Our Top 10 Summer Beers

It’s officially summer … not that you can tell! Okay, despite the rain this weekend, the sun is promising to shine in western Washington again soon and breweries are currently releasing summer seasonals, so it’s close enough! Times are still weird but local breweries are still doing their thing, providing us with delicious, crushable beers for those sunny days ahead.

We at The Spilt Pint decided to take a break from the barrel-aged darkness of our beer cellars and brainstorm 10 of our favorite beers to sip on while enjoying some sun and fighting off the pollen. Some are seasonals, some are flagship beers, some are more limited releases, all are delicious.

Sun Glitter Peach IPA, Silver City Brewing

The Sun Glimmer, while a year-round offering, is built for those warm days of summer. It’s tasty and refreshing with a nice peach accent. It comes in at 6.5% but you’d never know sipping on this delicious hazy beer that glimmers like ocean waves at sunset. – David

| Photo courtesy of Silver City.

Summer IPA, Reuben’s Brews

After visiting Seattle from Ottawa last year and brewery hopping, both of my sisters now want me to send this beer back to them by the case. This obsessive behavior also extends to a friend in San Francisco who honed his palate on NW IPA’s. I am now required to send out regular shipments of Summer IPA. – Brian

| Photo courtesy of Reuben’s.

Harbor Hefeweizen, San Juan Brewing

One of my favorite hefes. Easily crushable while chilling in Friday Harbor, riding the ferry home, or, you know, sitting on your couch. – David

| Photo courtesy of David Krueger.

Seattle Sunshine Hazy Pale, Hellbent Brewing

Brewed for the Sounders’ ECS supporters, this is the perfect beer to sip on while watching the Sounders annihilate the Portland Timbers. Or while scrolling through the Sounders Twitter account desperate to find any possible soccer content you can right now. – David

| Photo courtesy of David Krueger.

Coconut Blonde, Scrappy Punk Brewing

A festival and tap room staple, Coconut Blonde put Scrappy Punk on the map and help propel them to that *most beer fest tokens* level. A lighter grain bill with the nose and taste of pure coconut is sure to delight in the summer sun. – Brian

| Photo courtesy of Silver City.

Cucumber Gose, Fremont Brewing

Fremont tends to nail everything and the Cucumber Gose is the star of the summer show. It is the quintessential summer beer, using seasonal ingredients to make a light, refreshing and amazing beer. If the temperature cracks 70, I’m cracking one of these. – Brian

| Photo courtesy of Brian Hoorn

Pink Drink, Crucible Brewing

A year round Raspberry sour that is never too sour but always refreshing. A good blend of fruit and sour without overwhelming. – Brian

| Photo courtesy of Brian Hoorn

Italian Pilsner, Lowercase Brewing

Take a trip to the Old Country with this beautifully crisp pilsner. Double dry-hopped with Hallertau Mittlelfruh and Saphir hops, this Italian pilsner is unfiltered and full of summery flavors, including earth, flowers and freshly mowed grass. – Aaron

| Photo courtesy of Lowercase.

Winona, Fair Isle Brewing

The saison kings of Ballard hit a home run with this tart refreshing offering. I can see sipping a lightly chilled Winona as a new favorite pastime for a lazy summer day. – Brian

| Photo courtesy of Brian Hoorn.

Mexican Lager, Chuckanut Brewing

This is no time for Corona! Put down the watered-down, flavorless cerveza and pick up this beauty from Bellingham. Known for their German-style lagers and ales, Chuckanut brewed this with Skagit Valley Malting malted wheat, giving it a firm-yet-light body and refreshing finish. And sure, toss in a lime if you want. – Aaron

| Photo courtesy of Chuckanut


Washington’s only black-owned brewery fighting for change

“Damn Good Beer” — that’s the motto of Woodinville’s Metier Brewing.

Métier is French for “one’s calling.”

And Rodney Hines has found his calling. Or rather, he’s found about 10 of them.

The co-founder of Métier Brewing in Woodinville, Hines has had to navigate a worldwide pandemic, plan ahead for his brewery’s reopening, find time to protest for civil liberties and, as his company’s mission statement says, “brew damn good” beer.

