Beer Travels: Kennett Brewing Company

It’s been nearly four years since we moved to Seattle (with our next move on the horizon), and in that time, there have been some fine additions to the brewing scene in our old Pennsylvania stomping grounds. While we had been to the Kennett Square outpost of Victory Brewing Company before, our most recent trip was our first opportunity to try Kennett Brewing Company, and they are a very welcome addition indeed, both on the beer and atmosphere fronts.

First, the location: the brewery is in a very walkable part of Kennett Square, and you can’t miss the hop-skull branding as you approach. The theme continues as you descent the staircase into their subterranean-feeling taproom, and I am nothing if not a sucker for a slightly gothy/folk horror setting. The artwork and branding is fantastic in that regard, and we probably purchased a few too many t-shirts and posters; my only minor quibble is that more women’s fits and sizes would have been nice, but there was otherwise a nice variety of options.

Of course, on to the beer, and this was why we really spent all the money on the merchandise – Kennett Brewing delivers. We had a reasonably large party (kids included on this occasion, and they were also well catered for with the food and drink choices on offer), so we got to try quite a few things. I absolutely adored the Ploughman Porter and the Wee Wobbly Scottish 100 Schilling [sic – I assume there’s a name-related pun in here in this instance]; the Jammy Jammy Bastard Pale Ale was equally delightful. Although our visit was in the heat of August, it felt pleasantly autumnal inside the taproom, thanks to a winning combination of great beer and top-notch creepy design work.

All told, a fantastic spot for a pint (or several), and a great expansion of the local beer community. We’ll be making a point to go back on future visits.

Beer Travels: Noble Ale Works

beeeeeer We’ve had the good fortune to find ourselves in Southern California relatively frequently over the past several years, and have discovered a few local favorites when we’re in the area – Three Weavers, Karl Strauss and Noble Ale Works. We had the opportunity to get to Three Weavers earlier in the year, and, more recently, to Anaheim’s Noble Ale Works. I’ll (eventually) get around to writing about the most welcome and ever-increasing variety of beer options in and around the Disney Parks (beyond the temple of pure joy that is Oga’s Cantina in Galaxy’s Edge), but if you’re in the neighborhood and need a break from the Mouse and/or your children, Noble Ale Works is a great option.
The taproom is only a few miles away from Disneyland, and reasonably accessible by bus, but we opted for a short Lyft ride. Although our driver had some trouble navigating the nondescript business park, once we saw the tanks outside, we knew we were in the right place. At present, it’s a smallish brewhouse and taproom with bar seating and some chairs around barrels, but it’s very welcoming and relaxed. There’s no food on offer, but there are regular food trucks and any number of great Mexican spots deliver, and as any SoCal trip is an opportunity to binge on said great Mexican food – Seattle just doesn’t cut it in this department – we opted for that.
Of course, we were primarily there for the break from the children beer, and Noble Ale Works delivers. I’d previously tried and really enjoyed (I know) Nose Candy, their award-winning session IPA, and it was fantastic fresh from the source. Man’s Milk, a milk stout, was also excellent (and one has to assume that their distribution area is small enough that they don’t need to have the TTB approve their beer names, though, that said, a lot of the names were real triumphs: I would *love* to get back to try their winter warmer, The Ghost of Jacob Barley, or Cinnamon Roast Crunch, another milk stout). They also had a standout IPA (NOT HAZY) in Big Whig IPA, and Nobility, the double IPA, was also top notch. All told, there was a nice range of styles and ABVs on offer, and in addition to tasting flights and pints, Noble Ale Works offers a 12-oz pour – something I wish more breweries were able to offer, especially for those times when you’d like to spend a little more time getting to enjoy a beer or two you discovered in the tasting flight, but don’t want to go 4 pints in. The 12 oz size is a perfect compromise.
While Noble Ale Works does allow children, the (currently) smallish space would have bored our pre-schooler and cramped our teenager, but as they are in the process of building out a bigger brewhouse and brand new taproom space, so that could change down the line – though, again, for those in Anaheim with kids, some adult beverages among (mostly) adults and well-behaved babies was lovely, especially as the beer was very much worth the trip.
Hopefully, we will get back to check on their progress before we’re in town for Star Wars Celebration 2020

Oga’s Cantina in Galaxy’s Edge

Reader, I loved it.

Yes, it was crowded, even with the required reservations, but the atmosphere in Oga’s Cantina is pure Star Wars, which, for me, is pure bliss, with the added bonus chuckle that those who wring their hands over KIDS IN BREWPUBS will find them standing at the bar here; they may not serve droids, but there are great non-alcoholic options for younger set, or, equally, those not looking to get bombed at 10 am, if that happens to be your appointed time. While there is limited seating, you’re unlikely to get it unless you’re with a very large group – we ended up standing at the bar on both our visits, which was fine for our teenager (who is, after all, taller and much more glamorous than I am), but a little tricky for our preschooler, who needed help to reach her drink.

And what did we drink? We went for funny drinks in souvenir mugs the first time around, so that meant the Hyperdrive (Punch It) for the aforementioned preschooler and the Yub Nub for me. While I’m not generally a huge fan of fruity cocktails, the Yub Nub was well-made and refreshing.

Fun fact: when we went back later in the week, the beer flights were no longer available as they had completely sold out of the racks; a regular pint was still an option, but no tasters. Our very helpful bartender (this is Disneyland, after all, and, as always, the Cast Members were all great) told us that they were not expecting them to be back in stock until September. On that visit they were also unable to serve the Bespin Fizz, which was a shame as I’d very much wanted to try it, but the dry ice powering the ‘cloud swirl’ of the drink was out of stock; appropriate enough, I suppose – Lando Calrissian himself had ‘…supply problems of every kind…’ – so even that is on-theme. But as for the beer itself, it’s from New Belgium, Sierra Nevada, Ballast Point and Blue Point, albeit with in-universe names; I quite enjoyed the Gamorrean Ale. And, small aside – I’ll have a separate post on beer in Anaheim in general later, now that I have some time to blog once more.

