The Burke Gilman 2: Revenge of the hill
The Burke Gilman is a major artery that connects many of the regions densest brewery neighborhoods. From Ballard to the West Woodinville to the East, and Kenmore a little less to the East, there are several regions riddled with breweries that make a great destination for a long ride no matter where you live. There is, however, a vast stretch of the Burke between Ballard and Kenmore on the west coast of Lake Washington where you won’t pass a single brewery… or can you?
“This region of the Burke is known for its scarcity. To find beer here, the cyclist must use specially adapted leg muscles to propel themselves up hills where breweries lie hidden, away from the predators that roam around the lake below. Life finds a way, even here in the harshest of climes*.” - David Attenborough, an actual quote from Planet Earth II.
Burke Gilman II: Revenge of the Hill
The route starts off nicely enough. You are still on the Burke when you spot your last refuge. Fremont Brewery is right across the street. It will never be this easy again, on the path ahead of you lies struggle and despair and massive hill climbs. To reach Floating Bridge from here you must depart from a bit further down the Burke beneath the I-5 bridge and head straight up the hill. By the time you are through, you will have ridden the vertical distance of the massive bridge as it passes over the Burke. That’s probably why they call it Floating Bridge because you wish you could float up to the bridge. Bikes can’t float. After returning to the Burke after this brief foray, a little further down you will see signs for Ravenna Brewing. Don’t be fooled: although Ravenna is but 3 blocks away from the Burke, it is a harrowing climb up the 3 steepest blocks in the whole world. Climbing shoes and harness are recommended. Fine, I admit that is a slight exaggeration - these 3 blocks are not actually harrowing, merely annoyingly steep and include a few stairs. Another return to the Burke and a little longer down is Hellbent, which, due to the pernicious collaboration between city planners, would be brewery owners, and mother nature herself, is placed a further vertical distance from the Burke than its horizontal distance. Hellbent Brewery? More like Hell-bent on making your quads sore, AM I RIGHT?!
Highlights: Crowds, Patio
Beers: Hop Favoritism
Fremont Brewery is one of the largest breweries in Seattle, behind Mac and Jack, Georgetown, and a Budweiser Chain. This place is merely it’s tasting room and pilot brewery, the main brewing operation itself having been moved to a much larger location in East Ballard. Fremont is known for its high quality and consistent beers, extremely popular seasonal releases, a staggering selection of t-shirts, long lines, and crowds. Fremont’s menu is pretty hoppy, with a wide selection of IPAs, hoppy pales, and more than a couple DIPAs. Some seasonal releases include porters, wheat beers, but you’d be forgiven for ignoring those. Their bougie Bourbon Barrel Aged Abominable (aka BBOMB) is a yearly release that appeals more to the fancy drinker than to me. Bike racks, huge patio (one of the most impressive in the city if it weren’t always overflowing with humans), it’s got plentiful bike parking. Tiny humans and dog shaped children are welcome and popular to the point of being a nuisance. The things we put up with for beer.
Highlights: Brewery "Smell"
Beers: Standard Array, always rotating
This brewery, while a pain to get to, is well worth the ride. It’s sparkly new and just waiting for you to discover it. The seating shares space with the equipment so it’s got quite the feeling of drinking in a brewery. That’s what I call the Smell, and this place has tons of it. A secluded seating area in the back has shuffleboard and a stack of surprisingly high-quality board games. Their menu rotates pretty fast, so grab your favorite beer while you can. They tend to have a pretty well-balanced variety - the Standard Array, as well as a few fun wild cards that depend on the season or whatever the brewers thought would be fun to make. Foodwise, this place boasts the impressive “panini press” which I think might be code for “this technically meets our license requirements.” Outside food welcome. The name Floating Bridge? It refers to the floating bridge used to cross Lake Washington… to which this place is nowhere near. Sip on that for a minute.
Highlights: Tiny, Rough
Beers: Standard Array
Ravenna is by far the tiniest brewery on this list. Cramped in what feels like it could have been an RV garage in another life, this split level brewery has most of its seating outside and shares its inside space with a brewery on the lower level and little more seating up top. It’s cramped, but it more than makes up for it with its rustic, unpolished look. The lines can get a little long here and it can be hard to find a seat, but on a sunny day, there is no other place to be. Their beers are the standard array, with their jalapeno kolshe, if you can get it, leading the pack. The frequent food truck is the food option here.
Highlights: Polished, Pool Table
Beers: Standard with Hella Guest Taps
Hellbent was never built to be accessed from the Burke Gilman. It feels like it’s so far away that you’d never reach it, but really it’s just right over that silly ridge. A little further north, this brewery has space to stretch its legs which results in this being the most spacious of all the breweries on this list. Upstairs has a quarter operated pool table and pinball. If you go to the bar for change on a slow day they might slip you an extra quarter or two so you can score another game from your single dollar. Generous? I suppose. Exploitable? Probably, but I can think of better ways to scam a quarter. Both floors have luxurious living room seating options. The level of polish in this place is high. They feature a wide array of guest taps from all over town as well as a rotating food truck. Dogs are welcome here too, and unlike Fremont, children are not.
It should take you a slightly impressive 75 minutes to perform this ride from end to end if you were to skip all the breweries. While these breweries aren’t known for being outside of the box beer wise, their outside of the inside (that is, their patio game) is strong. Wait for a nice day in the coming weeks or wait it out until Summer and you’ll be glad you visited these patio powerhouses… except for Floating Bridge since there is no patio there - they’re in it for the shuffleboard. You can have it all! Thanks for reading.
*David told me he was super proud of this pun. Climes, like a climate region and Climb like riding up something steep. He also said he likes explaining his puns. Your groans are my laughter.