Bellingham Beer Week kicks off today and is a good (but unnecessary) excuse to visit one of the Pacific Northwest’s great beer cities. Bellingham is one of Washington’s most northern cities and just a skip from the Canadian border and Vancouver, BC. Western Washington University calls the city home, and its influence is felt on the culture with an active arts scene, great nightlife, outdoors, and breweries. Bellingham’s primary tourism draws are its proximity to Mt. Baker’s many outdoor activities, and as a central port for Alaskan cruises and the San Juan Islands.
Over recent years, Bellingham’s strong brewing culture has come to the forefront thanks to organizations like Tap Trail, veteran breweries like Boundary Bay and Chuckanut, and the growing Bellingham Beer Week. Over the course of many visits, Bellingham has become one of our favorite quick beer getaways for the combo of college town culture and city-by-the-sea atmosphere, coupled with 14+ breweries in a small proximity. For Oregonians, Bellingham is Washington’s equivalent to Bend.
Fairhaven district of Bellingham
Not only does Bellingham boast fourteen currently operating breweries (each with its own taproom) but the vast majority of them are making good to world-class beer. Like many rich beer scenes, Bellingham’s has some legendary veterans like the 24-year-old Boundary Bay Brewing, which was once the largest brewpub in the country, and the nearly 11-year-old Chuckanut Brewing, brewer of world-class lagers before they became cool again. Both Bellingham’s Kulshan Brewing and Aslan Brewing Co. have also been tremendously successful, and each operate two unique locations of their own in town. Wander Brewing is a personal favorite, with a production brewery and taproom that puts out a large variety of beers from Belgian-styles to test IPA’s and even foeder-fermented and spontaneous sour ales. Then there are the on-site brewery taprooms, each with their own unique charm: Structures Brewing, Stone’s Throw Brewing, Menace Brewing, Gruff Brewing, Illuminati Brewing, Twin Sisters Brewing, and the very nearby North Fork Brewing.
One of our favorites in town is the well hidden production space and taproom called Wander Brewing. Located just a skip out of downtown in a former ship building warehouse, a warm wood industrial taproom occupies the same space as the brewery. Outside is a small beer garden and regular food cart food service.
Wander Brewing was opened by Chad Kuehl and his wife Colleen Kuehl in 2014. The couple wandered the globe and were quite the travelers before settling on Bellingham to put down roots, start a family and raise a brewery. Wander’s name extends to its repertoire. Perhaps best known for Northwest pales and Belgian-style farmhouse ales, wild ales, and fruited beers, Wander also makes stouts, lagers, big barrel-aged beers and more. Look out for its coolship and puncheon fermented wild/mixed fermentation ales and experimental hopped beers which are among our favorites. 1807 Dean Ave, Bellingham, WA 98225 https://wanderbrewing.com/
Will Kemper at Chuckanut Brewery
Chuckanut Brewery & Kitchen
Will Kemper and wife Mari Kemper are famous for creating the Thomas Kemper soda brand many decades ago and have now recreated themselves as a world-class lager brewery. Ask anyone who is a fan of classic, clean, crisp, European-style lagers and they will tell you Chuckanut is one of the best. Will Kemper’s attention to detail and dedication to brewing tradition has educated some of the Northwest’s brewers from Josh Pfriem (pFriem Family Brewers), to Jim Parker and Kevin Davey (Wayfinder). At the original brewery and taproom, they make simple Americana classics and seafood dishes that pair easily with some of the finest lagers that have ever touched our lips. If you like a touch of hops go with the pilsner, if you want a little malt go with the Vienna or Dunkel, a little roastiness in the Schwarz, or my favorite, some smooth brown sugar-coated bacon with the Rauch. 601 W Holly St, Bellingham, WA 98225 chuckanutbreweryandkitchen.com/
One of Bellingham’s largest and most successful breweries, Aslan Brewing opened in 2014 and has expanded to a sizable production facility with two locations and a Seattle pub on the way. Though it stand on its own, Aslan Brewing reminds us of Portland’s Hopworks Urban Brewery, as they are both committed to sustainable practices and certified B-Corporations. All of Aslan’s beers are certified 100% Organic, and they produce a large variety of beers but are known for lagers and IPAs. The flagship brewpub is a large glass fronted building full of beautiful plants and high ceilings, and the back bar has a nice view to the production space and canning line. The full service restaurant/pub follows the local and sustainable route with farm-sourced ingredients and lots of veggie and vegan options, grilled items and healthy bowls. It’s probably the most popular brewery taproom in town and often during dinner hours you may have to wait for a seat. 1330 N Forest St, Bellingham, WA 98225 https://aslanbrewing.com/