Other drinks we tried included the T-16 Skyhopper, which was Not My Thing, and The Outer Rim, which was more my style. Both offspring went for the Blue Bantha, which is Blue Milk with a tasty cookie. The texture is a bit different from the Blue Milk served outside the Cantina – it seemed a little ‘meltier’ – but the taste is the same, and it’s still effectively a frozen drink. We tried both ‘milk’ colors, green and blue, but all agreed we were very much Team Blue Milk.

DJ R-3XOf course, it’s really about the atmosphere, and while as of now you only get 45 minutes in Oga’s Cantina at a time (though you can now make your reservations in advance, rather than only on the same day), it’s a really fun 45 minutes. DJ R-3X has landed on Batuu and is now dropping some sick beats (and telling terrible Dad Jokes) while you enjoy your drink. I won’t do a complete rundown of everything in Galaxy’s Edge (I GOT TO FLY THE MILLENNIUM FALCON I GOT TO FLY THE MILLENNIUM FALCON I GOT TO FLY THE MILLENNIUM FALCON, WE MADE A LIGHTSABER AND A DROID AND IT WAS LIFE), I highly recommend the Datapad experience, which I thought I’d try for a few minutes, only to find myself going back alone later to scan crates and hack panels for the Resistance, though it’s possible I am the very specific target audience for this activity.

I am not wholly certain what Galaxy’s Edge is like for people who are not hardcore Star Wars fans since that is entirely beyond my experience, but if anything, it only whetted my appetite for the eventual immersive Star Wars hotel that’s coming to Disneyworld – if anyone would like me to compare their Galaxy’s Edge to the one on the left coast, I’m all (Mickey) ears!

Annual Entirely Subjective Beer Roundup, 2018 Edition

Half Door Brewing, San Diego 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.

Yards Brawler: An Appreciation

It’s hard now to cast my mind back and recall when I first became aware of The Session; it was relatively early in my beer blogging ‘career,’ that much is certain – beyond that, seven years ago? Perhaps eight or nine? I do know that back then, I had considerably more time on my hands: one child fewer, a non-Amazon job and a longish train commute, all of which meant that I could write more about beer. Even then, I only participated intermittently, but always enjoyed reading the other entries. As The Session ends its run today, I opted for the ‘One More for the Road’ choice – a blog post about a beer I love, but one that nowadays I only get to see in the rear-view mirror: Yards Brawler.

In the nine years we lived in the Philly area, a Yards variety back was always on hand as a go-to – even as the offerings, both local and from far away, became more exotic, we always kept that around for our Friday night pizza-and-beer ritual. When Brawler debuted (or, perhaps more accurately, re-emerged) in 2008, it quickly became a favorite – a flavorful, dark mild perfect for everything from tailgating before soccer with our fellow Sons of Ben to enjoying with a fancy meal at one of the endless variety of great Philly restaurants that understand having a top-notch beer list is key. Even though it was widely available – certainly not a white whale by any description, it was always one of my must-have beers at the annual Yards Real Ale Festival hosted at the brewery; it’s even more wonderful on cask.

When the call came out of the blue from The Major Online Retailer Mentioned Above to uproot everyone and relocate to the other coast, I thought that certainly I’d miss some local beers, but that we’d be back relatively often to visit, and that surely, something would fill the same gap in Seattle; it turns out I was quite wrong. In the three-plus years we have been here, only one or two local seasonal beers have approached Brawler for its laid-back perfection, and they are infrequently featured among the 7.5%+ (often hazy) IPAs crowding out other styles. Even when sampling other milds on trips to Britain, Brawler is my benchmark – is it as good? And now, while planning our holiday visit back to our old stomping grounds, carving out time to visit the new Yards Brewery is high on the list of priorities; the opportunity to have a fresh Brawler, steps from where it was brewed, is one that can’t be missed (and hopefully the weather cooperates).

In a US brewing landscape that has moved ever-more toward the extreme end of whatever spectrum is selling that month, Yards continues to make perfectly-crafted (mostly) English-style ales that require no strange additions or a high-octane ABV; they are very ‘Philly’ in that they embody equal parts self-assurance and lack of pretension. I wish it could still be my go-to beer here in Seattle, but it will certainly be the first and last beer I have every time we return to Philly.

While it’s only ‘until we meet again’ for Brawler, it is a good-bye to The Session – thanks to all who have organized and contributed over the years; it’s been a fantastic driver to discover new (and not so new) beer writers, and a very-useful prompt to GET SOMETHING WRITTEN when I really needed it. I’ll raise that next Brawler to all involved.

Hawaii: Oahu Beer Options – Waikiki and Beyond

Bonus still-life with teenagerThanks to advantageous flight and Airbnb pricing because of the still-erupting volcano several islands away, we recently made our second trip to Hawaii. While we also went back to Disney Aulani, because the pull of The Mouse (and included babysitting) is strong, we spent some time in (suddenly-affordable) Waikiki, and got to know a bit more about the local beer scene. There’s a lot to like, and, I suspect, an interesting recent history to be unearthed.

Particularly relevant to my interests is the fact that every local brewery seems to have a really good brown ale in their lineup; on our previous trip, we also found a number of solid porters and stouts (both with coconut and without), plus some excellent pale ales, most calibrated at a more ‘British’ than ‘American’ ABV/IBU profile. Additionally, good bottle shops stock a wide variety of excellent ‘normal’ European beers that are harder to find than they should be on the left half of the US mainland (more on that below). And while I haven’t had a chance to delve deep into Hawaiian beer history to know the real reasons why, these all seemed like potentially plausible notions:

  • Local coffee culture could mean people want roasty flavors with their beer as well. As a non-coffee person, I have no idea whether this is even vaguely true – nothing tasted much like coffee to me – but locals and visitors do seem very committed to the idea that Kona coffee is superior, and it may bleed over into beer.
  • With so many (often excellent) fruity drink options, those seeking out beer want it to taste like, well, beer.
  • Supply chain realities may make brewing stranger, higher-ABV beers simply too expensive in many cases.
  • Tourists from Australia, New Zealand, Japan and China, of whom there are many in Hawaii, may prefer traditional beer varieties.
  • Hawaii brewers might hail from the first and second waves of US craft brewers (microbrewers!), and those beers tended to be more British-inspired.

