Food & Drink

Goodbye to Bellingham’s beer review column

Foam on Atwood Ales’ Kettle One Sour Blonde.
Foam on Atwood Ales’ Kettle One Sour Blonde. Bellingham Herald

Once you stumble onto a scheme where you get paid to drink beer, you need to make sure it’s not a trap. If it’s not, you cling to that winning lottery ticket as long as you can. So I’m sad to report this is my last review of local beers for this publication.

The past 2½ years writing this column has been equal parts fun and agonizing, a pleasure and a burden that kept me up late at night in search of a new way to say a beer was good or bad or in the middle. How strange is it to write thousands of words about how a thing tastes? Often I wondered if it’s a net positive for the local beer community, for one self-taught beer geek to hand out merits and demerits in a newspaper willing to print this stuff.

Yet sometimes it stirred a conversation, and many readers wrote or called in to agree or disagree with my take on these beers. This town cares about beer, and we’re incredibly lucky to have an ever-growing number of craft brewers who are good at what they do.

These brewers labor over their beer. They live for it. They are talented. If you asked me to name the best thing about Bellingham, I’d start name-dropping: the Centennial fresh hop from Aslan, the oatmeal stout from Boundary Bay, any lager from Chuckanut.

Good beer is a work of art and a miracle of chemistry. But it’s also just beer. It’s something to relax with, to talk over, or talk about.

So, OK , let’s talk about beer, because Bellingham Beer Week left a lot of new brews in its wake from just about everyone in town. Here are three examples that you could still find around town in October and what I thought of them.

Cheers, and thanks for reading.

Atwood Ales Kettle Sour. In craft beer circles, kettle sours are often criticized because they’re a cheaper, faster way to make sour beer, without the extra labor of barrel-aging and spontaneous fermentation.

My take? If it’s good, I don’t care how it’s soured. Paying less is nice, too, and here the cost is a reasonable $11 for 750 ml.

The body of this 4.2-percent alcohol sour blonde, stamped July 8, is partly cloudy yellow gold. Even with a gentle pour, my snifter overloaded with crisp white bubbly head, like a German lager, with retention that’s impressive for a mild acid bath. Off-flavors are a risk one takes in this volatile style, and the aroma had a disturbing note like fresh yeast on metal.

A month chilling in a cold fridge seemed to help another bottle. In the wine world if sauvignon blanc has a taste like cat urine that is, believe it or not, desirable to a certain crowd. I did not find the sour’s aroma inviting.

The rest of the beer has its own appeal: a standard blonde base that’s paper thin; all-at-once layers of flavor like tart lemon peel, pear, grains, and even mellow ginger; and an acidic snap to the finish akin to dry cider. And while those aspects grew on me, this has room to be tweaked and improved. C

Fremont Bellingham Beer Week No. 5. You could argue that every week is Bellingham Beer Week, but long after the official week ended it was confounding, and slightly out of the way, to have to drive to Seattle to finally track down this opaque creamsicle-orange New England-style IPA.

I took it home from Fremont’s brewery Sept. 30 in a couple of 32-ounce crowlers. Aroma of hops is vaguely like orange blossom, from Citra and Mosaic, with flavors of peach and mango juice on the palate, like tropical hop candy.

“Soft” is a word that came to mind while drinking this beer, in the soft fluffy orange-tinged head; the sweet soft citrus flavors like clementine; the soft sugary texture of the body.

Bitterness, however, came on too strong in this context for my liking, and at 50 IBUs, it slashes through the back end a lot like Fremont’s crushable but cutting Interurban IPA, to the point that it’s still covered in the fingerprints of the style.

Bitterness isn’t a bad thing – after all, it’s an IPA – but here it boxes out other, more interesting flavors. Not bad, but I’ll stick with Fremont’s Simcoe Fresh Hop. B-

Wander Googly Eyes Double IPA. Just about everything Wander has put out, I’ve liked, if not loved. But if I had to choose the weakest link in the repertoire, I’d say some of their past heavy, aggressive IPAs didn’t have the spot-on balance and complexity of their sour and flagship beers.

Here, they’ve brewed a high-alcohol, high-alpha acid beer with sharp citric and tropical flavors, thick fluffy mouthfeel and outstanding drinkability for a beer so bitter and hefty.

Out of a pint can the pour gives the swirling effect like getting it on draught, a cumulus sunset orange with yellow-white head. Texture is dense but soft, almost puffy. Tasteful bite from 8.5 percent alcohol closes out the finish.

At $15 for a four-pack of pints, it’s well worth the price of admission. A-

In other brews …

▪ Bellingham’s Oktoberfest, with brats and local beer, will be held Saturday, Oct. 15, at Depot Market Square. Find ticket info at Bellingham.org.

▪ Fall has arrived, and with it comes a pumpkin porter from Aslan Brewing, with vanilla bean, cinnamon, allspice, and squash. Atwood Ales released a rhubarb ale, called Rhuty.

Boundary Bay has been serving an Amarillo pale ale with fresh hops from Toppenish. Chuckanut’s Fest Bier 2016 will be on tap in Bellingham and the new South Nut by the Skagit Regional Airport. Gruff Brewing put up a Pineapple (!) IPA, made with Mosaic hops.

Get your $6 six-packs of Kitten Mittens, Kulshan Brewing’s winter ale, on Friday, Oct. 14, at a release party at K-2 on Kentucky Street.

The folks behind the Local Public House, Menace Brewing, are making headway on a new brewery at 2529 Meridian St. – the same neighborhood as Elizabeth Station, and two new brewers are coming soon: Subdued Brewing, at 2404 Elm St., and a taphouse for the well-established Wyoming brewery Melvin, at 2416 Meridian.

North Fork put out a sour barrel-aged peach blonde. Stones Throw brewed a coffee lager with Tony’s Coffee from down the street. Structures Brewing has two wheat beers on tap: Hazemaze, an IPA; and Hedlin Farms, a raw wheat saison.

Meanwhile, Wander made two fresh hop beers: one with Eldorado hops, and one with Cascade that’s brewed in their coolship fermentation vessel.

▪ Continue to look for what’s new at local breweries in the Tabs and Taps column in the Thursday Take 5.

Caleb Hutton: 360-715-2276, chutton@bhamherald.com.

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