The State of American Craft Beer – Washington

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. 

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.

History

We covered the early history of the state through the first breweries and craft brewers in Seattle last week, thus here we’ll be looking at the history of brewing and the newer craft breweries throughout the state, outside of Seattle.

The first breweries to get started outside of Seattle were founded just down the road in Tacoma. Starting in 1884, the first brewery in the city was the New Tacoma Brewery (later becoming United States Brewing & Ice Co. in 1886, then The Milwaukee Brewery in 1891). Then in 1897, they merged with Puget Sound Brewing, becoming Pacific Brewing & Malting. That same year, Columbia Brewing opened just down the street, though closed up shop in 1914, just as all other Washington breweries did, six years ahead of national prohibition. Post prohibition, Columbia became Heidelberg after their popular Alt beer of the same name. They were were later purchased by Carling in 1958, then after merging with National 1976, G. Heileman purchased the brewery in 1979, eventually shutting down the Tacoma facility the same year.

The first brewery in Olympia, just a short drive Southwest from Tacoma, was the Olympia Brewing Company founded in 1896, though technically located in the suburb of Tumwater. Founded by Leopold Schmidt, it was originally called The Capital Brewing Company and located at Tumwater Falls on the Deschutes River. They first began brewing Olympia Beer in 1896, then changed their name to Olympia Brewing in 1902 and are known for their slogan “It’s the Water.” Operating as a highly successful brand in the NW, Olympia went national and during the 70’s bought Hamm’s and Lone Star Beer. Then, just as Heidelberg and Rainier (1977) before them, Oly was bought by G. Heileman in 1983.

Both the former Heidelberg and Olympia breweries, under the ownership of G. Heileman, were then purchased by Stroh in 1996, then Pabst in 1999 and eventually purchased by MillerCoors. Today, 7 Seas Brewing resides in Heidelman’s original brewery, and Pacific Brewing & Malting was reborn as a brewery by the same name in 2014. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Olympia’s original brewery still stands in Tumwater, donated to the city by a developer in 2016.

Yakima Brewing and Malting, also known as Grant’s Brewery Pub, was considered the first brewpub to open in the United States since Prohibition in 1982 and won the first 3 GABF medals in the state.

In total, brewers in Washington have captured 216 GABF medals since 1984.


10 Greater Washington Breweries We Like and You Should Check Out

Aslan Brewing (Bellingham) – With a name derived from the Turkish word for Lion, Aslan has been creating stellar brews since their pilot brewing days of 2012. Now operating on a 30 bbl system, they’ve in total created over 80 unique styles, successfully manage a brewpub and now distribute half-their flagships in cans. They’re also unique in that they brew possibly the only non-alcoholic, organic beer in the country. Definitely one of the standouts in a state with many.

Backwoods Brewing (Carson) – Off the beaten path, unless you’re cruising through the beautiful Columbia River Gorge, Backwoods has been serving up delicious offerings since 2012. In that short time they’ve created over 60 brands and offer some of the best pizza we’ve had in the region at their cozy brewpub. While we’re fans of their Logyard IPA, available regionally in cans, their seasonal Mosaic Pale and Blueberry Wheat are not to be missed as well. 

Bale Breaker Brewing (Yakima) – Home to one of the country’s biggest producers of hops and the first brewpub in the country, it’s no wonder that Bale Breaker has built such a strong following since opening in 2013. Supplied by their family’s hop fields that’ve been in operation since 1932, they’re known for their impressive Pale, IPA and DIPA offerings like Field 41, Top Cutter and Bottom Cutter, respectively. While they’ve only created roughly 30 brands over the past 4 years, they’re definitely doing something right and the quality of the results speak for themselves.

Chuckanut Brewery & Kitchen (Bellingham, Burlington) – Now open for almost 9 years, Chuckanut is the culmination of the work put in by Mari and Will Kemper, founders of Thomas Kemper Brewery in 1984. Most impressive was the brewery winning GABF’s Small Brewpub/Brewer of the Year in 2009 – not only were all the beers they submitted lagers, but it was their first time entering ever! They went on to win the earn the same honor in 2011 and continue to wow the public with their amazing classic interpretations of German and British styles – routinely making some of the best beers in the country.

Engine House No.9 (Tacoma) – Once a secret to only those residing around their quiet North End location, Engine House No. 9 (E9 for short) has been cranking out tasty brews, in a former firehouse, since 1995, as the first brewpub in Tacoma. The location itself was built in 1907 and served as a firehouse until 1965 when it was abandoned, then restored, re-opened as a restaurant, and added to the National Registry of Historic Places in the mid-70’s. Known for their delectable Sour and Wild Ales and variety (130 unique brands created) E9 is the must visit brewery in Tacoma.

Heathen Brewing and Feral House (Vancouver) – Taking their mantra “Progressive Ales for the Promiscuous Palate” to heart, Heathen has created roughly 90 unique brands since their founding in 2012. Known for their impressive Mega Dank DIPA and Transcend IPA, they’re one of 3 or 4 brewers that have led the recent movement in the Vancouver area. One of the only breweries we’ve encountered that also owns a vineyard, be sure to also check out their Feral House downtown, featuring flagships alongside more experimental offerings.

Iron Goat Brewing (Spokane) – Seemly one of Spokane’s best kept secrets, Iron Goat not only offers some of the best draft offerings in town, but have been doing so since 2012. In that time they’ve created over 150 different unique offerings, but are best known for their Head Butt IPA and Impaler DIPA. They’re also known for more just IPAs being that they offer everything from Belgian Tripels to Fruited Sours, not to mention a great menu of delicious food offerings.

Propolis Brewing (Port Townsend) –  One of the state’s most unique purveyors of the Saison style, Propolis has been making amazing handcraft ales since 2012. More than any other major brewer in the state, they focus far more on utilizing local herbs, botanicals, honey and other organic ingredients that are appropriate for the season they’re brewed in. Having created over 50 varieties of beer, most often in batches of less than 20 cases, all hand bottled, labelled and corked. They’re a culinary delight in their own right and worth getting your hands on, if you can. 

Sound Brewery (Poulsbo) – One of the most established brewers among the most recent wave of craft brewers in the state, Sounds has been honing their craft in the central Puget Sound town of Poulsbo since 2011. The first thing you notice about their offerings is that you’ll rarely happen upon a beer less than 6%, as they specialize in big dark styles, though you may happen upon some of their lighter German offerings in the summer months. Having created over 50 styles in their history and crafting some of the most delicious big beers around, they’re certainly worth tracking down.

Three Magnets Brewing (Olympia) – The youngest brewery on this list, 3 Mags has been setting the pace as the best brewer in the Olympia area since 2014. While they’ve only been open 3 years, in that time their brewers have conjured over 120 unique brands and set up one of the most comfortable spots in the PNW, with their welcoming taproom. While their popular Rain IPA and Big Juice DIPA are impressive offerings in their own right, seek out their Little Juice IPA – Smoothie Eddition, if you can find it.

For an entire listing of all of the states breweries by region, check out Washington Beer Blog.

About Warren Wills

Warren is the former Assistant Editor & Portland Correspondent for American Craft Beer. Creator of "The State of American Craft Beer" series, he now maintains his own site at craftbeerscribe.com.
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