Breakfast Burrito at Homeskillet
Homeskillet is funky breakfast joint with an eclectic decor that looks like a cross between a junkyard and a hippie artist commune. This oddball breakfast joint is open just for early eats and lunch and is a popular destination prone to lock waiting times on weekends. If you love delicious home cookin-americana-breakfast-finger-lickin food, then this is your joint. The gravy topped breakfast burrito I ordered was one ring of breakfast burritos and would be hard to finish by even the biggest and most hungover college kid. Just beware of the bathroom if you have any fear of clowns whatsoever. 521 Kentucky St, Bellingham, WA 98225 www.homeskilletinsunnyland.com/
Downtown Bellingham/Waterfront Park
Bellingham sort of has two downtown areas, the classic Lettered Streets area where Chuckanut Brewing, museums and waterfront is and the neighboring Fairhaven, which is just a couple miles around the bay. While the Lettered Streets part of town is full of bars and shops, the Fairhaven downtown is more bourgeois boutique, art gallery, book store vibe, with its share of fancy restaurants, cafes and bars. Both areas have their charms, and are great areas to wander, shop, and dine. I spend most of my time in the Lettered Streets area though, because you are a short walk to any number of great breweries and drinking establishments like Aslan and Structures, and late night joints like Black Sheep and Pel’ Meni that are highlighted in this article.
If you are looking for a bit of culture, check out the Whatcom Museum in the impressive historic red bricked building highlighted above. Just down the hill from there is Maritime Heritage Park, a small urban park with a creek and salmon fish hatchery. It’s a great quick and easy outdoors walk and right next door is a great breakfast joint called Old Town Cafe, and just across the street is Chuckanut Brewing on one corner and on the other a burgeoning waterfront redevelopment area.
Bellingham Beer Garden
Bellingham Beer Garden/Twin Sisters Brewing
One of Bellingham’s newest breweries, and one of its most impressive is Twin Sisters Brewing and confusingly, Bellingham Beer Garden. Both businesses are two sides of the same coin; the Beer Garden is a huge, full service restaurant and bar, with a multi-level open floor space and huge outdoor beer garden. Next door, on the same property, is a smaller building with the brewhouse called Twin Sisters. Bellingham Beer Garden has the same owners and functions as the brewpub part of the operation, although the Twin Sisters building has a small taproom portion as well, but is only opened limited hours. The amount of money put into this space is impressive, and the entrance right down to the interior and exterior of this space is one of the nicest beer halls we have ever entered. The extensive gardens feature multiple seating areas, covered areas, outdoor games, an outdoor bar, and even a covered fire pit area with a chimney. Though we have not tried the food yet, the beers were solid and with a clean, crisp refined quality with lots of hops present. 500 Carolina St, Bellingham, WA 98225 https://www.twinsistersbrewing.com/bellinghambeergarden/
Boundary Bay Brewing
Bellingham’s oldest brewery, one of Washington’s brewing pioneers and the grandaddy of this town’s beer scene is Boundary Bay. Like a centerpiece to the city, Boundary Bay takes up an extensive multi-level space in the center of downtown where it has been since 1995. At one point, Boundary Bay was one of the biggest craft breweries in Washington, and was even ranked the largest individual brewpub in the United States. Though I doubt that’s the case now, Boundary Bay does run a busy medium-sized restaurant with a nice lower level patio/beer garden. The pub grub is good and veers from soups and sandwiches to seafood and Mexican. They also host plenty of events from trivia to live music and the annual B-ham Beer Week jamboree called Cedar Dust Alley, a family-friendly BMX showcase with games, vendors, music, outdoor grilling. Cedar Dust Alley runs behind the brewery, providing convenient access for trucks and equipment from the busy brewhouse. Like many old school breweries, Boundary Bay is known for its classic pub styles like Amber Ale, Ski to Sea ESB, Traverse Red, Scotch Ale Irish Red etc. but is perhaps best known for its classic winter seasonal Cabin Fever. These days, with more competition, the brewers have delved into kettle sours and hazy IPA’s.
