This is the second in a four-part summer series in which we’ll travel to nearby and not-so-nearby Washington towns to check out the beer scene—from Bellingham to Port Townsend, Anacortes to Leavenworth, we have your beer-inspired weekend trips covered!
Anacortes has two identities. In part, it’s a small blue-collar island town steeped in a maritime history with a local economy indebted to the Navy and the oil industry. In another way, it’s a hipster enclave and upscale destination with hardwood bars, craft beers, and artisan entrées. It is while walking down Commercial Avenue, scouring the beer scene in the small town located an hour and a half north of Seattle, that these two identities are ever-present. But before we get into that scene, I want to talk about CDA’s, or Cascadian Dark Ales.
Cascadian Dark Ales, or Black IPA’s (which is technically an oxymoron—how can something be black and pale, but whatever), are unique. They’re dark, rich beers, hoppy and sometimes even a little citrusy or tropical. Other styles end up coffee-like or chocolaty, almost like a porter. It’s rare to find a CDA on draft in bars, but when you do, you must strike.
The first Black IPA that comes to mind is Firestone Walker’s Black Rye IPA. But now, after venturing to Anacortes, the other black IPA I will think of often is Anacortes Brewery’s Rainshadow CDA, a sharp, explorative beer with a touch of hickory notes.
Of the seven beers I tried at the brewery one sunny Wednesday afternoon, the CDA was the star—smooth, rich, and sharp. Other standouts included the brewery’s sour—a mild, almost tart cider-like drink—and its pale ale. Many beer drinkers judge a brewery by its IPA, but I like to drink the pale ale because its flavor cannot be masked by a larger-than-life hop tone.
Commercial Avenue is the central location for beer drinkers in Anacortes. So, while the town’s namesake brewery is connected to the Rockfish Grill (320 Commercial Ave., 360-588-1720), a typical tavern with a large menu and cheap happy hour, interested diners should also look one block over at A’Town Bistro (418 Commercial Ave., 360-899-4001). A’Town has about 20 taps depending on the week’s rotation, and one of the most exquisite clam chowders in the world. Served with dill, potato, and bacon with clams still in the shell, it’s good enough for the foodie gods.
But for any drinker, the secret to a good visit is the late-night spot. In Anacortes, the place to venture once it gets dark is the Brown Lantern (412 Commercial Ave., 360-293-2544). The dive-bar-lover’s dive bar has 16 taps and, the night I ventured in, featured a ukulele player in true Anacortes indie-rock style. Order a Boundary Bay IPA (sourced from nearby Bellingham), and enjoy it with a shot of Jameson whiskey as the live musician plays “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” For dinner, try the heaping cheese, bean, and chicken quesadilla or the habanero, cheddar, and ranch tater tots.
And take in the sights: Along the ceilings of the Brown Lantern are sports jerseys, life preservers, and baseball pennants. In a way, it’s a bar that could be anywhere in America, which is why it’s so classic.