Slideshow SLIDESHOW: Behind the Scenes at Boundary Bay Brewery, Bellingham, WA

[Photographs: Sarah Postma]

Since opening in 1995, Boundary Bay Brewery and Bistro in Bellingham, Washington has been pouring some of the best Northwest style beers in the country.

The beers at Boundary Bay tend to be fuller-bodied and a bit more hoppy than their counterparts around the country, and they always taste fresh and crisp. The IPA is among our favorite Washington IPAs—and actually, our favorite IPAs from anywhere. Perhaps surprisingly, Boundary Bay's number two seller is a Scotch ale. This beer has a strong malt-forward flavor, with a hint of citrus hop character blended with earthy sweetness. It's an excellent example of an old world style with a subtle American twist. Other selections you will find regularly on draft are the Dry Irish Stout, the ESB and a rich, creamy Imperial Oatmeal Stout.

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Seasonal brews such as their Imperial IPA, Cabin Fever Winter Warmer, and Dunkles Bock show off the versatility and skills of the brewers at Boundary Bay. All three of these beers took home medals at the World Beer Cup in 2010, adding to the four other World Beer Cup medals the brewery has won since 1998.

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Head Brewer Aaron Jacob Smith giving a lively tour, beer in hand.

You won't find a regular tour schedule on the website, but if you call or email ahead of time, they will arrange for one of their brewers to show you around. The head brewer, Aaron Jacob Smith, greeted us with the claim that he makes one of the best frittatas in town, and then proceeded to show us around the brewery. His animated description of the brewing process was entertaining, educational and frequently interjected with tips on how to properly fry eggs with vegetables.

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I may not have come out of the tour a better frittata chef, but I was truly impressed with the space Aaron uses to create a fantastic line of beers. Fermenting tanks and serving vessels are cleanly placed in almost every inch of the cozy brewing space, next to a 17 barrel brew kettle they use to produce 6,000 barrels of beer each year.

The lower level of the brewery holds a piece of equipment you are not likely to see anywhere else: The Munzinger Bung Extractor. While it looks like an old hand operated drill press, it's actually a tool that Boundary Bay uses to prep their unique kegs each time they fill them. Years ago, kegs had a wooden plug in the side called a bung. The plug not only keeps the beer inside the keg, but it also helps regulate pressure. Most breweries have long ago replaced this labor-intensive process with the modern keg, which does not require a bung. The brewers at Boundary Bay chose to maintain this part of history, and they use the Munzinger Bung Extractor on each of the thousands of kegs they fill every year.

Check out more behind the scenes in the slideshow »

The folks at Boundary Bay care about their local community. Every Wednesday in the summer you will find reggae music floating up from the beer garden, with spaces cleared for kids and kids-at-heart to hula hoop the night away. The music in the garden is all ages in the evenings and these events have a light-hearted family atmosphere.

If you are a Washington local, you probably don't need me to tell you to visit this quintessential Northwest brewpub. For anyone else traveling through the area, Boundary Bay should definately be a stop on your list. If you can't make it up to Bellingham, the brewery also distributes their beers to various bars around Washington, including Seattle and as far as Coeur d'Alene, Idaho.

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