Come help us drink the beers we hauled on Earth Day, Saturday April 21st at Seattle’s Latona Pub. All kegs on tap will have been pedaled or walked to The Latona in celebration of Mama Earth.
I knew there was something special about Seattle’s Latona Pub the first time I rolled up. The two bicycle racks outside of the corner bar were proud hitching posts for a Rivendell Atlantis on one and a Crust Evasion on the other. With my eyebrows raised, I walked into the cozy pub to suss out who might own those coveted steel bikes. Turns out, the bar tenders at the Latona and the crew at Swift are birds of a feather, and stupid into the same sorts of bikes as we are. That’s how I first met Jeff and Justin.
I hadn’t the faintest premonition that years later I’d be astride the very same Crust bike I saw leaned up infront of the bar, working every muscle in my body to haul a 70lb– 1/6 barrel of Aslan Brewery’s famous beer against 18 mile-an-hour headwinds in order to deliver it to the Latona Pub for Earth Day.
Rewind one more time, this time a hair further back. Nine years ago, some yahoo from The Latona got it in their head to honor this wondrous rock we live on by serving beers that had been brought into the pub by human or passive power. Since then, kegs have sailed, been walked, and bicycled into the heart of Seattle for a radical local event that, in our minds, wins the newly created Swift Industries award for being the Coolest Neighborhood Pub in town.
It took six days and who knows how many millions of calories to pick up and retrieve four 1/6 barrels of beer from some of Washington’s finest micro-breweries. Incase you were worried and feeling bad for us –we had a pretty okay time getting them south. If there’s one thing I learned about brewers along the way it’s that they’re amazing hosts and the most welcoming bunch. We camped in their yards, toured their breweries and drank a good deal of the fruits of their labor along the way.
What drives seven kooks to battle prevailing winds, churn out wet miles, and brave local drivers for hundreds of miles? The beer, of course.
We invited Professor Huebner, dedicated scholar and 2018 Swift Beer Loreate, to school us on our precious cargo.
The North Fork Brewery and Beer Shrine Black Francis Dark Sour
The North Fork Brewery and Beer Shrine is a magic place. Since 1997 North Fork has been brewing English, American and Belgian inspired craft beer from their tiny 3.5 barrel brewhouse, and serving it next to some of the best pizza in Whatcom County. The quality and personality of the beers produced in this cozy brewery on the foothills of Mount Baker are something that only time and experience could conspire to produce. Eric Jorgensen has been riding the white pow of Mt. Baker and overseeing brewing operations at North Fork since The Year 2000, and is such a gentleman that he went out of his way to entertain us by pallet fire and let us sleep in his yard. Eric didn’t stop there, however. When we left Deming for Bellingham on the third day of our tour, we loaded up a 1/6 barrel of Black Francis, a mixed fermentation black sour ale that was blended from beer aged in red wine barrels. Black Francis has a wonderfully balanced acidity with hints of black currants and is complimented by a touch of roastiness from the darker malts. It brings to mind bright and tart stone fruits with the tiniest touch of bitter dark chocolate.
Aslan Brewing Justice Temple Saison
Aslan Brewing has been steadily and successfully expanding their brewing operations since opening in the summer of 2013. As part of their most recent expansion they’ve opened the Aslan Depot about a block down the street from the original brewery, well placed near the center of downtown Bellingham. When we arrived at the brewery we were greeted by Gerry, Aslan’s Seattle rep and we were promptly fed, beered many times, and given a tour of the brewery. Boe and Frank, two thirds of Aslan’s ownership, joined us afterward and took a few hours of their time to share and talk about what the Depot is all about, as well as taste us on a few of the Depot’s barrel aged beers. They were all truly generous, and the beers were great as well. Among the beers we enjoyed was Justice Temple and this would be the second of the 1/6 barrel kegs we would be hauling back to Seattle. Justice Temple is a mixed fermentation saison with raw wheat and a bit of malted rye that has spent 14 months in single use red wine barrels. It was then blended and conditioned for 6 months in the keg before we strapped it to a trailer and pulled it up some hills. This extremely drinkable saison sips light and effervescent. Its subtle, but complex profile balances acidity and dryness, letting the wine notes come through softly while finishing dry and bright.
Wander Brewing Strawberry Rhubarb Fruit Puncheon
We stopped by Wander on our way out of Bellingham the morning after a very mellow evening. It was just past the mid point of the tour and it seemed like everyone was feeling good. We were welcomed by Chad, who owns and runs the brewery with his wife Colleen. Chad was nice enough to taste us on a few of their beers while we loaded the keg onto the trailer and took a few photos while chatting about their brewery. Strawberry Rhubarb was one of the beers we tasted and I, for one, was surprised at how much strawberry was on both the nose and on the pallet. Bringing that much strawberry flavor into a beer is something you don’t often see. As Chad talked about the beer, the big strawberry presence was explained, “we aged this beer on 800 pounds of strawberries.” That much strawberry means there’s a lot of fermentable sugar, and that’s also why this beer is BIG, like 9.2% big. But, you would never know it. We were sipping on this beer at 930 in the morning and it tasted delicious. Strawberry Rhubarb Fruit Puncheon started as a spelt saison fermented in an oak foeder for 9 months. It was then racked into white wine puncheons where it lived on lots of strawberries from Clark’s Berry Farm in Lynden for a while before being blended into a stainless tank and aged a bit further with rhubarb. This beer is deceptively easy to drink and surprisingly dry for all the fruit that went into it. Strawberry Rhubarb’s nice acidity and lively carbonation provide an excellent base for the interplay between the strawberry’s earthy tartness and the rhubarb’s tart earthiness.
Skookum Brewing Murder of Crows “33%”
Most of us had never been to Skookum, but they definitely have a good reputation for hazy IPAs in Seattle, and it was a reputation they had built up over the past few years, giving them quite the leg up on other breweries in Washington making beers of that style. Unfortunately hazy IPAs don’t like to ride behind bikes, so we were strapping in something different. Though Skookum gets a lot of recognition for their opaque, juicy, double dry-hopped nectar, their bigger, maltier offerings can be quite delicious as well, and they probably travel more comfortably in a B.O.B. trailer. Skookum’s taproom on a Friday night is something to behold for seven quaint weirdos from Seattle, but after Skookum’s manager Angel got us a few beers and we got some mac and cheese in us we were solid. Travelling with a payload of mostly funky beers, Skookum’s keg would prove to be much more robust, and a nice addition. The ‘normal’ version of Murder of Crows is an imperial stout aged on Old Crow Bourbon oak cubes and clocks in at 9% ABV. This version is blended with 1/3 Murder of Crows that had spent 8 months in bourbon barrels. The barrel aged addition bumped up the ABV a bit and brought in some char from the barrel to add some burnt leather, a little vanilla, and bitter chocolate to the mix.
The (approximate) Route North
The (approximate) Route South