Along a two-lane road some five miles east of downtown Yakima, a barn-red taproom emerges from the lush valley floor. Hop heads lounge on the patio, sipping golden pints of India Pale Ale and soaking up views of the verdant Cascade hops. This is Bale Breaker Brewing Company, a 30-barrel craft brewery that prides itself on creating heavily hopped, unfiltered beers. It’s a shining example of how Washington’s flourishing beverage scene is playing out across the state.
Sip your way around, and you can encounter hundreds of opportunities to enjoy and buy drinks at their point of production. Venture out to smell the heady aroma of grapes ripening on the vine in Washington Wine Country, drink a locally roasted coffee in Pike Place Market, and sample small-batch whiskeys distilled from Washington grains amid the rolling green hills of the Palouse. Tasting rooms, farmers markets, and restaurants here take particular pride in pouring beverages that have been crafted and bottled within state borders—and often infused with local ingredients.
Why the whole-hearted embracing of Washington-made drinks? Much of that has to do with our agricultural abundance—more than 70 percent of the nation’s apples are grown here. Washington is also the top state for pears, sweet cherries, red raspberries, and that critical beer ingredient: hops. (In fact, Washington farmers export hops to producers all over the world, including Germany, the world’s mecca for beer.) And the state’s tremendous fruit production has led to Washington’s sterling reputation for both nonalcoholic juices and sodas, as well as hard ciders and spirits.
To sample what’s local, you only need to belly up to the bar in just about any cafe or restaurant across the state—most proudly pour something made in Washington. But as anyone experienced in wine touring can tell you, the real fun comes when visiting the facilities that actually produce what we love to drink. The tasting rooms of wineries, breweries, distilleries, and cideries often have other features that make them ideal for whiling away an afternoon—a patio overlooking a vineyard, a stage where local bands jam, a bistro offering tasty bites, or a picturesque apple orchard.
At a coffee shop specializing in fair-trade coffee, you may have a chance to talk with the owner who visited the very Nicaraguan or Indonesian farm from which she sources beans. Or after sampling a local IPA at a craft brewery in Yakima Valley, you can venture out on a behind-the-scenes tour of the facility, complete with a stroll through the field of hops growing beside it. After all, truly experiencing Washington’s craft drinks means not only tasting them, but also learning more about the regional ingredients and local beverage makers who pour their heart and soul into every drop.
With its miles of gently sloping valleys stretching east from the Cascade foothills into Yakima, through Tri-Cities, and beyond Walla Walla, Washington Wine Country has grown dramatically in both productivity and stature in recent years. Today the state is the second-largest producer of premium wine in the nation, with more than 860 wineries. But the sheer abundance of wineries is only part of the story. In the past few years, more than half of all Washington wines rated by prestigious Wine Spectator scored an "excellent" 90 points or higher. And in 2014, nine of the 30 US bottles that landed on Wine Enthusiast’s "World’s 100 Best Buys" list were produced in state.
Our scenic wine country excels not just in value and quality, but also in ideal growing conditions. Eastern Washington’s sandy soil, basalt bedrock, and combo of dry, hot summer days with cool nights make it possible for vineyards to craft top-rated varietals of all kinds, with an emphasis on bold, fruit-forward reds—like syrah, cabernet sauvignon, and merlot. Production of Argentinian-style malbecs, Spanish-inspired tempranillos, and Italian-derived sangioveses and barberas are on the rise. Favored whites reflect similar diversity, with riesling, chardonnay, and sauvignon blanc leading the way.
The state’s wine-tasting scene ranks among the most visitor-friendly in the country, as tasting rooms tend to be laid-back and intimate. Travelers curious about both the heritage and current state of Washington wine can learn through interactive exhibits and samples at the Walter Clore Wine and Culinary Center in Prosser, which also hosts blind tastings and food-and-wine pairings. Throughout wine country, it’s easy to zero in on areas with multiple vineyards and tasting rooms clustered in the same area. Yakima, Prosser, Benton City, Richland, and Walla Walla are all major oenophile hubs.
