Seattle magazine’s trio of beverage experts—cocktail columnist A.J. Rathbun, wine writer Paul Zitarelli and beer guru Kendall Jones—cherry-pick the hottest new locally made spirits, wines and beers, along with perfectly paired bites.
Best New Brews
What’s trending: super-hopped session ales
Beer lovers around the Pacific Northwest continue to crave India pale ale (IPA) above all other styles of brew, but another hop-forward style is emerging as a new favorite. It’s still so new that the beer world has yet to settle on a single name, but whether they call it session IPA, India session ale (ISA) or Northwest session ale, they’re talking about the same thing: a low-alcohol beer—below 5 percent alcohol by volume (ABV)—brewed with gobs of hops. These beers offer the hopped-up character of an IPA, but don’t pack the same high alcohol punch, offering beer drinkers the best of both worlds, inviting imbibers to order a second or third beer and responsibly enjoy a “session” of beer drinking.
Red Betty ISA
Central City Brewers + Distillers
From just north of the border (Surrey, British Columbia) comes this exceptionally light and refreshing ale (4.0 percent ABV), unexpectedly riding the north wind like a breath of fresh tropical air, landing softly on your palate with a citrusy blend of orange and grapefruit. It goes down easy and effervescent, almost like a hop-flavored sparkling water. Pair with light crackers and a mild Brie. Available in 12-ounce cans ($1.50 each) at bottle shops such as Chuck’s Hop Shop in Greenwood. More info: centralcitybeer.com
The Enabler ISA
A complex bouquet of fruit and forest aromas, including mango, pine and sweet berries, waft from the glass, and those impressions carry over into the flavor of this award-winning 4.9 percent ABV brew (which earned a gold medal at the 2014 Washington Beer Awards). It’s so popular that Triplehorn cannot afford to ship any of it off site for fear of running out at the brewery’s Woodinville tasting room. Pair with an arugula salad to discover the peppery notes that you might not have noticed otherwise. Available at the brewery tasting room by the pint ($5) and growler ($11); triplehornbrewing.com
Stoup Session IPA
Vibrantly golden, with a slightly ganja-like aroma, this Ballard-born brew offers sturdy, robust hop flavors reminiscent of flowers and grapefruit, and finishes moderately dry, with a mild but crisp bitterness lingering. At the 2014 Washington Beer Awards,
this 5 percent ABV beer took home the silver medal in the Session Ales category. Pair with fresh ceviche and chips to amplify the citrus and spice of the ceviche. Available at the brewery tasting room by the 12-ounce schooner ($4), pint ($5) and growler
Life Jacket Session IPA
7 Seas Brewing Company
Previously offered only as a summer seasonal beer, Life Jacket (not pictured) is now part of the brewery’s year-round lineup. Like many hop-forward beers, this 4.7 percent ABV version offers an unmistakable citrus quality that, in this case, presents itself like grapefruit on the nose and tangerines on the tongue. Unlike many other beers of this style, which focus entirely on the floral aspects of the hops, this beer offers a noticeable malty, sweet backbone to add balance. Pair with a spicy barbecue sauce or a fiery Thai curry to further amplify the hop character. Not pictured. Available in 12-ounce cans ($1.70 each) at bottle shops such as The Beer Junction in West Seattle; pints and growler fills at the brewery’s tasting room in Gig Harbor, 7seasbrewing.com
Off Leash Northwest Session Ale, Crux Fermentation Project
