Breweries, Bottle shops, Bars, and more. Everything Beer, Everything Bellingham.
Whether you're new to town, just visiting, or you have lived here all your life, chances are you are at least an occasional beer drinker, and you have seen, (or even participated in), the fervor around the town's many breweries, bars, and bottle shops. While this post is by no means exhaustive, it will help you to find the right place to drink your beer of choice in the city of subdued excitement.
Breweries: Too many for a weekend?
Bellingham, a city with a population hovering around 100K, is host to 14 breweries at last count. According to DrinkmeMag.com, Bellingham is number 17 for most breweries per capita in the US. Which ones should you visit? The easy answer is all of them, but if you are short on time, this list will help you narrow down your choices.
Whichever you choose, you will not be disappointed. Bellingham beer lovers take their beer game seriously.
The Many Breweries of Bellingham
As you can see from the map above, there are many great places to have a beer in Bellingham. Here is our list of of must-try's and the reasons why.
Aslan: The good: Great selection of beers, certified organic. Inside and outside seating. Family Friendly. Their Batch 15 is an incredible IPA. The Bad: The service has been historically bad. But, no worse than any service industry establishment. More IPAs than necessary. They also have a depot that is adults only just one block away.
Boundary Bay: The good: Bellingham's oldest, great selection, family friendly, cool deck area, occasional events and concerts. Solid menu and a cool "regulars" vibe in their taproom area. The Bad: Usually pretty crowded. But worth the wait.
El Sueñito: The Good: Unique for Bellingham in that it is not owned and operated by white guys, amazing tamales and food, great vibe. Wider selection of beers. Many PNW breweries are heavy handed with the IPAs. Not so here. The bad: the inside is loud and the outside is somewhat exposed so if the weather is bad, outside seating isn't super fun. But locals are used to it and don't really care about that stuff.
Gruff: The Good: This brewery does a lot of collaborations with local companies. All owners born and raised in Bellingham, which is highly important to those born and raised in Bellingham. They usually have a wide variety of beers on tap and their brewery is what they call "nano" or small. The Bad: The taproom is small and the outdoor area, while lovely, is exposed to the elements. Bring your rain jacket.
Kulshan: The Good: Another one of Bellingham's most established, a great variety of beers with cool names. Three locations: one on the pump track/landfill/GP hazard site one in the more industrial area (K2), and their original in Sunnyland. I have lived here since 2011 and still haven't gotten through all their beers, but every one I have had I have loved. The Bad: I will never get through their beer selection.
Larrabee Lager: The Good: If you're tired of all the IPA-hoopla, this is a good place to find a great lager. Surprisingly good pizza, and I'm a pizza snob. No other breweries in this part of town. The Bad: The service can be on the snobby side, but as I am a snob, I'm good with it.
Menace: The Good: Super friendly service. Really, it does stand out. The beer is pretty typical of the PNW..many IPAs but all solid. Cool little taproom. The bad: the patio is on a busy street.
North Fork Barrel House: This is really a second location of a brewery that is located on the way out to Mount Baker. The Good: This place makes some great spontaneous brews and their Deming location offers actual good pizza. This place shares space with Bellingham Cider. The Bad: No pizza.
Otherlands: The good: They brew their beer differently than most local breweries, literally their brewing techniques are from other lands. Get it? I love a good pun. Their food is great, they have lots of vegan offerings, if you happen to bend in that direction. They have a "second breakfast" menu which is frankly what sold me when I first came off the road on my long journey. The bad: Their Rueben sandwich is made with beets. I'm sorry, just, no. No matter how good that damn thing is, just...no.
Stemma: The good: a nice place to sit inside and a pretty well-rounded tap list if you don't like to experiment too much. Lot's of IPAs if that's your thing. Usually have a good food truck, it used to be a waffle truck, but now it's usually a grilled cheese truck. The bad: it's basically right on the expressway so drinking outside isn't ultra pleasant.
