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Seapine Brewing Company, 2959 Utah Avenue South, Sodo, Seattle, Washington

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Ghostfish Brewing Company, 2942 1st Avenue South, Sodo, Seattle, Washington

Last month I made my yearly pilgrimage to my native country to visit family. Although I was mostly in Southern California, specifically Long Beach and Los Angeles, I also flew up for a few days to another previous home, Seattle. My Bay Area friend Rick flew up as well, and we spent a few days exploring the sites, meeting up with old friends, and of course sampling libations.

We were staying fairly centrally in Fremont with plans to explore downtown, Capital Hill, Ballard, and my old neighbourhood of Lower Queen Anne. But from Sea-Tac, which is south of the city, it was only seven stops north on the Link Rail to the Sodo stop, where several interesting breweries have sprung up. So naturally we had to take advantage of the opportunity.

The area called Sodo originally stood for “South of the Dome”, meaning the Kingdome, where both the Mariners and the Seahawks played baseball and American football respectively. After the Kingdome was dramatically imploded in 2000, the SafeCo Arena, now called T-Mobile Park, was constructed for the Mariners games, followed shortly after by the adjacent CenturyLink Field for both the Seahawks and Seattle’s soccer team, the Sounders. The area is still known as Sodo, with the abbreviation now standing for “South of Downtown”. These days the former industrial district has become populated with artists’ lofts, start-up businesses, and galleries, as well as several breweries and pubs.

As it was only a mile and a half between the Link stop and our first brewery we decided to walk. It turned out to be an interesting walk, as we trudged over a surprising number of railroad tracks, all alive with rapid transit routes and freight trains blaring their distinct horns in a cacophonous stereo celebration of rail transport. We walked past such uniquely Seattle sites as the original Elephant Car Wash, first built in 1951 but whose fame was superseded five years later by its bigger sibling downtown, and Cannabis City as well as the handy Ladybug Bikini Drive-thru Espresso. As we neared our first brewery we noticed quite a few young people out walking who looked as if they might be on their way to Happy Hour rendezvous with workmates, or maybe even trendy bistro meals with friends. Or perhaps they were just heading home after an exhausting day at work to their ultra-modern designer lofts camouflaged behind drab warehouse frontages.

Rick and I were definitely on our way to the Seapine Brewing Company, an oasis founded in 2011 that lies in the midst of the sparse industrial landscape. The tiny front garden seemed quite busy, so we headed inside to the bar. The long wooden tables were quite busy as well, so considering it was only a Wednesday the taproom is obviously a popular place.

We first had a taste of Positron (6.7% ABV), an IPA single hopped with the lovely Galaxy hops. Considering it was brewed with two pounds of hops per barrel, it had a pretty moderate character with none of that Galaxy whoosh! I love so much. We also had a taste of Moonseed IPA (6.3% ABV). Brewed with Sabro hop and with a nitro-like cloud floating on top of the pint, this imparted a very unusual coconut character. I could handle and quite enjoy the tiny taster, but it was a bit too sweet to consider a whole pint. So we both went for pints of Devil's Bite (6.8% ABV), brewed with Ekuanot.

We returned to the front garden and shared a table with two other customers. We sat, happy to finally be in Seattle and away from the airport, and sipped our Bites which were perfect Yes! pints. This was a just reward, especially for Rick and his afternoon spend waiting for his multiply postponed flight from San Francisco to actually leave. (My flight was perfect, but I still reaped in the rewards.)

We next walked over to the Ghostfish Brewing Company, which uses unusual grains in their beers like millet, rice, and buckwheat, and for those who need to think about such things, all of the beers are gluten free as is all of the food in the restaurant. As Ghostfish is obviously a gastropub, we figured the least obtrusive place for us to sit, as we only wanted a pint, was at the bar. Whenever it’s possibly I usually opt for sitting at the bar in a new place, because if you’re curious about anything you can ask the bar staff or even those sitting at the bar next to you, as they often tend to be regulars. And as the whole place seemed a bit modern and yuppie-restaurantish, we could ignore the atmosphere and concentrate on the beers.

As we were meeting friends later for dinner and still had to check into our B&B, we decided to stick to a flight of three 7-ounce tasters. The first was Vanishing Point Pale Ale (5.5% ABV), described as "rubber biscuit" and with an IBU of 45. It was a pleasant drink, lightly hoppy-bitter, not too much of either but just enough, so it made a good thirst quencher. Then there was Peak Buster Double IPA (8.0), which was nice enough. And finally the Grapefruit IPA (5.5% ABV), with an IBU of 85, at first seemed mild but pleasant. I thought maybe it was hiding its secrets. After a few minutes of Rick and I relating stories while sipping the first two beers, I tasted the Grapefruit again, and it had grown, grown, grown in character into the unusual combination of grapefruit and pint. Just imagine pushing your way through the needs of a pine tree in search of ripe grapefruits. Yow!

