But all hadn’t gone according to plan. Some issues over getting the keys from the previous owner, some last-minute questions about the boat’s systems, a little extra time getting the boat provisioned, some electronics confusion, and a last-minute run to the store all conspired to delay our departure by a couple of hours. Our timing was off, so we slogged through unfamiliar South Sound waters apparently hitting every contrary current to be found.
At least the weather seemed to be cooperating. The spring sun broke through the high clouds around midday. What little wind we picked up was behind us. As we cleared the Narrows, however, we could only watch as dark clouds filled in around Point Defiance. A confused wind set in from the southwest, then turned and blew from the east. This was no dangerous storm, but none of us felt like pushing through the squall and the others we knew would be blowing through all night.
Our late start and slow progress called for a quick change of plans. Rather than steaming on into the darkness, we made the decision to duck into Gig Harbor for the night. If there is a finer harbor in Puget Sound, I have yet to find it. Once inside the incredibly narrow entrance, there was no hint of the blustery wind on the outside. On this particular spring evening, the bay was almost mirror-calm and only a handful of boats were sitting at anchor. We made a quick pass, found our spot, and dropped anchor on our new boat for the first time.
Once settled at anchor, Ron, my close friend and the co-owner of the boat, called out of the cabin with bad news. We forgot the beer. Of course we did. In addition to the punch list of things needing attention on the new boat, this matter needed to be remedied. There is no tradition as satisfying as what we call the “landfall beer.” Once our day’s cruising is done and we’re safely moored for the night, that first beer is its own reward.
Of course, we could have made a quick trip to the grocery to grab a six-pack or two, but this is the Pacific Northwest, and fresh, locally brewed beer is never far away. We dropped the dinghy off the davits, motored into docks and began exploring our options.
Gig Harbor is home to two excellent breweries. Wet Coast Brewing is a one-mile walk up the hill from the docks on the southern shore. Steeped in a Prohibition-era ethic, Wet Coast is committed to small batch beer and celebrating craft beer culture. But tonight that walk up the hill is just a little too much, so we settle in at 7 Seas Brewing, just a block or two off the waterfront in a space that was at one time a grocery store. 7 Seas Brewing started in 2009 with a small set-up in a tiny space – as most microbreweries do – expanding and moving to their current location in 2012. Ron and I chose seats at the bar and sampled a few beers before deciding on the Life Jacket Citrus IPA and the Rude Parrot IPA. The taproom at 7 Seas Brewing is exactly my sort of place. No televisions blaring random sporting events from some other city (though I am told they do roll out the large screen projector for Seahawks games). No loud music. Just a friendly atmosphere where locals talk to the visitors and the bartenders are knowledgeable and friendly.
Over those beers, we hatched a plan. Once this delivery was done, our next trip was going to be in search of the best brewery on Puget Sound.
Back onboard we pulled out the charts and poured another round from the glass growler we had bought and filled back at the brewery. Our plan was made. We would seek out the breweries that turn their gaze toward the water. Breweries we could reach from guest docks and avoid dinghy use (especially motorized ones). Always have a sober person onboard who is licensed and capable of piloting the boat in case of emergency. When stopping for the night, secure the boat to your mooring and remove the keys from the ignition. Drink responsibly and be especially cautious on docks, on narrow side decks, and in dinghies.
It’s no great secret that the Northwest is home to some of the best craft beer in the world. Since the 1980s, brewers have tapped into the qualities that make the Puget Sound area special and translated the vibe of the region into their beers. Given the rich maritime tradition of the area, it is only fitting that so many brewers have embraced the waterfront as the location for their operations and as the source of their inspiration.
Weeks later, we set out on our search. First stop, downtown Seattle.
ell Harbor Marina is tucked in at the foot of Pike Place Market on the north end of the downtown waterfront. The small boat basin provides an incredible way to experience the city from your boat. Make reservations ahead of time to guarantee a slip if you can, but know that the staff is very good at finding space for as many boats as possible.
From Bell Harbor it is a short but strenuous climb up to Cloudburst Brewing, where Steve Luke brews a wide variety of beers on a dizzying rotation. Your favorite beer today might not be there next week, replaced by something completely new. I am a fan of small, purposeful spaces like the Cloudburst taproom. A dozen taps and a no-frills repurposed space give Cloudburst a perfect urban atmosphere.
The Pike Brewing Company isn’t a small operation, but it is a Seattle original that has stayed true to its roots.
Still family-owned and located in the iconic Pike Place Market, Pike Brewing produces solid beers, serves good pub food, and houses the Micro-brewery Museum, in case you want some history with your beer.
A quick steam from Seattle, we drop anchor on short scope to avoid swinging into the dozens of boats in Eagle Harbor on Bainbridge Island. It’s a longer walk than we planned, but Bainbridge Island Brewing is worth the trek. The taproom here is family-friendly but beer-centric. Bring your own food or order in and enjoy the company of locals while you sample the flagship beers or a rotating seasonal. Locally sourced ingredients and an eye toward experimentation make Bainbridge Island’s brews at turns unpredictable and innovative. Every beer has a story and a connection to local history. The Eagle Harbor IPA is a favorite, but for my tastes, the Bainbridge Single Hop Pale Ale is the true standout here, brewed and released in slightly different versions throughout the year. The Single Hop Pale Ale is an education in beer ingredients and flavors.
