Sunday, August 5, 2012

Bellingham All Over

(Bellingham, WA)

It's no secret that Bellingham, WA has a very vibrant craft beer scene. I've hiked there before, but with so much new stuff popping up all the time, I always leave feeling like I left a bunch out.  When Eric, Chris, Link and I met up last weekend, we were aiming to hit every good beer spot in the city on one urban beer hike. We didn't, of course, but I think we came pretty damn close.

Men's room at Kulshan Brewing

One look at the map below and you already notice a few places missing (Green Frog Acoustic Tavern, Up and Up, Bayou on Bay -- surely there are others). There's a growing bunch of good beer joints and breweries to visit, but it's rarely possible to include every single worthy beer spot in one hike (though it is fun trying).  It's always hard to decide which places to visit and which places to skip.  I do some homework before diving into a hike, but when it comes time to lace up and hike, you gotta put away the notes and maps and just go.  Get your ass out of the comfort zone and take a peek around the corner, as well as walk on the beaten path and see the usual sights.

If I missed your favorite pub or brewery, don't get pissy. It's probably not because I didn't bother to consider it.  Maybe the route couldn't be planned around their hours.  Maybe they had a shitty band playing that night or a cover charge.  Maybe they're having their sewer system repaired.  Don't send me hate mail -- I'll try to get there next time.

Bellingham All Over; about 10.5 miles
Cheese Meat(s) Beer / Boundary Bay / Archer Ale House / McKay's Taphouse / Marlins' Cafe / Kulshan Brewing / Elizabeth Station / Chuckanut Brewing / Copper Hog

View Bellingham All Over in a larger map

1. Cheese Meat(s) Beer
Eric, Chris, and I met here for a little brunch before we set out in earnest.  One of my fellow hikers, in a moment of pure douchiness that nearly got him kicked off the hike, called it, "a delightful little nook with a modest, but alluring menu of fine cheese, meats and beer."  (They have some breakfast offerings on the weekends, too.) 
The bottled beer selection is worthy, but one of their two taps was the Sweet Heat by Burnside Brewing, which I added to Dogfish Head's Festina Peche on my growing list of great breakfast beers. The warm atmosphere, dorky charm, and obvious appreciation for the finer things that go in your mouth reminded me of the feeling I get when I'm in Portland. I even went as far as to announce that I would now refer to Bellingham as, "Little Portland". The more drunk I became throughout the day, the more I liked the idea.

Link eyes Chef Travis' coffee outside Cheese Meat(s) Beer

2. Boundary Bay Brewery
It's a short, easy walk here from CMB to Boundary Bay. On a gorgeous late-Saturday morning like this one, anyone who isn't checking out the open-air Market across the street is down in the Brewery's large, festive beer garden. That made sitting in the cool, quiet bar area all the more enjoyable.  Knowing that the next leg of the hike (about 2.5 miles) would require some octane, I didn't hold back on my beer choice: Oatmeal Stout. Boundary Bay makes a mean one.

We mobilized and headed southwest.  For the next two-and-a-half miles or so it's a very pleasant wooded trail for about half the walk and then you're spit out into an absolutely magnificent bayside park and then on to a boardwalk that takes you much of the rest of the way.  The park was teeming with kids and dogs and the colors of Bellingham Bay covered all shades of blue. Gorgeous.

Fairhaven is at the end of the line. It's a little town in its own right, with no shortage of places to eat and drink.  If you travel by train to Bellingham, you'll arrive here.

3. Archer Ale House
I was excited to visit Archer again as it had been quite a while since the last time I was there.  Since its entrance is downstairs (like Cheers), I had to be a little creative with where I set Link (dogs are not allowed inside so if you're bringing yours on this hike, e-mail me and I'll tell you a possible work-around.)  Once we got our pints of Odin Kölsch, the gloves came off, the darts came out, and we had a cricket death match.  I had little trouble trouncing my companions, so I bought a round of schooners of Green Flash West Coast IPA.  I should mention that the food menu here looked really tempting.  There was a smoker working away out back that smelled glorious and everything we saw come out of the kitchen looked great, but we just weren't hungry yet.  I didn't remember them having such good menu, but there it was.

The leg to the next stop is the only part of the hike with any kind of elevation gain, and even then it's minimal.  Rather than return the way we came, we took a route through the campus of Western Washington University.  It's pretty quiet during the summer, save for a few tour groups of prospective students taking a look around and dreaming about all the sex and drinking in their futures.  Good thing the campus is in a good beer drinking city.  Along the way, Eric regaled us with stories from his college days at WWU -- he graduated in 199-something.  Or was kicked out -- I can't remember.  We walked by his old dorm and he told us the tale of Back-n-Black, or something, and I wondered why we didn't grab any road beers in Fairhaven.  Not long after we reached the neighborhood on the northern border of campus, a deer unexpectedly leaped out of the bushes right in front of us (deer are assholes) and took off up into Sehome Hill Arboretum.  It scared the shit out of me and Link and happened too fast for me to snap a photo of, so here's a dramatization:

4.  McKay's Taphouse / Pizza Pipeline
One of my favorite spots to hit in Bellingham is probably the most removed from everything else.  That being said, it's not that far.  Even my oddball, shut-in friend Miller and his fat dog walk there with me when we come to town.  (Dogs aren't allowed inside, but we had Link out on their small deck and no one seemed to care.)  McKay's can get loud if there's live music playing, but otherwise it's very chill and inviting.  The pizza has never disappointed and I always have trouble deciding what to drink.  On this day, we couldn't stick around too long, though.  Eric had a slice, which was smart, but Chris and I had eaten there the previous night so we rolled the dice that Kulshan Brewing would have a taco truck or something.

