Drink The Best

January 19th, 2010 · 24 Comments · California Beer, Chris Devlin, Washington Breweries

(Posted by Chris Devlin)

Last week, Washington Beer Blog had an interesting piece on drinking local. With breweries like Double Mountain (OR) and Green Flash (CA) recently hitting the market, should we feel guilty for not drinking more local beers? In my opinion, the choice comes down to what tastes better and often those are going to be Oregon or California beers.

I never feel guilty about choosing an out-of-state beer over a local one. I drink plenty of solid Washington beers and I want to be a stronger advocate of them, but sometimes it’s difficult. Unlike many locals I couldn’t say that Washington brewers make some of the best beer on the West Coast, let alone the world. Oregon and California are producing tastier, more exciting beers and I keep waiting for our state to catch up.

Perfect example: If I want an IPA, I’ll choose Firestone Walker Union Jack, Russian River Blind Pig, Double Mountain Hop Lava, Green Flash West Coast IPA or Hopworks IPA every time over local IPAs. That’s not to say that the WA beers are bad (during the past year I loved Chuckanut’s Rauchbier and Black Raven’s Wisdom Seeker Double IPA), just that the ones from Oregon and California are better. I find myself wondering how it is that a Washington brewery doesn’t make an IPA that would crack my top five IPA list. That bothers me.

I’m sure plenty of people will take issue with my criticism of our beer, but let me put a positive spin on it. Out-of-town beer is obviously good for the beer drinker: it gives us more options. But it could also be good for Washington brewers. Instead of seeing these out-of-town beers as a threat, they could see them as a challenge–a challenge to make better, more exciting beer. They’re already making good beer, but this new competition could push them to make great beer.

I want to love our beer. I look forward to the day I can tell my friends in California and Oregon that I’m drinking a local beer that’s better than anything they have down there. I hope that day comes…soon.

(The author of this post would like to thank Mr. Geoff Kaiser for the opportunity to contribute to Seattle Beer News. Also, the opinions contained herein do not reflect the views of Mr. Kaiser or anyone else at Seattle Beer News).


24 Comments so far ↓

  • Kaiser

    I agree with much of what you say, Chris. Especially when it comes to IPAs, I find myself reaching for something from CA/OR instead of a beer from WA fairly often these days. I don’t feel bad about it, but it makes me wish we had something regularly available and widely distributed that compares with Union Jack, Green Flash, Pliny, etc… I know some brewers feel these beers are just too unbalanced, but many of us obviously disagree.

    That said, I do think that WA makes some of the best beer in the world still. They’ve just got a tough market to compete in these days.

  • Patrick

    Like you I support out-of-state beers equally with local beers, because it brings greater choice and variety, but have you considered that maybe your position that OR and CA make better beers is just you? Ie, just your particular perception / taste.

    Or maybe you haven’t tried enough WA IPAs? I would put Bridgeport IPA or Elysian IPA up there with Union Jack. Haven’t tried Green Flash yet unfortunately, since it only started shipping here a few weeks ago.

    It is telling that my favorite IPA, Pliny the Elder, is made in CA – but that’s just one beer. Beer tasting is pretty subjective – even for those trained in it, BJCP judges still often differ when you get into the top 10% of beers.

    So I don’t know if one can say OR and CA beers are categorically better than WA beers. Giving a few examples in one beer style isn’t conclusive – it’d be interesting to see a more complete comparison that included all of our beers in the running.

  • cdevlin

    Patrick–My own perception is definitely a big part of it. Obviously, taste in beer is very subjective. Still, I stand by my opinion (and it’s just my opinion) that OR and CA are producing better and more exciting beer. By better, I mean more consistent in overall quality and by exciting I mean they’re being more daring and creative (examples include Russian River and Cascade with their sour beers, Upright with their open-fermentation, etc).

  • elvis

    i’ve said this 5 times on this blog in the last year and everytime i am viewed as a heretic.

    the reality is Oregon is producing not just better beers, but much more well-rounded breweries…folks that are producing a line up of beers that are better than the line ups at their WA counterparts.

    super pumped to have Green Flash and HUB in this market. Laurelwood came but never really got here in terms of tap handles.

  • Craig

    My favorite local IPAs are:
    – Anacortes IPA
    – Big Time Perspective, Scarlet Fire, or any IPAs from them.
    My favorite local DIPA is:
    – Boundary Bay DIPA

    I think the reason why a lot of WA beers aren’t in the top rankings for beer geeks is because they aren’t bottled. If Anacortes bottled their IPA and I could buy it at my local bottle shop, I’d buy it over the other out of state ones I currently buy.

