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Optimism Brewing Company, 1158 Broadway, Capitol Hill, Seattle, Washington
A few months ago when I was visiting Seattle, my friend Rick and I spent one afternoon in Capitol Hill. This vibrant Seattle neighbourhood started life as Broadway Hill, but in 1901 was renamed by local developer James Moore who believed that the state capitol would be moving from Olympia to Seattle. Today Capitol Hill is known for its diversity and nightlife. It’s also the home of Lake View Cemetery, where Bruce and Brandon Lee are buried and where there’s a great view over Lake Union. Back when I lived in Seattle my friend Celia and I frequented many of the live music venues around the city centre, and Capitol Hill had its share. In fact, for lunch I suggested that Rick and I check out the original Elysian Brewery, as not only did I spend many good nights there listening to one of my favourite Seattle bands, Saint Bushmill’s Choir, but the food was great and the beer was excellent.
After lunch and a pint at the Elysian, which was still excellent after all these years, we wandered around Capitol Hill, reminiscing (or at least I was), stopped for a coffee, and then decided to check out a brewery we’d spotted earlier. Located on a corner in an old warehouse, Optimism Brewing Company gave us the immediate impression of a vast emporium of beer -- and of course the name attracted us. The place is huge, with a long bar running along the front window. As we had plans to spend the evening tasting beers in Ballard, we decided to go for a taster tray of six beers.
We took our tray to a long table and sat down to tackle the tough task of tasting beers. For some reason, as we had 6 beers -- which coincided with the 6 cats in residence at my mother’s California house which was the base for my trip -- I challenged myself to name each taster after one of the cats.
Our first taster was Hello World Bavarian Bright Lager (4.4%). Brewed with Hallertau Mittelfü hops and Bohemian Floor-Malted Pilsner, this beer was described on the menu as lightly sweet, lightly fruity, and grainy. The reason Rick and I felt compelled to order this is because we became good friends when we worked together as programmers. And for those not in the know, this beer was named after computer scientist Brian Kernighan, who wrote the world's first "Hello, World" program to demonstrate his new language called C. In fact I taught myself C and Unix by reading Kernighan’s books. The name of the beer also refers to the beer style Helles, which uses bottom-fermenting yeast and bitter hops. Rick thought it wasn’t wildly exciting. As he described it, it was "not an amuse bouche but a sorbet of beer to cleanse the palate between our tastier courses." I decided it was a pleasant lager which my Euro-lager-drinking friends would enjoy -- and perhaps while simultaneously stroking Lexxi, the pleasant and quiet little Siamese.
Next on our tray was Passion Fruit Solarpunk (5.2%), described as a zingy sour beer that uses real passion fruit. Yep, that about describes it. I dedicated it to the young, spirited, and wildly zingy Jack, my special favourite of the felines.
Third up was Worlds of If Wild Barrel-Aged Wheat Beer (10.4%), which the menu described as “tenacious, profound, and barrel-aged 18 months." Rick likened drinking it to diving into a barrel of fermented peaches. I likened it to surfing in a Philippine mahogany barrel, not realising I was about to plunge down a waterfall. The hops used were Magnum and Cascade, which seem appropriate for swimming in barrels. This beer I dedicated to the cat with the amazingly adventurous life story, Mickey.
Next was I Do Celebrity Brut Ale (6.7%), a brut IPA with white nectarine that sparkled bubbly all over the tongue like a jacuzzi. It was a bit mild as to flavour, but it was a really nice tongue bath. Apparently this was originally brewed for weddings, with Huell Melo and Hallertau Blanc hops, and Pilsner, Flaked Rice, and Flaked Corn malts. Dedicated to Presti, whom my brother and new sister-in-law adopted after their wedding.
Next in our tour was Moxee Pacific Northwest Style Hoppy Ale (5.9%). Described as piney and woodsy, this amber-coloured beer made us think of a silent tromp on a wet forest floor. It was biscuity like a freezer biscuit that needs pulling out of the oven before it blackens. Apparently this brew was named after Moxee, a town in Washington State where the Simcoe, Chinook, & Columbus hops used to brew it were all grown. This is definitely dedicated to Buddha, the big, hearty Siamese.
Our final taster was Amplify Hazy Assertive Ale (9.3% ABV). A double ale brewed with Huell Melon, Summer, and Loral hops, and 2-row, Crystal, Naked Oats, and Flaked Oats malts, drinking this was like biting into a perfect specimen of a piece of fruit -- perhaps an apple or a pear. As Rick described it, it was “like having a really assertive door-to-door salesman, whose name happens to be Amplify Hazy Assertive Ale, knock on your door. For some reason you invite him in, and you turn out to actually like him. So you end up buying the entire set of encyclopaedias.” I dedicated this to the calico, Cally, who could probably sell Manhattan to a naive investor with her good looks.
As we cross-tasted our selections, we started to see the complex web of associations. The Hello, World was more interesting after tasting the Moxie than before. The Worlds of If partnered the Amplify, and the Solarpunk performed do-si-dos while the Hello World allemanded left. It was either a squaredance of beers or else a C program with six levels of nested Ifs. We were experiencing a beautiful spectrum of tastes, characters, and colours, and tasting them randomly and getting brand new taste sensations made me want to write a simple C program that would lead one through all the potential tasting orders and resulting engagements. In fact I was hoping I would be invited to some of the weddings. Rick summed up this six-taster flight as being like a scratch 'n' sniff card that never dies.
After we had experienced this multitude of epiphanies I started to give my attention to the large Optimism space which seems more like a light industrial location than a cool city-centre setting. To the rear of the room are giant brewing vats, and upstairs over the vats is another room with its own bar, presumably used for group bookings. Dogs on leads are welcome anywhere, kids are welcome in the back play area, and outside food and soft drinks can be brought in. Optimism doesn’t serve food, but it is visited by lots of food trucks that park out back, and the menus include hot dogs, deli sandwiches, burgers, Alaskan dumplings, and Mexican, Peruvian, Venezuelan, Filipino, Greek, and Native American specialities -- so you don’t have to go hungry while you’re tasting. The brewery takes card and digital payments only, so leave your cash at home.
The history of Optimism’s building is quite interesting. Originally built by one of the Rainier Brewery founder 100 years ago, the brewery became Seattle Brewing and Malting, which was the sixth largest brewery in the world at the time. When Prohibition came along, the owner’s wife unfortunately got involved in the Temperance Movement, so they decided to divest themselves of their holdings in the brewery and turn the building into an automobile warehouse.
Fortunately it has been reborn as a brewery, and a superb one at that. No wonder they named it Optimism.s
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