5 Northwest Breweries Flying Under the Radar
There are tons of breweries popping up in the Pacific Northwest right now. Every month a new crop appearing in former industrial buildings, storage units and investor-backed modern build-outs. The boom is reminiscent of the Seattle coffee shop explosion a decade ago. And, just like then, this is a good problem to have. All the new breweries help push innovation, increase competition and can lead to some delicious results. Also, as with any trend in food, beverages or vegan ice cream parlors, some are better than others. For as many popular breweries with packed beer gardens and trendy clientele, there are some quality operations flying under the radar—for now at least. In order to get an expert opinion, as well as set a list for future visits, we reached out to Zach Kornfeld. As a brewer at Seattle’s Cloudburst Brewing, Zach not only has the palette to know what’s good, but the insider industry knowledge to help us find some hidden gems.
As a brewer in the Northwest, I make my living brewing IPAs. They’re good: I like to drink them, I like to make them, they keep the lights on at work—everybody’s happy. However, there is a big, wonderful world outside of hop-forward beer, and when I’m out having a drink (and not drinking wine) I’ll often reach for something different. The following breweries make fantastic beer that doesn’t necessarily get the attention it deserves. Beer that is as expertly made and often better than the hyped beer from anywhere in the country. Beer that’s brewed in our backyard, by people quietly doing their own weird thing, just like good Northwesterners should. Go drink these beers.
Machine House Brewing, Seattle, WA
Tucked away in an old Rainier Brewery space in Georgetown, Machine House makes primarily British-style cask beer. You know, the kind of beer your really awesome cultured friend came back from the UK complaining about being warm and flat? Don’t listen to that idiot, they don’t know anything. Poll fifty Seattle brewers on their favorite Seattle-brewed beer, and chances are good that Machine House’s Dark Mild will be near the top of that list. At only 3.7% ABV, the beer is best drunk on cask, refermented in the serving vessel itself. Brewer Bill Arnott’s Dark Mild is a complex beer, boasting a myriad of toasted, roasted, chocolate, and lightly caramel malt flavors. And it’s horrifyingly easy to drink. Go drink (good) cask beer.
2751, 5840 Airport Way S #121, Seattle, WA 98108
Chuckanut Brewery, Bellingham, WA
Maybe not so under-the-radar as under-appreciated, but Bellingham’s Chuckanut Brewery largely brews German-style lagers. The brewery’s restaurant is lousy with GABF medals and banners for good reason; the beers are clean, balanced and exceptionally well made. Their Baltic Porter was one of my absolute favorite beers of 2017. Brimming with roasty, chocolate, and dark fruit flavors, the 8.2% ABV beer is both full bodied and yet—somehow—delicate and perfectly fermented. It was the kind of beer that pissed me off; I wish I had made a beer that good last year. Go drink lagers.
601 W Holly St, Bellingham, WA 98225
Heater Allen Brewing, McMinnville, OR
My concession that Oregon exists and has great breweries is Heater Allen Brewing. Like Chuckanut, Heater Allen focuses their production almost exclusively on German-style lagers, and like Chuckanut, they execute these styles with grace and consistency. Their Helles is one of my favorite summertime beers. It is lighter and crisper than their Pilsner, and worth seeking out in half-litre bottles for patio/beach/roof/sun-based drinking. Go drink lagers.
907 NE 10th Ave, McMinnville, OR 97128
Floodland Brewing, Seattle, WA
I feel like a bit of a dick to include Floodland on this list, but the beers are too good not to mention. Eschewing the traditional taproom model, Adam Paysse releases his beers via a subscription model (which is now full). Producing mixed fermentation saisons and often incorporating Washington-grown fruit, Paysse’s beer is delightfully balanced and nuanced. His deliberate approach yields beers that are tart but not enamel stripping, fruity but not cloying, dry, drinkable, and just very well made. Go figure out how to get them and drink them, but don’t trade them.
Unified Brewing, White Center, WA
And finally, a brewery so new they’re not even open yet. Seattle has plenty of breweries in planning, but Unified Brewing bears mention based on the pedigree of the parties involved—namely, Head Brewer Kevin Watson (yes, of Cloudburst phone tap fame). Watson, a White Center native, is a career brewer most recently of Elysian, but with a resume that spans decades and includes a massive portfolio of styles. I’m excited to see what Unified cranks out, as they will undoubtedly have beers of balance, creativity, skill and passion. AND unlike the other breweries on this list, there will be a shit load of hops in some of his beers and those beers are gonna RULE. Go drink White Center beer in White Center (soon).
9832 14th Ave SW, Seattle, WA 98106
It can be hard finding breweries flying under the radar, especially if you’re just visiting. But you can always do what we did: ask someone who knows. Whether reaching out on the interwebs or making friends with a bartender, there are always people looking to share their knowledge and favorite spots.