Again, the real driver(s) may be a mixture of those thoughts, or none of the above, but for a fan of a well-brewed beer that seems to have missed the high-ABV arms race on the US mainland, there is a lot to like. Without further ado, here are a few standout breweries:

Waikiki Brewing Company
As mentioned, the English Brown Ale was the standout for me, but I also very much enjoyed the Ala Moana Amber. I didn’t try the Hana Hou Hefe straight up, but did have to go for a beachy beer cocktail with it as the base; it was quite delightful. Although it was a hot evening and the bar is largely outdoors, it was quite temperate; perfect lanai dining. The lineup here is not huge, but everything was worth trying.

Maui Brewing Company
While certain of their beers are ubiquitous in cans around Oahu, we were very glad to visit one of their (air-conditioned, indoor) brewpubs, which had an excellent lineup of local one-offs, seasonals and kid- and adult-friendly dining options that were certainly a step above some of the very touristy Waikiki options. Once more, their brown ale, Lahaina Town Brown, was very good, but their Pueo Pale Ale may have been my favorite; it was very fresh, perfectly balanced and well worth a second. I later enjoyed their Pineapple Mana Wheat poolside back at Aulani – the adults-only pool area is ideal for enjoying a refreshing drink with a book – it would make a fantastic go-to beer on a hot day. But I loved the Pueo Pale Ale so much I bought the (beautifully-designed) t-shirt – it was an all-around excellent beer.

Honolulu BeerWorks

Honolulu BeerWorks
This (pictured) is now our favorite Hawaiian brewery – in fact, we liked it so much we bought several prints of their labels to frame and hang up next to some of our ‘vintage’ Dogfish Head posters. It was still island-casual, but with a large rotating taplist, excellent merchandise options with fits for all genders, ages and sizes, and plenty of games for the kids to enjoy while the grownups had a sampler tray or two. Again, there was a fine brown ale in the Makakilo Brown, and a fantastic gose under the name Meyer Lemon Sour. CoCoWeizen is exactly what you think it is, and it’s very tasty indeed, and really, everything we tried was to a high standard. I wore my tank top with pride as we climbed Diamond Head the next day (which, if you’re keeping score at home, was very easy for our 3-year-old, and asking nearly the impossible for her teenaged brother, because reasons).

Of course, good beer (and tropical drinks) are found in many places beyond breweries, and I can highly recommend these bars:

Village Bottle Shop & Tasting Room
This is a great little bottle shop and taproom inside the Salt complex – a really nicely-planned example of creative re-use of older industrial buildings, full of interesting food and retail. It’s almost like a little bit of Portland dropped into Honolulu, and it’s a welcome break from the largely-uninspired high-rise hotels along the beach, with murals and other street art all around. The well-curated taplist was very much to my liking, even if it’s a little bizarre that I have to fly 2500 miles across the Pacific to find one of my favorite British beers, Ridgeway Bitter, on tap. They also had Timothy Taylor Landlord in bottles, along with a great variety of Aussie and Kiwi beers (all of which are nearly impossible to find in Seattle). It’s a BYO food establishment (with kids welcome during the day), but there’s an outstanding butcher shop upstairs that makes one of the best burgers I’ve ever had. While not within walking distance of the main drag in Waikiki, it is well worth the Lyft or bus ride over.

Monkeypod Kitchen
Moving from Waikiki to Ko Olina, where Aulani is situated, you’ll find Monkeypod Kitchen in a small shopping center across from the resorts. The knowledgeable staff is fantastic at recommending a local beer or two, and their tropical drinks are the real deal – the Mai Tai is beautiful and complex, not a sugary mess. The food is also very well-executed, with options for kid and adult appetites. I had more from Honolulu BeerWorks and a few from Aloha Beer Company – their Hop Lei IPA was vastly better here, where they clearly look after their tap lines, than in the bar in the airport; having the same beer in the airport was like an object lesson in Doing It Wrong, but it was very nicely-kept by the top-notch staff in Ko Olina.

The ‘Ōlelo Room
Olelo Room delightThis is cheating a bit, since it’s on Disney property, but their specialty mixed drinks (right) were once again fantastic. The beer isn’t quite as exciting (some reasonable beers from Kona Brewing, though supplemented by Maui Brewing in cans), but the cocktails and Drinks You Can Get in a Pineapple are lovely – including the non-alcoholic ones. The ‘Ōlelo Room is only open in the evenings, but its exclusive drinks and snacks are worth the wait, and you can learn a little of the Hawaiian language while you relax by the koi pond.

If only I could score more vacation time (and an unlimited vacation budget, and so on), I’d love to explore the other islands…

We Wants It, Precious: Real and Manufactured Scarcity in Craft Beer, 1992-2012

Gollum. Gollum.I’ll confess: I’m fully aware that’s a ludicrous title, but it’s absolutely what I’d use if I were to write a slightly overwrought academic monograph on the subject. We’ve arrived here because I kept intending to write something about beer and ‘authenticity,’ but that was too pretentious even for an overloaded title like the one above. I toyed with writing about the phenomenology of the beer landscape, but know that would appeal to the three, perhaps four other beer nerd ex-archaeologists who had to read Chris Tilley’s A Phenomenology of Landscape back in the 1990s, I decided that, too, was impractical. But I still wanted to land in a similar space: how has beer evolved over the past two decades, and how has the way we experience it changed?

