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Your Beer Fortune

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Lagunitas Brewing Company, 1550 Northwest 49th Street, Ballard, Seattle, Washington

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Reuben’s Brews, 5010 14th Avenue Northwest, Ballard, Seattle, Washington

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Bad Jimmy's Brewing Company, 4358 Leary Way Northwest, Ballard, Seattle, Washington

In September, while I was visiting Southern California, I spent three days in my former home of Seattle, exploring new breweries and pubs with my Oakland friend Rick. We spent one of our evenings walking through the neighbourhood of Ballard with my old friend Adam.

Located on the north side of Seattle’s Lake Washington Ship Canal, Ballard was originally inhabited by the native Shilshole people. In the mid-19th century the non-natives arrived, mostly the Norwegians and Swedes who helped to develop the fishing and timber industry. By the turn of the 20th century Ballard had the impressive distinction of being known as the Shingle Capital of the World, and by 1907 the city of Seattle had annexed the area. Ten years later the Hiram M Chittenden Locks opened on the canal, and the locks are still popular with tourists who come to watch salmon jump up the fish ladders. (Fortunately any adventure tourists who wish to join in the ladder-jumping fun are heavily discouraged from visiting.)

These days Ballard hosts several Nordic-inspired festivals, and in recent years it's become a desirable place for buying property, despite the fact that in Old English the word Ballard means "big nuts" or "bald head". Nevertheless, the positive property market may explain why so many breweries and brewpubs have sprung up.

As Rick and I were staying in neighbouring Fremont, we had intended to walk to Ballard to meet Adam but were running late for our rendezvous. So we jumped on the 40 bus, debarked once we reached 15th Avenue Northwest, and walked past two breweries as well as a large building called, intriguingly, the Dirt Exchange. Reaching what seemed to be the end of the world we spotted the Lagunitas Brewing Company.

The original Lagunitas Brewery opened in 1993 in Forest Knolls, California, and quickly moved up the road to Petaluma. This was back when I lived in Seattle, but I knew of their beers from my frequent visits to California. At some later point a brewery in Chicago was opened. And just a few years ago, when I was over from the UK visiting the Bay Area, Rick and I drove up to Petaluma to visit the brewery. So I was looking forward to experiencing the Seattle Lagunitas, especially as for years I had been trying to get Adam and Rick to meet because I thought they would get along well. But every time Rick visited me in Seattle, Adam always seemed to be out of town. After awhile Adam became convinced that this "Mistah Rick" was just a figment of my imagination, and Rick didn’t really feel confident that Adam actually existed, either.

When Rick and I walked into the pub, Adam spotted me and came over to greet us. I introduced him to Rick, they shook hands, and the universe did not explode. Yes, they both do exist, and at the same time in the same space as well. I doubt I’ll rate a Nobel Prize in Physics for this proof, but it did make me feel quite satisfied.

We joined Adam where he was sitting at the other side of the large rectangle of a bar. I had a pint of Shilshole Bay IPA (6.9% ABV), brewed with Yakima Valley hops. It was pleasant in a sort of calm and mellow Pacific Northwest way. Rick went for a pint of Idaho 7 SMASH (6.0% ABV), brewed with Idaho 7 hops. It was a bit too sweet for me, but that could have just been the slightly strong malt character. Adam had a pint of Sour Bramble (5.2% ABV), a tart kettle sour brewed with blackberries. This one I really liked and wished I'd ordered myself.

Besides beers Lagunitas offers snacks, sandwiches, and burgers, and some very nostalgic American desserts like ice cream sandwiches and stout floats. The Seattle Lagunitas opened in the former HIlliard’s Beer in 2017, followed soon after by another Lagunitas in Azusa, California. Today Lagunitas brews are available in several countries including the UK. In fact, my own local pub in Sheffield has a craft beer pump featuring Lagunitas ales.

After a stop at Adam’s bicycle, where he unpacked a jacket for evening, we walked down the road to Reuben’s Brews. This brewery, which opened in 2012, was named after the first child of the co-founders, Adam and Grace Robbings. As we walked into the inviting taproom and up to the corner bar,r I was drawn immediately to the Fresh Hop Crickey IPA (6.8% ABV), so I had to order a pint of this. It was really good, with again that intriguing combination of citrus and pine. In fact it was really really good. It just got better as I drank it. By the time I got halfway through I had run out of reallys and gone straight to wonderfuls. It's really wonderful.

Adam had a pint of American Brown Ale (5.9% ABV), which had a very nice malt aroma. Rick's Hop Idol (7.6% ABV), a hazy pale ale, was, as Rick described it, a "breakfast beer". Brewed with Sabro hops and Mecca Grade pilsner malt, it had a very interesting cereal taste. We couldn't tell what cereal exactly, but it definitely wasn't shredded wheat.

