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Road Dog's Brewery Tours
Jessica Baxter
1/5/2012

Where we're going, we need roads.

Seattle recently came in at number 19 on the Drunkest American Cities scale. Frankly, I'm surprised we didn't rank higher. Maybe it's just the crowd I run with, but I seem to know a lot of people who are pretty serious about their booze and consume it rather steadily. I'm not the champion I once was, but I can still put away a few microbrews. Luckily for me (and you!), Seattle is home to twenty-odd breweries and most of them are more than willing to let you freely sample their wares, so long as you visit them as part of the Road Dog's Brewery Tour.



For $79 per person, Road Dog's owner, Dustin, will be your designated driver as well as your learned guide to Seattle suds. A tour can take up to eleven people in a van. Dustin is also open to making a deal for larger groups and they can make other arrangements if your party exceeds van capacity. My guy and I met Dustin on a particularly drizzly afternoon for the 2:30pm tour. (He also does one at 6pm and 10:30am if you're the rise-and-brine type.)


Three congenial gentlemen, who later revealed themselves as a father and his two son-in-laws, also joined us. Dustin pointed out empty growlers for sale up front, should we fall in love with any beers and want to take them home. He also held up a large, silver bucket, "just in case". We asked him if anyone had ever used it.


"Once," he replied.


A bachelor party opted for the breakfast tour, which was sorely lacking in actual food. At the last stop, some wisenheimer decided to purchase one final round for everybody. Just as they started rolling back to the drop-off point, Dustin heard a cry from the backseat.


"Bucket!"


Dustin didn't hesitate to oblige the man his request. Afterword, the sick customer passed the bucket back up front. At least they were good tippers.


En route to our first stop, Hale's Ales in Fremont, Dustin shared some facts about Washington breweries and posed trivia questions. We did not win money in this particular Cash Cab, but we learned a thing or two.


We arrived at Hale's eager to start sampling. Dustin laid out the menus before us and we each got to choose six types of beer in five oz sample sizes. We brought our last round into the brewing area for the educational portion of the visit.


"This is where the magic happens," Dustin told us.


He later used a Pac Man metaphor for explaining yeast fermentation. (It was very helpful once he clarified that the point of Pac Man isn't to run away from ghosts but to eat all the pellets.) During the tour, Dustin pointed out "The Man, The Myth" Mike Hale hanging lights in the dining room. Clearly, success hasn't spoiled Mr. Hale's Ales.


Maybe it was an anomaly, but I felt a little hostility from the bartender at Hale's, as if these tours are a giant pain in the ass to him. I thought about sweetening him up with a tip, but the Road Dogs FAQ says that Dustin will "handle tips" so I could only assume he was taken care of. The guys at the other two locations were as jovial as leprechauns so I didn't worry about it after that.


Next, we drove back down south to Big Al's Brewery in White Center. Outside, the weather worsened. I was extremely happy to be full of beer inside a warm van that was taking us to more of it. Big Al's is actually quite small and home to a handful of barflies who all turn their heads when you walk in the door. They're not unfriendly, but it still feels a little like walking into a clubhouse without an invitation. We took seats upstairs and Dustin brought us three half-full pitchers and some shot glasses. It was here that I lost track of how much beer I was consuming. The smoked porter was incredibly delicious and I had a lot of it. We devoured some complimentary peanuts and I started to wish I'd gotten something to eat at Hale's. Fortunately, Dustin also had barley samples for us to munch on. Maybe it was the buzz, but I could actually see Trader Joe's selling smoked barley as a snack.


Unlike Hale's, the Big Al's brewing set-up is behind closed doors. But the only thing they were hiding back there was a young man in Wellies hosing down some equipment alongside the small homebrew kit that Big Al used at the brewery's genesis. We split an additional half pitcher while we asked the kid questions. I recall neither these questions, nor the answers. I do remember thinking about nachos…



Back in the van, we made a collective decision to scrap the original plan of hitting Pyramid, because we had all already been there. Instead, Dustin took us to a corner of the former Rainier Brewery, where the Emerald City Beer Company currently resides. They have a sparse, but welcoming tasting room with two big TVs above the bar. Named after the founder's grandmother, their flagship Dotty lager features a flirtatious pin-up in a green dress, perched atop a pint glass. Other brews, like their particularly delectable whiskey ale, are only available in the tasting room. You can recycle your spent beer into their converted keg urinal. (Ladies too. It's a unisex bathroom.) Our visit to Emerald City flew by as my beer samples piled up, and I got lost in easy breezy conversation with my tour mates. According to them, I was still coherent, but I was far from sober. From what I could tell, we had all gotten quite toasty.



Our fearless leader chauffeured us back to the rendezvous point and passed out our freebies before releasing us into the soggy Seattle night. We received a t-shirt and a coupon for the Pike Place Brewery. According to the website, we were also supposed to get a pint glass. But, for whatever reason, that did not happen. (I didn't even remember until we were already on the bus homeward.)


At this point, it occurred to me just how insane it was for a person to order additional beer on this tour. $79 per person sounded steep to me, until I realized that I sampled fourteen beers on the three-hour tour. Twenty if you count sips of my husband's choices at Hale's (some varieties may have overlapped).


I did wish there had been more of an opportunity to eat. We ended up pretty hammered for a Tuesday afternoon. They have a disclaimer on the website that food availability is not guaranteed. Granted, we were supposed to visit Pyramid (where they have very good food) but chose to go elsewhere. However, I feel like they should be sure to get you some food somewhere in the middle of the tour. As instructed, we ate lunch beforehand, but it's three hours of continuous drinking. With the way we wolfed down those peanuts and barley, I'm pretty sure we all could have used something a little more substantial to soak up the booze. If you took the 10:30am tour, even if you ate right after, you would probably be pretty useless for the remainder of the day.


Bear in mind, those are all minor complaints about an otherwise incredibly fun way to spend part of your day. Not having to worry about transportation is a huge plus. Touring with Road Dogs would be even more awesome if you filled the van with folks you already know. But beer tends to make fast friends. Bucket!


Listings associated with this Feature:

Hale's Ales Pub


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