Hines, who is black, is the CEO of the first and — exhaustive research believes — only African-American owned brewery in Washington state. Long before protestors were marching in the streets, Hines was doing all he could to promote community and diversity for his company. From hiring black artists for labels, to understanding where his ingredients came from, inclusivity was paramount for Hines.

That feeling has only heightened in recent weeks.

“These days, I feel like I’m on the verge of crying every time I think about life,” Hines said. “It’s hard. I will say that I’m torn, in that I appreciate all the young voices who are out marching right now, and I feel like I am not fully doing my part if I’m not marching too. So I’ve actually gone out and participated in some of the demonstrations. And this sadness part is just feeling and seeing some of the same shit that’s been going on for our lives and our history. And I’m hoping that this current activism and the voices that are so diverse and yelling so loudly right now will help bring about the change that’s necessary.”

Rodney Hines (right) doesn’t shy away from political activism and protests and believes businesses have a resposibility to their communities: “I think the businesses should think about, ‘What are each of us doing that can help bring about the change that’s needed?’ ”

Hines chooses each word very carefully, just like the beers he puts on tap. Métier has seen an influx of new patrons and Hines is not blind to the fact that Métier’s standing as the only black-owned brewery in Washington may contribute to that. One of the company’s employees recently started a Kickstarter campaign to help the brewery recoup some expenses lost because of the COVID-19 outbreak.

With over a week to go in the campaign, it has already surpassed its $20,000 goal, with several unique experiences and swag items still available.

“A lot of new people are finding us and have been encouraged by social media and other places to come check us out,” Hines said. “It’s the majority of our customers. In some ways, that’s normal for us. We haven’t been open (a really long time). We’re about to celebrate two years. So it’s a lot of new people still finding us. A lot heard about us from somewhere. If they’re people of color, they’ve said, ‘We want to show some love for this business.’ I think that’s something that’s continued with these folks now who are finding us today. Now that they’ve found us, I hope they like the beer and come back.”

Hines does not shy away from the political activism and protests currently going on across the country. Along with joining rallies in the streets, he believes businesses have a responsibility to their communities. This is why he has hired black artists to design his labels, including one for Métier’s Trail Blazer Pale Ale, which features a drawing of Major Taylor, the first African-American World Champion cyclist.

A sign on the wall states Metier Brewing’s mission.

“I think the businesses should think about, ‘What are each of us doing that can help bring about the change that’s needed?’” Hines said. “… The organizations that we support, we’re really mindful and intentional about that. I’m hoping that there’s an integrity that is thread through everything that we do as a business.”

Like businesses, Hines believes individuals have a social responsibility right now. Hines looks at his phone and jokes that he’s scared to look at his credit card right now because he’s been out at local Woodinville-area restaurants and businesses at an exceptionally high rate. He believes that, “in so many honest, real ways the mom and pop shops, the restaurants, the tailor, everyone that’s in communities, there’s a beauty in the fabric of the community that’s developed because of small businesses. And I fear how the community changes when that changes.”

Hines isn’t sure how the next few months are going to go, both for his country and his brewery. But he sounds optimistic. He sounds hopeful. Hines goes out of his way, on several occasions, to thank those who are supporting him, and encourage everyone to support the #BlackLivesMatter movement.

“When I think about how can you help, I think broadly,” Hines says before trailing off. “I think what I ask of everyone right now is what I ask of myself, and that is if you look at what we’re facing in America right now, and I do the same, we each pause, we take a toll of what we see and we consider what we’re doing and are we complicit in what we see? And if we think we are, or not, we also ask the question, ‘What’s my privilege?’ Because we all have various levels of privilege, and it’s about how we’re using our privilege and agency to affect change. I ask that of individuals and businesses and organizations.”

Hines’ business is equality for all and “damn good beer.”

| Photos courtesy of Brian Hoorn.

Craft breweries eager to welcome back customers for a pint

It finally happened!

Several local counties were given the OK to move to Phase II as the state recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic (in King County’s case, Phase 1.5). This means a lot of regulations and rules, but also means you now have the option to have a beer on site at your favorite local brewery. 

The reopening comes not a moment too soon for local breweries, who admit the past two months have been a struggle.

“It’s been tough,” said Jen Boyd, who owns Cairn Brewing in Kenmore with her husband Bill. “We’re a neighborhood brewery who focuses on the taproom experience; we really don’t distribute. … Not having that for almost three months hurts. We’ve had some long days but our team has been terrific, really embracing the switch to canning to make sure our customers have the opportunity to enjoy our beer.”

