The year is not quite over – we still have our holiday trip back to Philadelphia coming up, which means I will get to have some of my beloved Brawler (fresh, no less), and perhaps some Tired Hands joy – but I did have quite a few beers that stood out this year (spoiler alert: many of them are porters – and there is a lot of good, often lower-ABV, beer in Hawaii). I also had quite a few mediocre IPAs, since that’s what’s more typically on tap around me, but I was fortunate to find each of these, either on my travels or via happenstance. As the year is drawing rapidly to a close, we’ll cut to the chase:
Young Danny Boy, ESB, 5.4%, – Half Door Brewing, San Diego, CA
I’d never been to San Diego before, and while I very much enjoyed the deservedly-feted Modern Times, I’d heard absolutely nothing in advance about Half Door Brewing. It’s in a lovely old house downtown that’s been thoughtfully re-used, and everything on tap was outstanding. While the ESB was my favorite, I also really enjoyed their Coleman’s Stout and Gimmick Ale Milk Stout (one of those beers that should not work, but really does) – and they even have a Father Ted-themed beer, a nod to their ‘Irish pub’ approach. I wish I’d discovered it before my last night in town, and would happily re-visit.
Barrio Lager, Vienna Lager, 4.5% – Thorn St. Brewery, San Diego, CA
Obviously you don’t go to San Diego and skip the opportunity to have great Mexican food at every opportunity and price point (especially when you live in Seattle, which has a dearth of acceptable, much less good, Mexican food), and I found this on tap at a fancier restaurant. It was fresh, clean and just right for the meal; a bit cracker-y, smooth and a perfect complement to some excellent food.
Chuckanut Fest Lager 2018, Festbier, 5.5%, – Chuckanut Brewery, Bellingham, WA
Chuckanut makes some of the best lagers on the left coast, and this beer is an annual treat. This year’s version was no exception. We didn’t make it to the brewery itself in the past twelve months, but I did manage to find this in good shape a few times during the fall.
Czech Pilsner, 6.2%, Buoy Beer Company, Astoria, OR
But wait, there are a few more good lagers in this part of the world; while they don’t exist in the numbers they do in and around Philly, there are some worth seeking out, and Buoy’s Czech Pilsner is one of those. Their Astoria brewpub is a wonderful place to visit as well. Everything on tap was really very good indeed, and I now regularly trek to the one bottle shop near-ish my office for Buoy’s canned beers, even though it means a heavy backpack and a long walk to and from the bus.
7-Spoke Brown Porter, 6%, Flying Bike Co-operative Brewery, Seattle, WA
Full disclosure: while I’m only a Flying Bike member – it’s a cooperative brewery, and members can participate in all sorts of fun ways, including judging upcoming recipes – my charming and erudite spouse joined their board this year. Despite that, I actually don’t make it there that often, but I always find something interesting on tap when I do. This porter was my favorite of this year’s ever-changing lineup. Alas, I can’t use my ‘influence’ to get it back any time soon, but it was delightful.
Seapine Mosaic Fresh Hop Pale Ale, 5.4%, Seapine Brewing, Seattle, WA
Fresh hop season is rightfully something to look forward to in the Pacific Northwest, and even some of the local IPAs that are only ‘fine’ the rest of the year are really quite tasty at that time of year. But it’s even better when it’s a beer that’s outstanding in its own right; Seapine’s offering this year was fabulous. Their Sea Witch Stout is also a favorite, but I seem to come across it nearly as infrequently as their fresh hop beers; I wish it were in wider circulation.
Fire of the World, Porter, 4%, Holy Mountain Brewing, Seattle, WA
Another porter! It’s quite possible every porter I found this year made the list, which is a bit sad. Holy Mountain is a brewery I go back and forth with; I love their ‘normal’ beers (their Black Beer is a low-key delight), but tend not to get along with some of their more adventurous creations; that said, I’ve tried fewer of those of late, so it’s entirely they have all been fantastic – like this porter, which was outstanding.
The Jacket, Porter, Matchless Brewing, 5.2%, Tumwater, WA
Again – more porter! I’ve never made my way down to Tumwater (which Google Maps tells me is near the WA state capitol, Olympia), but everything I’ve tried from Matchless has been wonderful, including their Make $ Mild. I have to give the slight edge to The Jacket, though. Wonderful.
LoBro, English Brown Ale, 3.6%, Burke-Gilman Brewing, Seattle, WA
Burke-Gilman Brewing is a new local brewery, and very pleasant it is, too – just off the Burke-Gilman trail, so easy to stop in while on a run, and welcoming to well-behaved children and dogs. They’re doing some interesting historical styles along with various other things, but this is one of their ‘regulars’ – and it’s excellent. A bit chocolatey, roasty without being heavy – very more-ish.
Dark Matter, Brown Ale, 5.3%, Hoyne Brewing, Victoria, BC
I seek this out whenever we are fortunate enough to make our way across the northern border, where we are treated to actual transport infrastructure, clean streets and sidewalks and a wide variety of beers under 6%. We didn’t make it to Spinnakers this year, but I did run past a Hoyne Brewing car during the Victoria Half-Marathon (notching up a new PR – finally under 2 hours), and the suggestion worked; it made a perfect post-race beer. We really must make it to the brewery some time.
Northwest Bitter, ESB, 4.8%, Machine House Brewing, Seattle, WA
Everything from Machine House is wonderful – certainly the best British-style beers on this coast, for my money (and they do have a good chunk of it – I joined the Founders Club for their new Seattle Central District taproom). This beer was on tap to inaugurate said new taproom, and it was perfect in every way.
Pueo Pale Ale, 5.5%, Maui Brewing Company, Kihei, HI
While we have yet to make it to a Hawaiian island that is not Oahu, the Pueo Pale Ale on tap at Maui Brewing’s Waikiki restaurant was fresh as could be; one of the best pale ales I’ve ever had. Crisp, clear and refreshing, with just the right balance of floral hops and a grainy malt backbone, it was a very welcome mid-day surprise. Alas,it’s not one of their canned beers that makes it to the mainland, but it was well worth seeking out in person.
Meyer Lemon Sour, Gose, 5%, Honolulu Beerworks, Honolulu, HI
Yes, perhaps surprisingly, more Hawaiian beer. Honolulu Beerworks was one of our favorite places to relax; everything on tap was good, and even by Hawaiian standards, the vibe was relaxed and welcoming, with board games on the tables and warm breezes blowing in. This was another beer that was perfect for the occasion: soft and salty, but with a nice citrus kick – great for summer drinking.