Last night I paid my first visit to Boundary Bay Brewery in Bellingham WA for dinner and a taster tray of their beer line-up. Housed in the mandatory brewpub façade of old warehouse meets hipster décor (think local art and Christmas lights), my partner and I took our place in an impressive Firday night que. This gave us lots of time to peruse the menu, scope out the beer swag and people watch. One cool item I noticed on the way in was the digital frame showing pictures of the beers, customers, events etc., which I though was a neat touch. Boundary Bay also has one of the biggest selections of brew pub clothing I have ever seen – pick a colour, any colour, and they have a logo’d t-shirt for you.
The pub is divided into two seating areas. One room, where the bar is located, has lots of picnic table seating, televisions and natural light since it faces the street. The second area has standard seating and feels very isolated from the rest of the brew pub by the huge white wall dividing the two sections. It is an incredibly animated and kid-friendly environment, not a place to sip beer contemplatively since at times I could not even hear the person across the table from me. The staff was all very friendly, if harried, and beer comes to your table quickly. The food was just okay for me; the usual mix of pub grub (nachos, sandwiches, one-off ethnic dishes) and they even mix in a few vegan options, which was appreciated. In retrospect I wish I had chosen something from their dinner specials, which seemed to feature locally sourced and seasonal items.
Now onto the beer. We ordered a taster tray of their standard six, Blonde Ale, ESB, Amber Ale, IPA, Scotch Ale and Oatmeal Stout, with a supplement of three seasonals, Imperial IPA, Belgian Tripel and Irish Red. Generally speaking whenever I order a taster tray I dutifully work my way through the light beers in order to get to the big boys i.e. the stouts, porters and double IPA’s BUT Boundary Bay threw me a curveball and for the first time ever I actually found myself enjoying the lighter end of their beer spectrum more than the dark side.
The Regular Line-Up
The Blonde Ale was clean tasting, light bodied and generous with the hops. The ESB had the requisite bitter finish, a slight nutty character and smooth mouthfeel. The Amber Ale was quite hop heavy for the style but maintained a nice drink-ability. The Scotch Ale is medium bodied and sweet, a bit of bitterness and a very smooth finish. The IPA was not that balanced, the hops completely dominated the beer for me, and the hop blend was not my favourite. The Oatmeal Stout had a bit of a saccharine sweetness, a subtle coffee nose and a grainy flavour.
The Irish Red had a creamy mouthfeel and a nutty character similar to the ESB, though in taste it was most similar to the Amber Ale. The Belgian Tripel was problematic for me, way too sweet and too light for the style it emulates -a very hard beer to brew I imagine. The Imperial IPA was again far too hop heavy for my taste to the detriment of any other character emerging in this beer.
Overall, I was impressed with the smoothness maintained throughout Boundary Bay’s beers. There is a very drinkable quality to all of them even the ones that I felt were lacking in other areas. They brew with a hop profile that I do not really enjoy and this tended to taint my impressions of any of the hop dominant beers in their line-up. On that same note, I found an almost artificially sweet taste in some of the beers that stood out as being out of place. I would have to say that the Scotch Ale and the Blonde Ale were my favourite ales of the evening. I would also like to add that I know you cannot properly evaluate a beer through a 5oz sample and food pairings can have a dramatic impact on the character of any beer so the opinions provided should be heeded with that caveat in mind.