“I am tired,” added Andy Gundel, the owner of Urban Family Brewing in Seattle. “The staff is tired. Overall, we kept all of our jobs, and we figured out ways to make jobs where there were none anymore. Lots of people stepping up to help cross-departmentally. I think the shake-up of the industry will be felt for years to come, but I am humbled by the support of the customers and the beer community. Lots of people looking out for each other. Lots of tips. Lots of well-wishes. It’s not the worst place to be, that’s for sure.”

Local breweries faced several challenges after the government’s stay-at-home order effectively closed their taprooms. However, the beer industry quickly showed its resolve and resourcefulness by pivoting to online ordering and curbside pick-up.

Most breweries expect to-go orders to remain a major part of their businesses. They believe the convenience and infrastructure now set up may encourage more customers to go that route. Owners also understand that some people may not quite be comfortable heading back out into the world to enjoy a pint.

“Some people may not be ready for a pint in a taproom,” Boyd said, “so we’ll continue to offer a broad selection of our 15-plus-beer taplist in 16-ounce cans to go and have dedicated parking spaces for curbside pickup even once we reopen. We call it the #takehometaproom.”

In addition, owners anticipate a strong emphasis on cleaning.

“We talked about letting people inside but the whole thing sounds… complicated. We want the safest environment possible for everyone.”

Andy Gundel, owner of Urban Family Brewing on the brewery only allowing customers outside for now.
Erin Pride-Swaney (and Clementine) enjoys a stein of Irish Dry Stout this past Friday at Chuckanut Brewery in Bellingham. It was the first day that Chuckanut was welcoming back customers since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think everyone can agree that cleaning will be kicked up a notch,” Gundel said.

The reopening of Fremont’s Urban Beer Garden this past weekend saw lines around the block to get in and over two-hour waits. The brewery is operating at a diminished capacity and has switched to hosted seating for the brewery, which has also spread out tables to a minimum of six-feet of space.

According to Zan McColloch-Lussier, Fremont’s Community Engagement Manager, the brewery will keep their online ordering site up and continue delivery of specialty beers through their third-party carrier.

“Voluntarily closing the Urban Beer Garden even before the Governor’s mandatory shut-down was hard for many reasons,” McColloch-Lussier said, “but we realized it was the responsible thing to do for the safety of our staff and customers and we very quickly – like within hours – adapted to curb-side pick-up which has been a lifeline. We haven’t had to lay anyone off and we’ve redeployed team members to keep our facilities sanitary.”

5 Rights Brewing in Marysville weathered the COVID-19 storm, and is now working on welcoming customers back, while also planning an anniversary celebration.

“Like most small businesses it has been very difficult to try and survive, much less thrive when the biggest part of our business (the taproom) has been shut down to help ensure the greater good for public safety,” said R.J. Whitlow, the owner of 5 Rights Brewing. “Thankfully, we were blown away by how our 5 Rights Family and community rallied by supporting our to-go sales far more than we ever anticipated, and kept us from losing what we’ve worked so hard to build. It was music to our hearts to hear laughter in our taproom again as it was built for community and living life together, not just a place to find exceptional beer.”

Enjoying a pint (with Bruce) at Seattle’s Pine Box.

Several breweries plan to expand serving operations into their larger parking lots. Urban Family will be outdoor seating only for a while.

“We talked about letting people inside but the whole thing sounds… complicated,” Gundel said. “We want the safest environment possible for everyone.”

The extended distance, while necessary during these crazy times, bums out at least one owner.

“It’s gonna be (different),” said Randy Embernate, the owner of Seattle’s Hellbent Brewing Company. “A vast majority of our regulars hang at the bar. Lots of camaraderie between the regulars and our bartenders. That is the biggest change. We will see how that plays out. That’s my favorite part about any bar, is the rubbing of elbows with fellow patrons as well as the back and forth with the bartenders.”

Fortunately for Embernate, bumping elbows is still the preferred greeting by government officials.

All of the owners reiterated how tough the past two months have been financially, mentally and logistically. However, every representative reached expressed optimism for the local craft beer industry. 