Besides using unusual grains, Ghostfish gets most of its brewery ingredients from small artisan producers located in California and Colorado, and all of the hops are from the Pacific Northwest. The main grain used is millet, which is probably why Rick and I were so interested in visiting, because back when we were programmers together we had a workmate who often espoused the miraculous benefits of millet.

Although we weren’t so encumbered, both of these brewpubs are dog and child friendly. There are quite a few other breweries around the area that would have been interesting to explore; but in our short few days we had other (mostly isinglass-free) fish to fry.

PUB UPDATES:

  • SHEFFIELD TAP, SHEFFIELD: The day before my September flight to America I caught a train to Manchester Airport to spend the night at a nearby hotel. While I was waiting for my train I had a quick half of Highway 51 (3.7% ABV, Roosters Brewery, Harrogate, North Yorkshire). A dry hopped pale with Mosaic, Centennial, and Rakau hops, this was a wonderfully hoppy tonic for my nervous, stressful morning. What a perfect start to another adventure.

  • LUCKY BALDWIN'S, PASADENA: On my California trip, after a full afternoon exploring art in Los Angeles with my friend Kimmer, I stopped in here with my Altadena friends Mary and Toep. The place was very crowded, but we managed to find two tiny tables in the main room. I had a pint of Windows Up (7.0% ABV, Alpine Beer Company, Alpine, California), which has a complicated hoppy bitterness that reminded me a bit of my own complicated mostly-positive stress. Drinking this was like listening to a fun story. Toep went for a pint of Young's Double Chocolate Milk Stout (5.2% ABV, Eagle Brewery, Bedford, Bedfordshire), which smelled promising but turned out to be a bit flaccid. If it was shipped from the UK, this might have explained it, as California is a long way from Bedfordshire.

  • BALLAST POINT, LONG BEACH: Back in Long Beach, my ex-bandmate Lisa and I once again met up here for our yearly catchup. This time we each went for a flight of four 4-ounce tasters. Including one beer that both of us chose. This worked out well, as we ended up with seven different Ballast Point beers to taste. My first taster was Grapefruit Sculpin IPA (7.0% ABV), which is an old favourite of mine, and it was quite nice. The Mango Even Keel (3.8% ABV), which I intentionally chose because of its relatively low alcohol content, is a good hoppy session ale with the flavour of mango and very citrussy hops. The Fathom IPA (6.8% ABV), my favourite of the ones I chose, was a great IPA, perfect in all respects and everything you could ever want in an IPA. My final choice was Red Wine Barrel Aged Sour Wrench (7.1%), which was very winey indeed. In fact it was a bit too much like a fermented glass of cabernet. I was hoping for something a bit more like an amazing glass of port.

    The best choice of our flights was one of Lisa's, the Fishtailgate (5.7% ABV). Before it even reached my lips I instantly recognised the Galaxy hops bursting up into my nostrils like a vapour explosion. This was a truly lovely beer, and I honestly wished that I had just gone for a pint of this. The Watermelon Dorado (10% ABV) was next. Wooh! Powerful! Melon!Strong! That’s about all I can say. Then there was the extremely dangerous Barmy (12% ABV), a Belgian strong ale brewed with apricots and orange blossom honey and aged in virgin oak barrels. Lisa was in danger of getting totally slaughtered on this taster, even though it was only four ounces, so I offered to trade my tame Mango and her Barmy halfway through to ease the burden. What a good friend I am… Loaded with flavours of vanilla, oak, and apricot, this concoction was surprisingly wonderful. What a film script of an experience -- but I certainly wouldn't want to drink an entire pint. Finally, for dessert, Lisa had ordered a taster of Victory At Sea (10% ABV), an Imperial porter with coffee and vanilla. And it most certainly was dessert.

  • ELYSIAN BREWERY, SHEFFIELD: It had been twenty years or so since I’d visited this pub, probably my all-time favourite when I lived in Seattle, so I suggested it to Rick for our Capitol Hill afternoon. Surprisingly the Elysian looks exactly the same as it did back in the 1990s, when St Bushmill’s Choir used to perform here and we dined on heavenly blackened catfish and eggplant parmesan sandwiches. Those aren’t on the food menu anymore, but there were a lot of intriguing choices for lunch. So Rick and I decided to share two starters: Manilla clams in Mosaic hops broth, and Mexican grilled corn on the cob wit ancho, garlic aioli, and cotija cheese, which were really great, just like I always used to expect from Elysian. For our pints we both went for Dayglo IPA (7.4% ABV), brewed with an intriguing combination of Mosaic, El Dorado, and Centennial hops and a touch of wheat. A gorgeous golden amber in colour, this is one of those brews that promises something new with each sip -- an E Ticket of a palate experience, if anyone is old enough and Californian enough to remember what E Tickets are. Somewhat appropriately named, the Dayglo changed on our palates once we started eating food. What a lovely experience and start of our busy afternoon this turned out to be.