Vashon Island Bike and Brew
Vashon Island. Known to some as “what’s Vashon Island?” Known to others as “is that, like, over by Olympia?” Well, guess what, betches! A remote island paradise is closer than you think and it’s called Vashon. Mere miles away from West Seattle is a tiny little incubator of country living. Comradery, community, waving to strangers, and respecting bikers (gasp, can it be so?!) can all be yours if you take a little ferry ride. And you know what else comes with country living? Booze. Let me take you there.
Vashon Island is less than a 15-mile ride from tip to tip. The rural farming island has since turned into an insane Seattle ferry commuter residential area but still retains its old charm. The first thing you notice about this place is the people. Friendly and open, nothing like the Seattle-freezing residents of the mainland. It’s home to the punishing charity bike ride “Passport 2 Pain” where riders blast up and down the island's mountainous hills on beautiful forested roads, past orchards, and farmland. Long, joyful hills uninterrupted by the dreaded bottom-of-the-descent red light/stop sign are the norm. Home as well to the yearly Strawberry Festival, taking place soon in July, and the nationally renowned Sheep Dog Classic which we just missed in early June, where, apparently, the entire continent of Australia makes a yearly pilgrimage to participate. I feel the need to talk about May’s Kitchen, too, since that small Thai restaurant can call the entire island its hype squad: every local and visitor I encountered felt the need to share the gospel of this place, encouraging me to get a reservation while simultaneously clamoring for their own. I got one. It was worth it. Moving on, this isn’t a food blog.
Of course, I went for the booze. I say booze, you see because even though I tend to talk about mostly beer on this blog, we will be taking a brief foray into cider territory. The Island is veritably covered in apple orchards. Don’t worry, there is a brewery there too, or else I wouldn’t have even bothered. Vashon Island Brewery is a brand new brewpub that just opened to become the first brewpub on the island. Between that place and the two cideries, Nashi and Dragon’s Head, we got us a good ol’ vashion bike and brew. Dragon’s Head Cider and Vashon Island Brewery are both on the north side of the island in the “downtown” area. Nashi Cider is near the bottom. Cleverly, there is a ferry terminal on both the northern and southern tips meaning that whichever side you arrive on, you can go straight through and take the other ferry back to the mainland and be in an entirely new city! The northern terminal connects to West Seattle and the southern terminal connects you to Tacoma, so if you are planning a weekend trip or are touring or camping, as many of the people we met were doing, then this route is the one to hit. Once you have all these places on your map, you can’t really go wrong. If you plan on ferrying back the way you came, you’ll have to figure out your own loop. And don't forget you don't need to buy a ticket back to the mainland; that voyage is free. A lesson I won't need to learn a second time.
It’s a cute little patio with a long table in the middle of an orchard. Much like a classic wine tasting, get the attention of one of the many folks behind the bar and order up a flight. You can buy full pours or bottles to drink, but most of the gang is buying flights. Just like a fancy wine place, you can buy a bottle to crack and sit around drinking. They don’t have any cider on draft. Maybe it’s just me, but buying a bottle of nice cider and cracking it right there never really felt right. It’s definitely more of a wine drinkers experience. Free cheese and crackers to accompany your fancy cider tasting, see what I mean? The place feels like the backyard of a farm, butting up against the surrounding greenery on the edge of the grounds. I won’t give them credit for the weather, but blue skies and green grass can’t be beaten.
Dragon’s Head Cider
Now, this is a banging cidery. Just out of the center of town, you ride down farm roads following the signs until you find the iron gate. The tasting room is on the grounds of the orchard, and after trying the flight, which includes the full sized tulip tasting glass, and after grabbing a top up of your favorite, you are free to roam the grounds. This place has cider on draft so while you are free to grab a bottle, it’s much closer to the standard brewery experience where grabbing a pint just feels right. Wander to the pond worthy of a wedding ceremony where a chandelier hangs among the trees and hammocks. When asked why the cidery was named after dragons, the bartender gave an answer that basically amounted to “'cus dragons are dope.” A sentiment I wholeheartedly agree with.
Vashon Island Brewery
For the longest time this brewery operated solely as a production brewery, that is, they made beer only to be sold in bars and stores. Now, after 7 long years of that, they decided to open up their first tap room and came out swinging. As of the time of writing, the place has only been open for a month or so. They are still gathering their bearings and settling into their spot, the Vashon Community Pub, it’s newness betrayed by the subtle echo of a restaurant uncluttered. Adjacent to the green space used for the annual Strawberry Festival, it would be a great place for a beer fest (hey now there’s an idea, maybe I’ll organize one with help of the owner, Cliff). Despite the new location, their beers have a legacy. The smoked porter with it’s subtle, nearly imperceptible smoke aroma defies categorization and makes a delicious addition to your campfire, but while you are there you should give some of their lighter beers a try to enjoy on the patio that connects to some nearby art galleries (or whatever those places were, I don’t get it). And if this bike route sounds fun but you don’t want to ride the hills of Vashon, the electric bike rental store is right here. If you want to get to know Cliff and Vashon Island Brewing, then check out the podcast episode we did on him.
Vashon Island is pretty dang magical. After a few ciders and several hundred feet of hill climbing, you can go take a nap on the ferry. One of those naps you know you deserve. The brewery, Nashi, and Dragon's Head mark this place as one deserving of destination if you didn’t think all the other stuff Vashon has going on was good enough. Oh, and I didn’t even mention the distillery; there is one of those, too. Oh yeah, I’m serious about that beer fest idea, if you wanna help out, hit me up. Cliff and I will be hosting a small beer fest featuring under-represented breweries from just a bit too far out of Seattle sometime later this year. See you on the island! Thanks for reading.