Kiss Cafe's Team Effort

Serious beer geeks get coddled in Ballard.

The Watering Hole: Kiss Cafe, 2817 N.W. Market St., 789-5477, BALLARD

The Atmosphere: A cozy coffee shop crossed with a laid-back neighborhood tavern. Located a short stroll away from the Ballard locks, Kiss Cafe is a dog-friendly establishment, with Otis Redding playing on the stereo and a jackalope mounted above the bar. A wall to the right of the entrance is lined with dozens of custom beer schooners. The fancy glasses are property of the "Ballard Drinking Team," a group of approximately 150 beer aficionados working to sample the 100 (at least) different ales Kiss offers. Customers who achieve this get a glass etched with their name. If they drink another 100 beers, they can add an anchor symbol to their vessel.

The Barkeeps: Co-owner Oakley Carlson and regular bartender Heather Shirey tag-teamed the service on our visit. Carlson has managed the place since it opened four years ago. Shirey has poured drinks at Kiss for three years, and does double duty at Fremont's High Dive.

The Drink: Special Edition, a beer that resulted from a collaboration between San Francisco's 21st Amendment Brewery and Ninkasi Brewing out of Eugene. It comes in a nifty little can that features the brewery owners' faces Photoshopped onto those of FDR, Churchill, and Stalin in the famous "Allies Win the War" newspaper photo.

"They're both pretty dynamite," Heather says of the two brewers. "I don't think you can go wrong with this if you're looking for a Christmas ale. I've heard nothing but good things about it."

"Ale brewed with dates," the can proclaims, also explaining that Northwest hops were used as well. It is relatively strong (8.5 percent alcohol), but not particularly bitter (52 IBU). The color is a deep, dark amber, and the flavor immediately calls to mind Fat Tire, though it's slightly sweeter and richer than New Belgium's signature line of suds.

The Verdict: One down, only 99 bottles to go to become an official member of the bar's "drinking team." "It opens options to all kinds of different beers," Shirey says of the bar's brew crew. "It gets people to step outside the box and try something they normally wouldn't try."

Amen to that. The Special Edition wouldn't have been our first choice, but it quenched our thirst for a hearty winter beer.

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