At the Space Needle’s beer tasting event Tuesday night, 10 local breweries offered up free tastings of beer, brewed just for the evening’s competition. Attendees, a diverse crowd described as “foodies”, were asked to vote on each beer, judging on overall impact, appearance, aroma, “surprising flavors” and innovation. The votes would be tallied and a winner selected by the end of the evening. The winner, meaning, the official beer of the Space Needle’s 50th Anniversary, which will be served at Sky City (the restaurant at the top of the needle) and anniversary celebrations throughout 2012.
Some attendees were so eager to get started on the beer sampling, organizers had to ask us to please pause around, oh, our fourth sample so they could explain the rules and point out that plenty of non-alcoholic drinks and snacks were provided—including delicious lumpia and fried razor clams—to keep us all clear headed.
Wise that food was offered, considering many of the brewers and brewery reps were filling my “sample glass” as if I had ordered a full schooner. I hated dumping so much good beer in the provided spill-buckets, but a “hammered” voter is not an informed voter. And I tried to take my roll seriously, considering it was so gracious of the Space Needle to invite me, non-foodie that I am.
But I have to admit I was a little distracted.
We were only 100 feet up, in the Skyline banquet hall—not on the observation deck of the needle, as I mistakenly wrote before. But this deck offers its own interesting views of Seattle, including lovely waterfront vistas, plus a peek at the progress happening on the Chihuly museum construction site (below):
When I wasn’t mooning over the twinkly views of Elliott Bay, I was entertained by each brewery’s creative branding for their proposed brews.
Some went so far to mock up unique tap handles–like Scuttlebutt Brewing’s Space Needle shaped handle (joined with the brewery’s saucy mermaid logo in the picture below).
Others decked out their booths with original World’s Fair paraphernalia (like the cool souvenirs covered in our February story) and sixties-era styling, a nice nod to the reason we were all there–the 50th anniversary of the Space Needle and Century 21.
Best of all were some of the inspiration behind the beers, including 7 Seas Brewing Co’s Reign Man ESB, named for Sonics star Shawn Kemp; and I loved how Scuttlebutt drew a connection between Western Gear Products, the now shuttered gear company that helped make the Needle’s revolving restaurant turn (and whose building the brewery now resides in).
I tried all of the beers, weighing each distinct flavor, color and smell carefully. But my beer radar wasn’t sophisticated enough to decide on one ultimate best. They were all really tasty! And so different, I could see them appealing on different days, depending on the mood, the meal or the weather.
Personal standouts included Elysian’s Bubbleator Ale and Diamond Knot’s NeedAle Pale Ale, both lighter in flavor. The latter, I was told, they chose because it would likely appeal to a broader crowd (read: tourists and non-beer-nerds like me). They nailed it.
It may not earn me a beer diploma, but that analysis helped me recognize the greatest appeal of last night's event: locals crowding into the Space Needle, as comfortably as if it were somebody’s living room, toasting classic icons of local pride, while helping to concoct new ones. I hope the Space Needle's anniversary celebration encourages a lot more of that. As it is right now: the Space Needle is to Seattleites as the Statue of Liberty is to New Yorkers. We're too distant.
On that note: it wasn’t too surprising what favorite emerged: Pike Brewery’s Space Needle Golden Ale. The beer is a unique IPA with a strong hoppy scent and a bold flavor that really makes you stop and think about it. Charles Finkey, owner of Pike Brewing, is pretty much a father to the local Craft Beer industry around these parts - he was there championing the beer himself. (You can learn all about him in our October “Best Local Beers” cover story, which favorite local beer blogger Kendall Jones collaborated with us on.)
And, considering the brewery runs its steam-powered operation in Seattle’s other iconic tourist destination, Pike Place market—the beer will feel familiar, if a little strange in its complexity, like a friend that just returned from a long, overseas trip.
Don’t take my word for it: Rich Coffey (below), Washington state's only cicerone (that's basically a sommelier for beer), attended the tasting and said this about the beer: "I did really enjoy the Pike offering. It had a great expression of Northwest hops, while staying light and not overly bitter, which I think will be a winning combination for the market at the Space Needle."
You can preview the winning beer tonight at Pike Brewing’s “Meet the Brewer” night (Thursday; 4 p.m.– 6 p.m.). The beer won’t be sold until April, when it debuts at the Space Needle as part of the official 50th Anniversary celebration.
Until then: visit all of the breweries that participated last night. Even if you can’t taste their Space Needle “pitches,” you’re bound to run into some fine beers.
- Boundary Bay Brewing Company, Bellingham
- Hale’s Ale Ltd, Seattle
- Fish Brewing Company, Olympia
- Pike Brewing Company, Seattle
- Elysian Brewing Company, Seattle
- Diamond Knot Brewery, Mukilteo
- 7 Seas Brewing, Gig Harbor
- Anacortes Brewing, Anacortes
- Scuttlebutt Brewing Co., Everett
- Schooner Exact, Seattle