Beyond the core wine country, find smaller emerging American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) throughout the state, from Lake Chelan to the Columbia Gorge. And in some of the cooler and wetter locales, such as Vancouver and Bainbridge Island, you’ll find entirely different varietal specialties, including pinot noir and pinot gris.
One of the most notable wine-touring towns in the state is Woodinville, with more than 100 wineries and tasting rooms, many of which are clustered together within walking distance. In fact, this is where modern winemaking in Washington began. During the 1970s, still-prolific Chateau Ste. Michelle set up shop and established itself as the first winery in the state. Many of the top Eastern Washington operations have tasting rooms here, and several offer niche events like wine-blending workshops and winemaker dinners. At some wineries, including Chateau Ste. Michelle and Maryhill Winery along the Columbia Gorge, you can even cap off a lovely day of tasting by catching an open-air concert during sublime summer days.
Trip Tip: For more information, visit Washington State Wine.
As with wine, beer production in Washington is very much a locavore story. The state leads the nation in those fragrant hops used in all types of craft beers, but especially known for imparting the complex, slightly bitter notes in India Pale Ales (IPAs). There are now 300-plus craft breweries in the state, the second most in the nation.
Washington is home to some of the country’s longest-running craft breweries, including Redhook Brewery, which opened in 1981 just outside Seattle in Redmond. The Seattle area alone now has more than 80 breweries. But some communities have an even higher number of breweries per capita. There are five craft breweries in Bellingham and more than a dozen in Vancouver and Spokane. In fact, many local brewmasters start crafting at more established beer houses before founding their own hop havens. Take Richard Mergens. He brewed at two institutions—Redhook and Mac and Jack’s, both in Redmond—before opening his own outfit, Everett’s Crucible Brewing Co., in 2015.
These small-town craft breweries make lively and convivial community gathering spots. At Island Hoppin’ Brewery on Orcas Island, you can play Ping-Pong and listen to LPs while sipping a Doe Bay India Session Ale. Hikers and river kayakers in the Columbia Gorge swap stories over porters and red ales at Amnesia Brewing in Washougal, Walking Man Brewing in Stevenson, and Everybody’s Brewing in White Salmon. If you’re traveling from Canada, be sure to stop by Alpine Brewing in Oroville to try such malty, German-influenced favorites as weizenbock and bohemian pilsner. And, of course, in Yakima Valley where most of the country’s hops are grown, you can taste crisp IPAs at Bale Breaker Brewing Company and Yakima Craft Brewing.
Trip Tip: Try a brewery-laden route like the Yakima Valley Spirits and Hops Trail (spiritandhopstrail.com), South Sound Craft Crawl (southsoundcraftcrawl.com), and Inland Northwest Ale Trail (inlandnwaletrail.com) for epic beer tasting.
From vodkas produced with local wheat to fine eau de vies (brandy) distilled from Washington-grown cherries, spirits have become all the rage. The state’s industry is relatively young, with craft distillery licenses approved starting in 2008, but the growth has been exponential. Today there are more than 70 distilleries around the state—and that number is growing fast.
Dry Fly Distillery in Spokane has garnered national cult status for its high-grade vodka and whiskey made using locally grown grains and botanicals. BroVo Spirits in Seattle has earned acclaim for its flavor-infused offerings like lemon balm and rose geranium liqueurs. And many other distillers around the state produce top-rated sips, including the first completely organic distillery in Washington, Bainbridge Organic Distillers, which makes a smoky and complex Douglas Fir–inflected gin.
Even traditionally wine-laden regions are seeing an influx. In the Yakima Valley, Blue Flame makes Italian-style grappas from pressed local grapes. And among the tasting rooms of Woodinville, you can find distilleries for bourbon whiskey (Woodinville Whiskey Co.) and even absinthe (Pacific Distillery).
