Last month Chuckanut Brewery and Reuben's Brews were featured in The Pour Fool for their dedication to outstanding beer. Read about them below or check out the full article here.
Reuben’s Brews is one of America’s best breweries.
Anyone who is well-traveled in their beer tasting, isn’t mired in their own regionalism, and has tasted from Reuben’s bewildering range of beers already knows this.
Founder and brewmaster, Adam Robbings, fell in love with the PNW beer scene after he moved here from his native UK in 2004. He started the way a lot of great brewers did, as a homebrewer whose wonky, detail-oriented side took him from a standing start, in 2007, to a Silver Medal at the National Homebrew Competition, in 2012. Along the way, his brother-in-law, Mike Pfeiffer, tasted Adam’s beers and became the first of many thousands of Washingtonians to fall in love with Adam’s inventive recreations of established styles and experimental beers that just never failed. Mike was impressed enough with the potential of Adam’s brews and vision that he moved his family from Indiana to Seattle to become part of this nutty idea of…opening a brewery? The two and their wives strategized this madness for a year or more and finally, in 2012, Went For It. Named for Sdam and Grace’s beautiful son, Reuben’s Brews opened on a hot weekend in August of 2012, with a line-up of beers that accommodated the local mania for traditional British ales (As a Brit, Robbings just followed his palate), sprinkled with Euro-inspired gems like his Roggenbier, the first Rye of its type brewed in Washington. My first taster of Reuben’s Brews’ taplist was on the second Saturday after their opening, a sweaty summer day on which their tiny taproom had crowds crammed into the brewery, with visitors’ back literally resting against the brew tanks. I tasted nine beers and each one was better and more jewel-perfect than the last. Robbings’ homebrewing mania took him to UC-Davis for their brewing certificate and he scaled the curriculum like a cat up a tree. He understands the chemistry and technical aspects better than about 95% of his peers and an average Saturday will find at least two or three area brewers sitting in his new taproom, beers in hand, tasting and smiling,shaking their heads, and picking Adam’s brain.
There seems to be no style of beer that Robbings and Pfeiffer cannot master, usually on the first try. The Gose Craze has Seattle firmly in its grip and two are clear standouts: Reuben’s and Holy Mountain…and Reuben’s Hibiscus Gose stands all alone at the top of the infused Gose heap. They now offer the basic Gose in cans and it has become a staple of most beer shelves in the Western end of the state – a quantum leap from where Washington was just two years ago, vis a vis “weird beers”. My list of what to taste when you visit is short and sweet: “Whatever is on tap.” But if you happen to find any of the following on the list, get a pint. You’ll want to live with them for a while: Roasted Rye, Robust Porter, Roggenbier, Tart Cherry Weisse, “Balsch” Kolsch, Barrel-Aged “Auld Heritage”, “Hop Tropic” Pale, “Crikey” IPA, “Blimey, That’s Bitter!” DIPA, “Daily Pale” APA, Cream Ale (a REAL cream ale, made in authentic British style!), Pfeiffer’s Pumpkin Rye, Russian Imperial Stout (and it’s barrel-aged anniversary version!), “Triumvirate!” American IPA, and, again, ANYTHING that’s being poured. In well over 45 years as a student and passionate fan of beer, I can honestly say that I have never found even one other brewery at which every single thing on their taplist at any given moment is as near-perfect as it is at Reuben’s Brews. Adam’s singular dedication to his craft never wavers and his palate is unwaveringly Everyman, in his insistence that “delicious” is Job One. As his delightful better half, Grace, says on the Reuben’s Brews website, “I thought, ‘Oh great, there’s more storage space gone once Adam gives up on this little hobby in a month’s time.‘ Even though I rarely admit to being wrong now that we’re married, I couldn’t have been farther from the mark thinking that this would be an easily discarded hobby.”
Again, as with Holy Mountain, it’s going to help to have a local get you to Reuben’s new taproom and brewery, tucked away on a residential/light industrial side street, there in the rabbit’s warren that is Old Ballard but, once there, the room is big and open and welcoming and the staff is second to none in beer savvy and down-home friendliness. Great food is just blocks away and other stand-out Ballard breweries like Populuxe, Maritime Pacific, Stoup, Peddlar, Hilliard’s, NW Peaks, and several others are close enough to make it a very plausible walking tour.
Sometimes we latch onto our destiny early and hang on for the ride…but sometimes our destiny finds us and following it is as inevitable as the next sunrise. Reuben’s Brews is one of the best breweries in America. Period. And that is proof positive that destiny is out there, searching for us all.
