Monday, August 18, 2008

Washington Vacation Beers

On our way back from Canada, we stopped for lunch at Boundary Bay in Bellingham. The Pale Ale they brought to the OBF was one of my favorites this year, and we were hungry after a frustrating wait at the border, so the pub was a welcome sight. The service was especially friendly there; for example, they quickly found us a new table inside when it started to rain on our original porch seats.

Carla was the big winner, since she ordered their delicious IPA. It's their most popular ale, and it's easy to see why -- it's flowery and rich, even better than the single-hop pale that I tried. The Oatmeal Stout was also tasty -- better than the Dry Irish Stout -- but that IPA topped them all. Good food, too.

I saw a guy at another table get his gallon-sized apple-juice jug filled with beer, twice the size of regular growlers. The price for that was $15, close to bottled beer pricing, corresponding to about $8.50 per 6-pack. Regular half-gallon growler fills were less of a deal at $8.75, but that's less than most Portland pubs charge.

Then we drove across the Cascades on Highway 2, to spend nearly a week off the grid in Stehekin, a town without telephone or cellular service, that can only be reached by taking a boat up Lake Chelan. There is no brewpub action to report for that part of the vacation, though I was impressed by the selection of beer available at the one little grocery there: Alaskan Amber, Rogue Dead Guy, and even Shiner Bock were available for not-too-ridiculous prices. If I had known about that, I might not have bothered to haul in my own supply of Unibroue acquired in Vancouver.

On the way back to Portland Saturday afternoon, we went through the interesting little Central Washington town of Ellensburg. It's basically in the middle of nowhere [oops, only 100 miles from Seattle, see the comments], but it caught my attention because it's the home of the Iron Horse Brewery. Iron Horse's Quilter's Irish Death Stout was one of the buzz beers at the 2008 OBF, but I failed to try it before the lines went crazy.

Now, Iron Horse is not a pub. They do have a tasting room, but we were a tired, hungry family of four, so that wasn't good enough for us. Fortunately, a call to the brewery led to a fantastic restaurant recommendation: the Palace Cafe and Saloon, which serves four of Iron Horse's beers. The Palace -- open since 1892, in the current location since 1949 -- serves very good Western diner food in a quaint setting that would seem cheesy in almost any other place, but which succeeds in being totally charming. The bar in the back is less quaint, but they've got your sports viewing covered with several TVs mounted all over.

I got my taste of Irish Death at the Palace. It was a smooth, decent stout, but I have a feeling that its name gave it a little extra appeal. The IPA seemed better to me, another classic Northwest hop-slam. Very surprising to find something that good brewed in such an out-of-the way -- from my perspective -- place.

The tasting room sounds fun. When I called Iron Horse Saturday about 5 PM, I could hear a hubbub of happy conversation in the background. The woman who answered the phone told me about the Palace, but she couldn't direct me to it from Highway 97, because she wasn't from Ellensburg and didn't know where the highway was! Pretty informal there, I guess. If you're driving through Ellensburg on 97 or I-90, try to make a visit to the Iron Horse tasting room, and definitely hit the Palace for dinner.


  1. Ellensburg is just 100 miles from Seattle on I-90 and the home of Central Washington University. It is hardly in the middle of nowhere and the fact there is a brewery located there should not surprise such an astute beer aficionado.

  2. Timothy: Ouch, you busted me! It just felt like the middle of nowhere to a family trying to coax an ooold Volvo stationwagon up and down the unpopulated ridges of highway 97, with two dashboard warning lights blazing.

    Maybe the prize for middle-of-nowhere beer should go to Terminal Gravity in Enterprise, OR.

  3. I was just there on Chief Joseph Days. It is the prize. I've been all over 97 but never between Wenatchee and Ellensburg. Congrats. I appreciate your insight.