When I travel to give a talks, go to conferences, etc., I always try to seek out the locally brewed beer. I am fascinated how styles differ from region to region and country to country and I like to think that the characteristic of the local beer reveals something about the place.
So it is that I am in Bellingham, Washington, where I presented some research at the Western Washington University Department of Economics. After my seminar we found ourselves at the Bellwether on the bay on a magnificently sunny evening, looking out over the water through one set of windows at the San Juan Islands and, through another window, a framed view of snow-capped Mt. Baker. Wow.
On tap at the bar was beer from the local Boundary Bay brewery. I, as always, chose my standard for comparison - the IPA. In BB parlance, Inside Passage Ale. I have to admit, as a confessed Oregon chauvinist, I am always ready (maybe even hoping a little bit) for disappointment. Besides, it would simply be unfair for this little slice of paradise to actually have great beer too, wouldn't it?
Well, unfair or not, the beer was exceptional. It presents a cloudy amber (the picture represents well) with a thinish but creamy head and has the most beautiful citrusy, hoppy aroma. Alas, the Alworth was not there to identify the hops and as we were at a bar and not the brewery, I couldn't ask about the hops. Nonetheless, it smelled and looked fabulous. One sip and I was hooked, wonderfully bitter, but not overwhelming, nicely balanced with a subtle malt base and finishes clean with just a slight nip on the tongue. One of the best I have ever had. Warning though - this sucker must be pretty robust, because after two (it was so good I could not resist) I was reeling. I suppose such a wonderfully hopped beer should be expected from a state so abundant in hops growers. I will definitely will be back. I suspect that this beer would loose something in the bottle but fresh on tap (and they had just tapped the keg), it is as good as it gets.
Update: Before I went home I had a Alaskan IPA and it provides the perfect counterpoint. It was not bad beer, but not a good one either. It was bitter without a point - no nice aroma, no delightful mix of tastes and it left nothing on the tongue. It was a clear amber with no head. Perhaps this is indicative of the fact that Juneau is not a prime hops growing region, I don't know. But it was not distinctive, nor delightful.
Conclusion: when in Bellingham, go for the Boundary Bay.