Skål Brings Meat, Mead and More to Ballard

The Nordic bar (with lots of aquavit) has finally opened

By AJ Rathbun


April 29, 2019

One of the year’s most anticipated openings, Skål (5429 Ballard Ave NW, past People’s Pub address), a Viking mead/beerhall-inspired spot, launched April 10. The journey to opening at times must have felt like the Vikings crossing a rough ocean, too. Not only is bringing any restaurant to life an adventure only for the hardy (especially when in an historic building, as here), but they had to overcome a crooked HVAC contractor heading out with payment, but without doing the work. However, like many intrepid Vikings, they persevered, and Skål has reached shore – and what a tasty shore it is.

Starting with – as I always like to – the drinks. With past Old Ballard Liquor Co. (OLBC) distiller and owner Lexi (who, like Prince, goes by one name) as executive chef, it’s no surprise there’s a swell local-and-Scandinavian-leaning beverage menu. I suggest going Viking-style and starting with some mead, made from fermenting honey, water and yeast. It is, as the menu says, the “Nectar of the Gods!” They have 10 options, and I picked Melchemy Juniper Pine mead, made outside of Carson, Washington, in small batches and barrel-aged—think pine notes on the nose, with a dry, forest-y taste and a light touch of sweetness.

You’ll find a host of beers on draft and in bottles and cans, including loads of locals, like the delicious Whitewall Cream Ale made in Marysville, as well as a growing list of intriguing and lesser-seen Nordic numbers from Denmark, Sweden and Norway. Wine and cider follow the same local-and-Nordic path, which provides an introduction to a few items mostly un-sipped so far in Seattle. But don’t overlook the cocktails and Snaps.

Six cocktail choices await, all of which use OLBC aquavits. A lesser-utilized cocktail base, slowly making inroads, aquavit can be hard to mix with, but they do an enticing job here, showing how it can be used in different situations. The Passive Aggressive, with OLBC Citron aquavit, sweet vermouth and Campari is a well-balanced Negroni sibling, layering an approachable sweetness-herbal-and-bitter combination. But don’t miss the Kon Tiki—a very rare tropical aquavit beer cocktail boasting OLBC’s classic caraway-forward aquavit, pineapple juice, passion fruit, orange juice, IPA and a splash of ginger beer. This refreshing, spice-and-fruit mixture delivers beach fantasies and full flavor.

Snaps are 1-ounce pours of aquavit to savor before or after a big feast. Skål has the deepest aquavit selection in-state I’m guessing, and perhaps as good as anywhere in the US, with lots of locals (including the full OLBC lineup, Edmonds’ Scratch distillery and more), and ones from Scandinavia and Oregon. If with a group, get a couple to compare and contrast.

You’ll want to balance out the drinks with food, and while Skål’s website says it’s drawing inspiration from a “Viking butcher shop” there are choices for all diets. The meat selection will make the more carnivorous drool, with the big roasted pork loin with bay leaves and the new-as-of-my-visit deep fried duck wings hits already. There are locally made sausages, including wild boar and venison varieties, tasting boards boasting a Pickled Herring 3 Way sure to be a success with Swedes, a few salads, some pleasant potted spreads (the cheddar and beer was creamy with a slight beer hint and reminded me in the best way of growing up Midwestern; the smoked mussel, gouda and scallion is another top spread I was told), and a whole bunch of bar bites. In the latter section, the Wild Fjord skewer set offers a true meat-on-a-stick moment.

Perhaps my favorite nibble, though, was the deceptively simple mustard tasting board. Soft, scrumptious potato bread accompanied by five different house-made mustards: whole grain, horseradish-dill, lingonberry, IPA Dijon and sweet malted spice. Each mustard had its own unique character, and while I finally ended up picking the sweet malted spice mustard as the mightiest (that yummy maltiness and spicy kick triumphed), it took much mustard mulling as all were delish.

Skål’s meadhall direction means loads of rustically-comfortable wood notes: tables and booths, floors and chairs. It’s broken up into two areas: the front, all ages until 8 p.m., and the back area, always 21-and-over. The back’s highlighted by a substantial U-shaped bar surrounded by tall bar chairs, a shuffleboard table (which I felt was, as well as being fun, a small shout-out to The Viking bar that used to bubble over with locals at the corner of 65th and 24th), an open fire above which protrudes a Viking figurehead, shelves with board games, big shareable booths and a picture of Erik the Red.

A few more Viking notes are up front including shields and a goat skin, plus the big street-facing window for those wanting to watch locals carousing down Old Ballard Ave. There are also a few notes to know about ordering: you pick a table, order at the front counter or the bar, get a number and they bring your drinks and food. You also bus your own tables, and there’s a water dispenser in the middle. It’s all a very friendly experience, with a nice and caretaking staff (highlighted by Lexi doing a bit of everything), and a jovially-rambunctious atmosphere that seems to bridge old Ballard and new. Wide and diverse crowds are already pouring in—Thor himself (who would love the whole place) might even need to arrive early to ensure he gets a seat!


Washington’s Craft Breweries: Our Pint Runneth Over

Craft brewers keep the kettles cooking

Those who want to enjoy a cold craft beer in Washington state have no shortage of options. The state has 437 craft breweries, according to the 2021 report from the Brewers Association. This trade group based in Boulder, Colorado, represents small and independent craft brewers across the United States. That’s up significantly from 2011, when…

057A9945 Cropped-min

No Need to Wait Until the Holiday Season to Pop These Bubbles From Washington State

The best sparkling wines for fall

Reality check: sparkling wine doesn’t only have to be uncorked during the holidays or hot weather. In fact, it shouldn’t be reserved exclusively for New Year’s Eve while wearing those stupid glasses molded into the shape of numbers and/or enough sequins to power a drag show. Nor should it only be for summertime wedding toasts…


Wines with Zip to Sip

From the pool to the campfire, enjoy these warm-weather beverages

During the precious warmer months in Seattle, let’s admit that it’s all a little too easy to flick the tab on a tallboy of Elysian Space Dust IPA when the thirst for an adult beverage strikes. It’s lazy, but not all of us have the air conditioning — or motivation — to put forth much…


Near-Beer Seer

Figurehead’s Bob Monroe has a uniquely personal reason for creating a nonalcoholic craft beer

It’s been years since Bob Monroe has had more than a sip of his own beer. That’s about to change. Shortly after cofounding the popular Figurehead Brewing Co. in Seattle five years ago, Monroe got some surprising news: He had an autoimmune disease that makes him prone to pancreatitis. He was told if he continued…


Simply Irresistible Wines

Fresh pairings that make the same yearly meal exciting again

Savage Grace Wines are exceptionally drinkable.


Drinking White After Labor Day

Switching to red as the seasons change? Not so fast.

Fall is pretty much upon us in Seattle, which means it’s time to play some smooth jazz vinyls, brood in front of a fireplace adorned with decorative gourds and officially make the switch from white wine to red wine. Right? Wrong. Except for the smooth jazz part. Turn that good stuff up. There’s no reason to abandon…