52 Places: Empire Ale House, Mount Vernon, WA
Week 27 of 52
314 West Gates
Mt. Vernon, WA 98273
Type of Establishment: Ale house. Good beer, good food, plain good.
Visit: This past Saturday, during and after Bite of Skagit 2010.
BEERS ON TAP (16 handles)
Deschutes (Nitro) Obsidian Stout
Boundary Bay Oatmeal Stout
Bear Republic Rop Rod Rye
Deschutes Mirror Mirror
Georgetown Manny’s Pale Ale
Dick’s Brown Ale
Skookum Amber’s Hot Friend
Scuttlebutt Imperial Red
Deschutes Miss Spelt Hefe
Lazy Boy Porter
Boundary Bay IPA
Odin Freya’s Gold Kolsch
Green Flash IPA
Two Beers Blonde
Empire has a full food menu, much like what you would expect at an alehouse. My eyes, like always, went straight for the sandwiches. There was plenty to choose from, all of which appeared to be delicious.
Just over 61 miles north of the Beer Blotter home base, within the small but beer-filled boundaries of Mount Vernon, lies a comfortable, brick-walled ale house that we have never before visited. On this day, we changed that.
First question…have you ever heard of this place?
If you are like me, and I think you might be, you most likely rely on ratebeer.com/beeradvocate.com, beer blogs and beer knowledgeable friends/acquaintances to inform you of the great beer destinations of this land. ratebeer.com does have Empire in their system, but there are only 2 reviews (both are respectable). beeradvocate has only one review of Empire and it yields a “B” rating. Not really enough to catch my eye. None of the blogs I read regularly ever seem to mention Mount Vernon. None of my friends have heard of this place. I only heard of it though talking with Dickerson Distributing reps at work. Empire carries LBB beers.
As I’ve come to realize, Mount Vernon should be on every beer lovers list of “must visit” destinations.
Dickerson and the owner of Empire, Bruce Springer, both had a hand in the creation of the beer garden at Bite of Skagit this year, which was, literally, right outside the doors of Empire on Gates St. I was pouring for both LBB and Skagit River Brewing, along side Flyers Restaurant and Brewery, so I was unable to really gather in the full experience, but the Bite is basically a street fair with a lot of food. Live music and, of course, beer played a role as well. It was a beautiful day for such an event and I had a blast talking to all the people who didn’t simply come up to me and say “I’ll have your lightest beer.”
Meeting and “working” with Bruce was a true pleasure. He was extremely accommodating to all of my needs and offered me a free lunch from the Ale House for attending and pouring. This was definitely not expected or necessary, but surely telling of his nature. You might now be thinking that I’m writing this glowing review of Empire as quid pro quo, and I couldn’t blame you for it, but you’ll have to take my word for it when I say that this place really is fantastic (and honestly, I think you already get that feeling by seeing the impressive tap list).
As you enter the front door, the bar is straight ahead, taps directly in your line of sight. Briefly after your eyes recover from the surprise of the options at hand, they follow the bar as it continues perpendicular to your line of sight and then takes a hard 90 degree turn toward the far rear wall. Between the front door and the bar there is a high top table with stools that seats four. Another high top sits to the right of that one.
Here is where you must choose your destination. Do you scooch up a stool at the bar or one of the high tops, or do you grab one of the four booths along the perimeter of the ale house to the right as you enter? If you go the booth route, you will be flush up against some very rustic brickwork. This could be quite comfortable, or…yes there is yet one more option, maybe you choose to climb the steps to your left as you enter and relax in the sofa lounge that overlooks not only all the action within Empire but all the action outside on Gates St. through the open windows.
No matter how you proceed, comfort and good service will greet you…oh, and good suds as well! Oh my god, and good food too!
During my pouring duties I had a BBQ pork medallion sandwich with mango chutney that totally rejuvenated me and increased my capacity to continue to answer the same questions over and over again. The cessation of the Bite allowed me to pull up a stool within Empire at the gorgeous bar, which seats about 14. The woodwork of said bar is so nice that I was slightly afraid to place anything on it without a coaster or a barrier of some kind. If you read my review of The Pub at Third Place, you probably know about my affinity for wood in bars. Highly enjoyable. The Glacier IPA played a serious role in my enjoyment as well, which is often hard to find in these parts.
60+ miles is no joke with alcohol in the system, so I limited myself to one, but I plan on returning very soon. Not only is Mount Vernon a must visit because of Empire and Skagit River Brewing, but because there are two other world-class ale houses within city limits. Due to its proximity to Empire (one block away), I stepped into Porterhouse Pub, just to catch a glimpse of the tap list, and was not disappointed. Had I realized at the time that Trumpeter Public House was only one more block away I would have slid in there and scoped it out as well. I hear it’s just as impressive.
It seems like you could make quite a day of it up there in tulip country. I highly suggest you make it happen.