Opened in 2016 by three lifelong friends and native Bellinghamsters, Gruff is small brewery hidden in downtown, just down the street from Boundary Bay. The taproom features gorgeous wood, pinball machines, and a gravel beer garden with outdoor games. The building that houses Gruff dates back to 1902 and has served as a blacksmith shop, a welding shop, glass studio, marine fabrication and more before it was redone for the modern era. The taproom features a few photos from the old Buzzard Iron Works that once occupied the space in the 1940’s.
Brandon Fralic blogged on Gruff Brewing for Bellingham.org in 2016 and said it best: “The walls are mostly bare, drawing my attention to the handwritten tap list and 16 unlabeled tap handles behind the bar. No frills, no cutesy beer names. Just beer.”
Gruff Brewing’s beers are fairly standard, and no frills as well. However that beer garden and outdoor games could be a fun time on a nice day. Gruff Brewing, 104 E Maple St #101, Bellingham, WA 98225 https://www.gruff-brewing.com/
Menace is another interesting tiny brewery and taproom that serves as a popular neighborhood spot in the Fountain District. With a 7-barrel brewhouse clearly seen behind a tiny gate in a garage like setting, Menace Brewing serves as a locals hangout that makes no particular style of beer. The slightly industrial hangout vibe is colored with local art, booths, standing salvaged wood tables and a small bar. Recent offerings include Irish Stout, Saison, and of course you will find the popular pale ales of the Northwest. 2529 Meridian St. Bellingham, Washington https://www.menace-industries.com/brewery
One of a handful of cideries in Bellingham, Herb’s Cider is a really cool little dimly lit lounge of a taproom in downtown Bellingham. A stark contrast to the often brightly lit, sometimes cartoony brands of many newer cideries, Herb’s has an ornate decor belied by simple classic ciders. Herb’s is perhaps most well known for its owner, Primus drummer Tim “Herb” Alexander and his wife Shama. They do not produce cider on site at the taproom, but it’s still a fun intimate date or evening spot with a selection of traditional and heritage ciders for old school hard cider fans. Herb’s Ciders showcase classic apple varietals and don’t fuss with added fruits outside of apples and pears, most of them are on the drier side and are subtle and nuanced. 1228 Bay St, Bellingham, WA 98225 https://www.herbscider.com/
If you love rustic farmhouse ales and hazy double IPAs, Structures Brewing is the place for you. Not to suggest they are brewing in anyone’s shadow, but Structures Brewing is like Bellingham’s answer to Upright Brewing or Holy Mountain. This small, nearly nano-sized brewery operates a small, stylish little brick and wood taproom with some of that black metal vibe.