Back in the day – say, 20-25 years ago, at least for the US – the prevailing themes of craft beer* were around rejecting bland, macro-brew lager (recall, microbrew was the preferred term before ‘craft’ took over) and championing independent small businesses. Commercially-available craft beers had evolved from what was relatively easy to homebrew, so more ales than lagers in general, and there was often an emphasis on British styles; every brewpub seemed to have a brown ale as their flagship, and a pale ale as their entry point. Edgier ones would throw in something vaguely ‘Belgian’ (really, usually just something a bit yeastier), and those that were more confident in their abilities had German styles that were clearly distinguishable to the first-timer from the dreaded watery lagers sold at your local ballpark. Occasionally someone would really push the boat out, for example, Nodding Head’s add-your-own woodruff Berliner Weisse** – a beer I sorely miss – but even double IPAs were relatively rare. It’s easy to look back and decide that ‘we’ – the self-identified group that’s decided that caring about quality beer is worth our time and, to some extent, allegiance – have succeeded. As consumers, we can get flavorful, reasonably ‘interesting’ beers everywhere from the ballpark to the high-end restaurant (though, perhaps, getting the dive bars to serve the local craft brew was the last holdout). But while in many cases the maturity of the beer market has meant you can get a good IPA at the airport, it’s also led to the odd experience of *only* being able to get an IPA at the airport; the promise of endless variety has, rather ironically, led to more and more similarity.

Regional differences abound, however; in the Philadelphia area (where you can’t buy beer at most supermarkets, convenience stores or similar retail outlets, because THINK OF THE CHILDREN), there is still certainly a focus on local and regional breweries. Despite that, it’s much easier to find beers from further afield, whether that means from across the country or the other side of the world. The local emphasis makes plenty of sense economically and from a freshness perspective, but I had no trouble there finding excellent beers from my current coast – there’s always Pliny the Elder if you want it, or many San Diego-brewed beers – or British favo(u)rites from Adnams or Coniston, not to mention good representation from Belgium, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and even Brazil. Popular styles fluctuate, but you can always count on being able to find a good lager from Victory (or Germany), an excellent bitter from Conshohocken Brewing Company, a great mild from Yards, or something experimental-but-fabulous from Tired Hands. Yes, everyone also brews an IPA of some sort, but they aren’t necessarily company flagships. Local confidence in a great product seems to invite imports and collaboration, rather than a trend toward homogeneity and endless hazy IPAs.

By contrast, many – though not all – breweries here in the Seattle area seem to be playing follow-the-leader; there’s variety in the IPA (and now, New England/hazy IPA) labels, but the beers are very much the same, and frankly not (again, with a few exceptions) amazing. Finding anything that’s not a Fill-in-the-Blank ‘IPA’ or ‘sour’ can be tricky. I could write a very long, tedious piece on how ‘sour’ as a catch-all term is Not Particularly Accurate Nor Useful, but you already know that, so we’ll take it as understood, but I’ll also happily accept not buying someone’s poor-sanitization accident in exchange for having Reuben’s Gose or Dogfish Head’s Seaquench readily available. But even at my favorite local bottle shop, which has friendly, knowledgeable staff and an interesting selection, there are far more refrigerated cases dedicated to ‘sours’ and ‘IPAs’ – 8 of sours alone, to 5 IPA, if you’re keeping track at home – and about a quarter of a single case with ‘malty’ – the few local milds, porters and stouts still available, and many, if not most, of those stouts are ‘imperial.’  No doubt this scene is replicated in bottle shops across the US to a certain extent, and this may be part of the shift in tastes that is leaving former ‘white whales’ on the shelf.

While 10 years ago it would not have been remarkable to see people lining up to buy Goose Island’s Bourbon County Breakfast Stout, it’s now something that sits on supermarket shelves. Some of this is, one presumes, in response to In-Bev’s purchase of Goose Island; one wouldn’t want to be seen drinking a Secret Macrobeer, because Craft Beer Is Part Of Your Identity. And shifting tastes are no doubt at play to some extent as well, but I suspect two other factors are also in play: novelty and availability. When it was hard to find, either because of true logistical constraints or by design, it was Important and Special. Now…not so much.

Great Notion Beer: I will take all the tasters from the hatersI’m certainly just as guilty as any other beer nerd of wanting to try All The Things; if it’s new to me, it’s got to be worth a try, right? While this is a lot of fun at beer festivals, and fabulous when traveling, it also means that the number of Really Terrible Beers consumed gets to be a lot higher than the number of Really Good Beers. I’m absolutely convinced the uptick in ‘sours’ is largely because many newer breweries have not mastered the basics (though, interestingly, they managed to get themselves funded by some means – there’s another avenue to explore), and slapping a ‘sour’ label on a large percentage of your offerings is a great way to attempt to cover this up. And, frankly, in an industry where a lot of people aren’t making a lot of money, but there’s a high cost for ingredients and distribution, it’s hard to blame them. I’ll reiterate that there are breweries that are doing absolutely fantastic things in this space – but more and more of what’s generally available in these categories is not even good, and then they don’t produce anything basic (or, perhaps to some, ‘Basic’) like a pale ale or pilsner (I know not to even both looking for a bitter from most producers around these parts). For too many of my local breweries, their current lineups seem to all have 2 hazy IPAs, something ‘sour’ with fruit, something ‘sour’ without and maybe, just maybe, a straightforward (albeit 7%-ish) IPA. If there’s a stout or porter, it’s most likely barrel-aged and around 12%.

