Leavenworth: Central Washington’s Enchanting Bavarian Village with Cascadian Beer – Blewett Brewing, Doghaus Brewery, and Icicle Brewing Co.
Leavenworth in Central Washington used to be a timber town until, about sixty years ago, the townsfolk decided to rebrand their home as a Bavarian village to attract tourists, so it only made sense that Leavenworth Brewing specialized in Germanic lagers. That brewery is gone; it’s now a wonderful cured meat establishment – Cured by Visconti – https://www.culinarytreasure.com/savoring-meat-in-central-washington .
Giant Bavarian-style pretzels still abound. But beer-wise, Leavenworth has kept up with the times. Or has it?
Searching For the Next IPA Variation
There was a time when the craft brewing industry was trying to discover the next big thing in IPA, a beer style as defining of American brewing as Märzen or helles lager is of brewing in Munich. Would it be fruit IPA? Might barrel-aged IPAs take off? Could tea-infused IPA gain a foothold? As we’re well aware today, the answers were yes, no, and no. But the exploration was in full effect.
We also know which style won out: hazy! But back in those days, a few daredevil brewers hedged their bets with coffee IPA. And let me tell you, as someone who loves coffee and loves IPA and loves coffee beers, coffee IPA was a terrible idea. Oh sure, one or two sucked less than most, but in general, the combo of astringent, roasty coffee beans and piny, herbaceous hops are a marriage made in craft beer hell.
Cascadian Dark Ale
I mention this because there was a time, just before that time, that the industry had determined that the next big thing in IPA was black IPA, regionally known as Cascadian Dark Ale or CDA. To oversimplify, CDA is a hybrid stout-IPA. It’s an India Pale Ale that is the opposite of pale; it’s black and opaque courtesy of black, chocolate, or roasted malts that you’d find in a well-made stout or porter. But here’s the kicker—it worked. It’s the one example of high levels of roasty bitterness and hoppy bitterness working symbiotically to create an intriguing yet approachable, complex yet refreshing, flavorful expression of hops grown in the Pacific Northwest, a.k.a. Cascadia.
And two of the three breweries in Leavenworth make CDA to this day: Blewett Brewing and Doghaus Brewery. So yeah, visiting this town with a population of some 2,400 people in the shadows of The Enchantments—the apt name bequeathed to a region of alpine lakes that fools you into thinking you’re in the Alps—is a magical treat. As for the third brewery, Icicle Brewing Co., which happens to be the largest by far, I’ll get to them, too.
Blewett Brewing, named for the Wenatchee Mountain pass you drive over if you’re heading to Leavenworth from the south like I did (through Yakima, the hop capital of America), is a value-add to the pizzeria that Eric and Allison Peterson owned. I just so happened to be sitting next to the Petersons, including their young daughter who’s about to be a big sister, as I enjoyed a delicious pizza (there’s no individual-sized pie but that didn’t stop me from polishing it off, pears and all, since Central Washington is famous for its apple and pear orchards) and a pint of The Camp IPA. Blewett brews on a three-and-a-half-barrel system, visible from the bar and throughout the restaurant, and keeps ten beers on tap.
Blewett also cans their beer to-go, but with no distribution, it’s the only place you can find their tasty lineup.
Among the handful of IPAs available, one was a “mango milkshake” but Eric explained that they’re actively returning to “non-hype styles.” I think it’s safe to say at this point that hazy ain’t going anywhere and Blewett’s Mosaic-hopped one was superb, even though I’m not Mr. Hazy. Which leads me to Bigfoot CDA. It was made for me. With your eyes shut, it’s very much a piny, IBU-heavy IPA but the push-and-pull from notes of cacao nibs or even straight baker’s chocolate. Speaking of chocolate, I opted for a liquid dessert, a small glass of Shocolate, the barrel-aged chocolate stout, that led to sweet dreams my first night in town.
Eric sort of joked to me that Blewett is ten times smaller than Icicle Brewing, which operates its original brewpub as well as a larger production brewery nearby, but that Doghaus is ten times smaller than Blewett. It’s a bit of beer traveler irony that Doghaus is better known to thirsty visitors than to locals. Odder still, you’d have to run back and forth to all three a total of five times before you completed one Beer Mile.
Doghaus’ Fluffy is a misnomered Imperial CDA, because weighing in around 10% ABV, it’s bark’s not as bad as its bite. Hopped to the teeth with Citra and Simcoe, it’s the big dog in their lineup that’s mostly puppy strength to well-heeled pooches. Others that should appeal to dark beer fans include Chow Chow, a maple stout, and De De’s Smoked Porter named after the founder’s Weimaraner.
The main thing to know about this five-barrel brewery (tucked into nooks and crannies of the building just like the basement-level brewery itself) is that it’s all about benefiting dog rescues. The walls—which box customers in as it’s a small space with just a few stools and nary a television to distract guests—are lined with dollar bills adorned with doodles of poodles (and every other breed).
The US Bureau of Engraving and Printing calls such currency “muts,” referring not to dogs of mixed breeds but of mutilated currency. And the bureau refunds 100% of the currency’s value. As such, Doghaus periodically collects all the money along the walls and uses it to donate to rescue organizations. Good Doghaus.
Icicle Brewing Co.
Finally, there’s Icicle. They don’t make a CDA (that I know of meaning not only did they not have one on at the brewpub during my visit, but even that inglorious website, Untappd, doesn’t list one). They happen to make a slate of fantastic dark beers, which we’ll come back to.
Icicle was founded in 2010 by Oliver Brulotte—whose family has been in the hop growing biz since the 1800s and is the namesake of my favorite new varietal, BRU-1 which smacks of pineapple—and his wife, Pamela. Since their 25-barrel-system production facility came online, Icicle produces roughly 4,000 barrels annually.
The pub’s original 5-barrel-system focuses on R&D batches, primarily the “Enchantments” series of New England IPAs and the “Peak Seeker” series of West Coast IPAs. The beer I was most inspired by was One in Eight Italian-style Pilsner, a collaboration with Seattle’s Cloudburst Brewing. If you’re not familiar with the style, it’s a dry-hopped take on a Czech pilsner, giving the sessionable lager a bit of extra hop bite (in this beer’s case bittered with German noble hops yet dry-hopped with Washington-grown Idaho Gem hops), but far shy of, say, a Cold IPA or India Pale Lager.
The name One in Eight is a reference to the number of women who are or will be diagnosed with breast cancer. Like Pamela Brulotte was. Being a survivor is just one of her amazing feats! She also served as the president of the Washington Brewers Guild for years and is renowned, nay, beloved around the state for her tireless work to promote and support independent brewers. That’s why late last year the Brewers Association bestowed upon her the 2021 F.X. Matt, Defense of the Industry Award. It’s a big deal.
Clearly, from Pam’s efforts, and from Oliver’s family lineage—the pub’s walls are lined with historic photos of Yakima Valley hop farmers at work—Icicle alone is worth the trek to Leavenworth. As for those dark beers I mentioned, when you visit, if you’re the flight-type, get as many of these three beers as are available.
There’s the 6.5% alcohol Dark Persuasion, which is a chocolaty coconut stout replicating a German chocolate cake, a sort of hat-tip to the town’s Bavarian façade. Kicking things up a notch is the imperialized Darker Persuasion (8.5%) as well as the barrel-aged Darkest Persuasion (10%). These are sure to get your lederhosen or dirndls in a bunch.
See below for more photos and more info about Blewett Brewing, Doghaus Brewery, and Icicle Brewing Co.
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