Stones Throw: The good: A nice location, good, but not too wide variety of beers, mostly hand-crafted seating area, friendly service, within walking distance of the bay. The bad: The food truck is usually not that awesome here for some reason, but do you go to a brewery for the food? NO.
Structures: The Good: Recently awarded the best in Washington state, and in my opinion, well-deserved. I do love their beers, their vibe, and while I have not had their food yet, I am eagerly looking forward to that day. The bad: sometimes a little snobby, but again, as a snob, I can appreciate that.
Twin Sisters: The Good: Large seating area which is beautiful. The bad: the service. The food is inconsistent. The beers are fine but nothing great. But, they are usually busy so I'm sure they will never go out of business.
Wander: The good: A true variety of beers, a great warehouse in which to drink them, actual happy hours from 2-5, and usually, a good food truck. If you love a good stout, their Correspondence is stellar. The bad: Not a huge number of taps, but because the variety is solid, this isn't that much of an issue.
No matter what your poison, Bellingham has a wide variety of beers brewed locally so that at the very least, you can have a fantastic weekend trying the local flavors and still not have tasted everything that this sweet little town has to offer.
Bars and Bottle shops
If Breweries are not your pint, then one of the city's many bars or bottle shops will certainly fill your needs. There are many with a distinctive old time PNW flavor, then some with a decidedly urban-wanna-be-city folk feel. There are some decidedly low brow not-to-be-missed barrooms, as well as uptown classic bars that will make you feel like you have stepped back in time.
There are two good bottle shops in Bellingham- Elizabeth Station and The Great Northern Bottle Shop. As I have lived here for over ten years, my loyalty and my money go to Elizabeth Station, not because they were here first, but because having had contact with the owners of both places, I can say without reservation that the owner of Elizabeth Station is very interested in community building and being a vibrant part of the beer scene in Bellingham, and the owner of The Great Northern Bottle Shop, (a subsidiary of Garden Path Brewery in the Skagit Valley), is much less so. That said, both are good places to pick up a bottle of great beer, but Elizabeth Station will always be my choice, as I am more about Bellingham Community building.
There are some incredible seedy bars in Bellingham. Super low-brow in the best way. Here are my top five, but there are many more to choose from. Bellingham has a long and storied history and their seedy bars tell much of the tale.
The Horseshoe Café
The Beaver Inn
There are also some more up-scale and urban bars worth checking out, much in the style of a speak-easy which not only carry a good selection of local beers, also serve them in bottles if you request it.
L & L Libations
A Few Well-Kept Secrets
While most people know about Boundary Bay, Kulshan, and some of the bigger and more established breweries, there are some new places on the scene that are worth your time and attention. Here, we list three.
El Sueñito Brewing - I realize this is also in the brewery section, but, I think it is still relatively unknown and worth of attention. Located in Bellingham's Sunnyland district, this recently opened, colorful place hosts a range of beers, with their founder and brew master, Dennis, brewing new beers monthly. A Mexican and gay-owned business, the atmosphere, tamales, and general vibe of the place screams community. Do not miss their food items. Everything is good.
Cafe Velo - You can't get more PNW than Velo. This is a great place to drink a beer on a sunny or stormy afternoon, and, it is a respectable bike shop and coffee shop. Their snacks are light and delicious, and their connection to the local biking community is well-respected. Go there and talk bikes with Andrew or Kim, both avid cyclists, and enjoy the fresh Bellingham weather on their patio.
Goods Local Brews - This place doubles as a fruit stand during harvest season, (and actually has been a veggie stand in Beeham for many years), and hosts a taproom full of beers from most of the breweries in Bellingham, so if you are looking to try a bit of everything, but don't have time to go everywhere, this is your place. Goods has a solid local taco truck as well as a dumpling truck on site, and both are great with whatever beers you decide to go with for your visit.
The Cabin - Once the divey-est of dive bars in Bellingham, the owner has turned this place into a great place for beers, music, bar food, and frankly, people watching. Great ambience, great selection, usually great music, and the vibe is super old-school with a touch of kick ass. Don't miss this one.