Don’t let this Bend, Oregon, brewery’s funny name confuse you; this 4.5 percent ABV beer is nothing to laugh at. The hoppy aroma evokes thoughts of fresh lemon zest, and the flavor blends tropical fruit and pine resin with a light caramel sweetness before giving way to a pleasant, lingering grassy character. Pair it with: A fish taco and tomatillo salsa to really bring the hops’ spiciness to life. Available in 16.9-ounce bottles ($4.99) at bottle shops such as Full Throttle Bottles in Georgetown. cruxfermentation.com
Best New Washington Spirits
What’s trending: The classics still reign supreme
3 Howls Navy Strength Rum, 750-ml bottle ($35)
A follow-up to SoDo-based 3 Howls’ award-winning Navy Strength gin, this shout-out to Seattle’s port history is rum that any sailor would happily bring on board for a long voyage. That’s partially because the rum’s 57 percent alcohol content (equaling 114 proof) is sure to keep you warm. Historically, an alcohol content this high was essential, because if the rum leaked onto gunpowder, the gunpowder would still light. This SoDo rum isn’t just a kick in the powder, however. Its nice spice, vanilla and caramel accents, and hint of smoke make a wonderful drink. Pair with most island fare, from jerked chicken dishes to tropical fruit salads. 3howls.com
Westland Sherry Wood Single Malt Whiskey, 750-ml bottle ($55)
While the continuing devotion of our state to whiskey—a devotion few states outside of Kentucky match—is evident on shelves, the latest core member of the SoDo-based Westland single malt whiskey family, Sherry Wood, is a unique tipple. This whiskey spends a minimum of 26 months in casks made from American oak that previously held oloroso and Pedro Ximénez sherry.
This sherry-cask aging delivers a slightly cookie-ish aroma, with a stitch of fruit, followed by a rich flavor weaving citrus, ginger and tropical fruits with the cookie. Try it neat and then with a little water to see how it behaves. Pair with a little southern European hard cheese or dark chocolate, for dessert after a big meal. westlanddistillery.com
Wildwood Spirits Co. Kur Gin, 750-ml bottle ($29)
Washington state’s selection of good gins continues to expand, and the finest recent addition is Kur, developed by master sommelier candidate and distiller Erik Liedholm. Recent winner of the New York World Wine & Spirits Competition’s Best in Show award (and a gin double gold), the Bothell-distilled spirit is made with heirloom-variety red winter wheat and botanicals such as coriander seed, Seville orange, Douglas fir and Braeburn apples from Liedholm’s yard and other local sources. With a classic London dry flavor, enhanced by citrus and a forest echo, it makes a wonderful G&T and is a hit in classic cocktails. Pair with pasta burro e salvia (pasta with butter and sage) and fish dishes. wildwoodspiritsco.com
The Charley Bates, $10, Oliver’s Twist in Magnolia
Only available in the Magnolia Oliver’s Twist outpost at the time of this writing, the Charley Bates walks a slightly different path than many drinks, pairing two serious base spirits, tequila and mezcal. Sure, they’re sort of cousins, but it’s still bold, especially with Bénédictine, lemon and cardamom bitters in the mix. But the final ingredient, Reed’s ginger beer, brings everything together, making this a very assertive spice and smoke drink that still cools you down. Pair with the bar’s pulled pork sliders with Sriracha ($9) or the classic grilled cheese with tomato cappuccino ($9). 3217 W McGraw St.; 206.946.1651; oliverstwistseattle.com
Best New Washington Wines
New on the color spectrum
"Hot” Red Wines
After back-to-back cool-weather vintages in 2010 and 2011, the following three summers in Washington wine country were hot (2012), hotter (2013) and hottest (2014). The majority of the red wines released this year will come from 2012 or 2013, so we can expect bottles with plenty of plush, silky fruit. The extra yum factor will be welcome after the harder-edged wines from cooler years.
