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Previous Pint Pleasures - April 1998

Guinness Eileen

Maritime Pacific Jolly Roger Taproom, 1514 Northwest Leary Way, Ballard

Seeing as how probably a good half of my devoted espresso-loving friends and readers are passionate about good ales, stouts, and porters as well as good coffee, it was inevitable that I would eventually start a beer column. Well, here it is in its inaugural state -- virginal, pristine, and unsettled like the characters in a brand new television series. I figure the first subject I should cover in this column is an in-depth look at Seattle's own brewpubs. Occasionally I expect to branch out to other cities and their brewpubs, as well as non-brewing pubs that feature a good selection on tap. And, naturally, I'll be covering other topics as well, whatever they may turn out to be.

Some may find my beer-tasting terms a little unusual. But if you've read my espresso columns (Double Shot Buzz), you'll know by now that I'm very particular about my tastes, preferring to use my own multi-sensual descriptions and criteria rather than the more widely-used terms. (For more details see the e-mail exchange in the Double Shot Buzz review of Nice Day Coffee Company.)

With all this in mind, I'll start off with one of the newer and less fancy brewpubs in town.

The Maritime Pacific Brewery, where Flagship Red Ale and Nightwatch Dark Ale are brewed, is located just west of 15th Avenue Northwest. For our first visit Max and I stopped by late on a Sunday afternoon. There was plenty of parking available on the street, and the pub was virtually empty. We were joined in a short time by a couple friends of the bartender and a small group of people who looked like dockworkers.

The Jolly Roger is a comfortable room with simple decor, including a grouping of unusually sparse but pleasing neon lights on the ceiling. The view from the windows is of the Ballard Auto Wrecking Company across the street; you can also see a bit of the Ballard Bridge. The bar offers a long, serious line of taps, including three cask-conditioned hand pumps. Displayed under the taps is a wide variety of English bar towels, including the Bass Ale one my parents gave me years ago. No food is served, but the bartender offered us a bowl of free pretzels. Obviously this is not a place to go for lunch or dinner; it's a place to go to drink great beer with appreciative friends.

The selections on tap include Flagship Red Ale (which comes in three forms -- standard, dry-hopped, and cask-conditioned), Nightwatch Dark Ale, Bosun's Porter, Salmon Bay Bitter, Clipper Gold Wheat Ale, Islander Pale Ale, a hard cider, and the namesake robust winter brew, Jolly Roger Ale. We each ordered a pint of the cask-conditioned Salmon Bay Bitter, an opaque but satisfying brew with a creamy head. My pint tasted like burnt umber with sandy overtones, with the hoppiness running in a diagonal across the tongue, separating one side of classical bitter from the other side of smooth marbled slate, the colors bleeding slightly into each other. The aftertaste imparted a great cadence: not too loud but pleasantly lilting.

The Jolly Roger, which is a no-smoking room, has recently expanded its hours and is now open 7 days a week although not too late, making it a perfect place to stop in the late afternoon or early evening for a pint or two. The 16-ounce pints are $3.00 apiece; for $7.00 you can get five 5-ounce tasters.

At this point I would normally go off onto some tangent about life, the universe, or beer; but to tell you the truth, I haven't the faintest idea what to talk about this month. I mean, I suppose I could just ramble on about the pure joy of having a wide selection of decent microbrews to choose from these days after having spent my college years getting terrible hangovers from watered-down pitchers of urine-inspired Budweiser and Miller. As I recall, it didn't take much of the cheap stuff to bring on a hangover. In contrast one can get just a little bit tipsy on a few pints of microbrew and wake up feeling great. Does this say something about the purity of the micros as opposed to the polluted nature of the "macros"? I would think so.

I could also mention the fact that even though American microbrews are getting better and better they still haven't reached the perfection of the finest English brews. But obviously any British readers who've been to the States and tasted our craft beers already know this. And any American microbrew lover who hasn't been to the UK probably doesn't want to be hearing this unless they've currently got a flight booked to London or Dublin or Glasgow. So I won't go on and on about John Smith or Old Speckled Hen or any of the others; someday, if the microbrewery trend stays with us and evolves into an everyday fact of life, perhaps American craft beers will attain that level of worthiness.

I will say, however, that having tasted local microbrews in Chicago, Virginia, Quebec, and all over California -- and having heard reports from a close friend on the local beers of Texas, Utah, and North Carolina -- I feel strongly that the Pacific Northwest consistently brews the best beer on the continent. There are some wonderful breweries in Oregon -- Deschutes, Bridgeport, and Rogue, to name three -- as well as some spectacular ones in the state of Washington. I suppose I should name a few of those, but I was going to wait until I write about them -- well, all right, I will name just a couple, like maybe Fish Tale, Orchard Street, and Seattle's excellent Pike Brewery and the absolutely exquisite Elysian Brewery. And one of my consistently favorite winter beers is Cold Cock Winter Porter, from Big Rock in Alberta, which is technically part of the Pacific Northwest (or Cascadia, as some of those post-modern media folk call it).

But I suppose I can cover all those subjects in future columns...

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(Last updated 17 September 2010)