Last weekend my wife and I spent the weekend in Tacoma, Washington for her birthday. Tacoma is about a 2.5 hour drive north of Portland, not quite all the way to Seattle. The original inspiration for the trip was to visit the newly opened McMenamins Elk Lodge, which we needed to get stamps from to finish our second set of passports and become Cosmic Tripsters once again. Following our trip to Crater Lake and The Redwoods, we decided to also drive up to Olympic National Park and continue our National Parks exploration. Despite having other plans, when you work at a brewery and write a beer blog it’s hard not to include beer tourism. We managed to visit a whopping seven breweries over the weekend. Tacoma was bigger than I expected and there was more to do there than I expected and we’ll certainly make a return trip at some point.
The first day we visited the Tacoma Museum of Glass, which was pretty cool and featured a lot of art from Tacoma native Dale Chihuly, known world wide for things like his chandelier at the Bellagio and on several cruise ships as well as large displays in Seattle and other cities. After dinner (poké!) we hit up two breweries within walking distance of downtown Tacoma. First was Harmon Brewing. Located right on Pacific Avenue we walked in and sat at the bar. It was hopping, but not super crowded. My wife ordered the Double IPA “To the Dome” which is a double reference to the Tacoma Dome arena nearby and a double IPA going to your head. I ordered the GABF medal winning Puget Sound Porter. We got served in plastic cups, which seemed to be either a bar thing or dealers choice from the servers, we couldn’t tell. The beers were good, but it was loud and crowded and after one beer we decided to move on.
We hiked up the hill (literally) to 7 Seas Brewing and this place was really cool. It had a modern sort of hip open-warehouse vibe, but it’s built in the old Hiedelberg brewery (part of Columbia Brewing Co, who also made Olympia and Rainer before they got bought by Pabst).
They were playing a recorded live Queen concert, for those of us who weren’t at the Queen + Adam Lambert show that night in the Tacoma Dome. We didn’t find out about it until we were on the way up. Oh well. The beer here was excellent! My wife really liked their CDA, which she is really picky about, and I got a seasonal limited run IPA and their year round double IPA (Ballz Deep.. yeah that’s the name) which were both solid. My wife followed up the CDA with a hibiscus brut IPA that was really floral and complex and quite tasty.
The following day we drove up to the Olympic National Park which was pretty incredible. It was partly cloudy but we got to see most of the Olympic Mountains from up on Hurricane Ridge, so we called that a win. The Olympic Peninsula is not the easiest place to get to, but if you’re in the area I highly recommend it. Leaving the park we stopped at Barhop Brewing in Port Angeles (the town you go through to enter the park) and this one was a disappointing stop, thankfully the only one. We walked in and sat on the back side of the U shaped bar, which apparently was a mistake, even though several other patrons were on that side. We ordered our first set of beers, the Ediz Point IPA and the Citra Sonic IPA which were both really solid and we mulled over the food menu. We already had dinner plans, but after some mountain hiking needed a snack. We decided on what we wanted and a second round of beers and then crickets… the servers walked past us several times without acknowledging us at all. We waited… and waited.. and finished our first beers.. and waited with empty glasses. Finally, we managed to snag a server and at that point we paid our tab and left. Really a shame because the beer was good, but I guess you don’t need good service when you’re the only game in town. Our time is worth more than that.
That night for dinner we went to the RAM Restaurant and Brewery in Lakewood, near our AirBNB. RAM is a nationwide chain, but they operate in a similar manner to McMenamins. They have 2-3 core beers they brew at every location and then beyond that the local brewers are free to experiment on small batch beers. There’s a small 5-10BBL system at each location. We had gotten a coupon to the RAM during our visit to the Museum of Glass and the RAM had a beer on tap (a Kolsch) that the proceeds of the sales went back to the MoG. My wife ordered the Kolsch, which was nice, and I got the Big Red IPA, one of their core beers. For round two, I ordered the hilariously named “Buttface Amber” (to which the barkeep replied “What did you call me?”) and my wife got the RAM cider (which was made for them by Locust Cider out of Woodenville). I also tried a sample of their Belgian Wit. They had several Belgian inspired beers on the menu which makes me wonder if that’s a favorite of the local brewer. The food was also really good.
Our final day in Tacoma we started the day up at the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium, where nary a drop of beer was to be found, but we knew that night we’d be having dinner and doing our stamp collecting at the McMenamins Tacoma Elks Temple. This building took a long time for them to finish and several of the pictures on the wall reflect the condition they found the building in and all the work that was required. Apparently it was mostly gutted and covered in graffiti and trash on the inside. Seeing the area it’s in, that must of been an eye sore at the end of a busy shopping district. I think it took a long time for McMenamins to be able to buy the building and get permission to revamp it, but I bet they are happy now that it’s opened. It’s pretty amazing and shockingly I was too busy gawking I didn’t take any pictures at all. The Elks Temple has it’s own small brewery in the basement and we tried several beers while we were there. The Wizard Cat IPA was really good, as well as a Belgian Tripel and a Belgian Pale Ale.
Bonus: It’s not beer, but the basement bar of the Elks Temple is a Tiki bar and I got a Hurricane and they served it in this ridiculously fabulous octopus glass, which was made out of clay and was actually quite heavy! This is the ONE picture I took at McMenamins.
After dinner, we walked down the famous Spanish Steps and across the street to Pacific Malting and Brewing Co. which reopened in the same building as a pre-Prohibition brewery of the same name. There was a live band in there playing 1920s-1930s Blues which was cool, and we got a taster flight to try several of their offerings. The Summer Wheatly (Citrus Pale Ale) was probably the best, followed by the Mama Bear Milk Stout and the Grit Porter, although the porter was most “stout-like” than the stout. The Boss Hoss IPA was decent, but the Dragonball Hazy IPA was not very good. Kinda sad, but still mostly a winner.
Just a block down from Pacific was Odd Otter Brewing Co. We popped in and sat at the bar and there was live music here as well, and we quickly realized it was open mic night. These were just normal people, patrons of the bar, who brought in a guitar and sang one to two songs and then passed the mic to someone else and they were good! I ordered a glass of the Hibiscus Rosé Saison, while my wife got a taster flight. We tried a small batch Blueberry Wheat, a dry hopped Pale Ale, an IPA, a Schwarzbier and a nut brown ale. They were all really solid except the Schwarz which was too roasty and dry to be enjoyable, which is a shame since it’s a style we’ve both recently discovered we liked. We finished with a small taste of a guest cider (Ace Cider) which was a Raspberry, Strawberry, Blackberry blend and it was delightful.
So that concludes our whirlwind tour of Tacoma Washington. At some point we will go back and actually stay at the Elks Temple, which is one of the McMenamins hotel properties.