Poulsbo is quickly becoming the premiere cruising destination in the central Puget Sound. The excellent anchorage is part of it, and of course the tourism-focused waterfront area helps. Poulsbo is quickly developing a standout craft beer scene with three breweries up and running and a fourth on its way this year.
We happen upon Slippery Pig Brewery just steps from the docks and the place does not disappoint on any level. Let’s just start with the fact that there is pinball. Is there anything better than sipping a craft beer and popping quarters into a pinball machine? Head brewer Dave Lambert puts together incredible beers using local and unique ingredients, mostly from the team’s family farm. The British style Dandelion Bitter and Stinging Nettle Mild are prime examples of Dave’s creative approach to ingredients. Don’t miss either one of these brews.
Just up the hill from the waterfront, in what used to be the town library building, Volhall Brewing is a local favorite and a fixture in “Little Norway.” The taproom is replete with reclaimed wood from local sources, iron work done by a local artisan, and ingredients from local farms. The atmosphere here is casual, and it’s easy to imagine treating the Volhall taproom as your own living room. The beers here are an eclectic mix of the whims of the brewmaster, but there is something for everyone. The Brew Bitch IPA is worth filling a growler for later, trust me.
As we work our way north, we make a quick stop in Kingston, where Downpour Brewing owner and head brewer Dan Williams has been serving his Hop Llama Double IPA and other beers to locals and tourists for almost three years. The Kingston Marina is an often overlooked gem with ample guest docks, a wonderful waterfront park, and one of the nicer fuel docks in the region. There are four mooring buoys just north of the ferry terminal that make lunch stops easy. From the marina, The Downpour Brewing taproom is a quick walk up the hill and is more than worth the effort.
Like many craft brewers, Dan got his start home brewing in his kitchen, and that small batch ethic has translated over to his current operation. Small brewing systems let outfits like Downpour rotate their offerings, so each time you visit there is likely to be something new for you to try.
I’ll admit to my preference for industrial spaces and utilitarian brewpubs, and American Brewing Company has long been one of my favorites. Located in an airy warehouse and tucked away in the corner of a business park, American Brewing can be hard to find for a first-time visitor. The brewpub is just across the railroad tracks from the very well-appointed Edmonds Marina. In addition to their iconic beers, American serves locally sourced menu items and has a large outdoor space for relaxing in the sun with your mates. Plan a trip to catch “Test Batch Tuesday,” when the brewers break out very limited runs of experimental beer recipes. American Brewing Company is the sort of place where you can sit, share a beer, and chat with the brewers as they end their day of work.
It is a bit of a walk into downtown Edmonds to get to Salish Sea Brewing, but don’t let that stop you. Salish Sea is focused on small batch beer first and foremost. Their intent is to make clean, simple beers that are consistently excellent. Their taproom is designed to encourage community, conversation, and socialization. As with many brewpubs in the area, you will be warmly welcomed here by the regular locals, and they will regale you with stories about the brewery, the town, and just about anything else you want to talk about.
From Edmonds we steam north into Admiralty Inlet and head for Port Townsend. While we prefer mooring at Point Hudson Marina on the east side of town, the Port Townsend Brewing Company is located on the west end, and that is why we are there. Secured to a guest dock in the Boat Haven marina, we make our way through the boatyard to the small taproom. Prohibition closed the original Port Townsend Brewing Company in 1916, but the new iteration proudly carries on its tradition. The Hop Diggity IPA is a classic Northwest-style India Pale Ale that shouldn’t be missed.
Just east of the marina you will find Propolis Brewing, a local favorite that specializes in seasonal, farm-inspired ales. The intimate taproom is perfect for tasting and chatting with friends. Propolis beers are bottle-conditioned and unique, and as they age, different aromas and flavors come forward. A few minutes talking with the brewers here is a master class in modern brewing techniques and ingredients.
From Port Townsend we head back around the southern tip of Whidbey Island, on our way to our homeport of Everett. But along the way we make a stop in Langley, where the improbable boat basin holds as many boats as they can shoehorn into the space. It’s a short walk up to the town of Langley, and tucked behind other shops and restaurants you’ll find Double Bluff Brewing. Founded in 2015, this small batch brewery has a wonderful taproom, music, and a great patio space. Slightly off the tourist path through town, Double Bluff makes for a wonderful stop on a summer weekend.
Home. I have called the Everett Marina home for decades, and since 1996, Scuttlebutt Brewery has been a staple at the port and of my weekends. Scuttlebutt’s operations started in an old net shed building until it was demolished to make way for the still-in-progress redevelopment of the Port of Everett Marina. Now the family restaurant sits right near the head of the guest docks, making it easy for visitors to walk up and try a Gale Force IPA or Homeport Blonde. Scuttlebutt is by no means a small operation anymore, but they maintain a solid rotation of seasonal and experimental beers. The Belgian-style Tripel 7 is an homage to the Boeing aircraft and is wildly popular when it is on draft.
The craft beer industry in the Northwest shows no signs of slowing down, and small towns around Puget Sound have shown that several brewpubs can co-exist in relatively small spaces. This means that by the time our exploration of marina-adjacent breweries was complete, it was time to head out again and sample some of the new establishments that had opened. It won’t be long before we grab the growlers, top off the fuel tanks, and head back out to revisit our favorite spots and discover new ones.