We truly live amidst an embarrassment of zymurgical riches, with over 20 imbibing locations listed on the Tap Trail map. But maps can never include everything, and while the locations listed on the Tap Trail map are certainly the brightest stars of the Bellingham beer universe, there are plenty of other local establishments that serve good beer. My explorations across the city over the last few years have led me to two places that I think deserve special mention. These off-trail gems aren’t commonly associated with beer, but they should be.
When it comes to pairing alcoholic beverages with rich, sweet desserts – and especially chocolate – many people unthinkingly opt for wine, perhaps a jammy red or a sweet and sparkly white. There’s no denying that dessert and wine are a good match, but beer is – in my completely unprejudiced, unbiased opinion – an even better choice, due to its much wider range of flavors. Fortunately, the people at Pure Bliss offer a well-curated selection of both wine and beer for their customers (also champagne by the glass for spur-of-the-moment celebrations). Megan – the manager – tells me that they “like to offer a variety of flavors to pair with different options”, and variety is exactly what you’ll find when you visit.
Consider four of the beers that they offer: Wander’s Global Mutt Baltic Porter, Unibroue La Fin Du Monde, Boundary Bay IPA, and Brouwerij Lindemans Framboise Lambic. It’s hard to think of beers that would represent quite such a wide variety of flavor profiles as these four, and yet they are all dessert-oriented choices. In the Baltic Porter you get flavors of roast, chocolate, and dark fruit, which can stand up to and complement Pure Bliss’s Belgian Chocolate Torte. The La Fin Du Monde is a Belgian-style Tripel, which comes with high carbonation to lift the fatty richness of frosting off your tongue, and subtle peppery spiciness to match the spiciness in the Cardamom Snickerdoodle cookie. The Boundary Bay IPA may seem like an odd choice (hops and dessert?) but in fact IPA and carrot cake are a classic flavor combination. And of course the Framboise Lambic is a sweet raspberry beer that will just enhance your experience of that cheesecake (especially if you add fresh fruit).
Pure Bliss has been in operation since October 2008, and has had their storefront on Cornwall Ave for more than seven years, but they are in the process of expanding into the adjacent space, so look for an even bigger and better Pure Bliss in about six months! The shop remains open during construction.
One grey day in April, I had just finished exploring Henderson’s used bookstore downtown (though one is never really finished with that), and as rain started to fall I decided to take shelter in Cafe Velo, a coffee-and-bikes place that has been open for about two years now, across the street from the iconic red Whatcom Museum building. Not exactly knowing what to expect, the first thing I noticed was that they were serving Duvel – the iconic Belgian Golden Strong Ale – on tap. I thought: now here is someone who is putting some serious thought into their beer options.
And that turned out to be right: owners Andrew and Kim told me that they had decided to tap Duvel to coincide with the end of Classics season of bike racing, since most of the races are in Belgium. (After grabbing your beer or coffee, you can wander into the bike-repair section of the shop and join Andrew – a Western alum who considers Bellingham home – as he works on bikes and watches the races being shown on the projector screen.)
Of the shop’s more general vibe, Kim says: “From the very start of dreaming about Cafe Velo we knew we wanted to create a European inspired place where coffee, bikes and beer all share the limelight equally. It is traditional in Euro bike culture to start a ride with a good espresso and end it with a refreshing beer. Cafe Velo is the space to do this!”
Although they only have four taps (three for beer, one for cider), they also offer a small selection of bottles (I saw Ayinger and Rochefort the day I was there — oh, and Rainier tallboys, of course). I didn’t have a sandwich, but I did have their cinnamon toast, which is not your typical cinnamon toast. It’s made with sugar-in-the-raw and, I have to say, it inspired me to change the way I make cinnamon toast at home.
Know of other places around town that have an unexpectedly good beer selection? Feel free to mention them in the comments below.