5.  Marlins' Café (inside Nelson's Market)
From McKay's, Eric led us through the York District neighborhood toward our next planned stop at Kulshan Brewing.  Apparently he lived around here during or after school and wanted to take a look around.  At one point we happened across the ice cream dude and whatever god-damned song he was playing stayed in my head for the rest of the night.  I shouldn't have bought anything from that jerk, but I couldn't help it.  I opted for one of those strawberry shortcake things.  That was a mistake -- I don't know what I ever saw in those things when I was a kid.


We stopped into Nelson's Market on Potter & Humboldt, a classic mom & pop store that has been on this spot for almost forever, and we found five beers on tap!  I took this to be a sign and insisted that we partake.  Also inside is Marlins' Café where some alarmingly good-looking burgers were coming out of the kitchen.  Chris and I almost caved here and got one, but we heard that they do a really good brunch, so we decided to maybe come back the next day.  (We actually ended up going to Bayou On Bay.)

Yum!  Wait...

6. Kulshan Brewing
A relative newcomer to the Bellingham brewing scene, Kulshan is already doing quite well -- both in terms of popularity and quality.  Each time I've been here, I've indulged in a taster tray and been pleased with all of the beers.  The taproom is spacious and inviting with lots of cool old-timey pictures on the wall.  They do have a couple dart boards, but we chose to sit outside on the dog-tolerant patio.  As expected, there was a food truck parked at Kulshan:  StrEAT Food.  Chris and Eric each had a burger, but I went for the Chile Verde pork sandwich.  As Chris would say, it was pants-shittingly good.  I will definitely seek it out next time I'm beer hiking in Bellingham.

At one point I went back into the taproom to take some pictures and was asked just what the hell I thought I was doing.  Apparently some asshole was harassing and creeping out the staff with his camera the night before.  I assured them that while I am a well-known creep and scumbag on Twitter, they had nothing to fear from me this day.  I was just another mediocre beer blogger who was starving for content.  They didn't seem all that reassured but let me continue anyway.  Check out this beertender's suspicious look of doom:

No pictures, please.

7.  Elizabeth Station
Another newcomer to the Bellingham beer scene, Elizabeth Station is doing everything right.  The concept is not new, but it's not easy either:  convenience store/bottle shop/taproom.  Each time I've been here, the place has been alive with beer lovers, either shopping for beer and munchies or just relaxing with a pint.  The draft selection is interesting and the bottle selection is very solid.  I especially like how the beer cooler is walk-in -- I imagine that is very popular on hot summer days. For the kids, there is a cereal bar and a side room with crayons and chalk and shit.  When we arrived there was nowhere else to sit, so we grabbed a little tike table there.  It was a little hotter than the rest of the joint, but not too bad.  The dog policy here is very gray and no one is really sure what the deal is, so if you go, ask before you bring Fido in.  If they say it's cool, behave for fuck's sake or you'll ruin it for everybody.

8.  Chuckanut Brewery
It's a very short walk down Holly Street to Chuckanut Brewery and Kitchen.  On this night it was strikingly beautiful.  The sun was slowly sinking behind us and it cast an intense golden hue on everything in sight (yeah, I guess I had a good buzz on).  By this point, we were definitely in the home stretch, but we arrived with plenty of time for a couple pints and another game of cricket out back in the open-air sheltered patio.  My local buddy Crazy Miller met us here as well.  His dog, Decker, and Link looked on as I once again triumphed, but trouncing my opponents was not as easy this time.  We were all feeling the beer and the miles by now and it was getting to be time to wrap up a long day.  Miller took Link back to his house and the rest of us headed back downtown toward the end of the hike.

Major ass-whipping

We originally planned to make The Green Frog Acoustic Tavern our final stop of the night, but we'd heard that there was a cover charge that night and we weren't in the mood for live music, so we decided to land at The Copper Hog instead.  (I still haven't been to the Green Frog since it reopened in its new space, but I look forward to checking it out on my next trip.)

Outside Chuckanut Brewery

9. The Copper Hog
The last time I was at The Hog was right after they opened several years back and I remembered almost nothing about it so it was like going for the first time.  The tap list was very good and went along nicely with their upscale food menu.  I think I went with a Flyers Copper Hog Red to accompany the food we ordered.  I don't remember what else we ordered besides the Pork Wings -- petite pork shanks smothered in a honey-chipotle sauce.  Holy crap are they good!  We all agreed they were the culinary highlight of the hike.  Damn...  I'm still thinking about those things...  So tender...  So tasty...

One beer was enough for us at the Hog.  It gets busy on Saturday nights, even in the summer and we were too worn out to hang around much longer.  We trudged up the hill to Garden Street where Link was there to greet us at Miller's house.  We had another beer there to close out the night before passing out.

Well, there you have it.  Another riveting tale of lame old white guys walking and drinking without getting into one bit of trouble.  It was a good long hike with little adventure, but no shortage of good beer and company.  I have a feeling it won't be too long before I'm up in Little Portland again.  The local breweries always satisfy and there's still a bunch of places I haven't been to.  I have no doubt that more good times await.

Here's more pictures of Bellingham shit you probably don't care about anymore:


  1. This was such a well-written, witty and informative post. It's appalling that no one has taken the time to comment. It's a fucking outrage, really.

  2. Really, we're allowed to send hate mail? Awesome! Seriously, from an east coat urban beer hiker, thanks for the NW beer porn.

  3. This article was fantastic! I am the proprietor of StrEAT food and am honored an humbled by what I consider one of the greatest phrases ever used to describe what we do. Thank You!