Once again, I’m all for people who do those things well doing them – but it would be great to see them as a seasonal or otherwise special creation, rather than the only thing available. I recently went out to a new beer-focused restaurant in the area that had 22 taps – not one beer was under 7%, and the vast majority were either hazy IPAs or what I can only describe as fruity nonsense, with no real tie to any particular beer style. I had real trouble finding anything I wanted to try, let alone have more than one of. It seems we’ve officially jumped the shark on beer styles and variety – there’s certainly the illusion of diversity, but when you take a closer look, it’s the same thing, again and again. To be clear, I don’t believe all hazy IPAs are bad, by any means; I’ve had some that were very good. My issue is that I can’t seem to find ANYTHING ELSE of late…it was so refreshing to be back in London over the holidays, where the variety of beer on offer was a lot closer to what the US had in the early 2000s, and there were, of course, many more beers under 5% (even under 4%!).

Craft Beer CycleI’m not entirely certain whether this is just Where We Are in the beer cycle, or if this is a regional quirk; when we go to Portland, there is certainly plenty of variety and the quality bar is very high, thanks to a very sophisticated local consumer base (and, one presumes, a lot of cross-pollination from brewers moving from one local company to another), and our trips elsewhere on this coast have turned up more pale, cloudy IPAs than I would prefer, though also a wide selection of local stalwarts making things that are recognizably beer to the casual observer. Even tiny Bellingham, up near the Canadian border, punches well above its weight in terms of beer quality and variety. Nevertheless, it still seems that at least locally, in the rush to brew unique beers that appeal to the more hardcore – and much more fickle – beer nerd audience, everyone has managed do exactly the same thing.

But it’s not all doom and gloom in Seattle, by any means; it’s just a bit harder to get the good stuff than it should be. Machine House makes absolutely outstanding English-style ales, and I’m excited they are opening a second location, but alas, the fact that it won’t be family-friendly means I’ll have perhaps an annual chance to visit. Their existing brewery does welcome the whole family, but there’s not a useful way for us to get there via public transit, so it’s also something that means a special trip, not a regular weekend visit (although it’s only 10 miles away in the south part of Seattle, it would nearly be faster to drive to Bellingham and walk from brewery to brewery there while enjoying a hotel getaway – but at least that will be less of an issue when our smaller child is old enough to Lyft and/or the older one responsible to babysit – someday). Fortunately, Machine House’s cask ales do make an appearance at two bars that are walking distance from my office from time to time – though again, that’s something that needs additional planning – but they are often the guest cask at nearby Elliott Bay Brewing, which does welcome the kids, so it’s somewhere we may actually visit for a weekend meal. I’m still crossing my fingers that The Shambles, the excellent newish fancy bar across the street from me, will eventually get a hand pump or two; even though they are also adults-only, it’s much easier to wander over for an hour when it’s steps away. Additionally, Cloudburst makes outstanding IPAs and they are now quite easy to find all over the city, and Reuben’s Brews does everything well, goat visits included.

And while much of this probably seems curmudgeonly (and you’re not wrong to think that, by any means), although I’ve never seen a glitter beer in the wild, I’d absolutely try one, at least once – I’d just like to follow it up with a great ESB.

* Why I stick with the term ‘craft beer’ (for now): although I agree with the sentiment that it’s largely meaningless to beer nerds, it does mean something to the wider public: seeing ‘craft beer’ listed on your airplane menu card or at the racetrack is at least a guarantee that you can get something better than a Bud Light – it may well be a ‘crafty’ beer owned or distributed by InBev or another global conglomerate (most likely, in that case, a former independent brewer), but it does mean that your bump up to business class is going to taste better than it might have.

** And a bit more about Nodding Head’s Ich bin ein Berliner Berliner Weisse – they were brewing it back in 2000, long before most breweries anywhere in the world realized there was such potential in a once-obscure German beer style. They’ve always kept it traditional; your woodruff or raspberry syrup is on the side, to add to your taste, and when we lived in the Philly area, it was something I looked forward to every summer at their now-shuttered brewpub (though their excellent beers continue to be brewed elsewhere). While I’m very pleased that there are now a lot of Berliner Weisse-style beers generally available, I wouldn’t classify them all as Berliner Weisses.

So many come pre-loaded with fruit flavors of every kind, and there is the inevitable wave of ‘imperial’ takes on the style that just don’t appeal to me (though, clearly, they must appeal to someone) that it makes it harder to find something closer to the real deal, though I’ve just been reliably informed that Stoup Brewing has just released theirs, and it sounds delightful (but finding it beyond the brewery with the woodruff option will likely be tricky). I also want to make a special mention of Cactus Wins the Lottery from Ex Novo Brewing in Portland – it’s a prickly pear Berliner Weisse that has similarities to nearly everything I’ve just complained about, but it’s absolutely glorious. If you’re going to go weird, do it right.

Thus concludes my slightly ranty footnote on Berliner Weisses.

Disney Aulani: Getting There, Eating & Drinking There

Beautiful jet lagWe’ve just returned from a much-needed (if barely-planned) trip to Aulani, Disney’s Hawaiian resort. Although we’re relatively recent coverts to the Disney vacation lifestyle, having a bit of Disney-specific knowledge helps make the vacation even more stress-free and relaxing for the whole family. In that spirit, I offer more than a few entirely unsolicited protips and suggestions.

Setting & Rooms
Aulani is a 20-ish minute drive from the airport in Honolulu; we used the recommended Hele Hele shuttle, which is essentially the equivalent of the Disneyland Express bus that runs from LAX and John Wayne airports to the Disneyland and ‘good neighbor’ hotels. It’s not a large, branded bus, but a van (carseats are included for the smaller kids); the service was prompt and friendly. We arrived at night, and the resort is lovely even in the dark – the tree-hung lanterns and torches created a positive impression, even on very tired children (and adults). Despite the late hour, we were warmly greeted with leis and infused water (we didn’t notice the Hidden Mickey in the water until the next day), and check-in was very speedy.

The lobby, largely open to maximize the warm breezes, is amazing day or night, though during the day it’s possible to take a tablet-driven self-guided tour of the art and design features that provides much more detail and context. Aulani has the world’s largest collection of contemporary Hawaiian art, and it’s thoughtfully displayed everywhere in the hotel. There are, of course, even more Hidden Mickeys – and Menehune (more on them, and the art tour, later) – to be found all over the property.

