The local trend toward Belgian-style beers shows no sign of slowing; however, local beer drinkers are not willing to entirely abandon their big, hoppy Northwestern-style favorites just yet. India pale ale, Imperial IPA and pale ale remain the beers of choice around here, but there is no denying that Belgian-style beers are building a fan base at your local pub.
Hilliard’s Beer opened in October 2011 in the heart of Ballard. The brewery’s founder, Ryan Hilliard, a self-described home brewer turned pro, has spawned a Northwest version of a traditional Belgian-style ale and put it in an aluminum can. In the old country, where canning a delicious beer might be considered treasonous, saison is a style of beer known for its complex, spicy nose and flavor. Hilliard’s version is true to style, yet approachable to the local palate because of the judicious use of hops. Don’t be fooled by the taste of coriander, orange peel and the slightest hint of pepper; Hilliard adds no spices to the brew. Special yeast and a special fermentation method provide the beer’s uncommon character. The aluminum can is not a gimmick: Hilliard’s Beer made a conscious decision to differentiate itself by being one of the only local breweries to package its beer in aluminum cans. But regardless of packaging, this is great beer. Available in 16-ounce cans at bottle shops and Whole Foods around the Seattle area for approximately $2.75 per can or $11 per four-pack.
Tasting room: Ballard, 1550 NW 49th St.; 206.465.0078; hilliardsbeer.com. Open Thu.–Fri., 3–10 p.m.; Sat., noon–10 p.m.
Fallout Green Cardamom Pale Ale*
According to the Mayan calendar, 2012 marks the end of the world. To commemorate the profundity of the occasion, Elysian Brewing Company’s brewmaster, Dick Cantwell, created a special series of beers to release throughout the year: The 12 Beers of the Apocalypse. Each brew uses a different set of uncommon ingredients to create interesting flavors, and each features labels designed by comic-book artist Charles Burns of Fantagraphics fame. For April, the 16-year-old brewery released Fallout Green cardamom pale ale, the third beer in the series (released on March 21). The cardamom adds a slightly sweet, floral and citric character to the beer and amplifies other flavors more commonly found in a pale ale. Find the beer in bottles at bottle shops, select grocery stores across the region and on tap at one of their three areas brewpubs ($5.75/pint).
Tasting room: The flagship pub on Capitol Hill, the Tangletown pub near Green Lake, or Elysian Fields near Pioneer Square. For addresses and hours, check elysianbrewing.com.
Humulo Nimbus Double IPA
Sound Brewery opened last year in Poulsbo and quickly earned a reputation for producing exceptional beers. Until recently, the beer was only available on tap at pubs around the Seattle area, but the brewery now bottles and distributes its product to retail outlets. Brewer Brad Ginn’s Humulo Nimbus is a Northwest-style double IPA displaying Old World elegance and thoughtful restraint. It is well balanced and not simply hoppy: On the nose, you’ll notice hints of pine and citrus; beneath its soft white head, the dark amber beer is malty but dry. Humulo Nimbus is light on the palate, but packs a surprising punch at 8.5 percent alcohol by volume. Find it for about $7.99 in 22-ounce bottles at bottle shops and better grocery stores around the Puget Sound area.
Tasting room: Poulsbo, 650 NW Bovela Lane, Suite 3; 360.930.8696; soundbrewery.com. Open Mon.–Wed., 2–6 p.m.; Thu.–Sat., 2–9 p.m.; Sun., noon–7 p.m.
Puget Soundian Black IPA
Schooner Exact Brewing
A black IPA is exactly what it sounds like: a very dark version of an India pale ale (IPA). These beers, sometimes called Cascadian dark ale, have a heartier malt backbone, but feature the same heavily hopped character that defines normal IPA. SoDo’s Schooner Exact Brewing’s version stands apart from other black IPAs by using an uncommon variety of malt known as Midnight Wheat. The dark wheat malt lends lightness to the beer that does not overwhelm the hops, but still provides plenty of intriguing malt character. Owners Matt and Heather McClung recently added Puget Soundian black IPA to their regular lineup of beers. You can find it on tap at better beer bars around Seattle and in 34-ounce refillable bottles at bottle shops and PCC Natural Markets (about $5 each, with a $5 deposit on the bottle).
Tasting room: SoDo, 3901 First Ave. S; 206.432.9734; schoonerexact.com. Open Wed.–Thu., 4–8 p.m.; Fri., 3–8 p.m.; Sat.–Sun., noon–7 p.m.
Waldman Pale Ale
From Georgetown Brewing, brewer of Manny’s pale ale, comes a decidedly less common offering. Based on a recipe by Josh Waldman, one of the brewers at Georgetown Brewing, Waldman pale ale is a Belgian-style ale that gives a polite tip o’ the hat to the English brewing tradition. To create an interesting, cross-cultural beer-drinking experience, Georgetown uses noble hops (European hop varietals commonly used in England) and Belgian candi sugar (a type of brewing sugar commonly used in Belgium). To give the beer a complex, earthy quality, the brewery fermented Waldman pale ale with Brettanomyces, a type of “wild” yeast that lends the finished product a slightly sour characteristic. Waldman pale ale is available exclusively at the Georgetown Brewing Company retail store, where you can buy 375-milliliter (12-ounce) bottles to go ($5).
Tasting room: Georgetown, 5200 Denver Ave. S; 206.766.8055; georgetownbeer.com. Open Mon.–Fri., 10 a.m.–6 p.m.; Sat., 10 a.m.–4 p.m.