By official definition, a microbrewery produces less than 465,000 gallons of beer per year. Around here, we simply think of a microbrewery as one of our local breweries producing delicious beers. Even the largest local microbreweries, such as Redhook in Woodinville, produce a minuscule amount of beer compared to the nationally recognized brands. The smallest microbreweries (often referred to as nanobreweries) operate out of studio-size spaces, selling beer one-half gallon at a time. Some microbreweries produce beer exclusively for their own pubs. Some beers that are wildly popular around Seattle, such as Manny’s Pale Ale, are unknown in distant lands like Portland, Oregon. While they come in all shapes and sizes, microbreweries make the good stuff.
Photo by Hayley Young
Black Raven Brewing
Big, bold and uncommon
Step inside the Raven’s Nest, the taproom at Black Raven Brewing Company in Redmond, and let the beer and the ambiance cast their spell. Surrounded by muted tones and dark, rich wood, you will soon forget that you are in a boring Redmond business park. Leave the kids at home: no minors allowed. Order some pizza or pasta, delivered by nearby Flying Saucer Pizza, and wash it down with a Tamerlane Brown Porter or Trickster IPA.
Black Raven was opened in 2009 by Robert “Beaux” Bowman, who honed his brewing skills at Mac & Jack’s Brewing, the now-defunct Far West Ireland Brewing and a few other local breweries. Black Raven immediately needed to expand because of the instantaneous popularity of its beers and tasting room. A new, larger brewery is being planned for Redmond, but the Raven’s Nest will remain at its current location, where there are plans to add a barrel room as well.
While the regular lineup of beers pleases the palate, the select beers that Black Raven barrel-ages (conditioning the beer in repurposed wine and whiskey barrels adds richness and complexity) are especially popular. In two short years, the brewery has earned an almost cult-like following. On occasion, you will find Black Raven’s beers on tap at bars around the Seattle area, but visit the Raven’s Nest to enjoy the full spectrum of what this brewery offers. Plans to bottle the beer are still in the works.
Co-owner Don Webb (left) kicks back at Naked City in Greenwood, named for a famous film noir. Photo by Hayley Young
Naked City Brewery and Taphouse
Beers of every genre
Not many people ask, but the name comes from a 1948 award-winning film noir: The Naked City. That explains the televisions playing classic movies with the volume turned down. Ask one of the beer-savvy bartenders to recommend a beer to go with Gone with the Wind, or contemplate which sandwich to pair with Citizen Kane. Most patrons hardly notice the televisions: The focus here is on beer and food.
Donald Averill, one of the owners, can often be found delivering beers to thirsty patrons, while his business partner, Don Webb, is most often found manning the brewery. Named after the movie character immortalized by Jeff Bridges, the Big Lebrewski is a rich and complex imperial stout beloved by local beer enthusiasts. Dinner hour attracts its share of young families while unencumbered grownups converse late into the evening. In a neighborhood replete with dive bars, Naked City is a favorite destination for Greenwood’s well-heeled imbibers. (Perhaps it is a first stop on one of those epic nights out? There is plenty of karaoke nearby.)
Unlike most brewpubs, Naked City complements its own creations with beers from other breweries. At least half of the 24 taps are dedicated to a rotating selection of thoughtfully selected guest beers, primarily from the western United States. Naked City began pouring beer in 2008, but didn’t start brewing its own beers (generally only available in-house) until 2009.
Two Beers' assistant brewer Kevin Smith stands in krausen, a foamy fermentation byproduct. Photo by Hayley Young
Two Beers Brewing
Unexpected date-night flavors
When you think of date-night destinations, you probably don’t think of SoDo, but we think you should. A trip to the taproom at Two Beers Brewing is a lovely way to score big points with your suds-loving sweetheart. If it is not date night, you can bring the kids and even the dog.
The taproom, which is actually in the brewery, opened in 2009. You will find it a block off E Marginal Way in that part of town where SoDo transitions into Georgetown. Sidle up to the bar, share a table with other beer fans or grab a seat on the west-facing loading dock, which is a lovely way to enjoy the late-day sun when Seattle has such a thing.
Wet your whistle with one of brewmaster Joel VandenBrink’s creative masterpieces, such as the Evolutionary IPA, which is often infused with various fruits. Tease your appetite with a bowl of peanuts and then head to Georgetown for dinner since you’re in the neighborhood. Don’t be afraid of SoDo—and don’t be afraid of beers infused with things like mango, lemongrass or peach.
Family happy hour
Fremont (see photo at top)
Matt Lincecum needed a reprieve from his hectic life as an attorney and set out to refocus his career on the things that really matter: family and beer. Realizing that the Center of the Universe needed a new brewery, he opened Fremont Brewing Company in 2009. Roll a few blocks down the street from the Fremont Troll, park the bike or baby stroller outside the Urban Beer Garden, and enter a bare-bones taproom that screams,“It’s all about the beer!”
Makeshift tables and benches fashioned from planks and kegs, along with semicircular vinyl booths rescued from the remodel of nearby Red Door, are frequently packed with locals enjoying the laid-back atmosphere and outstanding beer. We are particularly fond of the Interurban IPA, but during the winter months, look for the Abominable Winter Ale. The taproom is separated from the brewery by nothing more than a line of kegs. Toddlers with watchful parents in tow gaze wide-eyed at the brewery’s gleaming stainless steel. So do some of the parents.
Beer to go and conversational pints are the sole attraction at this comfortable neighborhood gathering spot. You are welcome to bring dinner with you or order it in from one of the local pizza places. To avoid standing in line with beer geeks toting thirsty growlers, find Fremont’s beer in pubs, bottle shops and better grocery stores around Seattle.
