Photo by Board & Vellum Architects, courtesy of Lowercase Brewing.
Driving through this South Seattle neighborhood feels like a bizarre combination of history and future—gnarled brick buildings house cutting-edge craft food and beverage venues at every turn. When the Collins family established their homestead here in 1851, Georgetown became the first location settled by non-native people, making it the true birthplace of Seattle (the Denny party didn’t arrive until two months later—sorry, Alki). Though there are still remnants of Georgetown’s colorful history visible, much of the landscape was changed when the Duwamish River was straightened in 1913. Today, Georgetown is undergoing a rebirth of sorts from an eclectic art scene to brewing haven that has also caught the eye of the region’s culinary stars like the charcutier Brendan McGill of Hitchcock Deli. Six breweries, including soon-to-open Elysian and Jellyfish Brewing Company, dot the Georgetown landscape.
Chris Smith began brewing as a way to fit into Seattle culture. He moved to the city from Arizona in 2008 when he got a job interning at a certain large coffee-roasting company in town. After a short time in the Emerald City, Smith thought to himself, “I’ve got to assimilate into this culture. What do men do here?” The answer, according to Smith, is they make beer and sail boats.
Because of a substantial culinary background, Smith sailed through the brewing learning curve quickly and began a growler exchange program at the roaster’s office building. When he and his business partners opened Lowercase, they chose Georgetown because of its artsy, friendly, community vibe. “Georgetown is this awesome example of how South Seattle is diversifying instead of gentrifying,” says Smith.
The Lowercase taproom is stylish and comfortable with plenty of space for drinking, chatting with friends, and “getting sh*t done” as Smith puts it, calling taprooms the “coffee shops of the night.” The beers are classically styled with lower alcohol and lower bitterness levels, making them very drinkable. “We are not part of the ABV/IBU arms race,” says Smith, referring to the PNW trend to make beer as strong and bitter as possible (think 9% alcohol and 70+ IBUs of certain PNW IPAs). Taste through the lineup and consider a half growler (also known as a “crowler”) of your favorite (I chose the ESB) that they will can right in front of you—Smith calls the large cans LoBoy’s ($10). Though they don’t have a kitchen on-site, they do sell sandwiches and hand pies from nearby Hitchcock.
GEORGETOWN BREWING COMPANY
The neighborhood’s most iconic brewery got there early and snagged the name. Started by Manny Chao and Roger Bialous in 2002 in the old Rainier building, Georgetown Brewing Company moved to its current location in 2010. Though large in size, the brewery does not have an on-site pub but rather a taproom with a standing-only bar. Until this year, Georgetown Brewing only offered its beers on draft (no bottles or cans) in order to support the local bars and restaurants that sell their product. Manny’s Pale Ale is the brand’s most popular beer, found on tap at a huge number of Seattle bars along with another big seller, the Lucille IPA. In 2016, the Bodhizafa IPA brought home a gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival—it’s a refreshingly balanced IPA containing some oats to mellow the tone with light citrus and pine notes. Don’t forget to bring your growler to the taproom.
Photo by Ingrid Bartels, courtesy of Georgetown Brewing Company.
MACHINE HOUSE BREWERY
Tucked away in the old Rainier building on Airport Way, Machine House Brewery pays tribute to English drinking culture. English expat Bill Arnott brews several hundred barrels of cask-conditioned beers each year, a technique that naturally carbonates the brew without adding CO2. The result is somewhat less fizzy than a typical American beer and is served at around 50 degrees instead of the average 38 degrees. Machine House beers are hard to find outside the tasting room because they require a specialized beer engine tap handle. As per the English style, most of the beers are lower in alcohol. The large taproom has character at each turn—stained glass arches above the doors and windows, an old wooden bar and outdoor seating near a huge old brick chimney. On Fish Fridays, Nosh food truck serves the best English-style fish and chips in Seattle, according to Arnott. Don’t let the beer names throw you off: Best Bitter is not even close to a PNW IPA in bitterness levels; the Dark Mild is actually the lightest-bodied beer on tap though darkest in color and sporting a roasty flavor.
Another coffee-business-turned-brewer story, business partners Jeff Howell and Frank Lawrence met while working at Caffe Ladro on Queen Anne in Seattle. Between them, they had worked in manufacturing, wholesale and retail at the coffee roaster—skills which easily translate to owning a brewery. Though they were both into homebrewing, Howell confesses that it was Lawrence who was really good at it. They would geek out about beer for hours at dinners with their wives until the women finally told them to “sh*t or get off the pot” and thus Counterbalance was born.
They chose to plant the brewery in Georgetown because of the large industrial space available for far less than in Ballard, where they also looked. Howell says the neighborhood contains lots of creative people and just felt right to them. Be sure to ask them about the one-legged duck mural on the wall—Pogo Duck has inspired much conjecture and even more stories.
Their first beer was the Abigale Blonde Ale, a light, fruity, approachable brew, while the biggest seller is the Counterbalance IPA, which is also available bottled and canned. For a creamy nutty beverage, try the Kushetka Russian Imperial Stout on nitro. Howell says their core philosophy at Counterbalance is to make your third beer—the first two you drink are probably something interesting or maybe strange, but the third is what you really wanted to drink all along.
Photo courtesy of Machine House Brewery.
BEER-LESS BEVERAGES AND BITES
Brews of the caffeinated variety can be found at All City Coffee. Housed in the same complex as Lowercase Brewing, Mercer winery and Oola Distillery both have tasting rooms. Those sporting neckbeards and man-buns will feel right at home with a great big messy burger at Zippy’s Giant Burgers, but if you can find it, successful seekers of Star Brass Lounge are rewarded with the Loretta’s Tavern Burger. Flying Squirrel Pizza offers eclectic, tasty pies utilizing local ingredients and the double-dipped fries with tzatziki sauce at Hallava Falafel are not to be missed.