A combined effort from two of Bellingham’s busiest breweries, Wander and Kulshan, has spawned a light, refreshing beer for the upcoming Bellingham Beer Week that pays tribute to Whatcom County’s important raspberry crop. With over 8,500 acres of red raspberries, spread among about 100 farms, Whatcom County produces over 60% of the raspberries grown in the U.S.A. In addition to the year-round careers on the farms, over 6,000 people work seasonal jobs during the approximate six week harvest window. Many an area teen has gotten their start in the working world, earning money for that all important first car, by working the berry harvest during our glorious summers. And, when they hit that magical age of 21, some of them will enjoy a locally brewed beer.
The many talented chefs working in our restaurants, bakeries, and homes know what to do with these luscious nuggets of joy when they arrive in from the fields. Breads, pastries, jams, sauces, and salads feature the tart and sweet berries. Not to be left out, our skilled practitioners of zymurgy also get the chance to showcase their talents with the local harvest. Wander Brewing is likely the leading user of fruits in Bellingham beers, and specifically with their Millie series. The Raspberry Millie is among my all-time favorite beers, and I think that Chad and crew have a special talent with these types of brews. David Vitt and his hardworking team at Kulshan have shown that they have the skills, interest, and creativity to produce a wide variety of styles, at high levels of quality and taste. Combine these two forces, and what could go wrong?
Not much of anything, in my view. On a recent visit to Wander, I grabbed a six pack of 12oz cans for the reasonable price of $10. Poured into a 10 ounce goblet, this beer poured an expected bright pink color. There was about one-quarter inch of light pink head that very quickly dissipated, and left no lacing on the glass. This is a very pretty beer, and if you want to impress someone, perhaps pour it vigorously into a 14 ounce capacity tulip glass. The curves of the glass will accentuate the differing shades of pink, and should make a nice presentation.
The aroma was solidly berry, nicely tart and a bit sweet. Behind the berry blast was a very gentle grain scent, one I had to focus on to really get a grip on. The malt bill for this beer, according to the can, the beer features Washington grown grains. With great farmland east of the Cascades, and a malting facility in Skagit county, I think we’ll be seeing even more localism showing up in Bellingham beers going forward. There wasn’t a particularly notable hop presence to the beer, perhaps just a hint of traditional European hops.
As I drank the beer, the berries weren’t as bright tasting as they smelled in the aroma. Instead, they seemed to have an earthy aspect, one that went well with a more noticeable grain presence. The malt had a bit of a whole-wheat cracker taste that really gave a solid foundation for the tangy berries, and mild hops to build on. The body of the beer was what one would look for in this type of beer; crisp and smooth, with a very nice level of carbonation that had an effervescent effect across the palate. As you would expect, the finish was sweet, and also dry. The finish lingered at the back of the tongue for a few moments, tart and juicy having alternating moments of attention grabbing. This is certainly a raspberry beer.
Drinkability was very good. Reward yourself for the hike up to Raptor Ridge by packing a couple along to enjoy with a turkey sandwich. Or, crack a can while tubing the Nooksack. Perhaps just gaze out over your lawn after you finish your honey-do list. This beer will do well in all those scenarios, and more. Overall, while this BBW collab isn’t the full-on raspberries-in-a-glass that Wander’s Raspberry Millie is, it is certainly a bright and crisp beer that can stand by your side, whatever your summer brings you. This team effort has earned this 7.3 on my 1-10 scale. I’ll be drinking more, you should too.