Founded by two Pittsburgh beer geeks who decided to come to Bellingham to open a brewery, Structures Brewing has become a Washington beer nerd destination. Opened in 2015, Structures has plans to expand the tiny taproom behind a small roll-up door into the adjacent empty suite, but first that will take some construction, permitting and, of course, funds. In the meantime, enjoy the intimate vibe, extremely small batch bottle and canning runs and occasional pop-up food service and rock shows. 1420 N State St, Bellingham, WA 98225 https://www.structuresbrewing.com/
Stone’s Throw Brewing
Stone’s Throw is a small, unique little brewery that really encapsulates the variety of taprooms and atmospheres of Bellingham’s breweries. Stone’s Throw is located just a few blocks from the busy downtown boutique, cafe and art gallery heavy district of downtown Fairhaven. It’s also right off the Interurban Trail that takes you down to Boulevard Park. Outdoors, trails, rocks and wood could be the theme of this brewery, which seems like it was built by a train hopping Kerouac-type. It’s a beautiful but small space; I’d say it’s a garage but that would do the beautiful wood structure a disservice. Full of salvaged oak, beautiful wood working, and salvaged bridge and train tracks elements working themselves into the accents. The 7-barrel brewhouse is built into the second level of two train cars stacked next to the taproom, which is also side by-side with the Stone’s Throw Guest House (available for bookings on airbnb.) Out front is a gravel driveway and covered patio, a great hangout spot for games, friends, fire pits, and dogs. Out back is a small garden and fire pit. Stone’s Throw’s beers are fairly standard pales and porters, but the taproom charm outweighs them, and the cozy warmness and character of the space will draw you in. 1009 Larrabee Ave, Bellingham, WA 98225 http://www.stonesthrowbrewco.com/
Kulshan Brewing (K2 and Sunnyland locations)
Bellinghan’s largest brewery, Kulshan Brewing opened in 2012 and expanded with a second production brewery and taproom called K2 in 2015. Kushan Brewing jumped on canning its beers early and had the first modern IPA called “Bastard Kat” that’s still a top seller in the state, and possibly Bellingham’s most popular beer. Kulshan probably makes more beers than any other brewery in town, most in the American pale, golden and dark beer categories, but dips into Belgian, German and British beers as well.
Kulshan’s original location in the Sunnyland neighborhood on James Street has a patio, food truck and small bar. It’s a popular neighborhood joint for happy hour beers and pups. Kulshan’s K2 spot is in an industrial neighborhood, so despite its spacious digs and patio, it’s usually not very busy. K2 is still the best spot to try the beers, though, and it’s not far from the center of town. The interior features plenty of bar seating, beer hall-style tables, really cool metalwork and art, and lots of bottles and cans to complement the wide draft variety. The large 30-barrel production brewhouse is visible through windows in the back of the building, and the outdoor space allows for big parties and events. Kulshan Sunnyland 2238 James St, Bellingham, WA 98225 and Kulshan K2 1538 Kentucky St, Bellingham, WA 98229 https://kulshanbrewing.com/
Aslan Barrel Depot
Aslan Depot: Barrels and Blending
Local brewery Aslan’s Barrel Depot is the second location of local favorite Aslan Brewing Co., and is just a block away from the flagship pub. Whereas the main Aslan Brewing location is a family friendly restaurant focused on healthy and sustainable food, the Barrel Depot is more of a dimly lit bar and lounge focusing on the breweries barrel projects and guest taps from some of the brewers’ favorite breweries. The decor and vibe at Barrel Depot is among the coolest and most unique settings for a brewery taproom you have likely been to. It is full of polished wood, plush seating, leather chairs, antique lamps, oak barrels, salvaged wood bar and even private nooks and crannies, live music, and an outdoor patio for 21+ only. They serve no food and yet stay open until midnight, which makes it the perfect spot for a barrel-aged nightcap. 1322 N State St, Bellingham, WA 98225 https://aslandepot.com
