With our headquarters in Washington DC and the bulk of our correspondents found near America’s top producing craft beer regions on the coasts, it only made sense for us to create a series giving all the states their due, featuring breweries large and small, plus the histories behind them.
We’ve been on this journey for over two-and-a-half years now and have managed to alphabetically drink our way to the 47th state on our list, The Evergreen State, Washington. The 42nd state admitted to the union and the only state to be named after a president, it’s nickname is derived from the abundance of evergreen forests found in the state. Seattle’s nickname, the Emerald City, was determined by a contest in 1981, but has also been known as the Queen City.
Washington ranks 13th in total population (roughly 7.3 million residents), ranks 25th in population density, and houses 334 craft breweries as of 2016 (an increase of 198 since 2011) who are represented by the Washington Brewers Guild. The state ranks 2nd in total breweries (including D.C.) and 6th in breweries per capita as of 2016, according to the Brewers Association.
Due to the sheer size of Washington’s craft beer scene, just like California, Colorado and Oregon before it, we’ve had to break the state up into multiple articles. And just like Oregon, the history of brewing in the state all began in the largest city, in this case, Seattle.
The city and state’s first brewery, Washington Brewery, was founded by Antonio B. Rabbeson in 1854. Opening just three years after the first white settlers arrived on the Schooner Exact, Rabbeson grew tired of imported beer in his saloon and decided to create his own. This early pioneer was also known for being the Lewis County Sheriff, the first mail carrier and one of the first members of Washington Territory’s legislature. Within 12 years, there were three additional breweries in town including North Pacific (formerly Schmeig’s Brewery), Bay View, the Puget Sound Brewery and the Seattle Brewery. Bay View is notable because it was founded by a German-American from Wisconsin by the name of Andrew Hemrich, who would later set up shop in the Beacon Hill neighborhood with his brothers, forming Hemrich Brothers Brewing, following his purchase of North Pacific.
Following more purchases and consolidations, the brewery officially became Seattle Brewing & Malting Company in 1893 and that year launched a new beer called Rainier. By the turn of the century they were the largest brewery West of St. Louis, producing roughly 600,000 barrels per annum and the 6th largest in the world by 1912. Only four years later, every brewery in Washington was shut down by the state’s early entry into Prohibition. While both Rainier Brewing and their chief rival to the south Olympia Brewing lasted as independent brewers into the craft beer age, they both eventually succumbed to larger national brewers, yet their brands are still produced and available today.
The first craft brewer in the state was Redhook Ale Brewery, founded in the Ballard Neighborhood by Paul Shipman and Gordon Bowker in 1981. They later opened a brewery in Woodinville, WA and Portsmouth, NH, though the former is no longer active. Redhook is now owned by Portland, Oregon’s Craft Brew Alliance, who’s 32.2% owned by AB-InBev, thus no longer considered a “Craft Brewer” by the Brewers Association. Another of the city’s largest brewers, Elysian Brewing, was founded by Dick Cantwell in 1995 and has 4 pubs throughout the city. They were purchased outright by Anheuser-Busch in 2015.
Today Seattle is home to more breweries than any other metropolitan area in the United States with 174.
10 Washington Breweries We Like and You Should Check Out
Cloudburst Brewing (Belltown) – Founded less than two years ago by former Elysian brewer Steve Luke, Cloudburst has quickly become one of the best rated brewers in the state. Of the 150 or so distinct beers they’ve already created, roughly half of them are of the Pale Ale or IPA variety. While it’s a hole-in-the-wall style joint with butcher paper taplists, Cloudburst is a “can’t miss” location.
Flying Bike Cooperative Brewery (Greenwood) – A democratically owned neighborhood brewery that encourages member creation of brewing recipes, Flying Bike was founded in 2011 as the first cooperative microbrewery in the state. In that time they’ve created over 32 different styles and one of their founders, Steve Manghi, is a former ACB contributor and current Director Emeritus. We’re all about getting behind a group that works hand-in-hand with the community and among themselves, while making great beer in the process.
