to the fuller backbone here. Pours clean gold with a film of white head. Four kinds of hops go into the recipe. I mostly get notes of grapefruit, but there’s also orange and faint lemon. So expect citrus both on the nose and on the tongue. Bitterness lingers but not in a distracting way. Kulshan tends to have above-average IPAs, and they’ve produced a couple of great ones. This ranks among the best, an impressive beer that does just what it set out to do. That is, to taste as sunny as the name. A-

To keep up the theme, around here no one does drinkable lagers better than Chuckanut. Their new Mexican Style Lager is a true-to-style light-bodied beverage in the same vein as Tecate, Pacifico and Modelo — far from craft beer names, but what pairs better with Mexican cuisine? This one was brewed special, in fact, for a pairing at Tom Douglas’ restaurants in Seattle. You can find it on tap here in Bellingham, too.

Let’s catch up on a busy month of tap turnover. Aslan’s newest funky brett ale, Unicorn Picnic, promises to “recreate the epicness of unicorns having a picnic.” Boundary Bay released a new titanic Imperial IPA made with 100-plus IBUs of hop fire. Kulshan put out two new beers, a blonde and a lager called Lumber & Lace. Stones Throw Brewing — longtime denizen of brewery purgatory — has started distributing kegs around the county. Structures Brewing released a coffee-oatmeal stout named for Petronilo Villatoro, the farmer who grew the coffee beans. Bottles of Wander Brewing’s new wine-barrel-aged blonde ale, Sauraha, are on the shelves at select retail outlets around town.

Caleb Hutton: 360-715-2276,