Trip Tip: For more information about Washington’s craft distilleries, go to washingtondistilleries.com
No surprise here: The nation’s top apple grower has more cideries (30 plus) than any other state. Washington Apple Country, east of the Cascades, is the prime region for hard ciders. Around Wenatchee, Twisp, and Lake Chelan, find cideries like Snowdrift, Sixknot, and Rootwood bottling everything from a ginger root–infused variety to a dry, crisp one in classic English tradition. Yakima is also home to Tieton Cider Works, which uses local cherries, hops, and apricots.
Cider abounds near Port Townsend, where Alpenfire, Eaglemount, and Finnriver Farm pour ciders, perries, and unique takes on the fruit-forward drinks, like Finnriver’s bourbon barrel–aged Fire Barrel Cider. In fact, pulling in other flavors is a common practice. Bellingham’s Honey Moon concocts fine ciders and meads using everything from rhubarb to oranges. It’s just another benefit to having dozens of small-batch producers—every sip is different from the next.
Trip Tip: In September, cider aficionados raise a glass during Washington Cider Week (nwcider.com/washington-cider-week), which comprises more than 100 events around the state.
Artisan coffee has become a way of life in Washington. This is the birthplace of Starbucks, after all. According to a 2015 poll, six of the top 10 US cities for coffee lovers are located in the state. Hundreds of coffeehouses can be found within our borders, and many take the art of the latte beyond perfect pulls of espresso and unconventional brewing methods to sourcing their own organic beans and roasting small batches in-house.
Even though it’s one of the most famous coffee purveyors in the world, Starbucks hasn’t lost its dedication to fine-crafted brews. Stop by the Starbucks Reserve Roastery & Tasting Room in Seattle, which opened in 2014, to try house-roasted, single-origin coffees from around the world, including Sipi Falls in Uganda and Da Lat in Vietnam.
Less mainstream roasters can also be sampled in cafes and coffee bars on practically every corner. Slate Coffee Bar and Milstead & Co. are easily identified as two of Seattle’s top options, with everything from a deconstructed espresso served in stemware at Slate to carefully curated multiroaster picks at Milstead, where the appeal is as much about the beans as it is how your coffee is crafted. Countless others join Washington’s artisan coffee ranks: Olympia Coffee Roasting in the state’s capital, Compass Coffee Roasting and Torque in Vancouver, Coeur Coffeehouse in Spokane, Valhalla Coffee in Tacoma, and Rockabilly in Kennewick, to name a few. Bottom line is Washington has your caffeine fix covered.
Starbucks fans shouldn’t miss a trip to the original cafe in Pike Place Market. The drink menu is standard, but the signage and brand swag is exclusive to this location.
Our love of craft beverages extends beyond the typical sips. In the fertile Skagit Valley, Sakuma Bros. is one of the nation’s only producers of premium tea. Buy fragrant green, white, and oolong teas at its farmstand in Burlington. You can also find local teas at Washington lavender farms, like Pelindaba Lavender on San Juan Island and Washington Lavender in Sequim.
Kombucha (fermented tea) is one of the state’s newest drink trends. Bellingham’s Kombucha Town offers weekday tours and tastings, while others like Seattle-based CommuniTea Kombucha and Lakewood’s Kombucha Yum are also quite popular.
On the fizzier side of things, make it a point to taste the growing crop of craft sodas from producers around the state. Seattle boasts several: Jones Soda Company, with its curious flavors like blue bubblegum; Rachel’s Ginger Beer, home to a slew of ginger ales in fruity varieties; and DRY Soda, which stars lightly sweetened options like juniper berry. Traditionalists favor Bedford’s in Port Angeles, which pours old-fashioned vanilla cream, root beer, and ginger beer. It also recently created a marionberry crème soda in honor of the 100th anniversary of nearby Lake Crescent Lodge in Olympic National Park.
Then there are sips from local dairies, such as goat milk from St. John Creamery in Lake Stevens, chocolate milk from Twin Brook Creamery in Lynden, and goat milk caramel sauce from Mystery Bay Farm near Port Townsend. On tours of Mystery Bay, you can even help milk the farm’s goats. How’s that for hands-on craft beverage production?