The 30 Day Beer Challenge

The Gospel IPAthe tulip tower

I live in Mount Vernon. It’s a small town in a rural county in northwestern Washington State, built at the site of an old log jam on the Skagit River back in the 1800s. People in Seattle have heard of it, either because they’ve come up here for the annual Tulip Festival or because they’ve driven by on I-5, but most of them never stop in town. Which means that it’s still rather a well-kept secret that our small downtown is one of the best places to drink beer of, well, pretty much anywhere.


We have two breweries, Skagit River and North Sound. Then there are the pubs: the Empire Alehouse, the Trumpeter Public House, and the Porterhouse. All have multiple rotating taps, as many as twenty-one at a time, almost entirely West Coast microbrews. From our house we can walk to four of these pubs and drink some of the best beers available. It’s pretty sweet.

Last year, wanting to raise awareness of the local beer possibilities, encourage responsible drinking and promote downtown businesses, our friends Lyra and Ryan Morrison attempted something they dubbed the 30 Day Beer Challenge. The idea was to drink a different beer every day in March, staying within the downtown area of Mount Vernon. Given the options, it was extremely easy. So this year they’re doing it again, with a twist – they can’t repeat any of the beers tasted last year. And they’re bringing in some help, including us.

the Beer Challenge Team

Every day this month, at a predetermined pub, representatives of the Beer Challenge will show up and drink their chosen beer. A brief review will be submitted to the team leader for online publication and discussions will be held on the beer’s merits (or just beer in general), with public participation encouraged. You can follow along on Facebook, Twitter or by text. Or you can just come out and have a beer with us. Jon and I will be at the Empire tomorrow night, March 3rd, and at Skagit Brewery on the 24th (not to mention our band playing at the Empire on St. Patrick’s Day – and there’s a special local beer release that night, too). What beers will we be tasting? You’ll have to wait and see.

Golden Distillery

whiskey casksSamish Bay I

We finally got out to Samish Island last week to check out a new addition to the local food scene, Golden Distillery. We had just stocked up on bread, cheese and salami in Edison and were heading for Taylor Shellfish in preparation for Christmas Eve dinner, so it made for an easy (and scenic) detour.

grain for single malt

It’s a small operation, and the owners are happy to give you a tour of the premises. They grind, brew, distill and age all their ingredients on site, using entirely Washington-grown grain and fruit.

Dexter the Distillery Dog

We met the distillery dogs, who take their job as greeters very seriously. And we tasted our way through the current lineup, which includes single-malt whiskey, several brandies and a white barley whiskey called White Gold. My favorites were the White Gold, which had a clean flavor and light burn, and the Cabernet brandy, which was just a nice smooth brandy, very easy to sip.

 The apple brandy, which is made from locally grown Jonagolds, has a very different flavor from most apple spirits – instead of an overall essence-of-apples effect, it really does taste of Jonagolds. Interesting. The raspberry brandy is distilled from Pasek Cellars raspberry wine, something we used to like a lot but have lost our taste for. I gather it’s popular with many women customers, but not really my thing.

Over all, I think they’re doing some nice work. And it’s a good excuse to go driving out to Samish Island.

Samish sunset

Bivalve Bash 2010


out on the spit

If you haven’t been to the Bivalve Bash at the Taylor Shellfish Farm on Samish Bay, you’re missing out on one of the best summer parties around. We went last year, but I didn’t do a post as my camera battery died halfway through. This year we took some shellfish-loving friends and a camera with a fresh battery and had a fabulous time.

Mud Run

We saw the kids’ Mud Run.

oyster shell sculptures

oyster shell sculpture

We toured the Oyster Shell Sculpture Contest.

oyster shucking contest

Jon entered the Oyster Shucking Contest, and placed third (and got to keep a rather nice oyster knife). And the rest of us got to eat the oysters.

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oyster anniversary

Taylor Shellfish Farm

Last Friday was our anniversary, so to celebrate we packed a few key items and headed out on Chuckanut Drive.

Larabee State Park

First we took a walk at Larabee. The weather has been gorgeous, once the morning fog burns off, and the woods were filled with dappled light.

wine by the water

Then we headed down to Taylor Shellfish. Usually we just come here to pick up oysters or mussels to take home, and of course for the Bivalve Bash (which happens to be next weekend!), but this was the first time we’ve taken advantage of their picnic area. We bought a bag of Kumamoto oysters, opened some wine, and settled at a table by the water and started shucking. We also brought some ham-and-butter sandwiches, made from Breadfarm baguette and Golden Glen salted butter, as well as some intensely flavored olives, and we alternated bites of these with sweet little oysters as Jon opened them.

shucking oysters


This is a good place.

Taylor Shellfish Farm

macaroni salad, very al fresco

northwest camping

This week we did our annual car camping trip to Washington Park on Fidalgo Island. It rained. Welcome to a Pacific Northwest summer.