“We are holding up fine,” Embernate said. “Not great, always can be better, but surviving, for now. At first I didn’t think we had a shot, but we made some adjustments, (online ordering being a huge part of that) and with a huge support from our neighborhood and loyal patrons, we have been doing pretty decently out of the taproom with (to-go ordering).”

“Of course, revenue is way down due primarily to the disappearance of on-premise sales but we’re extremely fortunate that off-premise sales are still strong,” McColloch-Lussier said. “Industry-wise, the future of the vast majority of craft breweries that don’t package is most concerning but the local craft beer scene has been extremely resilient and creative and we’re all trying to help each other out to get to the other side of this crisis.”

Beer it Forward: Using craft beer to do something positive for racial equality

If you think about the average craft beer enthusiast, though not always true, you probably conjure an image of a bearded white guy. Hey, I am one. 

I’ve been following the local and national protests on the news and struggling with a way that I can show my support and actually do something. Then I found a fellow craft beer enthusiast and bearded white guy, Blake Fitzgerald, deciding to do something. 

What you need to do before June 8:
Because of the outpouring of support Blake will be splitting the winnings between two or three people.
What to do:
– Follow link to Blake’s Facebook page. 
– Donate at least $10
– Put your number and a screen shot of your donation in the comments

“I didn’t know what I was watching at first,” Blake recently shared. “I had hoped that the officer would get off him or someone would step in. It brought me to tears when I realized that George Floyd was being slowly murdered.” 

As George Floyd lay dead on a Minneapolis street, a police officer’s knee still on his throat, Blake said: “I was instantly frustrated, angry and hurt.” 

Millions of people have seen the images and video leaving them feeling helpless, angry, sad and on the brink of tears. How could the police kill a black man … again.

In the days after Floyd’s death, while most people processed the situation and/or protested, Blake Fitzgerald was looking at what he could do within his circle of influence. “I felt helpless with what is going on and wanted to do something positive” Blake said. 

In times of crisis, often the best way to make an impact is to look inward and ask yourself what is it I can do to make a difference. Blake took his love of craft beer and turned it into a fundraiser.

Blake is a level 2 Certified Cicerone (professional beer certification) and a beertender at Josh’s Taps and Caps in Snohomish. With a love of craft beer that started before he could drink, and refined on family trips to breweries, it was only natural for him to set up a fundraiser that incorporated beer.

Blake created a #BIF, or “Beer It Forward,” post on Facebook and Instagram. Blake asked people to donate $10 minimum to the NAACP , post a receipt and pick a random number between 1 and 5000, by the drawing date of June 8. This would allow the winner as picked by a random number generator, to win five beers: Fremont B3K, Structures Blend 2, Holy Mountain Bonne Nuit, 3 Fonteinen 2016 and 3 Fonteinen A&G.   

To get more traction, Blake cross-posted in hard-core beer trading sites in which he is a member and other local Facebook groups. 

Blake didn’t know what to expect once he posted. At this point he really didn’t care and was ready for whatever backlash and results he may get. Personally having witnessed the compassion, caring and genuine kindness of the craft beer community, I’m not surprised at the response Blake received. 

In three days Blake’s post has spurred 47 donations totaling over $2,500 to the NAACP and almost all for more than the $10 minimum. The Thurgood Marshall College Fund has $50 as well. With a lot of the large donors not asking to even be part of the drawing. Numerous people thanking Blake in the comments for reminding them to do their part. While Blake is rather reticent of the attention and the pats on the back, he’s just happy to “spread some positivity into the world.”

He’s had numerous people reach out to donate not just money but beers as well, top shelf stuff <see list below>.  As of last count he was up to 28 bottles (and growing). TJ Borden, co-owner of The Republic, another Snohomish County bottle shop, was compelled to add two Floodland bottles (Red and Gold and Waxwing) from his personal cellar. 

“In the spirit of beer and community I am always up to support what I believe is right and if I can do it by drinking philanthropically or helping someone else drink philanthropically, sign me up!” TJ said. 

Let us not kid ourselves, this isn’t the end-all, be-all and one #BIF is not going to change the world or undo years of systemic racism. Admittedly, it is a small act, but a small act that may inspire other small acts. Combined with a million more small acts, is a step in the right direction on a million mile journey. Blake says he’s just a guy in the local beer scene that decided to do something instead of nothing. I see that, but I also see a man who took his anger, sadness and tears and decided to produce something good in the world. Thanks and cheers Blake.

