With the captain as designated driver, fresh air and incredible views, taking the ferry to local breweries is an outdoorsy twist on barhopping — and the perfect chill, beer-filled weekend voyage.
It’s the beer-lover’s eternal dilemma. It’s the weekend. You want a good beer and fresh air. But your idea of weekend chill doesn’t involve squishing yourself onto a crowded bus, ripe with the competing scents of the city and your fellow passengers. It’s also two weeks until payday, and the 14 bucks to pay for a Lyft is 14 bucks you don’t get to spend on beer.
So how do you venture out for a locally crafted beer without having to condemn one of your friends to the sobering designation of “driver?” (Don’t drink and drive, friends.)
Solution? Boats. Specifically: ferries.
The captain is your designated driver, fresh air and incredible views abound from the deck, and, on the bigger boats, you can kill the hourlong commute by sipping on a local beer. It’s easily the transportation of choice for a chill, beer-filled weekend voyage.
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On my own weekend ferry ride to Bremerton, the beer selection was heavy on the local IPAs, with Bale Breaker Brewery’s Field 41 IPA, Pike IPA, Reuben’s Brews’ Crikey IPA, and Alaskan Amber on tap. At $6.50 for a 16-ounce cup, you could do a lot worse.
The canned beer selection wasn’t too shabby, either, with local favorites like Rainier, regional IPAs like Elysian’s The Immortal IPA, Divine Shine Ale, and Alaskan Icy Bay IPA. But it’s not all local and obscure — there’s also Blue Moon, for those who expect an orange slice with their beer, and Coors Light for those just looking to get the job done.
Unfortunately, if you buy an alcoholic beverage, you’ll have to forfeit the views and fresh air until you finish your drink. As the cashier and a couple of bright orange signs warn you, alcoholic drinks aren’t allowed outside of the perfectly sufficient galley.
But if you finish up right before docking, you can take in the view of several massive Navy ships, the unmistakable sign that you’ve arrived in Bremerton. From there, it’s just a five-minute walk to the bustling Dog Days Brewery.
The weekend I went, the bustle was due to dueling festivals in the downtown area — the 29th Annual Blackberry Festival takes over the waterfront every first weekend of September, and the Wayzgoose Kitsap public arts festival was celebrating its first year in downtown Bremerton. The patio at Dog Days extends out onto Fourth Street, putting me right in middle of the arts festival. But Dog Days had something to celebrate, too. Serving a Buckberry Fruit Beer to honor the Blackberry Festival, Dog Days was marking their three-year anniversary on the same weekend.
The brewery offers a flight of up to 12 beers, which co-owner/bartender Terry Tracy offered me without even a hint of doubt that I could take on a flight of 12 beers solo. I settled for a six-beer flight. After all, I’m just one woman, with one liver and three breweries to hit before dusk.
The variety of beers will have you alternately marveling at what a five-barrel-system brewery is capable of and wondering if you’re still drinking beer. My flight included the Basic Bitch Salted Caramel Brown Ale, whose strong caramel aroma did not disappoint. It was like drinking salted caramel soaked in ale. Purists, beware. And beer drinkers with a sweet tooth? Pace yourselves.
The Hatch-22 also caught my attention. Green chile is basically the state meal of Colorado, where I ate many a childhood bowl of the stuff, so I couldn’t help but try the chile-flavored beer. A blonde beer, it seemed to have a little bit of a green tint, and it definitely had more than a hint of green chile flavor. Deeply savory, and sweet in the way that only chiles can be, it was delicious, but I’m not entirely convinced that it wasn’t actually just green chile juice.
“A lot of breweries do a lot of IPAs,” said Dog Days head brewer and co-owner Jeffrey Scott. “We like to spread it out. We do just about everything.”
And he wasn’t kidding. The rest of the beer menu included a lavender saison, a peach Hefewizen and banana Belgian dubbel. But my personal favorite was the kitsch-free Russian imperial stout called Putin on the R.I.S. It was creamy and smooth and didn’t taste like candy or a pepper, but has a 10-ounce pour limit. At 10.1 percent alcohol by volume (ABV), this one might be a night-ender. But that’s OK — finding yourself undone by a smooth Russian isn’t exactly unheard of these days.
After shocking my taste buds awake with Dog Days’ festive flight, I took the scenic route through the Wayzgoose Kitsap festival, past a pair of steamrollers making ink prints, bouncing on tiptoe to see the Bremerton Police K-9 unit demonstration, and finally ending up on a quiet street just a couple of blocks over where a lone chalkboard sign pointed the way to LoveCraft Brewery.