Fremont Brewing (Fremont) – This stalwart on Seattle’s northside is one of a hand full of foundational brewers in the PNW that can boast of innovation, award-winning creations and in demand specialty beers. In business since 2009, Fremont is known for their top selling Interurban IPA, fresh hop Field to Ferment series and for their specialty Imperial Stouts and Winter Ales aged in Bourbon Barrels. With over 200 distinct brands in their coffers, you cannot visit Seattle without stopping at Fremont.
Georgetown Brewing (Georgetown) – The largest independent brewer in the state, Georgetown has, since 2002, built themselves into one of the most recognizable brands in the PNW. While their Manny’s Pale Ale built their name, in recent years their GABF Gold Winning beers Bodhizafa IPA and Gusto Crema Coffee Ale have upped the ante. We can’t say enough about how dependable Georgetown’s craft has become and can’t wait until their next creation hits our lips.
Holy Mountain Brewing (Interbay) – It’s hard to estimate how different the scene in Seattle is now that Holy Mountain has become such a force. Arguably the best producer of wild ales in the state, they’ve been blowing minds since 2014, creating over 160 unique styles – from Saisons and Pale Ales to Imperial and Milk Stouts. With no year-round offerings and a huge space with an abundance of barrels and fresh hops at their disposal, you’ll never leave Holy Mountain disappointed.
Machine House Brewery (Georgetown) – It’s not everyday you come across a brewery that not-only specializes in English-style cask-conditioned Ales, but more so one that does it better than any other we’ve tried in the states. In operation since 2013 and occupying the former Machine House of Seattle Brewing and Malting, they make some amazing English Bitter, Mild, IPA and Pale styles that you just won’t find anywhere else. They distrubute lightly throughout the PNW, so find them if you can – even their bottled ales taste like they’re straight from the cask!
Pike Brewing (Pike Place Market) – Situated in the thick of Seattle’s historic Pike Place Market district, Pike Brewing has become a cornerstone of the Seattle brewing scene. Founded by Charles and Rose Ann Finkel 1989, they garnered 4 medals at GABF in the 90’s, 2 each for their Barleywine and Pale Ale. Personally we’re big fans of their Monk’s Uncle Tripel and XXXXX Export Stout. And not only do they continue to rock a 3-story, gravity fed 30 bbl system that’s produced around 60 styles, the variety of classic styles they continue to conjure is something to behold.
Reuben’s Brews (Ballard) – Having opened their doors just over 5 years ago, the crew at Reuben’s hasn’t seemed to slow down in creating an ever changing palate of amazing flavors. A family run brewery named after owners Adam and Grace Robbings son Reuben, they’ve already added over 150 beer styles to their repertoire. Known for their stellar Gose and English style ales, they’ve already won 4 GABF medals and countless other awards around the globe. If you haven’t tried their offerings yet, do yourself a favor and get on it.
Two Beers Brewing (SoDo) – Building his homebrewing passion into a full-scale brewery in 2007, Joel VandenBrink has quickly ramped up his operations from 100 bbls to 6,000 bbls annually. During that time he’s also concocted a brilliant variety of styles (roughly 75 in all) from delicious single hop IPAs and the excellent Alta Series, to their Immersion Amber, a GABF Gold medal winner. Two Beers offerings can be found throughout the PNW, plus Vancouver, BC, Alaska and Michigan. Definitely seek them out!
Urban Family Brewing (Magnolia) – Last but not least are the delightful Saison, Wild and IPA styles you’ll find from Urban Family. Started as a brewpub in 2012, they’ve now established themselves as one of the most distinctly original brewers in the region with roughly 120 unique brands under their belt. We’re huge fans of their Death to Cereal Milk Stout, Voices Underground Saison and Temporary Permanence Wild Ale. You’ll mostly find their offerings in corked smaller-format bottles, which you should definitely seek out.
For more breweries in the Seattle Metropolitan area, check out Eater Seattle’s awesome map.