Local Northwest beers are taking over the Washington State Ferries

I’ve been watching this story for months and have been waiting with bated breath to report some good news. It’s here. It’s time. (Pictured above: Todd Owsley of Farmstrong Brewing talks to local media about the new Washington State Ferries food and beverage program.)

Have you ever enjoyed a tasty beer as you crossed from Seattle to Bainbridge Island on a Washington State Ferry? How about crossing from Anacortes to Friday Harbor, or from Kingston to Edmonds?

No you haven’t. Not unless you were drinking from your own private stash.

That all changes now! Washington State Ferries will soon be pouring Washington Beer.

Is it too much to ask? Shouldn’t I be able to get a Washington beer on a Washington State Ferry? Yes, I should! It’s my damned tax money paying for the damned boat! Everything that happens on those boats should support local businesses, at least as much as possible. I don’t think that’s asking too much.

The galleys on our state-run ferries have always offered nothing but the lamest, most-predictable, unappetizing selection of beer. (And food, for that matter.) I’ve always found it rather disturbing, especially in a state replete with great breweries willing to offer ferry riders a real taste of the Northwest.

But no. For as long as I have been old enough to legally drink on a ferry you could not get good beer.

That changes now. Local Northwest brews are taking over ALL the taps on Washington State Ferries. You will soon be able to enjoy beers from breweries like Black Raven, Schooner Exact, Silver City and more. I have it on very, very good authority that beers from those breweries and others will soon be flowing on our ferries.

Several months ago, Washington State Ferries awarded its new concessions contract to Centerplate, the same company that runs the food and beverage program at Safeco Field. The previous concessionaire, Olympic Cascade Services, held the ferry boat contract for a long time. If you were ever disappointed with the beer and/or food selection on a ferry, blame Olympic Cascade.

Centerplate won the contract fair and square, but Olympic Cascade didn’t go down without a lot of sound and fury, claiming that because Centerplate was an out-of-state entity it would have less of a commitment to providing local product and supporting local businesses. Olympic Cascade tried to drag the courts into it but their claims were found to be without merit. At least so far. They may not be done.

Olympic Cascade also complained that Centerplate had been involved in some messy business and legal problems in other dealings around the nation. For anyone who ever looked at the “beer program,” or lack thereof, on our ferries it was pretty obvious that Big Beer had some sort of an “arrangement” in place with Olympic Cascade.

Regarding the issue of supporting local products and local businesses, Olympic Cascade NEVER did a reasonable job of that at all. If you’ve ever been to Safeco Field you’ve noticed that Centerplate does a great job of supporting the locals. It’s part of their strategy. Whether they be a local company or not, they understand that people around here like to drink and eat stuff from around here.

For consumers, there’s no need to concern yourself with the details. All you care about is the quality of the beer and food you can get on a ferry boat. Olympic Cascade failed to provide consumers with the kind of experience we want and that may or may not have anything to do with them losing the contract. I’m just glad they did. Most importantly, I’m glad that we will now be able to drink Washington beer on Washington State Ferries.


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  1. Kendall are you not counting Redhook and Elysian as local beers anymore? Because those have always been available on the ferries.

  2. Been on the ferries for years now, Been tons of different local beers on Mukilteo Clinton run for a long while now.. Diamond knot included.. should check your facts! But its nice to know Center Plate will continue this!

  3. As a long time ferry commuter I am glad to see Olympic Cascade pulled from the galleys. As a consumer I will be extremely happy to see the local breweries on the ferries. The same breweries we see a lot of here on the Washington Beer Blog.

    Added bonus, the price of the beer is also reduced. Goodbye Buttweiser.

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