Ram-Logo-red.jpeg
The hour was growing late and my wife was showing no signs of being finished.

*See also: Finding a Seattle Beer for Your Turkey Bird

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If Life Hands You a Chain Brewery, Take It

Ram-Logo-red.jpeg
The hour was growing late and my wife was showing no signs of being finished.

*See also: Finding a Seattle Beer for Your Turkey Bird

Chocofest @ Pike Brewing Co.

Feeling like Dagwood Bumstead in a Seattle-version of Blondie, I soon enough slipped out of the J. Crew store in the University Village Shopping Center and into the RAM Restaurant and Brewery. I coursed past the gleaming fermentation vats en route to a mug of fine and inexpensive pale ale, which helped me find interest in a college football game I shouldn't have cared about.

...

The hour was growing near. The Figgy Pudding Caroling Competition was about to begin, and my party needed a quick bite and drink to stave off whatever a crush of carolers could throw at us.

So we grabbed a dear table at Gordon Biersch in Pacific Place and ordered a couple rounds. The beers did the trick, and we were fortified for battle with the shopping hordes (and in a jolly mood for what turned out to be some most excellent caroling).

...

Happy hour was upon me, and an old friend wanted to meet up over beers. Seeing as he's a card carrying member of the Rock Bottom on 5th, he angled hard for that establishment. And what did I care? It was close to the office, and I indulged in a few IPAs that got me well lit for catching up on old times. After a few visits to the R-B, I now have a damned card in my own wallet (though it's yet to be activated).

...

The point of all this is that life happens, and there's not always a great Seattle brewery nearby when it does.

That seems especially so around Christmas, when the spirit of Christ drives us to forsaken stretches of asphalt and mannequins in search of scented candles.

In these times of merry, what does seem to be in abundance are chain breweries: Both the RAM and G-B are in shopping centers; R-B is a block away from the Louis Vuitton and across the street from 5th Avenue Theatre, now showing ELF: The Musical.

But what does one do with a chain brewery?

To my mind, the concept seems to risk plunging the bars into an uncanny valley between craft breweries serving only one brand of beer and generic sports bars where customers don't much care what they are served, as long as it's not offensive. In more cynical moments, I've wondered if these chains are cashing-in on the hard-earned trust microbreweries have earned by erecting some glitzy vats viewable at the entrance, while cheaping-out on ingredients and taste.

But in the end, the breweries all have worthwhile aspects, especially compared to other offerings at the mall. Here are a few musings from my visits:

- The name of the game at Gordon Biersch is German lager, to the point that they spell out the differences between ales and lagers on their menu, though I doubt this curbs the number of people who ask whether they have an IPA.

On my visit, my server was adequately fluent with the beer menu, if vague in her terminology (who isn't when talking about beer). Our party ordered a hef, a pils and a winter bock, each served in glasses shaped to emphasize the particular beer's qualities and putting on clear display that the restaurant took its beer seriously. Of course, not all beers were equal: where the bock should have been full-bodied, it landed flat with a watery finish. But the pils was fine, a true showing of Bavarian prowess.

- Rock Bottom is owned by the same company as Gordon Biersch, Craftworks, but takes a different tack, giving its local brewmasters some allowance to concoct their own varieties and going long on ales rather than forsaking them. The Hop Bomb IPA on tap in Seattle was the brainchild of the brewer in Bellevue, and while I find the hoppiness doesn't live up to the beer's name, especially in hops-crazy Seattle, it's tasty enough and the bar does succeed in engendering a local feel. Come 5 p.m., it's almost all regulars along the bar, and it takes only a few visits for you to become one of them (hence that damn rewards card in my pocket).

- RAM, which serves its own Big Horn Brewing Co. beer, is about as close to a local chain as you can get, founded in Lakewood and still largely congregated in the Northwest. RAM flexes its local ties by covering the walls with local sports swag. But Applebee's does that, too. How's the beer? The red was forgettable, but the pale ale was fresh and crisp, perhaps really showing why it pays to have beer brewed on site.

None of these chains' beers are destinations upon themselves, and all seem to strive for beer that is palatable to the huge number of people they serve (all three were packed when I visited).

But if life hands you a brewery, take it.

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