Seattle's Densest Brewery District
It’s about time I got around to reviewing the routes in my own backyard. Ballard is a neighborhood in Seattle well known for its extreme brewery density. Any beer lover visiting Seattle is likely to be pointed straight here only to be completely overwhelmed, and even local Seattleites find the area a bit intimidating. Not to fear, the Cycling Cicerone is here, and I am going to clear away the trash and distill this place down to the four or five places that are worth completing in a single trashy afternoon.
Ballard to the Burke
The route here is an easy one. It was one of the first routes I ever rode, but despite this, it is more of a walking route. While exploring this area, you are likely to see the Cycle Saloon, a traveling bar powered by pedaling and basically an overpriced version of the free services this blog offers. The Cycle Saloon does speak to the density of the area. If you disagree with any of my choice of breweries, you can veer only slightly off the path to find another one. This density does do the area one minor disservice: because Ballard is now a drinking destination, some of the breweries in the area seem to be able to skirt by on things other than the virtue of their beer - mainly the fact that people will stumble in fresh off a day of drinking and have no expectations. Hardcore Ballard fans might be offended by that. I don’t care, get at me. Stick to the list and you’ll be just fine.
Total Distance: 0.7 miles
Route Type: City
Elevation: mostly flat
Let’s start off strong with my favorite brewery of all time. Lucky Envelope has it’s downsides, mainly an interior that is universally agreed upon to entirely too sterile. As a good friend of mine said, “If I had to get open heart surgery, I’d probably get it in Lucky Envelope.” It lacks the brewery smell. Bright light, minimal decoration, and the brewery sealed away by glass hospital doors all add to the feeling that you aren’t really out for a night of drinking, you are taking the SATs. PLEASE don’t stop reading there though, this place has the very best beer of ANY brewery in Seattle, BAR NONE. The reason it is first on the route is so that you can properly enjoy this beer for what it is: the best Helles Lager, IPA, and Grapefruit IPA in a fifteen-mile radius. Their head brewer can do no wrong, for he is a golden god.
Not far off is Stoup. While there is nothing too remarkable about this place, that in itself is remarkable. It’s simply a strong brewery with a great vibe. Their beers are solid, as is their patio (though now that it is getting a little cold, I’d like to see what they do with it). I was about to say they are known for their ESB, but their rotating selection currently has nothing to do with what I remember them for. They will probably get back to it as soon as they are done with their Oktoberfest kick.
I love and hate Reuben’s. It has an out of this world selection of beers with like 30 different beers on tap. This great advantage is also a flaw. Get ready for selection shock, and not in a great way. As any Untappd user might tell you, there is something to be said for sampling a brewery’s entire lineup. At Reuben’s it would take nothing shy of 6 sample flights to do what would take only 1 or 2 at another brewery. Other than that, this place is, what’s the word... tight. It’s extremely well polished and on top of its game. Long lines move fast, and everything is “square.” That last one might sound like gibberish, but just go there and you’ll know what I mean by square.
Peddler has a dear place in my heart for being a bike-themed brewery. It’s got more bike racks outside and in than any other brewery, though I don’t know who in their right mind would use one of those hanging racks you can’t possibly lock up to, and their beers all have bike-themed names. Charming. While their beer lineup usually leaves me wanting, their patio is the best in the whole city without a doubt, boasting a large heated tent, corn hole, multiple food options, stage, and outdoor bar.
There you have it, the four BEST breweries on the best possible route in Ballard. If you are a completionist, and I know you are, you’ll have to go back again to try the others. Perhaps one day I’ll write a “Day 2 Tier 2” route for your pleasure, but then again I’m sure you can manage without. An honorable mention does have to go to the new Lagunitas tasting room that recently opened up. While I don’t like giving any credit at all to breweries owned by big beer (these guys are owned by Heineken), they deserve a shout-out for taking the old Hilliard's Brewery and turning it into an amazing drinking space that’s hard to leave. Thanks for reading! If you like the route, share this post for free kittens!