With spring rapidly approaching and sunny weekends right around the corner, my mind is already trending towards brighter days. Those days that make living in Washington State so worth the gloomy months. As the sun reappears to dry out our soggy backyard fire pits, springtime in the Pacific Northwest is all about getting outside and enjoying good company.
Around Tacoma that means a few things. Neighborhood markets, walking the Ruston Waterfront, Rainier games and sitting around a table with friends and family at one of the many breweries and taprooms making up the Brewery District and beyond.
The Tacoma brewing scene has grown so much that it literally goes beyond the Brewery District. Spilling out of the traditional boundaries, beer makers are finding a home in the many districts that make up Tacoma. From Narrows Brewing on the shores of Tacoma’s West End to North 47 Brewing Co. across Commencement Bay in Brown’s Point, Tacoma is packed with breweries.
Tacoma Beer History
Located just south of downtown, the Brewery District has been brewing in Tacoma since the late 1880’s on a commercial scale. Names like Puget Sound Brewing Co., Pacific Brewing & Malting Co., Columbia Brewing Co. and The Heidelberg Brewing Co. supplied the world with refreshing northwest beer until Heidelberg finally closed its doors in 1979.
In 1995, E9 started brewing beer next to their Historically Registered 1907 firehouse-turned-tavern off of 6th and Pine, and in 1997 The Harmon Brewery opened up shop in the old Harmon Building on Pacific Avenue in downtown. Then in 2014 Pacific Brewing & Malting Co. re-opened their doors almost a century later under new ownership, helping to get the new beer culture in Tacoma off the ground.
Tacoma Breweries Today
Today, most local breweries offer a taproom for some straight-from-the-source enjoyment, sampling and to-go purchases. It allows for some fun and sometimes educational interaction between brew masters and patrons.
More than that, Tacoma’s breweries act more as a town hall than a place of commerce. On any given night you’ll see local families congregating to reconnect over beers and board games in a kid-friendly environment, out-of-towners conducting business meetings, groups from the nearby UW Tacoma campus and everything in between — all gathering together as community over a common passion for great beer and good times.
I wanted to take advantage of some late winter sunshine so I’m heading to Tacoma to get a jump start on the long spring ahead. There are more breweries than a weekend of nights can handle, so I’ll be finding my favorite five breweries in or near the Brewery District and I hope you get a chance to tilt a pint of Tacoma’s finest. Cheers.
E9 Brewing Co.
Might as well start with Tacoma’s first craft beer. E9 Brewing Co. brought almost three decades of brewing experience to their new facility in the Brewery District when it opened in 2019. Complete with taproom and kitchen serving traditional woodfired pizza, E9’s new building off of Fawcett Avenue is a well-done remodel of a 1950’s era radiator shop. The striking red E9 logo stands out for blocks against the dark paint scheme, hitting you roughly the same time as the smoky fragrances of fresh woodfired crust crosses your senses.
The inside is simple but stunning. Heavy wood trusses hold the vaulted ceiling high above rows of wooden casks — stacked three tiers high behind glass walls — to your left as you enter the taproom. I found a seat at the bar opposite a row of gleaming white tap handles set against a firetruck red backdrop. The taproom seating area is smaller than some, but thanks to two glass walls peering out onto the production floor the space has a good open feel with a couple of long wooden bench tables out on the brewing floor for a unique experience.
E9 has a full range of lagers, ales, IPAs and stouts on tap, all brewed in-house. I ordered a pint of the Tacoma Brew, a Kolsch with a light body and crisp finish. A clear refreshing beer that goes down good without the heavier feeling of a dark beer.
I soon appreciate that fact when a fresh-baked 14” steaming pizza arrives dominating the counter space in front of me. The menu is stacked with fresh takes on some classic pizza creations but I choose to go with the “Pizza That Has No Name”. Piles of mozzarella and goat cheese melting over chopped bacon and grilled shishito peppers with a sweet chili honey drizzle.
Friendly staff and the same great beer in a gorgeous setting have me excited to come back for more. Also try the “Upper White Trash” pizza and a pint of the Rowdy & Dick Amber Ale.
Black Fleet Brewing Taproom & Kitchen
Named for the fierce and rogue “Lioness of Brittany”, Jeanne de Clisson, who sailed the 14th century seas under black sails, Black Fleet Brewing has claimed its corner of the Brewery District with a wide selection of beer and homemade sodas to choose from, plus a full-service kitchen serving fresh pub fare.
Just a few blocks north on Fawcett Avenue from E9, Black Fleet opened in 2018 to good reviews. This is my second time here and I don’t remember being disappointed after the first. I bellied up to the bar with a view to the back floor where lines of kegs are being filled. I ordered a Defiantly Tacoma Oatmeal Milk Stout and watched keg after keg being lifted in and out of the dual-port keg filler, empty then full, all by hand.
The stout was definitely a meal in a pint glass. It’s a heavy milk stout with some deep flavors, but not overwhelming. I paired it with February’s special, a buttery and flaky grilled cheese sandwich with a cup of thick tomato and beer cheese soup. This may be the pairing I think of every cold winter day from now on.
