Ship Canal Trail: There's a New Route in Town
Its looks like there might be a new route in town: The Ship Canal Trail. Running barely two miles long on the South side of the Ballard Canal and with over four breweries nearby, it's a contender for best bike-brewery route in Seattle. Last Thursday I had the pleasure of being joined by our first guest drinker, Tim, as we hit every brewery along the path. We're gonna break these breweries down for you and see how the route stacks up against other brewery-bike routes in the first issue of what we like to call The Cycling Cicerone.
The Route: Tip to Tip of the Ship Canal Trail
- Length: Short
- Difficulty: Easy
Our route ran from west of the trail in the industrial marine warehouse zone that Urban Family calls it's home and down to Figurehead near the start of the Ship Canal Trail. We hopped down the trail and took a microscopic detour to Rooftop, then finally finished the trail by hopping over the Fremont Bridge and backtracking to Outlander on the other side of the canal. The trail itself is beautiful, that is if you are like me and enjoy the overgrown bramble, train track following, rusted out boat yard aesthetic of the Ballard Canal. The second mile of the trail runs along the Fremont Cut parallel to Fremont's main drag where during the day you might catch the Washington rowing team speeding along, and at night you can see the glowing lights of hipster town reflect off the water's vaguely rippled surface. It's well kept with a few small patches of tree root making ruffle ridges on the asphalt. With much less crowding than it's neighbor, The Burke-Gillman, it's a joy to ride for as long as its two miles last. Two miles with three breweries along it's length and add in an extra mile and a half to hit Outlander at the end. First stop: Urban Family.
- Nailing it: 3/3 Eccentricity: 2/2 Intimacy: 2/2 Pinkies out: 0/2
- Patio: Yes
- Activities: sports on the projector screen
- Food: free snacks
Head down by the docks to find this this small brewery. Getting there feels weird, as if Google Maps is definitely wrong. You ride between the train tracks and the dock until you get to the end, and you see, nestled among warehouses, the unassuming sign for Urban Family. Lock up on the stair banister and head on in. The giant open warehouse is partitioned off by a wall of sour beer barrels, through the gaps of which you can see the functional beer making space that takes up barely half of the available room. On your side of the barrel wall are a row of shiny new booths and scattered tables. On your right is a huge projector screen with the Seahawks on it, and on your left a bar with a colorful chalk board menu above it. Free pretzels sit under hanging "Mumford and Sons lights" - you know the kind I'm talking about.
Limecicle Milkshake IPA - My buddy sitting at Chuck's Hop Shop told me they were serving this beer there, so I had to come to the brewery to check it out at it's source. It lived up to it's hype. It was nearly neon yellow in color, smelled strongly like a margarita, and tasted like one too. They added tons of lime zest to balance out sweetness, likely from added lactose, and to make this quite a drinkable beer. Unlike most way-out-there beers, I made it to the end of this one just about as excited as I was when I started. If you are lucky enough to get to Urban Family while this is on tap, it's worth grabbing a taster to see if you like it.
Urban Family specializes in sour beers and funky yeast. Their entire menu consists of saisons, sours, and belgians - basically anything with a crazy yeast derived flavor, but they don't stop there. All kinds of grains bills and fruits result in a full array of beer, from light to dark, chuggable to heavy, subdued to crazy - maybe a dozen and a half to choose from. Every beer I have tasted here has been great. It certainly would be a place to do a flight to try to get a taste of their huge variety of beers I guarantee you haven't tried before. There are seats at the bar and talkative bartenders who simply seem like they're having the chillest time.
I happen to think that reviewing individual beers is a fools errand. There are more beers out there than grains of sand, and once you learn your way around the different styles and know what you like, you can really only summarize every beer as "I like this" or "I don't like this." With that said, every now and then there is a beer that stands out as unique and worthy of mention. Sometimes a brewery brews a flag ship beer that they are really proud of, or sometimes they just make a beer so weird I can't help but bring it up. Urban Family's Limecicle IPA is one such beer, so they win this week's beer spotlight.