We booked at the last minute, so had relatively few room options, but even our standard room with ‘limited’ ocean view had a great vantage point from which to see the ocean and the amazing pools and landscaping below. We ended up with two queen beds, which was a little tight with two kids with a huge age/size gap (and they don’t have the extra sofabed that similar rooms have in the Grand Californian – though perhaps we’ve always just lucked out?), but certainly very do-able for our short stay.

Our flight home was late at night, well after check-out, but the luggage room is very straightforward and there’s a suite with lockers to shower and change, so you can fully enjoy your entire day (and you can still charge things to your room until midnight, so no need to carry around your wallet if you’re swimming – have that last Dole Whip).

Food & Drink
Olelo Room delightSpeaking of Dole Whips, Aulani offers the Dole Whip Twist, which cuts the pineapple with vanilla, and it rather was wonderful – I wish they offered them at the Disney parks. At the resort, you can get them poolside or beachside. But perhaps my favorite spot at Aulani was the ‘Ōlelo Room; only open in the evenings, it had amazing cocktails and food – even great vegan tacos (and I say this as a non-vegan who happens to like good vegan tacos).  The Hawaiian-language theme and design of the Ōlelo Room was well thought-out and beautifully-executed, and I enjoyed their specialty drinks that weren’t available at the other resort bars (or, for those that were available at the poolside bars, were much more expertly mixed and presented – the others weren’t actively bad, just not quite up to the same standard).

There were one or two reasonable Hawaiian beers from Maui Brewing Company there as well, but most of the ‘locals’ were from Kona Brewing Company, and no different from their mainland offerings. For more interesting beer, you had to LEAVE THE RESORT and go across the street to Monkeypod, which had friendly, knowledgeable staff and a good selection of locally-brewed beers. I was intrigued to see more brown ales, stouts and porters than I usually see in the Pacific Northwest, so that was a pleasant surprise. There were a few other restaurants and shops in the same complex, so it was handy for cheaper sunscreen and basic groceries.

But back to Aulani: the Ulu Café, the quick-service restaurant, has quite decent breakfast wraps, and the quality of the tea was another positive surprise – it was rather good! It was even good enough to drink without milk or cream, which is important when your ‘cream’ option is of the shelf-stable cartridge variety, so perhaps best skipped. For the caffeine addict, you can buy a refillable mug for $18.99 that gets you ‘free’ refills on tea, coffee or soda throughout your stay (soda refills are located throughout the resort; tea and hot water are at the Ulu Café checkout, and coffee is outside the café); we did find this useful, given the 3-hour time change.

Your dining viewWe went to ‘Ama ‘Ama for a few of our ‘fancier’ meals, both with and without our smaller one (it’s right next door to Aunty’s Beach House, discussed in an upcoming post, so very easy to manage a child-free meal) – the brunch was outstanding, and the lunch and dinner options were also wonderful, though just enjoying the beach view from the tables (some covered, some open) was a major factor in enjoying the meal.

While I’m not normally a fan of buffet-style dining, Disney usually makes the effort worthwhile – and the breakfast and dinner buffets at Makahiki were both fantastic. We did a character breakfast, as is our wont at any Disney property, but this had much, much better food than the versions at either the Disneyland Hotel or Grand Californian; of course, there are the standard Mickey waffles, but the Hawaiian breads (and the French toast made with them – with amazing coconut syrup) made things a little more interesting, as did the Asian breakfast options. It’s possible we have now developed a need for taro bread. We enjoyed seeing Mickey, Minnie and Goofy at breakfast, and an appearance by ‘Aunty,’ leading the smaller children in song, dance and activities around the restaurant was incredibly well-done. Across the board, the performers at Aulani are outstanding.

The dinner buffet was also excellent; the mix of Western, Hawaiian and Japanese options made it more interesting than usual, and the food was well-selected and properly-prepared, which I rarely find to be the case at non-Disney buffet restaurants. The range of desserts was amazing, and I appreciated that they were (nearly) bite-sized; it made it easier to try more of them. As with the rest of the resort, Makahiki has striking Hawaiian artwork throughout, and once again, I’m glad we were able to take the art tour to find out more about the artists and their inspirations for the pieces.

Taro bread joyAnother Disney protip: make dining reservations, especially for character breakfasts which are often packed, before you travel; while this is a lot easier at the parks via the app (again, more on that in a future post), don’t be the party of 10 that showed up behind us without a reservation. Yes, you’ll need to call (or arrange it when you arrive), but it’s good to be prepared. There are plenty of places you don’t need a reservation (Ōlelo Room, ‘Ama ‘Ama,Ulu Café, the poolside bars), but for Makahiki, call ahead.

Of course, this is Hawaii, so you can also get a shave ice (with or without Mickey ears, though the Mickey ears option isn’t amazing when it comes to structural integrity); I can only compare to the slightly-less-tasty ones I’ve had in Seattle, but I was pleasantly surprised by the flavors – yes, they were sweet, but they weren’t overpowering, and there were more than a few more unusual options to add that made it well worth seeking out. An extra towel from the pool area may be useful if you are supervising a small person with the Mickey ears version.

All told, you can eat and drink well without leaving Aulani – and there’s still much more to talk about.

Up Next: Aunty’s Beach House + other activities

Beer, Tech & Institutional Memory

who lives who dies who tells your storyTech and brewing have the same problem. No, it’s not sexism or a general lack of diversity (though there’s plenty of both, in both) – it’s the near-total absence of historic and digital preservation. As an ex-archivist, this has long irked me, and it’s striking how similar many of the barriers are in two (theoretically) quite divergent fields.  Brian Alberts wrote a lovely piece calling on modern craft breweries to make a start at preservation, and he noted his (all-too-common) experience as a researcher; you know there are gaps, and sometimes you even know why, but you have to work with what you have. Let’s delve a little further into why those gaps exist, and we’ll review a bit about archival practice along the way.