    I like some CA IPAs, but they aren’t balanced at all, like Pliny or Green Flash DIPA or Hopsickle. I’m past the stage in my beer drinking life where I need to be cool and fit in…and right now drinking those 10% California DIPAs is the cool thing to do.
    Instead, I’m all about drinking something that’s easy and balanced, and something I can drink 4 pints of and not be trashed. Or for that matter be able to drink 1 pint of and not have my tongue trashed.

    If making crazy over-the-top unbalanced beers is the goal, then I think CA wins for sure.
    If making good balanced beers is the goal, then WA [and maybe OR] win hands down.
    I’m glad I live in WA.

  • Colin

    I have to agree with Chris on this one when it comes to the IPA realm of things. There are some great beers coming out of Washington breweries, but I am still waiting for “The IPA”.

    Taste is subjective. But the technical merits of breweries like Firestone and Green Flash are very evident, and it has to travel a good distance.

    One of the slogans we were thinking of when the Washington Homebrewers Association was getting ready to head down to the National Conference in California was ” Reclaiming our hops, one glass at a time”. Dammit we should!

    @ Patrick. As a BJCP judge, the thing is not to differ. A group of good judges of any rank won’t be a few points off from each other.

  • Kaiser

    Elvis – all I’ve said about your comments in the past is that I don’t think Portland is kicking Seattle’s/Washington’s ass to the extent that you claim they are. That’s not exactly calling you a heretic.

    Patrick – as for styles outside of IPAs, there is just nothing in WA that compares to Cascade’s sours, HOTD’s strong ales, Russian River’s sours/belgian styles, or Lost Abbey/Port’s widespread lineup, etc. Nothing that even comes close to those breweries as far as pushing the envelope. Maybe the majority of WA drinkers are just happy with what we’ve had for years.

  • cdevlin

    Craig–I’m with you on wanting to be able to drink 4 pints of something and not be trashed. As tasty as Pliny and some of the other DIPAs are, they’re one and done for me. Something like Blind Pig, though…it’s 6% and for my tastes it’s not crazy unbalanced. I can and will drink 4 pints of that. And even though it’s 7.5% and not really sessionable, I don’t find Union Jack unbalanced at all. That beer goes down so easily, it’s dangerous.

    As for Anacortes, I’ve had it when it’s been great and right up there with anything from the West Coast. I’ve also had it when it’s not been so good (and it wasn’t because of a place with dirty lines or anything). I just don’t see the same consistency of quality there that you get from Blind Pig and Union Jack.

  • P. Fruit Trees

    Another shining article that draws attention to how regrettably (for the local breweries) diverse the state of Washington is when it comes to craft beer.

    I think the larger issue is that despite a plethora of Washington breweries and good beers, we still have to treat each pint like it’s all we can afford. You can argue that Boundary Bay, Trickster, Diamond Knot, or Elysian stacks up to a good So’Cal IPA.But in the end its really up to us as a consumer if we truly wish to spend on our money on a misperceived lesser beer.

    This and Washington Beer blog’s article remind me of the second and last Amway meeting I attended. As they discussed the purchasing of Amway type products one person quipped,
    “but I have this deodorant that I just love and don’t want to leave what should I do if I still want to support the company?”

    The response,

    “just buy the Amway stuff and spray a little each time.”

    I hardly think this would be a good practice if we applied the “support local” method with beer. I myself do spread things around, whenever I am in a bar (just recently had myself a Naked City Spark in the Dark and then topped it off with an Imperial Chaos), but if all that is on draft is Ruination IPA or Blind Pig, I won’t pass it up simply on the merit of being from out of town.

    Cheers to Local, and to the movement of taking back good beer from the Bud, Millers, and Coors’ of the world.

  • Russ

    I agree with Craig, if I could get bottles of Big Time Scarlet Fire, Anacortes IPA, Black Raven Trickster or Walking Man Homo Erectus, I’d drink much much more of them.

    But all in all, I fully support tasty beers, whether it be WA, CA or OR beers….

  • Kaiser

    “I like some CA IPAs, but they aren’t balanced at all, like Pliny or Green Flash DIPA or Hopsickle”

    Craig – while I agree that most of those huge Double IPAs aren’t balanced (and I’m not a huge fan of them either these days), those aren’t really what is being referring to. Green Flash West Coast (7.3%), Union Jack IPA (7.5%), RR Blind Pig (6.1%), Ballast Point Sculpin (7%), Pelican IPA (7.5%), Racer 5 (7%), Workhorse (7.5%), etc…are all outstanding, not much heavier than many WA IPAs, and I would consider the bitterness balanced in almost all of them.

    I agree the likes of Boundary Bay, Walking Man, Big Time, Black Raven and Anacortes, etc…can sometimes compete with them, but not on a regular basis it seems (as Devlin said – consistency just isn’t there all the time). And, you’re of course correct about distribution…if I could get those beers Russ mentioned in a bottle, I certainly would).

