Among the finest in the nation!
By Aubrey Laurence
Washington now has more than 200 craft breweries and many of them are producing some of the finest beers in the nation. With so many Washington beers out there to choose from, we have whittled them down to the best of the best.
Due to limited availability, only year-round beers were considered, and all barrel-aged and seasonal beers were excluded. And, because IPA (India pale ale) has become the most popular style of craft beer — not only in the Pacific Northwest but also throughout America — we created a separate list for Washington’s best IPAs (see page 42).
These top beers were chosen based on an exhaustive amount of research (over beers) and non-scientific polls of fiercely opinionated brewers and beer geeks (over beers).
All top-beer lists are fundamentally subjective, of course, and no one will agree on all the winners. Just rest assured that all of the following beers are worthy of your time, money and taste buds. So, in no particular order, here are Washington’s 10 best beers.
Chuckanut Brewery, Bellingham
Chuckanut’s multi-award-winning, German-style pilsner pours with a bright golden hue and a pillowy white head. Its mouthfeel is crisp up front, soft in the middle and dry in the finish. Rich, bready and cracker-like malt flavors are complemented by bright hop flavors and wafting aromas of delicate flowers, herbs and spices. A balanced bitterness rounds things out with this flavorful and stylistically accurate beer.
Homo Erectus Imperial IPA
Walking Man Brewing, Stevenson
This upright brew has a malt side that is filled with elements of cookie dough and caramel, and a hop side that explodes with notes of sweet pine, fresh-cut grass, aromatic flowers and resinous grapefruit.
It’s surprisingly balanced for such a boldly hopped beer, and it’s dangerously drinkable for such a highly alcoholic beer – with 9 percent alcohol by volume (ABV). Its only downside is that it seems to be nearly extinct in Washington, as it’s more likely to be found on tap in Portland than Seattle. But it’s well worth seeking out.
Crystal Bitter ESB
No-Li Brewhouse, Spokane
The English-style Extra Special Bitter (ESB) may not be the sexiest style of beer out there, but when you taste a good ESB you really appreciate it, and No-Li’s Crystal Bitter is one of those beers. Over the past few years it has won many awards, including a gold medal at the 2012 Great American Beer Festival. It’s not surprising, as it’s a very balanced and painfully easy-to-drink beer with pleasant notes of biscuits, toasted bread, caramel, nuts, fruit and herbs.
Fat Scotch Ale
Silver City Brewery, Bremerton
This malt-forward Scotch ale has garnered too many awards to list. It’s incredibly smooth and surprisingly drinkable, especially for having more than 9 percent ABV, which is hidden tremendously well. Its flavor profile is pleasantly earthy and chocolaty with tasty hints of peat, nuts, toffee and soft smoke.
Flyers Brewery, Oak Harbor
Pacemaker is a beautifully roasted, robust porter with a creamy-smooth texture and bold elements of dark chocolate, black coffee, sticky pine and snappy citrus. Need I say more?
Elysian Brewing Co., Seattle
This deliciously rich, full-bodied stout has a milkshake-like mouthfeel and loads of complex flavors such as dark chocolate, espresso with cream and sweet oats. It also offers some roasty notes of char and tar, giving it a slightly burnt edge. With each sip of this beefy beer, you’ll think you’re drinking a 10-percent-ABV imperial stout, but it only has 7.5 percent, so it’s more in line with the foreign stout style.
Reuben’s Brews, Seattle
Increasingly, it seems like Reuben’s Brews can do no wrong, and this imperial IPA is just one more example of this brewery’s incredible talent. Gentle malt flavors of caramel, bread and toffee coalesce wonderfully with snappy hops that leave behind a clean bitterness. Meanwhile, bright notes of citrus and pine add to the beer’s complexity.
Pike XXXXX Stout
Pike Brewing Co., Seattle
This satisfying stout pours inky black with a frothy tan head. Its nose wafts with notes of roasted coffee and fruit. It feels creamy and full-bodied on the tongue. Malt flavors exude with coffee, black licorice, baker’s chocolate, umami, campfire and cookies, and they merge seamlessly with a pine-like bitterness that tames the beer’s moderate sweetness.
Universale Pale Ale
Fremont Brewing Co., Seattle
Fremont’s Northwest-style, flagship pale ale is full of flavor with an incredibly balanced mix of malts and hops. Bready, nutty and slightly sweet malt flavors blend harmoniously with a healthy dose of “C” hops (Columbus, Centennial and Cascade), imbuing the beer with fruity and floral aromas and a balanced amount of bitterness.
Ursus Spelaeus Belgian-Style Imperial Stout
Sound Brewery, Poulsbo
Named after the extinct Russian cave bear, this beer has a velvety texture and a complex mix of roasted grains, espresso, molasses, anise, bitter chocolate and dark fruits. It finishes with an assertive hop bitterness. Meanwhile, spicy Belgian yeast esters dance in the background along with a nip of throat-warming alcohol.
Chuckanut Brewery: www.chuckanutbreweryandkitchen.com
Walking Man Brewing: www.walkingmanbrewing.com
No-Li Brewhouse: www.nolibrewhouse.com
Silver City Brewery: www.silvercitybrewery.com
Flyers Brewery: www.eatatflyers.com
Elysian Brewing Co.: www.elysianbrewing.com
Reuben’s Brews: www.reubensbrews.com
The Pike Brewing Co.: www.pikebrewing.com
Fremont Brewing Co.: www.fremontbrewing.com
Sound Brewery: www.soundbrewery.com
Aubrey is a freelance writer who has written about craft beer, hiking and mountain climbing for more than a decade. He has hiked, climbed and tasted beer across the U.S. and in more than a dozen countries on six continents (but not at the same time). He lives in Bellingham with his No. 1 climbing partner (his wife) and their three cats.