List of Beers Donatednot complete since more are being donated

Fremont Brew 3000
3 Fonteinen 2016 Vintage
3 Fonteinen A&G
Structures Blend 2
Holy Mountain Bonne Nuit
Floodland Neither Site Nor Time (was added at the $1,000 goal mark )
Side Project Lagnst B2
8th State Whale Blood
Anchorage Endless Ending
Weller Special Reserve
Floodland Red / Gold Floodland Waxwing
Cantillon Grand Cru Bruocsella Weldwerks & Bottle Logic Vanilla Destination
Horus Millenialistic Falcon
Chuck’s 10th Anniversary
3 Fonteinen Hommage X2 375ml
Fair Isle Eleanor
2 Burke Gilman Brewing Company Crowlers of your choice.
Fremont The Smoking Jacket
Fremont The Inner Circle
3 Fonteinen Hommage 750
Toppling Goliath Coconut Assassin
3 Fonteinen Hommage 2017 
Bobby Wood’s legendary hot sauce!

Edmonds’ Gallaghers’ Where-U-Brew closes

Gallaghers’ Where-U-Brew, the popular do-it-yourself brewery and taproom in Edmonds, announced Friday morning that it will be closing its doors. In an email to subscribers, owners Tom and Marcie Kretzler acknowledged that the current COVID-19 pandemic played a role in the brewery’s closure.

“It is with great sadness that Gallaghers’ Where-U-Brew is having to permanently close it’s doors,” the Kretzlers said in the email. “The past few years have been a struggle, and the recent pandemic has made it impossible for us to continue. We have agonized over this decision and we are forced to accept this as reality.”

Gallaghers, located near the Edmonds waterfront, boasted all the equipment and ingredients necessary to brew a batch of your own beer. Customers could choose a recipe, make the beer and then come back in a couple weeks to bottle the beer and take it home. There were also options to brew cider, root beer or wine, as well as a taproom for customers to come try a variety of homemade beers on tap.

In the email, Tom and Marcie Kretzler thanked their customers and told anyone interested in buying a brewery to give them a call.

“From the bottom of our hearts, we thank each of you for your support these past years and wish you all health and happiness,” the Kretzlers wrote. “You have touched our lives and we will miss you dearly.”

Sugar Ray, Tiger King and the Seltzer/Cider Guy: My Zoom adventures at the ‘Virtual’ Seattle Beer Fest

Look, I really wanted to give the virtual Seattle Beer Fest — brought to me by Rock Star Beer Festivals — the benefit of the doubt. When I emailed the one contact I could find on the beer festival’s website to do a preview story and heard nothing, I thought: “That makes sense. We’re a small, new blog. I get it.”

Then the box of beer came.

The Seattle Beer Fest box included one actual “Washington” beer: an Elysian Split Shot espresso stout. It also included a seltzer and cider. I thought, “It’s fine. They had to modify things at the last minute. It was probably tough to get cans. Whatever.”

Then the big day came. I had been waiting months for this. A few friends bought beer packs too. The clock finally struck 7 p.m., I fired up the YouTube video and … there was Mark McGrath.

McGrath popped on the screen and held out an empty hand to allegedly cheers the start of the night. McGrath, the lead singer for a rock band from the 90s, proved to be an apt metaphor for the ensuing beer festival: something I used to enjoy, but that was more applicable back in the day before a worldwide pandemic.

Sugar Ray’s Mark McGrath opens the Virtual Seattle Beer Fest with some inspiring words.

Coronavirus obviously necessitated a few audibles for Rock Star Beer Festivals and the Seattle Beer Fest, which shifted from under the Space Needle to a virtual edition.

I loved the idea. I thought this would be an awesome way to bring a beer fest to people who are stuck in quarantine. It was going to be a blast to drink beer and talk shop with fellow beer fans while hearing about the intricacies of breweries’ beers and businesses.

“Honestly the night wouldn’t have been nearly as fun without my buddy Keith and his friends, who gave up on the beer fest before McGrath had finished welcoming us. But this is what a beer fest is. The camaraderie.”

