So far in this blog experience I have been writing about the "public ministry" side of my little pub trinity (see the header if you don't know what I mean). This is, of course, because I will soon (tomorrow) be in Minnesota as a Voting Member to the ELCA Churchwide Assembly, and this particular adventure is taking the role of primary vocation for the next week.
In order to prepare for the emotional, physical, and spiritual gauntlet that is about to take place, I have left Spokane, WA and returned to the Western Side of my home state to recharge my batteries with a bit of family, bike riding, and--of course--a few pints. And this brings me to the topic of this post, beer.
I really enjoy living in Spokane. It is a wonderful community, the weather (aside from occasional freakiness) is generally quite nice, and it is a fantastic place to bike, hike, snowboard, and kayak. Its a growing metropolitan area that still thinks of itself as a small town, and it suits me just fine. My only complaint, Spokane, is your glaring lack of microbrew pubs--and I take this quite seriously.
Now, don't get me wrong, there is good beer to be found in Spokane. But there is something, I don't know, "right and salutary" about encountering a beer in its natural habitat--and knowing that it only recently has moved from fermenter to keg to my glass. Not only is this good from a carbon footprint perspective (how much CO2 is generated hauling crappy beer all across this great nation?) but there is something different about drinking a beer from the place it was made, perhaps sharing a conversation about its development from the brewer sitting next to you at the bar, and being in a place where other people "get" what makes that particular brew unique. It provides for instant commonality and a basis for relationship, and I think is a big part of what makes a pub community "hang together".
Spokane has, to my knowledge, only three brew pubs: The Steamplant, Northern Lights, and C.I. Shenannigans. I'll start with the least known, Shenannigans, which I discovered (on a bike ride) houses a small, almost secret brewing operation--an extension of "The Ram" brewing company in Tacoma that was a mainstay when I was at PLU. The beer there is quite good, but overpriced, and the atmosphere is a bit "snooty" for my tastes--meaning, I feel a bit awkward bellying up to the bar in my sweaty bike togs. There is also no bike rack, which is odd because they are actually on the Centennial Trail. Northern Lights also has great beer, but something about the "vibe" in their brewpub leads me to prefer drinking their beer elsewhere. The Steamplant is far and away my favorite in Spokane. The atmosphere of the building alone (renovated from the old steam plant in fact) makes it fun to hang out in. The beer is fantastic (ala Couer d'Alene Brewing Co. brewed on premises) and the happy hour beer prices simply can't be beat. However, the food is vastly overpriced and frankly sucks (apart from the hummus plate, which is amazing) and there is just a certain something missing--close but not quite the full brewpub experience.
So on this little Western Washington layover, I found myself once again at the Boundary Bay Brewing Company in Bellingham, WA. I am a major "hop head," meaning I think a beer should be so bitter it makes you shudder, and I find a really good IPA to be proof that God loves us and want us to be happy. My favorite beer in the universe is the IPA that comes from the Diamond Knot brewery in Mukilteo, WA--but the Boundary Bay IPA is a close second. One of the more fantastic things about the Boundary Bay brewpub, however is that (as my college roommate Chris pointed out) ALL of their beers are as hoppy as most brewery's IPAs, which opens up a whole world of options (Scotch Ale and the dry-hopped cask ESB winning the day this trip). As if this wasn't enough, Boundary Bay has the most amazing food, the type of "pub grub" that only exists in the Pacific Northwest (Why didn't I order the Great Northwest Pizza: smoked salmon, roasted garlic, roma tomatoes, chevre cheese, with pesto sauce?)
I don't know if it simply a result of the fantastic brews and food, but Boundary Bay also has that "something" that my local brewpubs lack. On a Friday evening at 6pm the place was getting quite full (though you can still get a table without waiting all night, which is important) and the noise level in the place slowly raised from quiet conversation to exuberant over the course of our meal and beverages. The bike rack out front was JAMMED and many of the patrons had just recently ridden 100 miles from Seattle that morning and were still in their bike gear (in fact, Boundary Bay has their own bike jersey for sale). When another friend drops by, you don't feel strange rearranging the furniture, and it would be easy to fall into a conversation with the next table which led to dragging the two tables together. Its the kind of place where new friendships are born and revolutions planned. Just what a pub should be.
The fantasticness of Boundary Bay as a pub was confirmed for me in a random happenstance there last night. I know only three people in Bellingham: my college roommate (who was at the pub because I was crashing at his place) and two friends from seminary who are now pastors in the area. And as we are sitting in the pub, up comes one of my seminary friends, Lydia, to say hello. It turns out she was at Boundary Bay to hear her friend's band who would be playing in the beer garden later that evening, and wondered what I was doing there. So we chatted a bit, and went on our ways--much like we would have done had we lived in the same area and bumped into one another. What is strange about the whole encounter is its lack of strangeness, even though I was 350 miles from home with 66% of the people I know in a town who happened to be at the same place at the same time. It's just that this sort of thing happens all the time at "The Pub"--lives intersecting, beers shared, community formed. If only Spokane had such a place!