The Watering Hole: Urban Family Public House, 5329 Ballard Ave NW, 783-2337.
Twelve ounces of Stillwater Premium, a beer brewed with Brett
The Atmosphere:It's awful blustery on the first day of spring, and not another soul aside from the bartender has sought refuge inside Ballard's latest beer emporium. The space used to house the old Sutter Home and Hearth store, but when the business decamped for Fremont the sizable room was remodeled and split down the middle. One side now houses The Sexton, the other Urban Family Public House. The name makes it sound like a commune for alcoholics, but the decor could not be more understated. The only thing that really stands out about the place is a wooden porch swing that hangs in the front window. The bar itself is topped with stainless steel, with stool seating for perhaps a dozen. A flat-screen TV is tuned to college basketball on mute, while garage rock plays on the stereo.The Barkeep: Mike Knox, a rugged-looking fellow with a thick stubbly beard and shaggy blond hair is pinch-pouring for the two regular bartenders, both of whom are reportedly out recovering from surgeries. Knox got schooled on cerveza whilst working previously at Brouwer's, the beer mecca of Fremont. His résumé includes numerous other stints at local watering holes over the years, most notably nearby King's. He just returned to Seattle after a four-month trek across the American west that included stops at 14 national parks.
The Drink:Urban Family is purely a tavern, meaning there is no hard liquor to be had. Instead, they have 25 beers on tap, along with a handful of bottles and a limited wine selection. The beer list favors Belgian-style ales, mainly from out-of-state brewers. After asking about my preferences (no ultra-hoppy IPAs, please), Knox settles on Stillwater Premium from Baltimore. A cloudy, flaxen-hued brew, the menu describes it as being 4.5 percent ABV, and says it is a "farmhouse blond recipe aged with Brett."
Who the heck is Brett? Knox explains it's not a person but rather Brettanomyces, a type of yeast used mainly in Lambic and Trappist beers. This particular genus of yeast tends to taste more acidic when it ferments, and in this case there is definitely a pang of bitterness that accompanies the first sip. That sensation fades quickly, though, and it finishes with a nice, even balance of sweet and sour. It's like an IPA, minus the face pucker. Knox compares it to a saison -- the low-alcohol French pale ale -- and notes that it was aged in oak barrels. Flavorful as it is, it might be possible to drink an entire barrel's worth.
The VerdictOne of the finest mugs of suds in recent memory. Then again, with the selection at Urban Family, choosing from the tap handles is sort of like picking the cutest puppy from a litter of golden retrievers: you really can't go wrong. These are the craftiest of craft beers, all selling for $6-10 bucks for a pint or 12-ounce pour. Knox offered several other shot-size samples, including the unforgettably named Cats Piss IPA, which is much tastier than it sounds. Perhaps the best of the bunch was Lost Abbey Devotion, a Belgian-style beer from California that packs a punch at 10 percent ABV but still goes down smooth. Switching from that back to the far less potent Stillwater almost feels like going from malt liquor to Bud Light...except that these beers are the opposite of swill.