David Krueger

Instead, what we got was an ode to “Tiger King” with not one, but three clips from people involved heavily in the show, including Doc Antle, the Lowes and the guy who has apparently not gotten off his jet ski since the show ended. In addition, the Ninkasi representative quickly became labeled “Ninkasi Carole Baskin” in the comments. There were cameos from Jon Lovitz, Gilbert Gottfried and Dave Koechner — who may have been participating in the beer fest himself based on his giggles.

Doc Antle, of Tiger King fame, and a chimpanzee help beer drinkers really take in the moment at the Virtual Seattle Beer Fest.

There was a beer chugging highlight reel complemented by a #BeerFails lowlight video. The “music” was by a gentleman who did rock covers of “The Real Slim Shady” and Lil Jon’s classic “Get Low” — which took me half the song to figure out what I was listening to. There were two other bands that performed with neither lead singer wearing a shirt. The whole time I just kept wondering, why doesn’t McGrath just sing “When It’s Over?” — something I think everyone was probably wondering about this beer fest.

The same “brewery representative” discussed the seltzer company, and then switched shirts to talk about the cidery. I have no issue with a beer fest having a cider or seltzer area for people who are drug along and don’t like beer. But if you’re paying $50 for a virtual beer fest, you’re probably a fan of beer and probably don’t need cider/seltzer fillers in your box.

Incidentally, the cider/seltzer guy nailed how I felt about the beers in my box — which included a Deschutes low-cal pale ale, Elysian’s Split Shot, a Ninkasi Prismatic IPA (which I love) and a Rogue Ales Batsquatch (which I already had three of in my refrigerator because it’s one of my favorite beers) — quite succinctly while trying to hock his seltzer:

“You can find us at Safeway, Albertsons, Krogers, Fred Meyers, PCC, Whole Foods.” Indeed almost every beer in the box I could have gone down the road to (insert your closest grocery store here) and picked up. This was probably the most disheartening thing for me about the beer fest.

The seltzer guy explains why hard seltzer really rocks during the Virtual Seattle Beer Festival.
The cider guy, who is obviously the twin brother of the seltzer guy, talks about the charms of cider.

But maybe I was wrong. Maybe I was being too harsh. So I reached out to a few friends/friends of friends who were also participating in the beer fest.

My focus group included: Kaelee, my sister-in-law who can drink five barleywines and not feel a thing; my wife’s superstar fitness instructor Jess; Jess’ boyfriend, who, after our brief conversation, I feel like we could be best friends; and my friend Keith and his band of beer drinking buddies who were nice enough to let me crash their Zoom call.

Honestly the night wouldn’t have been nearly as fun without my buddy Keith and his friends, who gave up on the beer fest before McGrath had finished welcoming us. But this is what a beer fest is. The camaraderie.

Michael, one of Keith’s friends, had bought two boxes. He was downright distraught trying to figure out what to do with his TWO seltzers. In a real-world beer fest, you could leave McGrath’s booth and go try something else. Here, the options were more limited. The group was less than impressed, but decided in future to throw their own virtual Seattle beer festival where everyone grabs beers that are actually from the greater Seattle area. I hope to crash that Zoom call as well.

Similarly, Jess and her boyfriend wanted to throw their own beer festival. They didn’t watch many of the videos and were a hard “No” on participating in another Rock Star Beer festival, but both were open to doing something similar again. Seattle won their vote, with the Elysian Split Shot their favorite.

Kaelee, her friend Jordan and Jordan’s mom — who was easily the MVP of the focus group — tried all 10 beers/ciders/seltzers and were also left unimpressed. Kaelee had my favorite line of the night: “It was weak, I would say. It was something to look forward to. Was that better than the actual beer? Yes.”

Other top comments included: “I think beer fest would have been appropriate. I don’t think Seattle Beer Fest was appropriate.” And, “We were not given $40 worth of beer.”

Still, all three people from Team Kaelee agreed they would do it again and it was worth the cost to participate in the event together. I’m not sure I feel the same way. I don’t really like coffee so the Split Shot, which Team Kaelee also praised, didn’t even get opened. Neither did my wild card beer, a mocha stout from Abnormal Brewing in San Diego.

