Imagine a city where every bar, bottle shop, restaurant, and other kind of venue you can possibly think of is full of good beer. Brewers from Belgium, England, Germany, and California offer you their best lagers and ales and tell you how they came to be. Miniature golf, skee-ball, and multicourse meals alike come paired with good beers, and adults can responsibly drink beer while walking from one place to another instead of being enclosed behind chain-link fences, and the giant hole that's been dug at great taxpayer expense at the heart of the city—the hole that is sitting totally empty and will be for the next year, if not forever—inexplicably provides the perfect combination of temperature control, wild yeasts, and enclosed space to spontaneously ferment the best sour ale ever made in Washington State.
We can dream, but in the meantime, there's Seattle Beer Week, the 10-day period of May 8 through 18—a beer week runs a little long—during which Seattle celebrates its beer community not just by drinking local beer, but by bringing in brewers and beers from all over the world. And the miniature golf with beer at Interbay Golf Center on May 11 and the beer-powered skee-ball tournament at King's Hardware on May 13 are absolutely real, along with more than 240 other events, including dozens of tap takeovers, cellar clearings, and tastings.
I met up with Beer Week organizer and Pine Box publican Ian Roberts for some history and a sample of this year's specially brewed Seattle Beer Week beer: a six-way collaborative IPA made by Black Raven, Schooner Exact, Pike Brewing, Naked City, Elysian, and Georgetown Brewing featuring six malts, six hops, and six house yeasts. This sounds potentially messy, for sure: "It's kind of a dangerous thing to do," Roberts says, "especially because two of these guys have English-style yeasts, so that tends to bring a little bit of diacetyl to the beer, which isn't everyone's favorite, but Dick Cantwell used them sparingly." But it drinks easily, with less body than its 6 percent alcohol by volume would make you expect, and will pair well with some sunshine (hopefully).
After a trip to the Great American Beer Festival in Denver in 2008, where they saw the Pacific Northwest get shut out of competition entirely—"There was no love going on there"—Roberts and his partners launched Seattle Beer Week to raise awareness of the area's beer scene. "We made a pretty rudimentary website, then I was sitting and having a beer with Drew [Cluley], who was the head brewer at Pike at that time, and he said, 'Let's make a beer for it!' and it started rolling."
"The first year, it was really just a lot of our friends," Roberts says, though they still couldn't believe how big it got right away. "By the second year, we had all the rock-star brewers, the unofficial Brett Pack"—named for being among the first Americans to produce highly celebrated wild and sour beers, many of which contain some form of Brettanomyces, the winemaker-feared yeast responsible for many funky, earthy, and tart qualities—"as they call them, in the same place at the same time: Sam Calagione from Dogfish Head, Adam Avery from Avery, Rob Tod from Allagash, Vinnie Cilurzo from Russian River, and Tomme Arthur from Lost Abbey. That was the first year we said, 'Holy shit, people want to come to this,'" Roberts says. Furthermore, all of those people bring with them beers either rarely or never seen in Washington (or anywhere else, for that matter), giving fans opportunities to both meet these people and try things that are borderline impossible to otherwise come by.
One of my favorite Seattle Beer Week events in the past was a sour-beer-blending symposium hosted by Eric and Lauren Salazar of New Belgium at the Stumbling Monk, where they explained how their sours get made, then helped attendees blend their own growlers made from different base beers. This year, I'm excited to check out the German sour festival at (of all places) Von Trapp's, given how underrepresented those beers and styles are. Brouwer's annual sour festival is also almost always worth going up against the huge crowds for—it features at least a dozen beers never otherwise available here. And at Elysian's annual Firkin-Firkin competition (a firkin being a cask of beer), locals go up against another region of the country, like California or the Midwest. In 2012, I got to try Alpine Beer Company's astounding pale ale, Hoppy Birthday, which blows just about every beer even slightly like it out of the water.
So take a look at the very large schedule at seattlebeerweek.com, and find the beer styles, venues, or other things that you find intriguing, go from there, and make the most of it. Seattle Beer Week comes around only once a year, even if every week in Seattle does feel like a beer week.