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Lagunitas Brewing Company, 1550 Northwest 49th Street, Ballard, Seattle, Washington
Reuben’s Brews, 5010 14th Avenue Northwest, Ballard, Seattle, Washington
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!
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