These goons close up shop at the same time as Urban Family, so I, uh, still haven't been inside. What can I say, closing out Urban Family was a big priority. From the outside it looks like a small intimate affair, but I'll have to come back and update when I can swing another trip to the trail. Having a brewery on your to-do list is a good place to be in life.
- Nailing it: 2/3 Eccentricity: 0/2 Intimacy: 2/2 Pinkies out: 0/2
- Patio: Oh god, yes
- Activities: sunshine
- Food: occasional trucks
Just a small dart off the trail is rooftop brewing, behind a parking lot on the main road. Unlike Urban Family, this place actually has a bike rack, so rack up and head in. This tasting room (err... tasting roof) is evenly divided between its small inside area and it's covered and heated patio. Step outside of the cover to get a glimpse of the Ballard canal and the Olympic mountains to the west (or so I suspect. Fool that I am, I went at night). When you are ready for another beer, cruise on up to the drive through window that connects their patio to the bar inside and pester the bar tender who is busy rushing back and forth between both sides.
Rooftop has a pretty standard array of beers - the classic northwest menu of IPA, Pale, a CDA and couple other standard beers. I stared at the menu for a while and nothing jumped out at me, but that's not the point of this place. The few beers they make, they make well enough. What makes this place shine is it's intimacy. It's small. On a crowded day, cuddle up with with everyone else on the patio or try to claim one of the few small tables inside. If it isn't crowded, you can sit right at the bar and hang out. You can bet I'll be back in the middle of the day some time to try to spot a brewer because I'm guessing they are there all the time. They have food trucks sometimes (check the website), and the best part is that during the summer, they're open until midnight, which means unless some other breweries start doing the same, they are open the latest in the area along with Outlander. Speaking of which...
- Nailing it: 2/3 Eccentricity: 2/2 Intimacy: 2/2 Pinkies out: 1/2
- Patio: yes
- Activities: board games
- Food: snack/ sandwich menu
Keep our eyes on the south side of Leary Way, because Outlander has a way of hiding from you. It's in a small house nestled between other businesses. Walking through it's front door feels strange, like you are going to accidentally walk in on someone's family dinner. Overcome that initial trepidation though, because inside is the most hipster looking brewery you're likely to walk into. The cramped hallways and rooms overstuffed with tables and chairs are brimming with eclectic do-dads. Head upstairs to find more secluded seating in the giant cushy chairs of their available-for-reservations room. Walking through the place feels that same as walking into a house party where you are looking for your two friends. Hopefully you brought Tim with you. Your other friend is at the bar. Her name is Beer.
Stroll up to the small bar, and if you are lucky enough to grab a spot there, do it. You'll want to have quick access to the bartender, because I'm betting you're gonna have more than one. If you can't go find a cozy corner somewhere and grab a board game, or sit at the chess table to hang for a while. Their beers are borderline absurd. Outlander is the brewery I used when determining what a maximum eccentricity rating should be. You are likely only to find vague hints towards styles you are familiar with and that's OK! Their peanut butter something is to die for. If that isn't your style try their Horny Goat weed whatever or the rose petal whosit. Really, once you look at the menu you'll forget what beer styles already existed before you came here. Sit down and try them all, and while you do it order something off their menu because this is the only place on the route to have substantial food and I'm guessing you're getting hungry by now.
So that's it. Riding from Urban Family to Outlander hitting every brewery along the way takes about four hours. Almost all of that time is spent in the breweries with maybe 15 minutes spent actually riding. The easiest route I'll ever do. If you have time to only hit one of these places I highly suggest Urban Family. It's combination of eccentric beers and really neato location make it one of the weirder places I've visited. People familiar with the area might be wondering why I didn't mention Fremont Brewing as their tasting room slash pilot brewery is just barely off the route. Fear not, I have plenty to say about that place. They'll make it into a later installment.
Have you been to any of these places before? What were your thoughts? Did I more or less get it right? Leave it in a comment below. Like, Share, Subscribe, and find Intrigue Brewing on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. If you can find the Cycling Cicerone in the wild, I might have a prize for you.