I suspected there must be some British connection with Reuben's, as some of the beers are named using very British sayings like crickey, blimey, bits and bobs, moreish, gobsmacked, Brettania. Through later research I learned that co-founder and master brewer Adam is originally from the UK. After solving that mystery I didn’t feel like moving on to ponder why we were drinking Adam’s beers with somebody else named Adam. There are simply too many mysteries in this life to solve.

During later research I found out that the baseball caps Reuben's sell are made from recycled plastic bottles. I almost wish I’d bought myself one.

We moved on -- or perhaps, more correctly in my case, stumbled on -- to Bad Jimmy’s Brewing Company. When it was mentioned that I write about beer in the UK, I found myself suddenly showered in Bad Jimmy’s stickers and other promotional gifts, and I was immediately impressed by how friendly this place is.

The three of us decided at this slightly intoxicated juncture to share a four-taster flight. The first taster was Whale Tail Pale Ale (6.0%), brewed with Cascade, Centennial, Citra, Columbus, Equanox, and Simcoe hops. With that very PNW combination of hops, what's not to like? Next in the flight was Cucumber Lime Blonde (6.7% ABV), brewed with Cascade and Columbia hops. Although I'm not fond of the taste of cucumber, unless it's either pickled or mixed finely diced in yogurt, I thought maybe the lime might alter that basic icy taste that puts me off. This was okay, as I recall, although I’m afraid I can't honestly recall much. The Spicy PB & Jamber (6.8% ABV) was exactly as promised: a mixture of peanut butter and blackberry jelly with the addition of habañeros. It was brewed with Cascade and Centennial hops, just to prevent any treacleness. And the fourth part of the flight was Cocoa Vanilla Porter (6.5% ABV), brewed with Cascade hops. If you think of it as dessert, what's not to like? It’s brewed with real chocolate and vanilla, and the Cascade hops prevent it from being too sweet.

Bad Jimmy's is sort of a mixed-space place, with t-shirts hanging next to the TV and sports pictures and beer lists all over the place. The barmaid was extremely nice, which made our visit even more enjoyable. Apparently the brewery has a game arcade and a beer garden, but I don’t think we got that far. I’m really not too certain, as we’d had a lot of wildly different beer experieces at that point. I do remember eating a slice of pizza nearby, and Rick and I stumbling back home to Fremont, happy to have experienced Ballard in all of its glory. Ya sure, you betcha!

PUB UPDATES:

  • BLAKE HOTEL, SHEFFIELD: Back in August before my trip to America, Andrew and I stopped in here on a hot day and had pints of Three (4.2% ABV, XT Brewing Company, Long Crendon, Buckinghamshire). Brewed with Chinook, Cascade, and Columbus hops, this imparted a good strong hops character and was perfect for enjoying the nice breezy shade in the beer garden. We spent most of our time watching a hot dog, not in a bun but a canine playing dead, lying with her head on a nice cool iron brolly stand base. The Blake’s large garden is actually really nice, but one needs a warm day to really appreciate it.

  • PIKE TANKARD & TUN, SEATTLE: When Rick and I were visiting Seattle and walking toward Pike Place Market, I suggested stopping in here. Formerly called the Pike Brewing Company, this was an old favourite for meals and also just a quick afternoon pint, back when I was a Seattle resident. Walking along 1st Avenue toward the brewpub, everything looked exactly the same as it did when I lived here in the 1990s. The Northwest Tribal Arts Shop is still there, what used to be Dilettante Chocolates is now some other chocolate shop, and Kosher Delight is now Falafel King. As we entered the brewery building inside the Market, everything looked the same inside there as well. It’s still the same two-storey maze of a brewpub, with the restaurant area serving plenty of seafood, and there's some Dale Chihuly glass overhead, and dried hops plants. Currently the third oldest existing brewery in Seattle, the Pike Brewery was started in 1989 by Charles and Rose Ann Finkel, who travelled in Europe and liked the maltier beers they tasted.

    As it was lunchtime in the brewpub’s restaurant and we had other things to do, we sat in the bar and shared a couple of quick halfs, served in stemmed glasses, each glass etched with an octopus. The Pike Space Needle Golden West Coast IPA (6.5% ABV), a dry hopped beer brewed with four varieties of Yakima Valley aroma hops, won a beer competition for the Space Needle's 50th anniversary back in 2012. Our other half was of Pike IPA (6.3% ABV), the 2019 version of my old favourite which is now brewed with Citra hops. Both of us experienced a distinct sweetness with our first sip of each beer, and then the bitter hops gradually emerged, combined with the unique malty character of Pike's beers, suggestive of many of the Scottish brews I’ve tasted. After the two brews finally cleared up our slightly overindulged-from-the-night-before palates, we both found ourselves embarking on a journey through several different layers of flavours and characters. I could definitely taste a Scottish “wee heavy” influence in both of these.