First, let’s imagine that a brewery (or fancy tech startup) has managed to consistently save some portion of their records – again, lots of credit to Brian for some suggestions on how to get started without investing a lot of time and money – what happens when they get to the archivist?

For this fun thought experiment, we’re presuming that 1) records, both physical and digital, exist, and 2) there’s a professional archivist being paid to process and describe the collection. Processing begins with ‘appraisal’ – simply figuring out what’s there, and what should be kept; it (typically) has little to do with the monetary value – or lack thereof – of the records. No archivist wants to keep everything – it doesn’t add anything to the historical record to keep 400 copies of invitations to an annual party, but it does add a huge burden to the administrative and storage costs associated with the collection. Once the collection has been appraised, the real processing begins – this is where things are arranged, described and re-housed – decisions will be made about keeping the original order or moving to something that may be more logical, paperclips and staples may (or may not) be removed, out will come the carefully-labeled, acid-free folders and boxes and Mylar sleeves for photos, and the collection will be described at whatever level (e.g. collection-level, folder-level, item-level) was desirable and/or possible.  Many assume that ‘everything’ gets digitized at this point – and archivists will laugh and laugh at this because it’s enormously expensive and time-consuming. This doesn’t mean there’s a lack of interest or will to do that work – digitization projects are awesome – it’s just rare that it gets funded, even in organizations with relatively deep pockets.

You’ll notice we’re primarily talking about paper and photographic records here – digital records, larger objects and other formats require even more work – and again, we’re assuming that 1) someone has kept it and 2) someone is being paid to organize and provide access and (additional degree of difficulty alert!) 3) there are short and long-term preservation plans in place. Long-term digital preservation is incredibly complex, expensive and difficult, so we won’t get too much into it here, but even short-term efforts require considerable thought and effort; every archivist has a story about getting a box of old Palm Pilots or 8-inch floppy disks that contain largely unrecoverable data.

And there are other allied efforts that could be taking place – an oral history program would typically try to cover a range of experiences; interviewing staff in different roles, at different levels and with different experiences to capture their stories. All too often, we only hear the perspectives of the company’s founder, or the head brewer; we rarely value the stories of the junior coder, the middle managers or those on the packaging line.

Swinging back to tech for a moment, let’s consider how deep those pockets are – and how none of that cash is going to preserve any aspect of most companies’ histories. Of the larger companies, both tech and non-tech, that I’ve worked for (and I’m obviously excluding museums, libraries and archives here, since that is All They Do), I can count two that ever had any sort of formal archival program, and in both cases (HP and GSK) – that support has waxed and waned over the years; some of HP’s historic records were destroyed in the Santa Rosa fires last fall, and when I left GSK, the formal management of the archives was a part-time effort. Many, if not most, of today’s most successful and influential tech companies have no formal or informal program to capture their histories; in fact, they often have policies that actively undermine that goal – here’s how.

When it comes to what archivists call born-digital materials – emails, Word documents, PowerPoints and so on – companies often actively delete and destroy those materials. There are a number of reasons for this, but the two biggest are legal and financial: the legal department is happy if there’s a lot of regular deletion, since that means there’s less to turn over in any discovery process in the case of a lawsuit, and those writing the checks don’t want to pay for ever-increasing, expensive digital storage (cloud or otherwise). As a consequence, many companies have official records management policies that ensure email is deleted every x number of days if not explicitly stored elsewhere (though this is different if you work in fields that operate under a lot of preservation orders, like pharma – some things you’ll need to keep forever). And not infrequently, all records management policies are drawn up by the legal department, with no input from any other stakeholders; historic preservation, either short- or long-term, is rarely on anyone’s mind.

And knowing how quickly things change in tech, it’s incredibly difficult even for those of us who work for global tech companies to trace through the path of a decision from a month ago, much less several years (or even decades) – it all becomes tribal knowledge and corporate lore. I could describe for you the cascade of poor decisions that the dot-com I worked for in the late 1990s undertook before finally failing in the dot-com crash, but it would be almost entirely folkloric; there is no trace of the emails, and I suspect I may have one of the few copies of one of the annual reports, though interestingly, a lot of my old code is still floating around on the Internet Archive, preserved purely by chance (but hey, you can still see some of our old job postings).

While it’s a huge loss for future (or even modern) researchers, it’s also a potential financial loss for companies; while the use case that most people understand readily is that of finding material to use in advertising or PR campaigns, keeping those records that record important business decisions can be key records in trademark disputes and other less-pleasant aspects of the business world. For tech companies, this means a lot of intellectual property, whether code or copy, would be preserved; for breweries, there’s the obvious ability to find old recipes and packaging artwork, as well as beer names and labels for the now-inevitable trademark spat.

So, with all that said, is anyone doing it right?

Carlsberg BreweryIt’s true that even larger breweries with long histories infrequently employ professional archivists – while Anheuser-Busch and Guinness have (or perhaps had, in the case of A-B?) formal programs, Guinness only got into the historic preservation game in 1998. Fullers does have a wealth of material, a fraction of which they display in a well-curated collection within the brewery, but the ongoing processing, arrangement and preservation strategies are overseen by one of the senior executives as something of a side project. If there is a model to follow, Carlsberg is one of the best; they have a team of professional archivists who manage the usual work you find in that sort of setting – arrangement, description, reference and digitization (where feasible). Carlsberg and Guinness both have the depth of history and wealth of materials that allow them to essentially run beer theme parks that use primary sources as the underpinning: a visit to the Guinness Storehouse is entirely unlike any brewery tour, but it does a fabulous job of highlighting historic advertising and key company documents, while the ongoing work of processing and preserving the collection goes on behind closed (but accessible by appointment) doors. The Carlsberg tour experience is certainly more like a brewery tour – indeed, their Jacobsen line is brewed in a small section of the historic brewery complex, while the modern brewery for their flagship lager is off-limits – but they do a very good job of mixing the history with the modern experience. An entire portion of the historic physical plant is set up as a museum, and it does a wonderful job of mixing 19th and early 20th century advertising with some of the company’s documents that tell the story of Carlsberg, the Jacobsen family, the growth of brewing science and the globalization of the industry.

