Search & Distill: Big Al Brewery Hits Its Stride

A White Center secret no more.

I recently moved to Capitol Hill, and when people ask me what I miss most about West Seattle, I answer “Eagle sightings and White Center.” I had figured out all the best lunch spots and tried every flavor of the city’s best ice cream; and just as I was moving, a new brewery that had taken over a small warehouse on 14th Avenue Southwest started to hit its stride. Alejandro Brown is the Al in Big Al Brewing, and his beer is now on tap in more than 70 bars and restaurants around the Sound. His own establishment has come along quite nicely, too, in a little over half a year.

Big Al sparked intrigue by opening with just two beers, uncommon ones at that. Big Al’s Irish Red jumped ranks and has quickly become its #1 seller. A light roasted character, smooth malt, and just enough tang on the end—I can see why the beer’s so popular, as even at six percent alcohol it tastes like a session (a brew of under four percent alcohol, meant for the long stretch). “I think it might become our flagship,” says Al. “We were thinking it’d be the abbey wheat, but people are really taking to the red.”

Ah, the abbey wheat… I had a crush on this beer even before I met it, just a feeling based on an idea. The light, bready quality of a hefeweizen married off to a sweet little spicy Belgian thing—what’s not to like? The abbey wheat is also food-proof, as evidenced by its permanent tap status at the Palace Kitchen for the past few months, and it makes friends with people who normally shy away from one style or the other. Al says, “You have to explain this beer, because people might not get what it is at first.” Well, I just did, people; now go try it.

Big Al’s is a tasting room, not a pub. Sink, beer trough, bar stools. The upstairs has a family-room feel, and in good weather guests can enjoy a simple patio. The spot makes a quiet and comfortable stop for a sampler with friends; it serves only pretzels, but you can bring whatever food you like—pho, tacos, or a pupusa party. The subtle smoked porter, with an aroma like black coffee and chocolate accented by the smoke of some far-off fire, would absolutely kill with Full Tilt’s hazelnut ice cream, especially considering the beer’s Scotch-like peat finish. I’m partial to the Irish Red with my carne asada, but the Papa Charlie’s pale ale and its fruity, spring-green aromas make it a must for beef noodle soup. The hoppy punctuation on the finish of the Li’l Al Irish stout demands pork—taco or pupusa, your call. I don’t think I’d let anything distract me from Al’s Dark Roast, a stout that sees Belgian yeast and manages to please sensorially like no single-origin chocolate bar ever could.

The Local Heroes series is one of the most interesting things about Big Al. Several times each year the brewery will honor local homebrewers by choosing one of their recipes to scale up for production at the brewery. The Local Hero #1 was a doppelbock, and the brewery will soon debut Local Hero #2, an ESB from Ken Frauenthal. “He’s in the Navy,” says Al, “so a true local hero.” As are you, my friend.

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