  • derkruk

    I have a vague theory about this I’ve been working on. It’s all based on my perception and travels to different parts of the west coast over the last 15 years. But I’ve only lived in Seattle in all that time, so what do I know? Anyway, here goes.

    All 3 states seem to have very different local beers scenes and business climates, which seems to affect what they choose to brew. For instance, in CA it seems that beer distributions used to be (and maybe still is ) pretty messed up. I remember visiting San Diego in the past and not really seeing many beers from Northern California around, and vice-versa for the Bay area. I think that distribution system has allowed a lot of smaller breweries to develop without a lot of direct competition, allowing them to focus on making the beers they want without having to worry about marketplace penetration. I mean, if I’m the bay area and I want to open a brewery, how much real competition do I have? Or did I have 2 years go? Plus the beer scene in CA seems a lot younger than WA’s, with maybe less places with craft tap handles. Maybe that means if I’m a new brewer, I can focus on making what I want without having to look over my shoulder at what the other guy’s doing or worry as much about what people are used to drinking. Plus with the overall maturity of the craft beer scene nationwide, they have a lot of knowledge and experience to draw on.

    As opposed to Seattle. We’ve had craft beer around here a long time, but to a lot of people that means Redhook, Pyramid, Hale’s, and Mac and Jack’s, as well as Merchant du Vin. We have a lot older (10 years plus) breweries in this market. So these places have been shaping the market and fighting for tap handles for a long time. trying to undercut each other, crafting beers that were more cutting edge years ago. They’re probably not that interested or able to revamp old recipes (New Coke?) for fear of alienating current customers or pissing off investors. Or their resources are just tied up in meeting current market demand. And in all that time they’ve been around, Seattle has also been bringing in newer craft beers from out of state that have been able to develop in their smaller markets. So around here everyone’s fighting for tap handles and looking for some small way to stand out. You end up with more new places like Georgetown, which focuses on a very small number of beers and releases anything new incrementally, or Trade Route that makes beer geared for a demographic a little different from the rest of the beer scene. Even Big Al focused on styles and beers that no one was making for their initial releases to try to gain a toehold in the market. Breweries open and they end up having to focus more on the business than the beer.

    So what about Oregon? Their scene is as old as ours and they are certainly getting lots of competition both in and out of state. Maybe McMenamins is the answer. That place creates lot of brewers, but since they don’t distribute their beers, they don’t compete directly. If I want a McMenamins beer I know where to go, but otherwise I can ignore it. So as a brewer I know it’s there but I really don’t have to compete against it. Plus, they lay the groundwork for having lots neighborhood brew pubs. I open up a pub, I don’t have to worry about entering the market until I’m ready. I can build a base and then distribute. Plus, it’s maybe easier and cheaper to do it in Portland than here? Finally, there seem to be less multi-tap destinations in Portland (again more neighborhood brew pubs, though that’s changing) than in Seattle, so less direct out-of state competition tap wise. Although, really, I don’t know how Portland does it. I do know Cascade has lots of money which frees them up to play around with barrels and such.

    Again, this is all just perception and relatively fact-free 😉

  • Pat

    you have to realize that san diego and portland are the two most important cities (maybe throw in boston and sam adams) in the craft beer revival, the list of great beers from those two cities in undending,

    puget sound has some decent beer (georgetown, snoqualmie come to mind) but some god awful ones (everything from hale’s tastes like my homebrew, can anyone explaing why lazy boy ipa is on the shelves in all stores? you just wouldnt have that in s.d or pdx

    that said, had a 7 seas (gig harbor) red this weekend, unreal, check em out

  • derkruk

    I won’t argue about Portland’s place in the craft beer revival.

    As for San Diego? Timeline-wise Karl Strauss opened in 1989 and was the first new brewery to open in that city in 50 years. Pizza Port only started serving their beer in 1992. Stone opened in 1996. When I moved to Seattle in 1991, there was already Redhook, Grant’s, Pyramid, Pike, Thomas Kemper, Hale’s, and the Big Time. The Latona Pub had already been serving craft beers in the city since 1988. The owner’s of Pike founded Merchant du Vin in 1978, and I believe were the first to bring Sam Smith’s and Orval into the US. So I don’t really think San Diego was one of the most important cities in the craft beer revival, at least not in the early years.

  • Kendall Jones

    When I wrote that post last week I really didn’t expect it to strike such a chord. This whole “Drink Local” thing sure does get people talking. It is an awesome topic. It gives us something important to think about. It challenges our opinions and beliefs. It’s not politics and it’s not religion, but it spurs meaningful, intelligent conversation… about beer. Cheers to that!

  • Patrick

    Kaiser – well now that bring up those other examples you’re starting to convince me. Those are valid points about sours, belgians, strong ales, etc.

