The first few times I tried the offerings at Bellingham’s younger brew pub, Chuckanut Brewery & Kitchen, around the time they opened about a year ago, I was thoroughly unimpressed.
I’m not a big fan of German beers, so I don’t hold it against them that their taps at the time were dominated by Pilsner, Lager, Kolsch, and Schwarzbier. However, I do hold it against them that that their IPA was TERRIBLE!
When I learned a few weeks ago that Chuckanut earned two gold and two silver medals, as well as the Best Small Brewpub award at the 2009 Great American Beer Festival, I figured that either I don’t know ANYTHING about beer or Chuckanut has made a dramatic improvement in one year.
It is my pleasure, then, to report that I thoroughly enjoyed the beers I tasted on a recent visit.
Chuckanut is bucking convention, eschewing the trend of naming their beers for entertainment rather than identification. Therefore, rather than something like Angry Angel Kolsch, Chuckanut offers, simply, a Kolsch. Rather than Harpoon Leviathan Big Bohemian Pilsner, you’ll find, simply, Pilsner. Fortunately, their beer tastes much better than their boring, utilitarian names suggest.
On my visit I sampled three of their beers that I hadn’t tried before: Foreign Stout, Strong Ale, and Brown Ale. (Screw those German beers!)
The stout was my favorite, the perfect pint for a cold night in Bellingham, very nice complexity, malts roasted to perfection, and great full body and mouthfeel. Yum!!!
The Strong Ale was incredibly well balanced between the hops and malts and had a very full body that belied its light amber color. Like the stout, its 6.5% alcohol level was not overwhelming at all, and, rather, offered a very nice warming effect. (Again, nice on a cold night.)
The final offering was the biggest surprise of the evening. The Brown Ale is not a style that I’m particularly fond of. My experience with them is that they tend to be too thin, malty, and sweet, leaving me wanting the greater complexity and full body of a good stout. The brown was ordered by a friend and I was offered a taste, otherwise I wouldn’t have been tempted to try it.
Chuckanut’s Brown Ale, while still not as full-bodied as I’d prefer, a fault of the style not the brewer, was the most delicious brown I’ve had. The malts, like those used in the stout, were roasted perfection, offering similar coffee and chocolate notes, and there was just enough hops to avoid the sweetness that can ruin other browns for me.
While my beloved Boundary Bay Brewery still retains favorite pub status in my heart, they now have the first serious competition right here in Bellingham since Orchard Street Brewery went out of business in 2004. Hopefully this will be a healthy competition, inspiring both breweries to uphold their considerable standards and offer an expanding variety of beers in the future.