  • BROUWER'S CAFE, SEATTLE: On the final night of my recent visit to Seattle, when my friend Rick and I were staying in Fremont, I suggested late at night that we stop in here for one last pint before heading back to the B&B. As the place wasn’t too crowded we sat at the bar and shared two pints. One was cask-conditioned Thayer IPA (6.9% ABV, Stoup Brewing Company, Seattle, Washington). This is the first cask beer I've seen in the US for years that is otherwise a beer that I would choose to drink. I’m very happy to see that, as there are so many excitingly hoppy cask ales in England and I’m glad some US brewers have finally learned that. Our other pint was Triumvirate IPA (6.0% ABV, Reuben's Brews, Seattle, Washington), brewed with Mosaic fresh hops. This had a really nice smell, like Abbeydale Deception. Ahhhh...mmmm-mmmmm. That's about it.

  • RUTLAND ARMS, SHEFFIELD: Recently, while working at a remote campus, I came back into town after work and met my workmate John for a pint here. I went for Everyone Loves Chinook (3.8% ABV, Fyne Ales, Loch Fyne, Argylle, Scotland). This is a single hopped session beer with a surprisingly punchy bitter flavour. When John tasted it he went for it as well.

  • PUNCHBOWL, SHEFFIELD: It had been years since I’d been in this pub, back when masses of us would be packed in like sweaty skanking and pogoing sardines while the excellent ska band Jungle Lion performed. True North Brewery have recently taken over the pub and are doing proper meals and offering 6 different cask ales. It was a Saturday at 5:15pm when three of us visited, and the pub was already rammed, but with lots of people eating and drinking as opposed to dancing. Still, it was nearly as deafening as it was on those Jungle Lion nights. While I was waiting for my companions I had a taste of Headless Pale Ale (3.9% ABV, Redwillow Brewery, Macclesfield, Cheshire). It’s nice, but my next taste of Polans (4.3% ABV, True North, Sheffield, South Yorkshire) proved hoppier with a little more zip. After Mike and Andrew finally arrived, we ended up freezing out in the smoking garden simply so that Mike and I could be heard as we each talked about our respective American trips (mine to the West Coast and Mike’s to the Northeast Coast).

  • CLOSED SHOP, SHEFFIELD: I hadn’t been in this pub for awhile, either. I don’t really know why, but I suppose it’s just this constant vitus interruptus which seems to eat up my time. On one recent day after work, because of a rare clear sky and no rain, and the fact I needed to pick up some shopping in Barber Road, I decided I had a perfect excuse for a pint in Commonside. No guest beers were on in the Shop, as all the handpumps are currently featuring Stancill beers only, so I went for a pint of Now Then (4.3% ABV, Stancill Brewery, Sheffield, South Yorkshire. It was nice enough, but a bit murky, so I changed it for a pint of Stainless (4.3% ABV, Stancill). The Stainless was good, but it’s always a slick and hoppy pale pint. A man at the bar was talking about pouring concrete into a big hole at 7am that morning. If somebody had taken a video of him doing this, I could have loaded it onto my Concrete Appreciation Society Facebook group page. Oh well, another missed opportunity...

  • SPRINGVALE, SHEFFIELD: On a recent visit Andrew and I had pints of Wisewood 3 (3.8% ABV, Loxley Brewery, Sheffield, South Yorkshire). This is a proper dark amber bitter, and it's quite good for a bitter. But it’s not really my taste these days. So far we've both been a bit disappointed by Loxley Brewery’s beers. Like Bradfield Brewery, we think they need to get a bit more experimental and exciting in their brewing.

BOTTLED/CANNED BEER UPDATE:

  • Funk Dungeon (4.6% ABV, Abbeydale Brewing Company, Sheffield, South Yorkshire): This interesting beer is brewed with Mosaic hops. It's part of Abbeydale's Hop Bretta series, produced as a result of their nano-batch barrel ageing and souring project which uses their house brett culture. This beer, as I poured it from the can, bubbled out, scenting the room intoxicatingly. The sudden explosion caused me to check the use-by date on the can, but it was still in date, so it was just an impressive entrance out of the can and into the glass. As no one was harmed in the decanting process, what a rewarding pleasure this amazingly fragrant beer turned out to be.