It's easy to forget, when we have Oregon's dearth of drinkables at our woozy fingertips, that there are other beers out there, beers that actually aren't available in Oregon. Luckily, being on the border with Washington has some perks, and I don't just mean brazenly and somewhat-legally smoking pot on a porch you can see Portland from. Nor am I referring to the privatization of liquor sales, which has led to giants like BevMo setting up shops full of confusingly-taxed liquor (seriously, what the hell is a liter tax?) that somehow doesn't compete with Oregon pricing.
I'm talking about By The Bottle in downtown Vancouver, the longtime home away from home for Portland beer nerds intent on getting something unobtainable in our own beautiful state of Oregon. By The Bottle is a bottleshop just across the bridge, and they know their clientele includes a fair amount of Portland folks looking for Lost Abbey or Port Brewing, or other breweries whose distribution patterns bypass Oregon entirely. By The Bottle also carries a number of small Washington breweries that don't distribute to Portland (yet), and the staff is more than willing to show you a few beers you can't get at even the best shops in Portland.
On this trip, I picked up a pale ale from American Brewing, a gorgeous can of Hilliard's amber ale, and a bottle of chamomile ginger wit from Epic Brewing in Seattle. That's them in the kind of blurry phone picture up top. Read my endorsements after the jump...
The lineup of Hilliard's cans is one of the most classic, ogleable campaigns I've seen in beer in a while. They wouldn't look out of place in the import section, resembling as they do a great German or Belgian canned beer. The contents don't disappoint either. The amber was smooth and balanced, not saccharine sweet, but sweet enough to justify its color. Apparently, the real star of this stable is the saison, but By The Bottle was sold out. I was assured they couldn't keep it on the shelf. This Seattle brewery has been blowing up in Washington and is on its way to Oregon. Look for it "soon" in our bottleshops, but in the meantime, it's just across the river.
American Brewing's Flying Monkey Dogfight Pale Ale brought the hops to this little WA sampler. (These guys are in Edmond, WA, because when you think America, you think of Edmond, Washington.) It's an unassuming, inoffensive pale - hopped up but not overpoweringly bitter. Citra hops bring the brightness and a nice aromatic fruit quality, and Columbus hops hold down the fort, body-wise. It's a fine drink on a sunny day (or on a sunny moment of an otherwise dreary day), and the monkey fighter pilot on the label, made for the Emerald City Comicon in Seattle, is fun to have staring at you while you drink.
Last among the beers from this trip is the Solar Trans-Amplifier, a take on a spiced Belgian wit. This is from Epic Ales in Seattle, not to be confused with the Epic bottles you will see in Portland, which come from a Salt Lake City, UT brewery. First things first, can we talk about this label? I'm in love with it. I'm going to ask it to move in with me. Online, I only see a different label for this beer, so I hope it is changing to this one, and not from it. The beer inside is a far cry from a Belgian wit, the sharp spicy bite of coriander and orange peel being replaced by a floral, sweet blanket of sleepytime tea, with occasional jabs of ginger (though not enough to counterbalance the chamomile). The clean, wide-open rustle of wheat on the tongue you expect from a wit is also gone, as it's been replaced in the malt bill by rice, which lends a slightly different body to the beer. Ultimately, I wouldn't call it a wit or even a summer beer, but my drinking partner Ansley cooed with delight from first sip to last.
I'll try to update regularly about what's going on in Vancouver bottleshops, but in the meantime, it's just a quick hop over the Columbia for you to have these beers and more in your greedy hands. Now, maybe some day they'll build that damn train...