After a ridiculous one-hour ordeal at the airport Leo and I secure the rental car, a seven-passenger SUV. After somehow cramming all of our luggage and bodies into the car we reflect that Dan's absence on the trip might not be such a bad thing after all.
Leo is the designated driver for the day, by virtue of losing the Whoever-Passes-Out-First-Has-to-Drive-the-Next-Day Game (he fell asleep on the cab ride back to the hotel). He slaps his portable GPS on the dashboard and points it towards Pike Brewing Company, which - strangely enough - happens to be located near Pike Place Market. What the GPS is unable to tell us is that it is also located on the other side of the parade part of the gay pride parade; we park inland and walk across the parade route and find ourselves at Pike.
Pike Brewing Company is located in an unassuming shopping center, but the brewery extends over several floors, and even plunges down metal, submarine-style spiral staircases into the working innards of the brewing and shipping operation.
We tell our waitress about our brewery pilgrimage and ask her if they are offering tours. She tells us there is nothing scheduled today, but the head brewer happens to be in working on a batch of stout and watching soccer. She says she'll ask him if he has some spare time for us. We order up a round of tasters and some appetizers.
There are a lot of great beers at Pike, including their Kilt Lifter "Ruby Ale" (what most people refer to as a Scotch Ale), the Naughty Nellie Golden Ale. and the XXXXXX Stout. Our hands-down favorite, however, is the Monk's Uncle, a Belgian-style Tripel Ale that punches you in the jaw then tenderly lowers you to the ground (I mean that in the nicest possible way). True to most breweries regulations, Pike doesn't serve it in pitchers, or even full pints, because it is so strong - it comes in a posh Belgian-style glass that makes you instinctively want to lift your pinkie while you're drinking it.
"What's this appetizer?" Murali asks, poking at one of the plates that has arrived.
"That's the crab dip," I say. He scoops up a bit on a pita wedge and chews it thoughtfully. He frowns.
"Is there meat in this?"
"Yes ..." I say warily. "That's why it's called crab dip."
"Ah, man!" Murali exclaims in exasperation. "I thought you said cheese dip! I'm a vegetarian! I haven't eaten meat since I was eight years old!"
Vlad cackles gleefully at this. "This trip is all about trying new things. We'll have you eating steak by the end of the week!"
At half time Drew Cluley, Pike's Head Brewer, comes by our table to introduce himself and take us on a tour of the facilities. We plunge down the metal staircases into the bowels of the brewery, where Drew explains the various processes for making different styles of beer, including cask-aging that Pike uses on a few of their beers. We compliment him on the 6X Stout, which is the batch he's currently working on, and especially the Tripel. Drew's personal story is both remarkable and refreshingly typical of the craft-brewing industry; he started out as a home brewer, got a job at Pike and eventually moved up to Head Brewer. So all you home brewers out there, don't let anyone tell you you're wasting your time.
To finish up at Pike, we notice that they offer two styles of mead, which most of us haven't tried before. "You're going to like the dry mead better," our waitress tells us when we tell her we're thinking about buying a bottle. She brings us samples and we surprise her by unanimously calling for a bottle of the sweet Sky River mead. I guess our palates are not as sophisticated as she gave us credit for.
After Pike we walk through Pike Place Market, picking up some fresh produce and artisan cheese to snack on. Murali is dying to get some doughnuts that he remembers from his first visit to Pike Place many years ago, and after consulting the information booth we locate the doughnut stall.
Which is empty. With a posted note reading: "Closed in support of Pride."
"No!" Murali wails, his shoulders sagging in defeat. "Why must this parade block us at every turn!"
While wandering around Pike Place Market, drunk on beer, cheese and Rainier cherries (but not doughnuts), we place our traditional phone call to Dan. He responds to our run-down of the day with comments like "Wow. That's great. I'm so happy for you guys," but something in his voice makes me suspect he may not fully mean it.
We're running short on time, having spent so long at Pike, and it's becoming clear that we're going to have to pick between Georgetown Brewing and Hale's Ales on our original itinerary. By a stroke of luck we wander into a bar called Cellars on our way back to the car, and they have one of Georgetown's beers on tap, so we at least get a sample of Manny's Pale Ale.
After a short drive up to Ballard, we arrive at Hale's Ales. They have a great oval wooden bar that we plop down at. After the obligatory round of tasters, the consensus is that the Red Menace Amber and Hale's Cream Ale, a blond ale on nitrogen in the Irish tradition, are the favorites. They also have a good cask-conditioned IPA and a great hard cider on tap: rather dry with just a hint of sweetness.
We call Dan to let him know about the beers at Hale's.
"You know, you guys don't have to torture me by calling me from every single brewery," he says laconically. Poor guy. Must be the pneumonia talking.
After a hard day of drinking beer, we drive down to Olympia and check into our hotel for the night.