The Walla Walla Valley has become so synonymous with wine, that it’s probably the first thing that comes to mind for most when they hear mention of the eponymous Washington town. And with all of the highly touted product coming from the area, no one will fault that association.
But while many were busy making the rounds of the downtown tasting rooms and wineries in the valley, comparing wine club benefits and making dinner plans, the production of another artisanal Northwest beverage was garnering interest and gaining momentum. Today, the Walla Walla Valley has no fewer than eight breweries and brewpubs, a self-pour taphouse, bottle shop, its own BrewFest and even a hop farm and premium malt supplier.
Without much notice or fanfare, Walla Walla has already earned the right to be called a craft beer destination and it’s poised to become the next entry on the list of great beer regions. There are assuredly more places coming down the pike, but for now, here’s where to drink craft beer in Walla Walla.
Dragon’s Gate Brewery
Just across the border in Milton-Freewater, Oregon, Adam and Jennifer Gregory brew and sell remarkable farmhouse and Belgian-style ales on their 10-acre farm. And though a substantial off-site expansion is already underway, the couple’s ambiance-laden Dragon’s Gate Brewery and taproom, just off of a country road amongst the orchards and vineyards, remains as fine a place to relax with a pint as there is.
Water Buffalo Brewery
Founder and brewer Michael Rossi has quietly built Water Buffalo into one of the most respected breweries in Walla Walla. Open by appointment only, the tiny taproom sits within the brewery. Formerly a 10-by-10 shack with dirt floors, the brewery/taproom is now a paved, solar-powered facility with a small but welcoming bar. Rossi’s Belgian-and English-style ales can be found, however, on taps and in grocery stores all around town without an appointment.
The historic Walla Walla train depot has been transformed into Walla Walla Steak Co. and Crossbuck Brewing, both of which opened in October 2018. The kitchen prepares updated steakhouse classics and beer-friendly taproom fare over a custom charcoal grill and wood-fire oven. Nate Sherrod, head brewer at Crossbuck, brews an eclectic lineup of beers that source local ingredients as often as possible. A choice spot for date night.
Locust Cider & Brewing
Locust Cider & Brewing is an inclusive, family-friendly spot that touches all the bases. Founded by brothers Jason and Patrick Spears in Woodinville, Washington, the new downtown Walla Walla taproom sports an array of child-occupying pursuits and video games, as well as a lengthy list of hard ciders, cider slushies, craft beer and wine in cans. The food menu showcases a number of inventive flatbread pizzas (try the Colorado Frito Pie) and savory snacks.
Chief Spring’s Fire & Irons Brew Pub
Just up the road in beautiful downtown Dayton, Washington, a short drive from the Bluewood Mountains, you’ll find the Chief Spring’s Fire & Irons Brew Pub. Former homebrewer and retired fire chief Mike Spring and his wife Ann took over the pub in 2013. Shortly after, they expanded their business by purchasing the pizza joint next door. Good beer, good food and good people equal a great place to spend the afternoon or evening.
In Burwood Brewing, David and Jennifer Marshall bring a wealth of experience and knowledge of craft brewing and brewery operations to the table. Since opening the brewery focused on traditional German beers within the thriving Walla Walla Airport District, they have quickly built themselves into one of the region’s flagship breweries. The wide-open space and sweeping views provided at the taproom are complemented by a rotating cadre of food trucks.
One more reason to head out to the Airport District. Known for making small batches of imaginative beers, Quirk Brewing has built a loyal following since opening three years ago. Owner and brewer Troy Robinson, a former homebrewer, has a flair for simultaneously pushing boundaries while creating crowd-pleasing grisettes, saisons, stouts and IPAs. And the onsite Agapas food truck might quietly have the best Mexican food in the valley.
Big House Brewpub
The former Mill Creek Brew Pub, reborn as Big House Brewing after Jason and Denyse Hutchison bought the place and gave it a loving upgrade, has been making beer in Walla Walla for more than 20 years. Using an unconventional but effective brewing system headed by brewmaster Matthew Boeckman, Big House offers a series of beloved prison-themed brews in a nod to the nearby state penitentiary. Along with the beer and decor, the pub grub at Big House was elevated and expanded into a lineup of fresh and house-made offerings.
Walla Walla Brewfest
Finally, nothing says you’ve arrived as a craft beer destination like having your own beer festival. In conjunction with the Downtown Walla Walla Foundation and host hotel, the recently opened and fabulous The FINCH, the inaugural Walla Walla BrewFest took place in early this month. Twenty-five breweries poured beer and cider samples for hundreds of patrons in 16 venues throughout downtown. The event was such an unqualified success that the announcement has already been made that the BrewFest will continue as an annual event.