This is not rocket science; it’s beer. The formula for success is fairly simple. It begins with a great brewer making great beer. When owner Neil Fallon wanted a diversion from his career as a real estate developer and decided to open a brewery, his first move was his best. He hired Skip Madsen, one of the Northwest’s most revered brewers, who built his reputation brewing exceptionally well-hopped beers for Boundary Bay Brewing, Big Time Brewery and Pike Brewing.
Located across the street from the Port of Edmonds Marina, the Breakaway Room—a tasteful and subdued bar with windows to the brewery, where fishermen and businessmen mingle with marine mechanics and retirees—started brewing beer in January 2011. It’s a bit tricky to find, but the outstanding beers make it worth the effort. Be sure to try the Breakaway IPA, the hoppy creation of which Madsen is proudest.
A few snacks are available on site, and a nearby pizza joint delivers right to your table. Lunch pails and picnics are welcome; minors are not. American Brewing’s beers are distributed to bars around the Seattle area. A limited number of bottles make it out to local bottle shops and to the QFC stores in Bothell and Everett.
Former nanobrewery Schooner Exact in Sodo has grown up and gone pro. Photo by Hayley Young
Schooner Exact Brewing
Overachiever that plays well with others
Imagine your kindergarten teacher and your high school chemistry teacher running off and starting a brewery. Meet Matt and Heather McClung, owners of Schooner Exact Brewing. In 2007, the couple started one of Washington’s first nanobreweries—very small breweries typically operated on a part-time basis. They brewed in their spare time and delivered beer to local accounts, such as West 5 and the Beveridge Place Pub in West Seattle, from the backseat of their Subaru. In 2010, the couple quit their teaching jobs and went pro.
Schooner Exact’s rise defines nanobrewery success: The ever-expanding brewery in SoDo, which now boasts eight full-time employees, is one of the most popular in the Seattle area. At the taproom, you will find tasters, pints, growlers and a lively after-work crowd sipping sharply hopped 3-Grid IPA and rich, savory Profanity Hill Porter.
Their beer is also at pubs, bottle shops and grocery stores around Seattle. At local beer festivals, Matt now encounters former students who still call him Mr. McClung. Heather puts her kindergarten teaching skills to good use as president of the Washington Brewers Guild.
These diminutive brewing ventures represent an increasingly common type of microbrewery that is especially popular around Seattle, where locals value hands-on artisan beers over flashy, big-budget brews. There are currently more than a dozen nanobreweries in Washington. Typically, the owner/brewer still works a day job. While there is variation from one to the next, most nanobreweries produce one keg at a time, once or twice per week. Small scale enables creativity and experimentation. Some operate out of homes; others, out of commercial spaces. Some are a first step toward a larger brewery and a new career. Some are purely a labor of love. But the common thread between them all is a longing to share their beer.
Cody Morris pioneers beer and food infusions at Epic Ales in SoDo. Photo by Amanda Wilson
The foodie’s brew
What is your favorite beer-and-food pairing? Most beer lovers mention something obvious like amber ale with pizza, but not Cody Morris. His favorite pairing is a rustic saison beer served with an equally rustic goat cheese. By day, he is a cheesemonger for Whole Foods, but by night, Morris is Epic’s creative and daring nanobrewer, quickly earning a reputation for his use of unexpected ingredients and producing beers that are larger than life.
One of the beers, Beatrice, includes Szechuan peppercorns and cinnamon, while the mushroom stout (called Project One) is brewed using shiitake mushrooms. Imaginative but balanced, the beers never lose sight of the fact that they are beer.
Epic’s beers are available at the brewery’s tasting room and at local bottle shops. The brewery is small, but the chatter is enormous, and Epic now teeters on the brink of becoming too big to be a nanobrewery. Its newly expanded space, slated to open this month, includes room for a “gastropod”: the nano version of a gastropub (not to be confused with the class of mollusk). The small kitchen will soon produce small plates designed to pair with the beers.
To ensure the food is on par with the beer, Morris is teaming up with the well-traveled chef Travis Kukull, who has worked at restaurants in Brooklyn, Maui, and more recently, at Seattle’s Tilikum Place Cafe, Elemental and Solo Bar.
Northwest Peaks Brewery
The beer of the month club
Kevin Klein is a mountaineer by hobby, a molecular biologist by trade and now the owner of a nanobrewery. Northwest Peaks Brewery invites the public to support its efforts by enjoying brewery-fresh beer by subscription.
Based on the community-supported agriculture model, members of the MountainBeers Club prepay for a certain number of growlers over a period of time. Lay down your money, and the fresh beer is waiting for you at the brewery in Ballard as soon as it is ready. On occasion, a keg finds its way to the Naked City Brewery and Taphouse.
Try the Redoubt Red, a smooth, copper-colored ale sporting a firm and rich malty backbone. While his friends are sad he no longer serves beer from the “kegerator” in his basement, they are happy Klein stepped up his game and found a larger audience to appreciate his beer.
Foggy Noggin Brewery
The backyard brewer
Photo by Adam Reitano
In 1992, Jim Jamison’s wife bought him a home-brew kit as a gift. Now, nearly 20 years later, there’s a brewery in his Snohomish County back yard. Housed inside a shed in a quiet neighborhood is the home of Foggy Noggin Brewing. Where most suburbanites keep the lawnmower, Jamison brews traditional English-style ales, which are available on site and at select Eastside pubs, such as the Malt & Vine in Redmond.
We recommend the Bit O’Beaver English Bitter. Keep an eye on Facebook to find out when you can visit the Foggy Noggin taproom, which most people would refer to as Jamison’s garage. Obey the speed limit, leave driveways unblocked, and the neighbors will not mind you visiting this nanobrewery. And yes, it is all perfectly legal.