    Maybe WA laws or distribution limitations are limiting the ability of breweries here to do small batch brewing economically.

    One last theory: I don’t think it’s fair to compare WA to CA.
    Population of CA: ~37 million.
    WA: ~7 million
    OR: ~4 million.

    By sheer economics of demand CA should be able to support more breweries and more diverse breweries. The only reason OR is doing so well with the smallest population is that their laws/taxes are very supportive of it and probably their population is more enlightened (fewer Bud drinkers).

  • dave

    Kendall – you certainly did strike a chord. Ever since reading your article, I’ve been thinking a lot about this and reading all of these posts is further food for thought. (I haven’t come up with anything — not unusual.)

    I spent this weekend in PDX and this topic was on my mind the whole time as I hopped from joint to joint (HUB, Laurelwood, Cascade, 5Q, Upright, Amnesia, Widmer). As I told Jeff at beervana, I’m not ready to proclaim any winners — people already do enough of that — but there is really something special going on down there. It’s not hard to spot, of course. But we were wondering if we just had a touch of “the grass is always greener” syndrome. We love visiting OR and CA, but wonder if we would feel the same way about WA if we lived down there. I suspect we would, but that’s just us.

    The stoics would argue — Oh sorry! Gotta go. The Mormons are at the door and I love jerking them around.

  • Kaiser

    Cheers to that indeed, Kendall.

    As Chris said, the great thing about all this is us Seattle consumers are really just huge winners. We have lots of our own great (yes, great…in my eyes) WA beers, and the best breweries from CA and OR send us their beer.

    The fact that we think it’s an issue that out-of-state brewers are often collecting our beer money just goes to show how much we love our local brewing industry and want to see them compete with these great beers/breweries.

  • Pat

    Ya know, after thinking about it some more, seattle does have some quality beer, snoqualmie is good stuff, what I’ve had from baron & maritime pac I’ve like, manny’s and roger’s are both perfectly balanced beers, had 3 different 7 seas brews last weekend and they were all great

    I think the problem is the beers this city supports, hales is flat out awful (but yet its on tap everywhere), silver city and pt are strongly mediocre, and redhook/pyramid are simply exercises in marketing, I’m still forming an opinion on elysian (they seem to bwe trying too hard to be stone)

    My suggestion, demand the bars stock the good stuff, support the brewers that seem to care about their products, shun the rest

  • elvis

    when you list amnesia, HUB, Laurelwood, Cascade, Upright, not to mention the stuff from Double mtn, Oakshire, Heater Allen, I just think Oregon overwhelmes WA.

    Speaking of out of state beer, how long do you think the Green Flash will stay on tap at Brouwers?

  • derkruk

    As of 10:30 last night all the Green Flash beers were still on at Brouwers. So probably they’ll be on for a few more days.

    As for WA breweries, let’s not overlook Chuckanut, the 2009 GABF small brewery of the year. It’s on one of our newest breweries run by one of our oldest beer pioneers, Thomas Kemper.

    And Silver City makes some great IPAs, Fat and Fat Woody are awesome and cheap, and their Old Scrooge just won at GABF as well. I can’t vouch for their whole line, but I remember this summer being at Brouwers with a friend and getting a Maharajah while he got the Whoop Pass. Maharajah is great, but that day the Whoop Pass beat it. And no, he wouldn’t trade pints. 🙁

  • Kai

    Dave – I hope you had fun with the Mormons. I just wanted to let you know that I live in Northern California and I really look forward to visiting Seattle but I don’t suffer from “the grass is always greener syndrome”. But I really enjoyed reading the responses to this post because it shows how passionate, concerned, and discerning you WA drinkers are. Keep drinking, keep writing, keep pushing. Cheers.

  • Drew Cluley

    Interesting read. Yesterday 1/21; we here at Pike brewed our Double IPA ( yes last years Seattle Beer Week beer ) and we did indeed revisit the recipe. Chris said, “Instead of seeing these out-of-town beers as a threat, they could see them as a challenge–a challenge to make better, more exciting beer”. We at Pike feel we are rising to the challenge. We tweaked the recipe, not committing wholesale change, but nudged the hops up a bit ( now that hop prices have receded a bit) – especially in the middle and in the dry hop stage.

    We decided to release Pike Double IPA this spring as a seasonal release in 22oz bottles from late February until mid May , and on draft well into the summer. An added bonus is that we are dropping the bottle price to have it line priced with all of our other 22oz beers; it should retail for $4.49.

    Following the Double IPA will be a Wit beer for the summer, Pike Dry Wit; and the Fall will see the return of Auld Acquaintance.

    Full press release to come in the near future.
    Yours, Drew Cluley: Head Brewer at Pike

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