In short, there are a few models for brewers to look up to when thinking about how to begin saving and organizing to tell their stories in the long-term; what about tech? In truth, the examples are just as few and far between, if not more so. HP (another of my former employers, although as a contractor I was, ironically, safe from the decimation happening all around me during Carly Fiorina’s reign of terror) and IBM have both made some efforts (and, if memory serves, both had full-time corporate archivists at one time, though I believe that is not the case now for either one), but they seem to be rather piecemeal; indeed, the majority of HP’s historic preservation now seems to be done by volunteers; it’s not unlike the breweriana community. While fans and enthusiasts may do a great job of collecting and documenting certain things, they can’t save the depth and quality of material that should be in a real archival facility.

We're all stories, in the end; just make it a good one, eh?And there are certainly ways to ensure records and artifacts are preserved without launching a brand-new department: companies can partner with their local museum or university archives to get going (this also means they should fund some permanent headcount and ensure there is a physical space for their collections) – the expertise they need is already available locally. Cisco has taken this approach to good effect, and the Oregon Hops and Brewing Archive is a natural partnership opportunity for Pacific Northwest breweries, though again, some financial help could help move them from a ‘community archiving project’ into a fully-funded program with more scope to collect, preserve and share brewing history.

And partnering with other organizations doesn’t mean giving up control over who sees what and when; there are plenty of archival collections out there with restrictions on what can be accessed or published, often with a specific timescale built in (e.g. ‘not for public access until 2050’ or similar requirements; you can put all sorts of complications in your deed of gift documentation if you so desire), so worries that a competitor may steal a recipe or other intellectual property can be relatively easily managed.

Although it’s likely not feasible for every brewery to get to the world-class standard of the Walt Disney Archives, there is no real excuse for most deep-pocketed tech companies to not make at least a gesture in that direction (and here’s a handy case study that can start the wheels turning). While corporations cannot control how future historians view them, by passively (or actively) limiting the available records, they limit the stories that can be told; by ceding the narrative to chance, they abdicate all opportunity to select which stories might be told.

Finally, a quick postscript: the white glove thing. In most archival facilities, white cotton gloves are only used for handling photographs; you are more likely to damage paper – especially brittle, highly-acidic, 19th and 20th century paper, which is typically in much worse condition than earlier, rag-based paper – with gloved hands than you are with clean hands. Your television lied to you.

This piece also appears on Medium

Hyperlocal Seattle Beer: The Shambles

tasty goodnessAfter a long period of construction and, one presumes, permit and license application bureaucracy, The Shambles finally opened a few weeks ago, just a short walk from my house. Although it was initially disappointing for us that it wasn’t going to be an all-ages venue – the state of Washington has very peculiar square-footage requirements for restaurants with liquor licenses to legally allow in those under 21, whereas breweries and taprooms that don’t serve food are generally able to welcome visitors of all ages, for reasons passing understanding – the fact that it’s so close means we can still enjoy it, albeit only as alternating adults.

The name is a nod to York’s famous tourist-laden medieval street in the north of England, which, as it happens, is also only a short walk from one of my favorite beer establishments, House of the Trembling Madness (also undertaking its own construction and relocation project).  The aim at The Shambles is to offer not only dine-in options for house-cured meats, accompanied by delicious beverages, but also a fancy butcher shop. The deli counter portion will go some way toward placating my older child, who had been very much looking forward to meat and cheese plates before the 21+ announcement (he was lamenting the fact that ‘we have no  jamón ibérico,’ just like all normal tweens, only the other day). That said, what I’ve been most impressed by (so far) is the experience of settling in at the bar.

totally like Disneyland, for realsThere’s a lot of really lovely reclaimed wood that’s been carefully crafted into said bar and tables, and the backlit wood carving above the taps is a bit like a more subtle version of the light-up headboards at the Disneyland Hotel (and this is a compliment, not a snarky comment). The rotating small plates have all been interesting, and while the meat and cheese were, as expected, fantastic, I’m always a sucker for a good bread and salty butter option – I miss the one at Tired Hands very much on this coast – and The Shambles delivers. There are no televisions (though there is some well-chosen music), and the top-notch service, combined with the woodsy surroundings, makes for a very soothing atmosphere.

And what of the beer? So far, it’s been an interesting selection of (mostly) regional choices, from breweries like Cloudburst, Seapine, Fort George and Urban Family. As is the norm in US beer bars, there aren’t a lot of options under 5%, but there are at least a few; some of that may be a function of the season as well, and I expect it will change often.  My only real complaint is that a beer engine would not go amiss, especially with the English-lite theme; it would be great to see rotating casks of ESBs and porters (as a start) in the neighborhood.

And speaking of the neighborhood, a slight, hyperlocal aside…The Shambles has taken to calling the immediate area, which, depending on your real estate agent may be Maple Leaf, Ravenna, Roosevelt or merely ‘northeast Seattle near Lake City Way’, Maple City, while the portmanteauic Ravenleaf Public House (one of our  regular family go-to options) across the street has gone for the other local name elements; I hope this leads to some sort of entertaining rivalry during the summer.

All told, it’s a most welcome addition to the area; we’ve long had a few dive-ier places nearby, but that’s rarely my thing (even though, this being the Pacific Northwest, most have some pretty good tap lineups and occasional beer events); The Shambles is much more my speed.

Add a ghost walk and a few hand pumps and it’s perfect…