Welcome back to Sip Northwest’s Beer Hall of Fame: a twice-monthly induction into a list of essential Northwest beers that have made their mark on the field and region. As it is with all good thing, there comes an end — this is one of the final three installments to the Beer Hall of Fame. Imbibe wisely.
When George Hancock, owner and founder of Seattle’s Maritime Pacific Brewing Co., fell in love with beer, he had to do something about it. “Just like every brewer out there today, I thought I could brew a better beer,” he recalls.
So Hancock founded Maritime in 1990, first brewing a flagship Red Alt ale. He’d developed a taste for flavorful beer, especially reds, having spent years of his life in Canada and Europe. But, back in the U.S., trying some of the imported versions of the European beer he’d been used to, he found that they didn’t really resemble the stuff he’d guzzled across the pond. “So when homebrewing became legal, I started doing it,” Hancock says. “Roasting the grains on my stovetop was almost like popcorn.”
He hit a home run early on with his Jolly Roger Christmas ale, which at the time of its inception in 1992 clocked in at almost 11 percent ABV. The beer remains one of the city’s most anticipated winter events and despite the big bang in booze, the strong, seasonal red drank smooth. “It went down easily,” Hancock adds. “But people got really hammered on it.”
Such a combination provides for an adventurous night when consuming. “So there are a lot of Jolly stories out there,” he says. “People who’ve had three, four, maybe more, have found themselves some place they shouldn’t have or wake up on the couch covered in mud or there are pictures of themselves taken doing things they shouldn’t have.”
Because of Jolly Roger’s big punch, the beer, which becomes available in the late fall months and seems to take over every local grocery store and tap house, has its dedicated fans, though many of which started their Jolly experiences wary, chuckles Hancock. “Even to this day people ask me,’‘Is it a good Jolly or a bad Jolly?'” he says. “They wonder if it’s going to bring the good side out of them or the bad side. It’s quite the beer.”