This past Saturday I was at a pub before 8 a.m. watching the World Cup, which is weird because I couldn't care less about soccer. So, what made me wake up at such an ungodly hour on the weekend?
Something far more important than sports: Beer, specifically Machine House Brewery’s Dark Mild.
Saturday’s 7 a.m. match between England and Sweden coincided with the grand opening of Machine House’s new pub on Jefferson Street in the Central District. So, while men fought over a soccer ball and eager fans gazed at two flat screens in the pub, I let myself be consumed by the beautiful balance of Dark Mild. This beer has the mellow flavor of roasted grains, a completely dry body, and finishes with notes of dried cherries and raisins. It’s probably Seattle’s most understated beer.
Machine House's new pub has been a long time coming. They've had a lease on their space for almost a year, but Saturday's timing with England winning a match in the World Cup felt natural, considering the cask ales Machine House produces are the traditional drink of Great Britain. Bill Arnott, the brewer and owner of Machine House, spent the game pacing behind the bar watching his native England play an elimination game, occasionally wincing at plays even after his team was up by two goals.
“I’m just glad we got this place open before England got knocked out, I didn’t think it was going to happen,” Arnott said.
The pub is Machine House's second location; their original taproom and brewery is in the original Rainier Brewery building Georgetown. The pub strikes a design balance between the new American urbanism that has invaded the Central District with polished concrete floors and big glass windows and the wood-paneled coziness you expect from a classic English pub. A chalkboard runs above the entire length of the bar, displaying the tap list and a small menu of toasts, and a glass window sits underneath the board, giving drinkers a peek at casks of beer.
Even if Arnott’s new pub looked like a Mexican restaurant he would still be serving the most authentic English drinking experience this side of the Atlantic. Arnott ferments his traditional cask ales in open vats, as opposed to the sterile and sealed fermenters most modern beer is made in. Cask ale is never artificially carbonated, creating a smoother beer that lacks the strong fizz of your classic IPA.
Without any forced carbonation, cask ales are served with only the help of gravity and the traditional hand pumps that the bartender pulls to fill up your pint. This serving method is what makes cask ale especially unique, and perfecting Machine House’s new pub’s serving system was one of the reasons for the pub’s delayed opening.
"Everything is designed to serve cask ale the best way, better even than our bar in Georgetown," Arnott said.
This specialized serving system is one of the reasons Arnott opened up this new pub—he doesn’t trust most taprooms around town to serve his beer correctly. So, to get his beers to customers unable or unwilling to track to the deep south of our city, he had to bring his own cask lines north.
The central district pub is likely to make a lot of the city’s brewers and craft beer fanatics happy. His beers are beloved in the city for their nuance and balance, and it helps that most of their best beers are under 4 percent alcohol, an enjoyable proposition for industry regulars who often tire of excessive alcohol. When Machine House is at its best, and it usually is, their beers are succinct little packages that deliver beguiling flavor without hitting you over the head. They’re charming beers, like a witty remark that lingers in your head for hours.
That’s not to say everyone will love Machine House’s ales—their warmer serving temperature and lack of fizz make for a rude awakening for those that lack curiosity. Just check the Yelp page for the Georgetown taproom and you’ll see how many patrons are confused by the “warm beer” and “off flavors.” Arnott plans to appease cask ale haters with a few guest taps as well as cider and wine. Given Machine House’s local prestige, good kegs will likely find their way to this pub.
Machine House plans to open early every weekend for European soccer matches as well as the rest of the World Cup. England plays their semi-final match Wednesday at 11 a.m., and with beer this good Machine House is likely to have a packed house watching.