Over the course of my very long life, the meaning of beer has evolved, and with it, the fruits of a community full of beer lovers and appreciators.
Back in the 80s and early 90s, there wasn't a ton going on beer-wise. There were some small excursions into the craft brewery landscape, but really, all beer was made and owned by just a few companies, and most of it in the US was pretty vanilla.
As a kid, (15-19), growing up right outside of Chicago, it was easy to get beer, and my friends and I would use what little money we had every weekend to buy as much beer as we possibly could so that we could get very, very drunk. At the time, we were drinking whatever was cheapest; Milwaukee's Best, Stroh's, and Schaeffer always showed up every Friday at whoever's house we happened to be drinking in. If some of us felt flush, we might splurge and get a six pack of Heineken or Moosehead. In a sense, my appreciation for beer was as large as the extent to which it permitted me to escape the pain of my youth. For that, beer would always hold a special place in my heart.
When I moved to Portland in 1991, McMenamins, Weinhard, BridgePort, Widmer, and Portland Brewing were all brewing beer, and it was my first experience with beer that you drank to enjoy, not to get hammered. As I was 21, I was broke, but living in a small city that was crazy affordable, so I could actually go and get a good beer every once in a while when the mood struck. As my tastes developed, I started drinking beers that seemed more and more exotic, and as I learned to appreciate the many different kinds of beer that were being brewed in the PNW, I also noticed that the places in which to drink them were less like the bars of my youth and more like community meeting houses where people could sit together and enjoy a group dynamic not often found in the darkened bars of Chicago's nearby suburbs.
Flash forward to today in Bellingham, where there are roughly 14 breweries and several bottle shops which carry any type of beer you might want. I am a big fan of sours, dark beers, and the occasional IPA, and almost anywhere I go, I can find at least one beer that I am really excited to drink.
That's why I was so happy to find Larrabee Lager Company in the Cordata area of Bellingham. Located across from the Bellingham Food Co op on Westerly Rd, Larrabee is located in an area with very little going on, beer-wise, which is saying something for Bellingham. The space is large, filled with long community tables and two central areas in which to imbibe and eat. Each area has large screen TVs on which to watch your favorite Seattle team, and the atmosphere is what could only be described as rustic kitsch.
When we asked for a flight of beer, the staff let us know that there were ten to choose from, and we would have eight in the flight. We chose all but one of the lagers, and stared in awe at the size of the glasses we were given for our flight.
The other reason I wanted to try Larrabee was the pizza. I had heard great things about the pie at this brewery, and ever the hopeful skeptic, I wanted to try it with someone who is just as much of a pizza snob as I am, if not more so.
It was a quiet afternoon in the brewery, though there were plenty of people in there. Most of them were staring intently at the screens playing the Seahawks game. We sat down with our flight and went around the circle, each trying every beer. We used my friend's pint of IPA to "cleanse" our palettes between tastes. We both enjoyed Larrabee's Hefeweizen intensely. We both also really liked the Gose, the IPA, and their signature lager. The other beers were solid, but not really my favorite types of beer. Overall, the beer, the space, and the service was impressive.
The food menu is sparse, but I have never seen that as a bad thing at any place I have ever eaten. On the contrary, it is usually a good sign when a place is not offering to cook you anything under the sun. In addition to the three apps and three salads, Larrabee offers, there are six kinds of pizza they will make for you. They can make them with a gluten free crust or vegan cheese, but as that is not anything I would ever do by choice, it is somewhat of a non-issue. With great hope, we ordered the spicy sausage pizza. We were both pretty hungry, but doubted that the pizza would be anything more than a way to fill our stomachs. As you can see, the picture to the left is of the pepperoni pizza, which we decided to order half-way through eating the spicy sausage pizza. We ate that one too fast for me to get a pic for the blog post. If you are a person who expects a certain level of quality and intention in your pizza, look no further than Larrabee Lager Company.
This pizza brought a Ratatouille moment for me as I chomped on the pizza and guzzled my beer. Waves of childhood memories flooded my mind, and in those fleeting moments, I had the insight to appreciate the wisdom that comes with age and experience with the childlike-wonder of food that makes you feel like you are home.
I will be going back to Larrabee Lager, and I will bring my friends. Hopefully enough to fill up one of those long tables with stories, laughter, beer, and pizza.