Ninkasi’s New Sterling Pilsner at the World Famous Up and Up.
By: Chasse Gunter
Bellingham, WA is about two hours north of Seattle. If you’re heading towards Canada, it’s the last real American city before miles of barren I-5 and rows of farmland. Don’t drive on past this last shred of American civilization, instead, stop by The World Famous Up and Up and take advantage of one or more of their consistently rotating craft beers they have got on tap. Assuming you have a computer, the address is: 1234 N State Street, Bellingham, WA 9822—it’s super easy to find. The staff here is down-to-earth and friendly, if you treat them with the respect all bartenders deserve (not a universal personality trait of Bellingham bartenders, is why I note this). The interior and exterior architecture is beautiful and intricate; the owner does all the wood work himself, keeping the physical atmosphere constantly beautifying while preserving the laid-back dive/tavern feel (thanks to the prices, staff, and the dim lighting). There’s a jukebox, two pool tables, a great (smoky) beer garden, a secret dart board (that becomes unusable when the crowds come), and a luxurious private bathroom near the giant rat trap on the wall—don’t worry, I’m told it’s a nonlethal art installment. While I can speak with authority regarding the world fame that’s in the bars name, I’ve only heard rumors that they hold the world record for most PBR served by a single bar. Though I’ve never heard solid confirmation, I believe the legend. I wonder if that is measured by per-capita consumption, and if so, how? What I do know, is that of the many five dollar PBR pitchers purchased, the quantity split by the end of the night could feed a dozen thirsty families.
I’m writing this as I wait to be served and I suspect it’s not an under-staffing issue. I am struck with a wave of foggy deja vu every time I enter the Up and Up, but lump sums of added gratuity eventually paid off the deeds of my shadow and his friends—but that’s an unrelated story. The bartender nods to me—busy-bar-ESL for “you’re next.” He has a beard that could hold a roll of quarters (I think his name is Chis, but don’t quote me). In times when price isn’t the decider, I leave the decision up to the poison pourer (or helpful eavesdroppers). Also, I left my glasses in my car, so I wouldn’t be able to read what’s on tap anyways. He asks me what I want and I give him some basic parameters to work with: Northwest microbrew, not too hoppy nor watery, “summery”—and well, recommended by you. Our negotiations bring us to Ninkasi’s Sterling Pilsner (a pitcher for $8.50). The Sterling Pilsner is the Eugene brewery’s northwest whack at the traditional German lager (born in Bohemia).
First Impression: The first thing that strikes me is the color: golden wheat—the color summer would be, if it were a color. I’m surprised that I can’t read through it—barely. The next thing I notice is the solid head retention that’s fed by a hail-storm of carbonation from below. This beer has the beard of its pourer.
Pour: To my pleasant surprise, the head does not transfer from pitcher to glass. The smooth summer pilsner glints in the sun (I’m in the beer garden) as I pour. I suspect this will be the perfect beer to introduce my summer (and end my college adventure). Its aroma is too faint for any of my friends or myself to narrow in on, which is the single down-side to choosing to sit in the beer garden; it smells sort of like the foam tastes, if that gives you any idea. Faint bitter-wheat, I suppose.
Taste: The initial flavor is crisp and earthy followed by a lingering, though faint, almost-skunky aftertaste—maybe grassy. Maybe the adjective I’m searching for is: mildly hoppy and “wheaty”. What I perceived to be skunky was a refreshing change of pace in closing such a crisp pilsner going in. This pils, though smooth, does not let you forget you’re drinking a lager. During my next drink, I notice it lightly coats the inside of my mouth and there’s a hint of something sweet in there—honey perhaps? Just a hint. I don’t think I’ve ever had a pilsner with an orange slice in it, but I’m going to try it with this next time (I can promise it will work). The Sterling would go well with fried food or a salad—but the Up is more of a pizza place, so my appetizer will be more beer.
I attempt to drink it slow, anxious of the approaching time when I’ll be tipping the drained pitcher above my mouth for the last bubbly bits of bitter-sweet foam. But all good things come to an end, and fortunately this is one of the good things I can buy more of when it runs out. It was love at first sight, and “I’ll give you a call” upon first taste (and I don’t mean the sarcastic “I’ll totally call you” either). The Sterling Pilsner and I certainly have a stable future together. I’m thinking we’ll spend times on the beach, or tubing down the Deschutes River. Perhaps we’ll even hang out in this beer garden again sometime. Give this pilsner a try this summer, you will not regret it.