Inside, the bar was empty but warmly lit and welcoming. A woman wordlessly glanced up from what looked like an intense game of pinball, but long enough that she lost the ball. A little green stuffed Cthulhu greets you from atop a Munchkin Cthulhu card-game box wedged between a couple of Lovecraft growlers bearing yet another Cthulhu depiction, this one winged and wielding a beer.
After exactly enough time passed for me to come to the conclusion that as the only current customer I shouldn’t steal the stuffed Cthulhu, the pinball player arrived behind the bar and introduced herself as owner, brewer and sometimes-bartender Tasha Wilson.
Wilson hooked me up with a flight of four beers while she talked about running one of the few women-owned breweries in the area. LoveCraft’s Satori Cascadian Dark Ale (CDA) and Innsmouth Porter were a strong departure from the novelty flavors at Dog Days. Both are strong, savory flavors, but the porter is a bit smoother, less bitter, and has a reasonable hint of sweetness that made it one of my favorites. On the other hand, the crisp, citrusy Lauren’s IPA is perfect for a sunny weekend, and it was a nice palate cleanser after the adventurous flavors at Dog Days.
As I shifted my attention between the porter and the IPA and geeked out over all of the H.P. Lovecraft-themed décor, Wilson excused herself for a moment to finish up at the Congo pinball machine. She used to hold the high score but was recently bumped to third.
Lulled by the low-key atmosphere, I took my time, and folk of a similarly chill ilk began to trickle in after an hour or so. It’s the kind of place you might go on a quiet Saturday for an afternoon beer and a date with a good book, or a determined plan to knock Wilson out of the top three high scorers on Congo.
But if you’re looking to enjoy a brew with a view, an eight-minute crossing on Kitsap Transit’s Foot Ferry will take you to Port Orchard, where you can walk to Slaughter County Brewing Company in about 10 minutes, half of which are along the water. The other half is a pretty uninspiring journey past a car dealership and a strip mall, but the payoff arrives with a flight of good beers on the concrete patio looking out onto the bay.
Of the three breweries on this ferry tour of beer, Slaughter County feels the most like a cozy local pub. The décor is a hodgepodge of chairs and bookcases that look like they came from a variety of garage sales. There’s even an old piano. There’s a reassuring amount of dust on some of the older wall decorations that lets you know they’ve been here longer than the latest startup, and intend to stick around.
Slaughter County also offers a nice variety of beers, including a very traditional Irish stout that provided a solid taste to end the day on. It’s also the only tasting room of the three that offers a substantial menu, so you can take the edge off all that beer.
Full of beer and happiness, I took a sunset ride on the Foot Ferry, a pleasant eight minutes of cool breezes and beautiful views.
Of course, once we docked back at Bremerton, the tipsy sprint to the ferry back to Seattle was a less-pleasant adventure, especially when the gates closed two minutes early. Happily, a kind gate attendant informed me that if I hurried back to the Foot Ferry docks I might be able to catch the smaller Fast Ferry back to Seattle instead. Another beer-belly-sloshing sprint back to the foot ferry docks and I was on my way home.
There may not be any beer or galley on the Fast Ferry, but it’s incredibly satisfying to wave at the big, car-heavy, Seattle-bound boat as you pass it — and then to dock downtown 30 minutes before the ferry you missed.
That’s an 30 extra minutes you can spend finishing off the sunset with a last drink or some greasy food to soak up the day’s beer at one of the bars or restaurants on the waterfront.
If you go
Plan ahead: Be sure to check the current ferry schedule online at www.wsdot.com/ferries/schedule, and bring your Orca card to skip the ticket line for the Bremerton-bound ferry.
Ferry ticket costs: Seattle-Bremerton Ferry: $8.35 round-trip for one walk-on adult; Port Orchard Foot Ferry: $2 one-way; Fast Ferry: $2 eastbound & $10 westbound.
If you’re in a hurry, or if you miss the ferry back to Seattle: Consider making a reservation for the Fast Ferry. It makes the crossing in just 30 minutes versus the regular hour. You can make reservations online at www.kitsaptransit.com/fast-ferry-reservations or by calling (800) 501-RIDE.
LoveCraft Brewing Company: 275 Fifth St., Bremerton, open Tuesday-Thursday 3-9 p.m., Friday 3-10 p.m., Saturday noon-10 p.m., Sunday 3-8 p.m. Closed Mondays.
Dog Days Brewing: 260 Fourth St., Bremerton, open Monday-Thursday 4-9 p.m.; Friday 4-10 p.m.; Saturday 2-10 p.m. Closed Sundays
Slaughter County Brewing Company: 1307 Bay St., Port Orchard, open Monday-Thursday noon-9 p.m.; Friday-Saturday noon-10 p.m.; Sunday noon-8 p.m.