Catch some early afternoon sunshine through the 2-story glass roll up door and a sliver view of the Thea Foss Waterway just down the hill to the east for a relaxing time in the heart of Tacoma. Also try the Tacoma Rolls and Fire Ship Smoked Red Amber Ale.
Odd Otter Brewing Company
Near Tacoma’s old City Hall, at the north end of Pacific Avenue, Odd Otter sits tucked into a deep and slim brick building. Veering just outside the Brewery District borders, I have always enjoyed Odd Otter and the rustic feel of the same intimate taproom and think it’s worth the journey uptown. The Otter doesn’t make food in-house, but welcomes outside food or can assist you in ordering food from the neighboring Wooden City restaurant or whatever food delivery app you choose.
This kid-friendly brewery is my youngest child’s personal favorite to visit. Partly for the salty tableside pub snacks, but mostly for the otter-inspired artwork decorating the walls. Heavy plank wooden tables stick out of the walls, maximizing space for conversation without yelling (and also losing at Go Fish).
Today I try a 10 oz. pour of the Oddustus Gloop Chocolate Milk Stout. It sits pretty well like a smooth glass of chocolate milk, only with a kick. Odd Otter offers a full tap selection with local ciders as well that seem to rotate frequently.
Feeling a little tight lately? Try some Yoga at the Brewery. Drop by Saturday mornings for a 10am yoga session. Follow up your 60 minutes of hard work with a cold glass of Odd Otter included in the cost of the yoga class. A little self-care for the mind and body. Also try the Ottermelon Hefeweizen.
Follow Puyallup Avenue east from the south end of downtown and you’ll cross into the up-and-coming Dome District. Restaurants, retail and a revamped train station have brought a fresh coat of paint to one of Tacoma’s previously more depressed areas.
Sitting down in the arching shadow of Tacoma’s most famous icon (the Tacoma Dome), Wingman Brewery puts the grit back in Grit City. Keeping with the neighborhood look Wingman has a rough industrial appearance that suits the working-class residents it caters to. A couple of dart boards, an arcade version of Galaga and a 70’s era vending machine line the back wall. Wingman doesn’t serve food, but again, welcomes outside food or delivery.
Some good natural light streamed in from the south-facing entrance, reflecting off the polished concrete floors and filling the open space. I tried a 10 oz. pour of the Wee Three Scottish Style Ale while the warm sunlight calmed the atmosphere and put the resident dog to sleep on the warm floor. The Scottish Ale is tasty and powerful coming in with a 9% ABV, but the small pour portions it appropriately.
Being so close to the Tacoma Dome and on Tacoma’s Link light rail line makes it a great location to pass some time while in town on business or pleasure. Also try the Ace IPA.
7 Seas Brewing Co.
One of the game changers in Tacoma, 7Seas Brewing burst onto the Tacoma scene in 2017 and hasn’t looked back yet. Out-growing their original brewery and taproom across the bridge in neighboring Gig Harbor, 7Seas took on the project of preserving and utilizing the old Heidelberg Brewing Co. original building located on Jefferson Avenue. Moving the bulk of their production to the new Tacoma location in 2017, 7Seas now operates a taproom out of both facilities — pleasing residents on both sides of the Tacoma Narrow Bridge.
Both facilities are great for families and host a ton of activities; both are open for the public and offer private banquet rooms for rent. We have been to birthday parties and baby showers at 7Seas, and even had our Santa pictures there one year. The Tacoma Night Market rotates through each brewery from time-to-time, selling local crafts by hometown artists. Check out Circus Sunday, a high-flying acrobatics act of artful dance suspended from the brewery ceiling that is a thrill for all ages.
The Tacoma Taproom offers on-site food by Built Tacoma, which offers handcrafted sandwiches, fresh shucked Washington oysters and the best, most packed salad I’ve ever had. With an ever-expanding tap list of in-house and rotating guest beers plus cider and kombucha on tap, there are options for whatever you’re drinking. Including plenty of non-alcoholic options for the youngest of crowds.
I order a British Pale from the wooden, circular bar that encompasses the holy grail of beer menus, set in the middle of the large open metal building. Grabbing a Keto Salad from Built and a rare couch seat, I settle in and check out the historic Heidelberg swag and pictures hanging on the walls.
Being that it is a large metal building, I’ll admit it can get a bit warm and loud on a busy summer evening, but for our family it’s never gotten to the unbearable point. Today is perfect with a good view of the Tacoma skyline out the building’s north windows and lots of seating to choose from. Try your hand at shuffleboard while you gaze into the production floor where all the magic happens. With no time to spare, fill a growler with 7Seas beer and make it a picnic in The City of Destiny.
Probably my overall favorite, 7Seas brings me back with fresh rotating beer lists and a fun, healthy environment for my family to enjoy — all while putting forth a product that is delicious and has the power to bring people from different walks of life together for moments of joy. Even if only for a long Sunday afternoon. Also try the Fibonacci sandwich and the Ballz Deep IPA.