The Gang of Four’s Esteemed +1:
Chuckanut Brewing/Bellingham, Washington
Just a few miles from the Canadian border lies the old city of Bellingham, the northernmost seaport in the contiguous 48 states. It’s a quaint, medium-sized city of just under 100,000, which has, from necessity, been somewhat self-sufficient because of its relative isolation from other larger cities in Washington. It has a modest but thriving arts scene, a still-active fishing industry, shipping traffic, and maintains the oldest part of its Old Bellingham, the part called Fairhaven, as a virtual living museum of what 19th century Washington looked and felt like. As is the case with most older cities in the Northwest, the mostly industrial character of the place has changed, over the decades, and has left behind vestiges of a time when lumber and metalwork and other heavy industries were the life’s blood. And it’s in one of those vestiges, what appears to have been a heavy-truck repair show or freight terminal, that we find one of America’s most celebrated independent breweries and the man who is arguably the country’s reigning guru of German and Middle European-style beers: Will Kemper and his venerable Chuckanut Brewery & Kitchen.
Will Kemper is a man whom every other reputable brewer in the US already knows – and admires. He began his career with his friend and fellow chemical engineer, Andy Thomas, starting as avid amateur brewers and soon discovering that the hefty German-style ales and lagers they produced had a shockingly broad appeal. In 1985, in the very infancy of Washington craft brewing, they opened the Thomas Kemper Brewery in the town of Poulsbo and, by the mid-90s, had become one of the top three brands in the state. They met and befriended another brewery owner, Beth Hartwell, whose Hart Brewing was, at the time the fourth-largest craft brand in the US. Kemper and Thomas eventually merged with Hart, which resulted in Pyramid Brewing, named for Hart’s iconic Pyramid Pale Ale.
After selling their shares back to Pyramid and selling their secondary business, Thomas Kemper Sodas, to them as well, Will Kemper became, for a time, a brewing consultant and spent considerable time in Europe, both learning about the Euro lagers he loved and working as a consultant there, too, for breweries as far afield as Turkey. Returning to Washington in the mid-00s, Will and his delightful wife, Mari fell for the small-town charms of Bellingham and opened Chuckanut just on the south end of downtown, in 2008.
If there is a better brewer of German, Czech, Austrian and practically any other Euro-style lagers in the US, no one has yet found them. There are some who approach Kemper’s acumen and sheer sumptuousness in his beers but most of them worked for him and picked it up straight from the master’s hand. Josh pFriem, owner and brewmaster of Oregon’s transcendent pFriem Family Brewers of Hood River, is a veteran of Chuckanut and his beers share Kemper’s spotless clarity, soulful balance, and extraordinary flavors. Chuckanut has twice, since 2009, won Small Brewery and Brewer of the Year at GSBF ad has raked in countless medals for excellence at every major competition on the planet.
Kemper’s beers are like perfect three-dimensional models of whatever style he chooses to explore and he’s equally as comfortable with the British ale tradition as with Germans. On my last visit, I had one of the two or three best WA state Porters I’d found to that time and it still sits in my top five. His “secret” is the same secret that Robbings and Lenfesty and Johns and Ginn/Hood share: knowing what the hell you’re doing and when to stop doing it. There is nothing in Will Kemper’s process that’s random or given scant attention and the product of that relentless care pours out taps into every glass. His stand-outs, too, can be summed on “Anything they’re pouring” but my favorites include a stunning and sweetly smoky Rauchbier, that Porter(!), his letter-perfect Pilsner, a bronzed and muscular Marzen, a game-changing Dunkel, a titanic Dopplebock, one of the best Alts I’ve ever tasted, and Kolsch so exquisitely, achingly perfect that any German brewer would kill to have it in their bottle.
In 2016, Chuckanut, in an effort to better satisfy a booming demand from the Seattle market, opened a second brewery and taproom about 25 miles down I-5, in Burlington, WA. The second location handles all the brewing for their Southern accounts and, if it is a tad less charming than the B’ham location, it does, at least, allow more people to enjoy these vivid, living proofs that Euro-style lagers do not have to be wimpy and undistinguished like the debased adjunct Pilsners that comprise out national experience of lagers, in the form of cheap, insipid beers like Bud, Miller, and Coors.
Bellingham is quite a bit out of the way for any traveler coming to Seattle but there will be a LOT of taps all over the area pouring Chuckanut and bottles of several beers are available. I certainly hope that including this virtual temple of American brewing as a “+1” is not taken as any sign of Chuckanut being a lesser brewery than any of the rest mentioned. On the contrary: any list of best breweries in the Northwest – or in the US! – MUST include Will Kemper and his casual genius that illuminates every glass of Chuckanut poured anywhere. And for brew-fan travelers headed to Vancouver, western B.C., Victoria, or Vancouver Island, Chuckanut Brewery & Kitchen is something no real beer lover should pass up.
Body, Steve."The NW Cutting Edge: Washington's Gang of Four (+1)." The Pour Fool. 26 January 2017. Web. 22 February 2017.