Most of the watering holes in Bellingham glow with youthful exuberance and do-it-yourself charm. This is one of the things I love about the breweries in town: their unpretentiousness and aura of simple fun. But every now and then a grownup needs a grownup place to drink: a place to be reminded that fermented beverages can be sophisticated, too. For that reason, I’m delighted by the recent opening of the Aslan Depot.
Its parent company, Aslan Brewing Co., opened its doors downtown in 2014. It has since undergone several expansions, as beer drinkers from all over the Pacific Northwest have fallen in love with its flagship brew, Batch 15 IPA, not to mention the delectable eats at its brewpub on North Forest Street. Its latest expansion, though, is of a different order. Early last year, Aslan took over the lease of the nearby old Union Depot building on State Street, ostensibly to give its barrel program some breathing room away from its increasingly cramped brewpub space. But the description “barrelhouse and taproom” completely undersells exactly what Aslan has achieved with the Depot location.
Start with ambience. At Aslan’s bustling (and loud) brewpub one street up, where all the servers wear company T-shirts and patrons of all ages dig into bowls and burgers, the beer itself takes something of a back seat. And that’s not a bad thing: after all, I appreciate a place where I can enjoy a pint with my wife while my 7-year-old gobbles up waffle fries.
But it’s at the Aslan Depot where I can really focus on the beer I’m drinking. Its vibe is more that of a cocktail lounge: classed up (you won’t find any T-shirts behind the bar) and spacious, with enough spare decibels to have a private conversation with your drinking partner. Instead of outfitting the place with tired standard-issue restaurant and bar furniture, the taproom is dotted with vintage couches and armchairs that add interest for the eye and comfort for the backside. Long-time residents of Bellingham might remember a cocktail lounge called the Calumet that used to be downtown on Magnolia. If you’re like me and have been waiting for someone to recreate that low-key elegant vibe, the Aslan Depot is your place.
But now let’s move to the main event: the beer. The Depot isn’t just a satellite taproom for the main brewpub; instead, the menu is almost wholly different. When you walk up to the bar to place your order, you’ll be presented with a thoughtfully curated bottle list (that’s bottles of beer, thank you very much). It features a wide variety of beer styles from across the world (with an emphasis on the PNW). And these bottles aren’t your standard IPAs and stouts: they contain the exotic and intense flavors of saisons, barleywines, and spontaneously-fermented Belgian styles.
Don’t feel like a bottle, though? No problem: an equally appetizing array of draft beer is available, including special Depot-only Aslan releases like their Space Eagle IPA, a tart and funky twist on a classic style. And you can expect future special releases from their various barrel projects, as well. In fact, the barrels themselves are stacked up on one side of the taproom, there to remind you that the proprietors are hard at work trying to wrangle various species of fungi and bacteria to create something lively and new.
So grab a pint from the bar and then sink into one of the armchairs. Sit, sip, and take a deep breath. Relax and enjoy some time off from adulting without forgetting that you’re a grownup.
1322 N. State Street
360.393.4106 | aslandepot.com