Probably the premiere place for evening drinks and eats, Black Sheep is a stylish and very intimate taco bar in downtown Bellingham. The tacos here are good, the cocktail list is refreshing, and Black Sheep makes for a great dinner or date night. Best of all, Black Sheep is open until 12am Tues-Thurs. and till 1am Friday and Saturday. 215 W Holly St Ste 101, Bellingham, WA 98225 https://www.blacksheepbellingham.com
Pel’ Meni Russian Czar (late night dumpling spot)
A super off-the-radar and killer late night spot for drunken eats! Pel’ Meni is an absolutely no frills hole in the wall in downtown Bellingham that is so low-key that they not only don’t have a website but are not on Facebook or Instagram either. Don’t expect table service, a great selection, or really anything other than a to-go sized box of delicious Russian dumplings in either veggie or meat form. They literally don’t serve anything else other than non-alcoholic drinks and have limited seating. BUT, I highly recommend stopping into this place when you’re stumbling out of one of Bellingham’s bars at 1am. Pel’ Meni does get busy with college kids on weekends when Western Washington University is in session, but they rock out the chewy, savory eats with plenty of sriracha and sour cream quickly. 1211 N State St, Bellingham, WA 98225, USA
Though not a brewery, Elizabeth Station is the heart of Bellingham’s beer community, a taproom and bottle shop with 900 different beers in bottles/cans, 16 beer taps, over 100 ciders, and 8 cider taps. Elizabeth Station plays regular host to local and visiting breweries, beer releases, and other community events with beer hall tables and smaller rooms like one dedicated to cider with its own taps. For food, regular food trucks provide an outdoor kitchen, and inside, Elizabeth Station hosts a cereal bar and tons of packaged snacks. I stumbled upon Astronaut cheese, a pack of dehydrated cheese curds that made for a great beer snack. Also, dont’ miss Primer coffee, a cafe/roaster that shares the building and makes high-end coffee drinks and is a top of the line caffeinated experience for coffee geeks. 1400 W Holly St, Bellingham, WA 98225 https://www.elizabethstation.es/
Wait, isn’t Melvin Brewing in Wyoming, you say? True, but co-founder Jeremy Tofte has spent a lot of time in Bellingham and chose it to open their first satellite location (and first actual brewpub) in late 2017. Melvin Brewing Bellingham has its own 7-barrel brewhouse and 20 taps, which elevates it beyond just a regular satellite location that does not produce its own beers. Melvin also hasn’t skimped on the restaurant side of the operation by offering a full menu with classic burgers and fries type of food, but way more interesting Japanese stuff. Melvin is, of course, known for its west coast-style IPAs and Kung-Fu themes, which are well represented here. The latter translates into menu items like Beer Miso Ramen, Drunken Noodles, Thai Poutine, Potstickers, Coconut Curry Soup and much more. 2416 Meridian St, Bellingham, WA 98225 https://melvinbrewing.com/locate/bellingham-brewpub/
Sometimes you need another kind of brew to start your day and Primer Coffee is just the ticket if you are a coffee geek like us. One of the finest espresso joints and coffee roasters I have ever visited, Primer offers a refined experience in a bright white, small and minimalist space next to Elizabeth Station. They roast their own beans with an eye to clarity, taste to sweetness and a nose to nuance. Primer offers breakfast fruits, yogurt and granola and lunch eats like sandwiches, fries and wings, but it’s the non-alcoholic coffee cocktails that make this spot unique. Try the Espresso Tonic with orange peel for something bright, refreshing and a little fizzy or the espresso shaken with honey and served cold. 1400 W Holly St #102, Bellingham, WA 98225 www.primercoffee.com/
Bellingham’s South Bay Trail
Those were just a handful of our favorite places to visit in Bellingham; there are also lots of easy-to-find and affordable Airbnbs, fancier hotels, and B & Bs that make visiting convenient. The Bolt Bus is also a quick and affordable way to visit, but you can also arrive by train or even limited airline service to the city airport. Consider Bellingham if you’re a hiker or love mountain sports, or if you are just heading to British Columbia. Tap Trail.com is a great resource for beer tourism and Bellingham.org for visitor info.