The experience was interesting, chaotic, weird and saved by the people I got to talk to and share it with — so, I guess, basically it was a beer festival! Still, I wish I would have taken the $50 and gone to Diamond Knot, Salish Sea, Hemlock State or another nearby brewery and actually had some Seattle-area beer. I also wish I would have given up earlier on the live stream which ended at 9:42 p.m. instead of the advertised 10 p.m. — although no one was complaining — and fully committed to laughing at the YouTube comments on Zoom.

There were a lot of things I wanted this beer fest to be. Instead, I watched a dated video/advertisement of people cheers-ing and drinking together on a beach in southern California. All I could think was, “No! Stay six feet away!”

If only I had stayed away from the Seattle Beer Festival.

| Photos courtesy of David Krueger.

Back on the road: Hittin’ up Yakima Valley for tasty beer

One of the perks of my day job, before viruses and stay-at-home orders, was getting to wander around the great state of Washington for work. While out and about, I’ve been known to stop by a few breweries in my travels for a flight or two and some cans for when I get back home.

Obviously, the world is a little different now. But I finally got to go to work again this week and was sent to Yakima, where a number of breweries were offering beer to go. While there were no flights this time around, there were plenty of cans for back home. And even a new tin sign. I brought a cooler bag not intending to fill it up, but what can you do?

When you drive all the way out to Yakima, you may as well head another 40 minutes to Sunnyside to check out Varietal Beer Company. It’s a few miles further down the road but is 100% worth the trip. I started my beer quest with four-packs of the Mighty Juice hazy IPA, Keep on the Sunnyside Pale Ale and a crowler of Peach Yo’ Self milkshake IPA.

All were amazing. The Mighty Juice is super drinkable, the Keep on the Sunnyside is a collaboration with the Pink Boots Society and has one of the coolest can designs I’ve seen and the Peach Yo’ Self is like dessert in a can. If you like beer and peaches, I can confidently say this will be a winner for you. The cherry on top of the Peach Yo’ Self was adding another sign to the Tin Man’s collection.

After heading to Varietal, I got back to Yakima and had to put my dress shoes on and work for a few minutes. Fortunately, my work travels took me to within a few blocks of Hop Capital Brewing (formerly Yakima Craft Brewing Company). It looks like they recently revamped the brand but the beer is as tasty as ever. I went with a four-pack of the All Together NEIPA, a hazy IPA brewed in collaboration with Other Half Brewing from New York City to support hospitality workers. I’m a sucker for drinking for a good cause. And a good hazy IPA. This beer checked off both boxes.

Formerly known as Yakima Craft Brewing, Hop Capital Brewing may have changed its name but the beer remains great.

At this point the cooler bag was pretty full and it was about time to head back to the west side of the state. I had hoped to visit other beer spots, like Bale Breaker and Single Hill Brewing, but they hadn’t opened yet for the day (or, unfortunately, weren’t going to be open that day) and my road trip buddy/wife was ready to get back home. Fortunately, the beer gods smiled upon us one more time. As we were leaving Hop Capital we noticed a sign for another brewery: Valley Brewing Company. I pulled in, promising I’d only be a minute, unsure of what I’d find. The employee there was super nice, walked me through all of their amazing-sounding beers, and then, it happened.

Just released that day was Fruituristic: Strawberry Banana, a milkshake IPA that he couldn’t stop talking about. That is apparently contagious, because I tried one when I got home and have not stopped talking about it since either. It tastes like a smoothie, so I feel like it’s definitely a healthy beer choice! It is incredible. One of my all-time favorite beers. The only bad part about it is I only bought a four-pack, which is now running dangerously low. I may never forgive myself for this mistake.

Yakima Beers

Peach Yo Self

Milkshake IPA that drinks like dessert in a can!

All Together IPA

A hazy IPA brewed in collaboration with Other Half Brewing from New York City to support hospitality workers

Futuristic: Strawberry Banana

A smoothie IPA with big fruit flavors.

| Photography courtesy of David Krueger

With grand opening on hold, Mount Vernon’s District Brewing marches forward

For 18 months, Mark Shintaffer oversaw the renovation of a large historical building along the riverwalk in downtown Mount Vernon. It was a project filled with the kind of ups and downs that come with trying to turn a 100-year-old building into something modern and state-of-the-art.

Shintaffer’s end goal was to turn the rundown building, which used to house the Lyric Theater, into a destination brewery and restaurant. By mid-March of this year he was finished and ready to fling open the doors.

