– by Casey McLain, South Sound Bureau Chief –
For most of us that live on the mainland, the end of summer represents the end of vacation season as it relates to the San Juan Islands. The islands come with a certain majesty that you can’t find on the mainland, and offer a feeling of seclusion unavailable any closer than the San Juans. The islands also have a rightful reputation for having beautiful weather in the summer, and standard-issue Western Washington weather the rest of the year.
The folks at Island Hoppin’ Brewery have functionally extended summer, though, as they’ve created a destination worth seeking out even when the clouds come out and the temperature drops (along with hotel, camping, and ferry rates).
Located on the north end of Orcas Island, the Island Hoppin’ Brewery taproom is a couple of miles away from Moran State Park, and a moderate stumble away from Eastsound, the island’s downtown area.
Island Hoppin’s brewhouse features a 5 bbl system, as well as some fermenters of various sizes, as large as 10bbl. They have two 20 bbl fermenters on order that should effectively double their capacity.
The taproom features two unique indoor rooms with ample seating, and the beer garden is actually a space shared with the brewery half, and at any given time the presence or remnants of boiling wort can be inhaled – much to the delight of many beer nerds. The beer garden is partially covered, so even during the fall and winter months, one need not be too worried about having their beer garnished with rain. The main bar has a handful of seats, the entire tap list on the chalkboard, as well as information and prices on limited food offerings and available merchandise. Another unique element — Island Hoppin’s tap handles are made from lightly treated, chopped down branches of real trees. Those tap handles are for sale, but are apparently in high demand, as they were sold out when we were there. The taproom is open 2-9 PM from Tuesday-Saturday.
Owners Becca, Nate, and Jim are available to answer questions about and serve their fine product, with Nate even indulging in some fermentation advice I sought for a Saison recipe I’ve been pondering brewing at home.
Island Hoppin’ has unique offerings like a their Rip Tide Porter served on nitro with something of an homage to the multi-stage, Guiness-style pour, several other styles with names ranging across several marine themes, and an IPA called the Elwha Rock IPA.
The Elwha Rock IPA is named after a submerged rock in the ferry route approaching Orcas Island that was struck by a ferry, and subsequently charted in 1983 and then hit by a ferry again in 1994. Owner Becca is quick to point out that “even the ferry stops for our IPA.”
One-hundred IBUs of floral and citrus hop nodes, as well as a malt bill that balances a hefty hop load made my girlfriend and I stop for their IPA also.
Perhaps the brewery’s most unique (and more importantly my girlfriend’s favorite) beer available in the taproom while we were there was a jalapeno-infused blonde ale. While many hot-pepper-infused ales are intimidating to those that aren’t heat-seakers, this blonde includes jalapenos that are roasted – ultimately reducing the heat they impart on the beer while maximizing the flavor. The flavor remains subtle, and doesn’t overpower an otherwise good beer.
The time I spent at Island Hoppin’ came during a time when demand had outpaced supply on their trademark beer: Old Madrona Imperial Red Ale, and with an extensive list of past seasonals, I’ll be making a return trip as soon as I can. In fact, the day we left Orcas they were planning on brewing a blackberry saison set to be available sometime in mid-late September, which will have me checking ferry schedules and campground availability.