My Favorite Seattle Breweries By Neighborhood
One of the things that I have learned about craft beer in my many, many years (*cough*, I grow weary with the weight of my 27 years of age) is that how good a beer rarely has any impact on whether or not it is your favorite. So many things subconsciously weigh on your opinion of a beer that flavor, mouthfeel, color, and clarity all take a back seat. I’m fond of saying that 80% of how good a beer is comes from how much fun you are having at the time. The last 20% of it is all that is actually related to the flavor of the beer. If that weren’t the case then we’d all only ever drink at home because the same 10 bucks buys you a six pack instead of a pint and a half. Another thing I am fond of saying is that you can’t pick the best brewery. In a world where Voldemort brews the most popular beer in the country, I think you’d be hard-pressed to come up with any quantitative metric that you could use to compare breweries and pick the best.
I could go on like this trying to convince you that what you are about to read is a meaningless attempt to provide order to the world, that trying to sort breweries isn’t ultimately futile, but that isn’t why you are here. You wanna know what I think the best breweries in Seattle are. You may be saying, Andrew, haven’t you already done this? Yes, I have. But this time it’s different. This time I’m breaking it down by neighborhood.
Cloudburst - Cloudburst is a neat little spot nestled in a lonely warehouse building next to busy traffic. If you can navigate to the place, which can be hard with what seems like incessant construction happening at all times all around, then you will be treated with a crowded bar with barely enough seating. With the butcher paper menu, dildo in the wall, and restaurant style glasses in place of any semblance of proper beerware, this place does away with any pretense of fanciness and just makes beer and serves it to you at a passable price.
Optimism - This venue is simply the best. It’s huge and open in a neighborhood where everything is cramped and tiny. I never want to hear about their rent, because it must be astronomical. Serving as the ultimate example of my fond phrase, mentioned above, about where beer gets its goodness, this place serves up mediocre tasting beer in a venue that moved my inebriated ass to tears like a Catholic visiting the Sistine Chapel of Beer. Thus, it claims it’s spot as my favorite brewery in the area.
Outlander - this little brewery has to go toe to toe with the most packed beer garden in the world just a few blocks away. Eschewing all style guidelines, they pump out insane beers you’ll never get anywhere else. It’s built in a house that has been repurposed, like many of the Fremont area stores, and perhaps because of this has the most comforting vibe. That is if you can get over the feeling that you are home invading.
Lucky Envelope - Winning this prize in Ballard is very hard. You compete with the patio of Peddler, the insane selection of Reuben’s, the pinball machines of Populuxe, and tons of other impressive offerings in this brewery crowded neighborhood. Lucky Envelope takes it for being the only brewery in the area that relies solely on its good beer to stand out. While the taproom has seen some major improvements over the last little while, their beer started out strong and simply has no room for improvement. If you find yourself disagreeing, I guess that just like a new Star Wars movie, the hype probably didn’t do it any favors in the subconscious lizard section of your brain.
Machine House - You could hate English style cask beers, but it is impossible not to love this place. The combination of dedication to the old ways and the old building it’s filled out create an inescapable charm that all others will be hard-pressed to duplicate. Cask beers are a bit of a specialty beer so they may not be your cup of tea, but this place will be. Shot tower included.
Ghost Fish - A common misconception is that the G in ghost and the F in fish in the name of this brewery stands for Gluten Free. That actually isn’t true, though it’s kinda nice it turned out that way because it is indeed a gluten-free brewery. All the food and beer they make are made with gluten-free ingredients, not gluten removed. If you are a celiac, then this place is 100% approved. And you’d think the beer would take a major hit by being gluten-free, but I assure you, it’s completely serviceable. It gets 5/5 warm fuzzies for bringing beer back to the downtrodden and with the goodwill thus earned, easily takes the SODO prize.
Urban Family - There is something about the wonder and mystery of wandering through the marine plaza that Urban Family calls home. For a second you think you might get jumped by a sailor but then BAM, nestled in the back there is Urban Family. It’s a huge place with so many beers aging in barrels they can and do build the walls out of them. "Mumford and Sons" lights hanging all around and a big projector screen almost makes this feel like the bedroom you would have built yourself in college if you'd had the funds and the unstated design sense. Fruited Sours hit it home.
Mollusk - It may be winning this region by default, but it’s no joke. It’s a brewpub which normally I stay away from as a rule since it always seemed to me that if you have food to fall back on then your beer doesn’t need to be all that important. Mollusk has a history as a nano gastropub in its earlier iterations. The food may have strayed into the more universal fare, but the brewers who continue run the beer half of the operation through waves of expansion and corporate buyouts remain as committed to making good beer as they ever were.
My official stance is that you cannot rank breweries in any meaningful way. Despite this, I am often asked what my favorites are. The answer is always an annoying "it depends." This was but one more attempt to break that down. Did your favorite brewery not win its neighborhood? Check to make sure it's not owned by Voldemort. Did your favorite neighborhood not get an entry? I'm sorry Greenwood, Wallingford, and Central District that you were an afterthought I only remembered while writing this conclusion. Perhaps I will lump you into a future installment where I favorite the criminally underrated breweries of Woodinville, Kenmore, Edmonds, Redmond, Belleview, Kirkland, Everett, and Snohomish. Thanks for reading!