Reason to Howl

Every week a dozen taverns open and close around the Sound, and for the most part it's hard to distinguish the openers from the closers. But last week a tavern opened in a no-frills neighborhood in northern Ballard that is already marked to make a difference. Unassumingly minimal-moderne in decor, Barking Dog Alehouse has pretensions to becoming a primary destination, a major resource for lovers of fine plain food as well as aficionados of hops and malted barley, and it builds upon a heritage which suggests that those pretensions are likely to be justified. Co-owners Kurt and Jay Meacham are also proprietors of Fred's Rivertown Alehouse in Snohomish, an out-of-the-way watering hole that has managed to garner national attention for its wall of single-malt whiskeys and dozens of Northwest microbrews on tap. Barking Dog aspires to push the quality bar a notch higher by offering, in addition to a dozen-plus extraordinary local quaffs on tap, a rotating galaxy of ales from Belgium, beer capital of the known universe, each served not only in its proper season but in its own traditional glass. (Scotch fanciers are also catered to with a dozen malts, all superior, some rare.) Belgium produces probably a wider range of beer weights, flavors, and styles than all the rest of the world combined, so merely training servers to match customers and beers is a major concern at Barking Dog. In aid of the process, discussion may be supplemented by a complimentary small sample glass or two; no small concession with products that start at $6 for a 10-ounce glass. For the superconnoisseur, the Meachams will also featureas availablevintage bottled Belgian ales, crafted to continue to evolve and refine in the bottle for as long as 10 years. (The opening special is a Tripel Karmeliet brewed with oats and wheat as well as barley.) Jay Meacham is an accountant, one who kept the books of over 100 local taverns and eateries. It was probably that close-up view of the business, son Kurt says, that taught him that "the day of the smoky old tavern with Rainier and Bud Light on tap and a jar of pepperoni sticks on the back bar was over." From the day it opened, Fred's focused as tightly on food as on beverages. Likewise, offering "bar food that starts where the others leave off," Barking Dog's opening menu features snack items like wasabi-pork wontons and wild-boar satay and main dishes such as andouille gumbo laced with porter ale and buffalo pot pie. But it's sure to be the beer that prompts people to beat a path to the Barking Dog's door. On Dec. 3, visitors will rub shoulders with most of the stars of the local tavern and brewing business as they wrap a paw round a rare Delirium Christmas ale, a bittersweet Kwak, or a raspberry-laced Lindemans framboise. The Dog's not just a tav; it's a resource. Use it. BARKING DOG'S GRAND OPENING party is open to the general public, and will be attended also by brewers from Washington and Oregon, food and beverage distributors from the greater Seattle area, and local retailers of unique beers and wines. In addition to the regular pump lineup, Barking Dog will serve a vintage cask-conditioned keg of Winthrop Brewing Company's Jingle Bell Ale. The festivities begin at 6 p.m. with 20-ounce pint prices reduced to $3.75 and all appetizers at half-price. Barking Dog Alehouse, 705 N.W. 70th St., 206-782-2974. FIVE OUT OF 100 AIN'T BAD Wine Spectator's hotly anticipated Top 100 wines of the year list made an early debut on the mag's subscriber Web site. This year, with priceworthiness more heavily weighted than in the past, five Northwest wines made the cut. In 13th place is Spring Valley Vineyard's 2001 "Bordeaux-style" blend "Uriah" ($40, but lots of luck finding some since only 900 cases were made). Bunched in midlist were Columbia Crest's '01 reserve syrah about $30), Argyle's '01 Willamette Valley pinot noir, and the 2002 edition of Chateau Ste. Michelle's Riesling collaboration with Germany's Dr. Ernst Loosen, "Eroica" ($20). At place 87 is Marty Clubb's much admired '01 Seven Hills Vineyard syrah for L'Ecole 41 Winery. The complete list will be published in the Dec. 31 issue of Wine Spectator. Related Web Sites * Spring Valley

* Columbia Crest syrah

* Argyle

* Eroica

* L'Ecole

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