Then the pandemic hit.

The weekend that District Brewing was set to open in late March, the Governor was preparing to issue his Stay Home, Stay Safe order. Shintaffer never got to truly open the brewery. Instead, like many breweries and restaurants, District had to pivot quickly. They began selling pizzas and crowler and growler fills to go. So far the response has been promising.

“The concept is really neighborhood brewery; that ‘third place’ feeling.”

Mark Shintaffer, District Brewing owner

“We continue to blow through kegs, so the consumer has responded very well,” said Shintaffer.

For weeks now customers have been lining up in front of the brewery along the riverwalk, waiting their turn to order pizza and beer. Inside the building, the beautiful brew tanks serve as the backdrop to a large dining room, with a second floor of customer seating overhead. 

Until this week, the beer on tap has been outsourced. But Monday Shintaffer finally posted a District Brewing original: First Strike, a West Coast IPA. Three days later, Tropical Vacation, a hazy IPA, was added to the menu.

The head brewer at District is John Kochendorfer, whose brewing experience includes stints at Elysian Brewing, where he brewed Snail Bones and Space Dust, and Mukilteo’s Diamond Knot Craft Brewing

Along with helping him make connections in the craft beer world that has already led to collaborations with Iron Horse Brewing and Bale Breaker, brewing at a big player like Elysian taught Kochendorfer a lot about the beer-making process.

District Brewing head brewer John Kochendorfer (left) and owner Mark Shintaffer in District’s brewhouse.

“(I learned) that details make the difference between a mediocre beer and a great beer, and to always question the accepted wisdom if you ever want to make progress,” Kochendorfer said.

As for the beer at District, Kochendorfer plans to focus on hop-forward beers. But that doesn’t mean he’ll be looking to just fit his beers into a pre-defined style or flavor profile and start pumping our cookie-cutter IPAs.

“I plan to make a wide variety of hop forward beers in a range of different alcohol content and in varying degrees of haze or clarity,” said Kochendorfer. “There will be names and descriptions to guide you through them of course, but as brewers, and drinkers, we are blessed these days with an amazingly wide variety of hops that continues to grow every year and I intend to play with as many of them as possible to bring people uniquely refreshing hoppy experiences.”

District will have 20 beers on tap, most of them being their own beer. 

When looking for a brewer to head up his operation, Shintaffer wanted someone with experience in a professional setting and knowledge of how to make beers consistent and reliable. He believes that’s what he’s got in Kochendorfer.

“When John’s brewing he’s brewing to the gram,” Shintaffer said. “He’s a scientist. It’s all math for him. He’s dialing in each recipe so it’s exactly the same every time. We want our customers t to be able to depend on that.”

For Shintaffer, beer is just part of the experience he hopes patrons enjoy when District can finally open to foot traffic. With the restaurant focusing mostly on pizza and the theme and decor around movies (paying tribute to the building’s past as a theater), Shintaffer wanted to create a place where everybody felt welcome.

“The concept is really neighborhood brewery; that ‘third place’ feeling,” Shintaffer said. “We want people to bring the wife, the kids, your neighbor. It’s going to be a fun environment.”

The vision Shintaffer has in his head was put there by Pinthouse Pizza, a small chain of pizza and beer spots he visited in Austin, Texas. Like what District will eventually do, Pinthouse has customers order their pizza and beer at the counter and then sit down and eventually bus their own tables.

“It’s new to our area,” Shintaffer said, “but I believe that if you build it they will come.” 

Shintaffer comes from a long line of beverage people. His family started Sound Beverages, a beer and beverage distributor in Whatcom County, 70 years ago. In recent years, Shintaffer decided it was time to try opening his own brewery.

“I’ve enjoyed the business, but I needed to find something of my own,” Shintaffer said.

For now, he’ll have to wait a little longer until that vision is fully realized.

District Beers

First Strike IPA

| KEY INGREDIENTS Mosaic, El Dorado, Centennial, and Pahto hops
| ABV 6.1% | IBU 67

Tropical Vacation Hazy IPA

| ABV 8.3% | IBU 71

Order here

Pizza and beer to go in Skagit Valley

| Photography courtesy of Aaron Swaney and District Brewing.