With all the new breweries opening in Bellingham and across the country, it’s easy to forget that this growth isn’t occurring in every city. Anacortes is one example, which, until recently, has had just one brewery for many years. The Anacortes Brewery (at The Rockfish Grill), which opened in 1994, is a venerable and solid brewery, but I’ve always wondered why it’s the only one in town. Sure, the population is only 16,000, but that’s no excuse. Hood River, OR has 5 breweries (more, if you count neighboring areas) and its population is only 7,300.
So, while driving to catch a ferry not long ago, you can imagine my surprise and excitement when I saw a Bastion Brewing sign. Last weekend I stopped in for a quick visit.
The first thing I noticed is that the brewery is in somewhat of an odd location (12529 Christianson Road), tucked behind a Shell gas station and not necessarily walkable or bikeable to any neighborhoods. It is, however, right off Highway 20, so it’s easy to access by car, and it’s especially convenient for local commuters and tourists on their way to or from Anacortes or the ferry terminal.
Attached to the brewery and taproom is a casual restaurant, which is a refreshing change from the popular brewery / food truck scenario. I didn’t eat on this visit, but the pub-grub offerings looked good, and it sounds like the restaurant side gets a lot of lunch traffic from nearby refinery workers.
The bartenders were friendly and the taproom was comfortable and spacious. Polished concrete floors, shiplap walls and wood table tops all add to the cozy and relaxed ambience. The brewhouse is open and in full view, which I also loved.
Parents will appreciate being able to bring their kids to the taproom and setting them free in the small play area. As a non-parent, however, I wasn’t able to tune out the little kid banging on some sort of xylophone or toy bell in the background.
On my visit, there were seven Bastion beers on tap, two guest beers and one cider, which is pretty good for a newly opened brewery. Unfortunately, most of them were some of your more yawn-inducing styles, such as an amber ale, an American wheat, an ambiguous Northwest Ale, etc. I get it, though; these beers pay the bills and pave the way for more exciting offerings, plus they might appeal more to the local clientele. But in this day and age, I really believe breweries need to stand out in one way or another, especially those that plan to distribute, and that often involves moving beyond such a “safe” lineup of beers.
That said, all of the beers I tried were well made. I especially appreciated two of them in particular: the Honey Porter (currently available on nitro and CO2) and the Amarillo India Session Ale (ISA).
Bastion’s Honey Porter was just the way I like my porters. Not too light, and not too heavy. Not too sweet or cloying, and not too bitter or roasted. It was clean and easy to quaff with a smooth roastiness and pleasant notes of honey, coffee, and milk chocolate.
I also enjoyed the ISA. When I first tasted it, I was surprised by how rich and flavorful it was for an ISA. Then I learned that it has 5.1% ABV, which is on the high end of your average ISA, and higher alcohol helps to carry more flavor. Regardless, I found it to be highly sessionable, and it offered some wonderfully floral hop aromas. While I did enjoy Bastion’s IPA as well (clean, bright, balanced and tasty with citrusy notes of tangerine), I liked the ISA a bit more.
Speaking of the IPA, according to this blog post, Bastion wants to produce the best IPA in the state, which is a bold objective. So far, they have a darn fine specimen that is definitely above average, but I think they need to do some more tweaking. Hophead palates are evolving, and if they want to align their IPA with those palates, they’ll need to bump up their late-addition hops, dry hopping, hop bursting and/or hop backing, among other methods. Not necessarily to emulate a New England-style IPA, but to create a more hop-flavor/aroma-forward IPA with a highly balanced bitterness. Maybe even dial back a bit on the crystal malts and/or unfermented sugars as well. But that’s just my opinion. I’m sure many will love it just the way it is, and like I said, I believe it’s already better than the average IPA out there.
In the past few years I’ve had far too many unpleasant experiences visiting some of the newer breweries around the state, so it’s always nice to hit a good one. I have a feeling Bastion will do very well and I wish the best for them. I’ll definitely be back. I just hope they get rid of that toy xylophone before then.