What is the Best Brewery in Seattle?
Ever wondered "What is the best brewery in Seattle?" Well, I'll be honest, that is a tough question. A lot of people have gone to a lot of breweries, but I dare say that not many people have gone to just about all of them. And certainly not all of them are Certified Cicerones. A Cicerone is like a Sommelier, but for beer. It isn't easy to become one. And it's even harder to visit most of Seattle's 60 breweries. But guess, what? That is what I have done. I won't lie to you and tell you that even I can write the definitive list, but it is damn near close. If you ever wanted to know what brewery in Seattle is the best, then this is the best place to check.
It isn't easy to choose what brewery is the best in Seattle, so to ease our burden, we use a tier system. The tier system, by the way, was shown to me by my buddy Kevin, a guy who drinks so much he might as well be a pro. I have adapted it here because I think it is the best way possible to distill the nuance of Seattle breweries into a list of "Best Breweries in Seattle." There are 3 tiers of breweries. 3 is not worth visiting - bad beer is usually the culprit for that. 2 is perfectly good, but not notable in the grand scheme. Tier 2 Breweries are your average breweries. They are the breweries in your neighborhood that you love, but don't necessarily blow out the competition of the wider world. They brew delicious beer or have great folks, but something about them is missing. Maybe just a bit. The "Average" brewery in our world of amazing beers, especially in Seattle, is hard to earn. It is a title in and of itself. Tier 1 Breweries are the ones that you absolutely must visit. Some combination of their people, their space, their history, and the quality of their beer make it a place worthy of going far out of your way to visit. Extremely unique breweries get a major jump start up the list. A killer space is a big plus. But the best way to get on the list and stay there is to have phenomenal beer and to have it consistently. Consistency is hard to achieve in the small beer world, so it is worth a lot of points.
Tier 1 - Breweries so good you have to go, even if you are an experienced drinker
1. Lucky Envelope - this is a Ballard newcomer. It's no longer the youngest there, but it's close to the bottom of the list. Their taproom is a little drab and sterile, losing points on "Smell," but they have a strong corn hole game. Their parking lot patio is showing lots of improvement in recent months. What puts them on the top of the list is their Top Tier Beer. Try the Helles Lager, Eniac IPA (the grapefruit version as well), or even the always strong showing their rotating beers put up. They keep their menu contained to a sane amount of choices unlike some places (*COUGH* Reuben's), so you won't feel bad going back to your favorite beer instead of always trying new ones.
2. Urban Family - This one earns it's top spot for being unique. Located in Magnolia(ish), they brew exclusively sour, funky, barrel aged beers, but unlike some places that try that, you don't end up hating your mouth afterwards. Some of the weirder ones can be a chore to finish if you didn't know what you were getting into, but to the bored beer drinker who's seen it all, this is the place to go. Their huge warehouse with walls built from barrels, extremely laid back atmosphere, and fine, friendly folk busts this place way up.
3. Machine House - This Georgetown neighborhood brewery earns the "Coolest Space" and "Best Theme" awards. They are literally built in an old machine house. Their courtyard sports corn hole and food trucks. Local bands sometimes play their tiny stage. But what really helps this place take the cake is it's beer. It is all English-style Cask beer. Served at cellar temps instead of colder fridge temps, and straight out of the barrel with a vacuum pump instead of a C02 tap. It's less fizzy and truer to the old style. Some places have a single cask beer, but this place has ONLY cask beers. If that is your style, then this is your place. If it isn't, then you still need to go here. I insist.
Tier 2 - Breweries good enough to make the Top 10
4. Bad Jimmy's - This place consistently serves some of the weirdest beers you can try. Their taproom is a great place to catch the game, and their patio with nearby food delivery is killer. They get sent straight up the list of must try breweries due to sheer weirdness. Try the Girl Scout Cookie Ale and see which cookie they are throwing in this time. Or the Habanero Amber I hope they still have for you to try.
5. Outlander - another place similar to Bad Jimmy's. This time built in an old house in Fremont. They serve weird style beers but with a slightly more hipster and pretentious vibe. Once you manage to cross the threshold of the front door, which is notably foreboding, you can order some of the weirdest beers you aren't sure you are allowed to not like. They brew a KILLER Peanut Butter Stout.
6. Sumerian - the next three breweries aren't technically in Seattle. I almost didn't put them on here and, in fact, think they might scoff at their own inclusion on the Seattle list. Sumerian is in Woodinville, near where Red Hook used to be. It has the best IPA I think I have ever had. Their Narcissist IPA is on a-whole-nother level. This might be because in order for me to get there, I have to ride an hour on a half on bike, but it might be because it's literally the only standout IPA I've had in a sea of Pacific Northwest IPAs. Their other beers are fine. Skip the porter.
7. Black Raven - This Redmond area brewery has a sick ass space and consistently good beers. Some of them are so good, they are worth attending bottle releases to get your hands on, an activity I am generally against. When I see a Black Raven beer out in the world, I will almost always go with it, and it will almost always be the Trickster IPA. The Second Sight Scotch Ale was the first beer I ever bought a full keg of. Live the full keg life. Go to Black Raven.
8. Tripplehorn - This is what I meant above when I said a place would likely resent being added to the Seattle list. This is more Woodinville. It's at the end of an industrial mall, at the top of a huge hill. Once your earned it by finding and climbing to the place, you are greeted by my entire checklist of "awesome drinking spaces" requirements - big bar with seats, huge warehouse, open view of the inner workings of the brewery, popcorn... Great beer to boot.
9. Ravenna - This place gets bonus points for being right on the Burke Gilman. Its beer is great, but right now this young brewery is still trying to find its core beers. Its space is tiny, but the patio is banging. It has "The Smell" out the yin-yang and the most bestest home-grown vibe of any place in the whole city. It's a little far out, in the neighborhood that it is named for- Ravenna. Try the Jalepeno Kolshe if you are lucky enough to catch it.
10. Peddler - I have to admit, this Ballard brewery got several points due to my bias towards bike themed breweries. They earned this spot by virtue of having the best patio in all of Seattle. No seriously. It's so well executed, you will end up drinking each and every one of their beers in an attempt to not leave. It is the perfect Oktoberfest tent patio, even though they don't bother with Oktoberfest bier.
11.* Chucks Hop Shop - technically this is a bottle shop, so it gets slot 11 and a big ol' asterisk. There're 2 locations. One in Greenwood and another in Cap Hill. They are both baller and you should go to both. Often.
Is your favorite brewery not on this list? Good. They shouldn't be! If it's in Seattle, I've been there and they must not have made the cut. OK that's not true at all. There are new places opening all the time, and small breweries like these have been known to soar or tank in quality. If you are wondering why Elysian isn't here then all I have to say to you is "Corporate Beer *still* Sucks." If you're looking for Reuben's, Stoup, Cloudburst, Floating Bridge, Figurehead... or any of the other 50 breweries not on the list, they mostly are also great breweries. Tier 2 is a huge category and there's only enough time for a few of them. Keep drinking that great beer!