As the summer in Seattle begins to wane, there’s a fruity concoction still quietly flowing from certain taps around town. The brewery Great Notion in Georgetown and Ballard serves several “smoothie-style beers,” which in this case means sours packed with various fruits after the initial fermentation process, creating a thicker body.
Sam Johnson, who manages the two Seattle outposts for Great Notion, claims the beers have been enormously popular since the company started brewing them a couple of months ago, although he admits that they can be “polarizing” for some drinkers used to more traditional styles (as has been discussed among beer aficionados at length). He bills them as like a boozy Odwalla in consistency, and the description is fairly apt.
Not to be confused with frozen beer slushies, smoothie beers are brewed specifically for frothiness and have been around for several years, a close relative to the “milkshake IPA,” which gained some notoriety when breweries started hopping on the trend. 450 North Brewing Company out of Indiana was among the early smoothie adopters and learned that the storage requirements can be a bit finicky (smoothie beers should be kept at cool temperatures, due to the potential for refermentation causing cans to explode on rare occasions). In New York, Evil Twin recently debuted a new brewery that featured smoothie beers prominently, and in the Pacific Northwest, Eugene’s Oakshire Brewing and Claim 52 have touted them as well.
The style still seems to be a relative rarity in Seattle, although not completely unheard of, with Renton’s Bickerhouse, West Seattle’s Good Society Brewery, and Bellingham’s Stemma collaborating on one in May. Great Notion is hoping to get more traction going with a couple of current smoothie beer offerings at its taprooms: one is called Edge of Dessert (featuring cherry, strawberry, raspberry, cinnamon, and graham cracker); another is named Punch (which has peach, apricot, and lime).
It remains to be seen whether the smoothie beers will eventually be as ubiquitous as the array of saisons, hazy IPAs, farmhouse ales, and other more tried-and-true styles around the city. “We find Seattle beer drinkers to be less concerned with trendy beers that don’t taste like beer,” says Lara Zahaba, co-owner of Stoup Brewing, noting that smoothie styles can be high in fructose and lactic acid, which yield sweeter or sour beers “that are novel, but ultimately hard to drink.” As such, Stoup doesn’t feel compelled to brew its own take, adds Zahaba: “In our experience, Seattle Beer drinkers want solid well-crafted beers that invite you to enjoy a second pint.”
Still, Great Notion’s efforts could certainly press the issue for more smoothie beers in the area. The Oregon-based brewery has built a strong following for award-winning pastry stouts, sours, and food-focused beers, and has already made an impression since landing its first Washington outpost in Georgetown last September, before later opening a second location in the heart of Ballard’s brewery district.
Johnson says Great Notion sees an opportunity for their “experimental” beers to fit in among some of the other well-established breweries around town (which he says have been welcoming) and hopes that drinkers on the more adventurous side will see the appeal.
UPDATED, August 27, 2021, 8:41 a.m.: This article was updated with comments from Lara Zahaba of Stoup Brewing.