Best New “Hot” Red: 2012 Southard Syrah, Columbia Valley ($15)
Because of his out-of-the-way location in Selah, Washington, Scott Southard’s eponymous winery has flown well under the radar, despite a string of beautiful, well-priced wines. His Syrah offers loads of character and stuffing for the price, and is a fine example of the generous nature of the 2012 vintage. It is a 50/50 blend of fruit from Lawrence Vineyards, a high-elevation site on the Royal Slope, and StoneTree Vineyard, a warm site at the top of the Wahluke Slope. The balance between the two vineyards is pinpoint: StoneTree ripeness and jam married to Lawrence savories and meats. Pair with a to-go cheeseburger from Uneeda Burger after a busy workday. southardwinery.com
The Rosé Revival Continues
One of the greatest trends in recent summers has been the proliferation of dry, crisp, local rosés, released in springtime and sold out before Labor Day, their beauty due in part to their ephemeral nature. There are now stalwart Washington rosés that deliver the goods year in and year out (versions from Syncline, Tranche and Renegade come immediately to mind), but there are still terrific wineries that are only now getting into the pink game.
The Most Anticipated New Rosé: 2014 Seven Hills dry Rosé ($17)
In the spring of 2014, Walla Walla’s Seven Hills Winery released its first-ever commercial rosé (from the 2013 vintage), a micro-production release from a classic Washington winery. It was delicious, it was scarce, and it (predictably) disappeared immediately upon release. This spring, Seven Hills returns with its sophomore effort, and if last year’s version is any indication, expect something juicy, vibrant and seductive. Pair with the finfish that dot summer menus at Seattle restaurants. Perfect.
Whites of a Different Stripe
Riesling and Chardonnay dominate the planted acreage of Washington’s white grape varieties and for many years have also dominated the conversation. But in recent years, our state has seen a proliferation of other white varieties, and none are buzzier than the grapes that call the Rhône Valley in France their ancestral home. Viognier, Roussanne, Marsanne and Grenache Blanc, bottled as varietals or in blends, have been turning heads and offering welcome alternatives to our more broadly planted grapes.
Best New Washington Whites: Grenache Blanc
The most recent of the Rhône grapes to excite the Seattle wine geek scene is Grenache Blanc. Its unique flavor combination—melon and citrus fruit paired with herbaceous fennel and spicy nutmeg—is part of its appeal, as is its balance of richness and crisp acidity. Grenache Blancs from Boushey Vineyard in the Yakima Valley were the first to gain attention, and two wineries with proven track records will be releasing versions this spring: 2014 Syncline Grenache Blanc, Boushey Vineyard ($25; synclinewine.com) and 2014 Two Vintners Grenache Blanc, Boushey Vineyard ($25; twovintners.com). Making its debut this spring will be an eagerly anticipated version from the Walla Walla Valley: 2014 Kerloo Cellars Grenache Blanc, Blue Mountain Vineyard (Not pictured. $22; kerloocellars.com). Pair any of these Grenache Blancs with the broad selection of oysters at The Walrus and The Carpenter ($20/bottle corkage fee; thewalrusbar.com), especially those oysters with grassy, herbaceous or cucumber qualities.
Invasion of the Southern Marauders
As vineyard land prices in northern California have risen and risen some more, the great eye of Sauron has cast its gaze farther north (we kid, we kid; we love our neighbors to the south). In recent years, a number of California wineries (Gallo, Cakebread, Trinchero, Duckhorn) have purchased or invested in Washington vineyard properties and wineries. This year, many of those investments and partnerships should come to fruition, with a number of wines hitting the market.
Best New California-owned Wine Made with Washington Grapes: 2013 CANVASBACK Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Mountain ($40)
Duckhorn Vineyards (based in St. Helena, California) purchased a 20-acre parcel of land on Red Mountain in 2013. While it waits for that vineyard to come online, it’s producing a Red Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon from purchased fruit, called Canvasback. The inaugural 2012 vintage sold out within two months of its release last year. The 2013 Canvasback will be released later this year, and if you manage to score a bottle, expect a mix of lush dark fruit, Red Mountain earthiness, and loads of chewy Cabernet tannins. Pair with a rib-eye during a power lunch at The Metropolitan Grill. They carry the 2012 and plan on stocking the 2013—or bring your own (corkage fee: $25/bottle; themetropolitangrill.com). canvasbackwine.com