Washington Park


Fortunately the firewood we brought burned well, and we were able to successfully cook our dinner. Hebrew National hot dogs, blistered over the fire and dressed with sweet relish and very hot Dijon mustard, macaroni salad, Bonny Doon grenache, and toasted marshmallows. I tend to think that, if you don’t cook it on a stick over the fire, it’s not real camping food. Except the macaroni salad, which can be scooped directly out of its tupperware in case you don’t feel like washing extra dishes. 

hot dog!

mac salad

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Brown Lantern

Brown Lantern

I’m deeply embarrassed that we’ve lived in Skagit County for thirteen years now and have never been to the Brown Lantern Ale House in downtown Anacortes. In my defense, I have to say I’d been mixing it up with the Watertown Pub, which was not thrilling the one time we went, and we’ve usually just ended up going to the Rockfish. But better late than never: we have now rectified the situation. The only question now is how soon we can get back there.

Whistle Lake

We had gone for a hike in the Anacortes Community Forestlands (a wonderful park full of trails and lakes), and had worked up a good appetite. We thought about driving around the island to try out the Shrimp Shack, but I had just read yet another rave about the Brown Lantern on Chowhound and wanted to try it while I was thinking about it. It was open, there was a free table in the window – perfect.

Brown Lantern

The Brown Lantern is an old pub – I think the sign said it was started up in the ’30s – and has a comfortably dark and rustic feel, with lots of sports stuff stapled to the ceiling. It also has one of the best stocked bars I’ve seen in this county.

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taco crawl: Burlington

Taco Express

Happy Cinco de Mayo! Are you having tacos tonight? If not, don’t worry – we ate some for you.

Last weekend, Jon and I went taco-hopping with the help of three intrepid friends. Piled into our minivan, we confused the hell out of the workers at three different taco trucks along Burlington Boulevard. A clown car full of gringos, weird. Eventually we ran out of known taco truck locations as well as appetite, but I think we did pretty well.

Taco Express

Heading over the Skagit River to Burlington, we kept our eyes peeled. There used to be a carniceria in this area, which sometimes set up a big grill out in its parking lot, but sadly it closed last year. We found no sign of tacos until we had passed the mall, but just after Office Max we saw our first target, Taco Express.

Taco Express

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giving back

last leaf

One issue that food bloggers generally don’t have to deal with is not having enough food. There may be days that I have no idea what to make with the weird ingredients in my pantry, but starving is not usually much of a problem. Being well aware that this isn’t the case for everyone, I’d like to use today’s post to make a small plug for a bit of charitable giving.

For most of us, this is a hard time to scrape up anything to give, but it’s important to remember that it doesn’t have to take much. Food banks and cold weather shelters are always in need of more supplies, if you have spare canned food or blankets lying around. You can volunteer your time at a food bank or soup kitchen. Or you can, if you have it, give cash, which gives the charity the option of getting what they need most.


Many food bloggers are taking part in Menu for Hope, the brainchild of blogger Pim Techamuanvivit of Chez Pim. Featuring prizes donated by food bloggers all over the world, the event raises money through raffle tickets and donates it to the UN World Food Programme. I think it’s a fantastic event, and encourage anyone who’s interested to participate.


For myself, I prefer to look for needs closer to home. Jon and I donate to the Skagit Food Share Alliance, a program run by the Skagit Community Action Agency. By purchasing locally grown produce for food banks and hot meal programs, they work against hunger and support local farmers at the same time. It’s a win-win situation, in my opinion. If you live in the Skagit Valley or support the preservation of Skagit farmland, please consider donating.

sheep farm

Martiny Suffolks

Last weekend we were delighted to have the chance to visit Martiny Suffolks, the farm from whence comes the lamb we’ve been eating all summer. As part of the Skagit Festival of Family Farms, many small farms up and down the valley opened to the public for the day, including great places like Taylor Shellfish, Golden Glen Creamery, and Gordon Skagit Farm (to see the festivities at Gordon’s, check out this post at Willow Basketmaker). There were all sorts of activities, but we were there for the free samples and to give a few sheep noses some scritches.


We probably would never have ended up as customers if Linda Martiny (who owns the farm along with Mike Donnelly) hadn’t decided to try running a booth at the Mount Vernon Farmer’s Market this year. We saw the sign for local lamb on the first day and made a beeline, immediately buying a selection of chops and ground meat. We ended up buying half a lamb, and I suspect it will only be the first of many.

Martiny Suffolks

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Festival of Family Farms

pumpkins in the street

Just a reminder to anyone in the general neighborhood: this weekend is the Skagit Valley Festival of Family Farms, when many of the local small farms open their gates to visitors and feature tours, activities and goodies for the general public. If you want to visit a working farm or see where your food is coming from, now’s your chance. There will be hayrides and corn mazes and all kinds of fun stuff. Make a day of it!

The list of participating farms can be found here.