Washington's 123 breweries outpace neighboring Oregon (121), pull ahead of craft-centric Colorado (118) and trail only California (245) in overall numbers. With the eighth-highest number of breweries per capita in the U.S., it's little wonder craft beers make up more than a quarter of the beers bought in Seattle while making up only 5% of beer bought in the U.S., according to Beer Marketer's Insights.
That's great for local beer drinkers, but really bad for the poor soul who has to pick a handful of spots for a beer tour of the state. Where do you even begin?
The big boys are the most obvious, and the Craft Brewers Alliance's Red Hook Brewery in Woodinville makes the biggest argument. Nestled in the Snohomish Valley after outgrowing facilities in Seattle's Ballard and Freemont neighborhoods, Red Hook's massive brewing facility hosts trivia nights in its brewpub, a full lineup of '80s movies including Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Stripes, Revenge of the Nerds and Predator on its outdoor screen and the brewery's 30th Anniversary party in September with appearances by Devo, The Psychedelic Furs and Tom Tom Club. The brews aren't bad, either, as the ESB, Copperhood and seasonal Wit are all worthy of attention -- even if you can get the same varieties across the country at Red Hook's Portsmouth, N.H., facility.The other big brewer on the block is Seattle-based Pyramid Breweries, whose Seattle alehouse sits in the shadow of the Mariners' home at Safeco Field and is best known for its hefeweizen, apricot ale and Thunderhead IPA. The alehouse is nice enough and flights that include the Curve Ball Summer Ale, Live Wire Imperial hefeweizen, Uproar imperial red and Discord dark IPA are worth having, but it's not as if you can't sample them at the Pyramid alehouses in Portland, Berkeley, Sacramento or Walnut Creek, Calif., either. Pyramid's an institution, but it's one that was taken over by Magic Hat a few years back and by North American Breweries just last year. Combined with Magic Hat, Pyramid now produces more than 330,000 barrels a year and may be bigger than any one town can claim. So what's a local to do? Blaze his or her own trail. Head west to Olympia and sample one of Fish Brewing's organic ales at its Fish Tale brewpub after walking the inlet or catching a film at the Capitol Theater. Head to Seattle's Pike Brewing and swap suds for Starbucks while taking in the sights and sounds of Pike Place Market. Our gut instinct, however, says to stay in Seattle and check out Maritime Pacific Brewing -- best known simply as Maritime -- and the dry-hopped Islander Pale Ale, Flagship Red or Black Porter in its Jolly Roger Taproom. That not only puts a beer lover in the middle of Seattle's funky Ballard neighborhood, but in striking distance of the Solstice tangerine flower ale and "Summer Is A State Of Mind" cask ale in the urban beer garden of Freemont Brewing. If the artists, coffee shops and Troll in Freemont leave you thirsting for more, head to the halfway point between Ballard and Freemont for a few pints of Kolsch, Troll Porter or Mongoose IPA at Hale's Ales, which provides side-by-side tastings of its own brews and beers of the same variety from around the world. -- Written by Jason Notte in Boston.
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