Western Washington’s black hole of beerlessness



There was a time not so long ago that craft breweries did not happily crowd the landscape like they do now. Breweries were typically located in or near the big cities or they were randomly, broadly scattered hither and yon in suburban and rural locations. As we now slowly climb towards 500 breweries in Washington, the dots on the map, in locations both urban and rural, are much denser.

I recently updated our map of Western Washington Breweries, which admittedly covers a vast area of my own definition. It includes Tacoma, Woodinville, Kent, Bremerton, and so on, but it does not include Seattle, which warrants a map of its own. In performing those updates, I noticed something curious.

On the map of Western Washington Breweries, which includes breweries with taprooms and brewpubs within the geographical area that I subjectively defined, there is one, obvious black hole of beerlessness. How am I defining that? I am talking about a subregion boasting a considerably dense number of humans but no breweries or brewpubs.


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The sad, beerless wasteland of Southwest King County

Between Burien and Tacoma, Kent and Puget Sound, there are no breweries or brewpubs. Southwest King County is a black hole. Federal Way, Des Moines, and SeaTac are beerless.

Is it an oversight that Federal Way has no brewpubs? Is it happenstance that Des Moines is void of brewery taprooms? Is there something about those crowded communities that simply will not support craft beer? Is it demographic? Real estate availability? I honestly do not know and am not suggesting anything. I just find it curious, that’s all.

With a population of nearly 100,000, Federal Way supports no breweries. At the same time, a town like Poulsbo, with a population of about 10,000 supports four breweries, with a fifth coming soon.


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Federal Way is about the exact same size as Bellingham, where there are currently a dozen breweries and another slated to open soon.

What’s up, Federal Way? Get yourself a brewery or two. Perhaps the city council should be courting breweries. It’s generally agreed that local breweries are community builders, that they give a place a sense of home, and that they bring people together. Federal Way, do you not want that?

Des Moines, I’ll cut you a break. You’ve always been weird. I lived there when I was young and Des Moines was then as it is now: inexplicably trapped in time. I got no idea what’s going, but it’s cool. I get it. You be you, Des Moines.

All of you would-be breweries and existing breweries looking for new expansion opportunities, maybe Federal Way and Southwest King County are ripe for the picking. Is there a reason why it’s not? I don’t know.

There was a time when this issue existed in a part of South Central King County. The Covington/Maple Valley area was a black hole. In recent years breweries like Four Horseman Brewery and Lumber House Brewery have thankfully filled that void. From what I see, there’s still room for more breweries in that rapidly growing area, which is increasingly crowded with upwardly mobile young families. Still, the black hole in Southwest King County persists.

What do you think? Are there other black holes besides Federal Way? Other places in Western Washington where the population is dense with humans but sadly devoid of breweries with taprooms and/or brewpubs?



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38 thoughts on “Western Washington’s black hole of beerlessness

  1. Being a new resident of Des Moines, ive noticed the community consists largely of an aging populace which might be factoring into why a brewery hasnt landed in town.

  2. I noticed this just yesterday and was very confused! I was about 30 minutes early to meeting someone in Federal Way and figured I’d grab a beer to wait. Fortunately I was coming from Maple Valley and I was able to stop at Scamp Brewing in Auburn along the way, when I noticed the dearth of beer in Federal Way. Scamp brewing was great at least!

  3. Stay tuned, an existing brewery recently purchased a large building for a production facility right in the middle of that gray zone and is starting the process with the city. Taproom to come a few years after the production facility.

  4. We HAD The Ram until COVID here in Federal Way. Not much else. Now, that space will be the new home of the displaced Red Robin.. thanks ST3.
    Just south of us on West Valley highway in Sumner is Half Lion.
    Commercial real estate is a real problem here. Costs are an outrage. It’s why See’s Candies moved out. Their corporate hq decided not to deal with the 3 off shore shell companies that control the local commercial market with vise like grips. It’s also why there aren’t any Tiki bars or other nightclubs in the city.
    Hopefully someone has the fortitude and the onshore financial backing to break past all the roadblocks and open a place up.

    1. That Ram location, btw, was not a brewery. The Ram is a brewery, but many of the restaurants like the one in Federal Way did not brew beer and served beer brewed at the Ram HQ brewery.

      1. For quite awhile, RAM has only brewed at their production facility on S Washington in Tacoma, and their Tacoma waterfront restaurant and brewery on Ruston Way.

  5. Good local craft beer available at ground zero in that black hole – Quarterdeck on the water at the Des
    Moines marina. Admittedly not a brewery but good, local artisan micros on tap there. Will have to do until we get a brewery.

  6. Someone told me Federal Way has an ordnance that effectively prohibits brewing beer within city limits (which would not impact The Rock which brews elsewhere). Can anyone validate that?

    1. I looked into this and took a quick gander at Fed Way’s Revised Code. I found things about breweries/wineries/distilleries -requirements, etc.- but I did not find anything that specifically forbids them, just codes and requirements for them. Not sure what that means. I found the thing that said “no marijuana stores” but nothing about “no breweries.”

  7. This is really wrong, or at least overplayed. There is a brew pub in Normandy Pk. Acorn in Edgewood/Milton. Half-Lion on W. Valley, Billie McHale’s & Jimmy Mac’s serve a ton of beer. There was the Ram & Red Robin (new Ram Robin/ Red Ramden???).
    Com’on, how much beer do you need? This isn’t Ballard.

  8. It’s probably worth pointing out that basically this entire area is historically (and currently in some cases) the most ethnically diverse part of King County, if not the entire region. Without getting into a historical essay, I think this is mostly very telling of the way resources and participation are systemically denied to those communities. Beer is simply another illustration of it.

  9. The demographic make up and levels of foot traffic in this area is very different from a lot of the rest of western Washington which can’t help but be something brewers take into consideration when identifying potential locations.

  10. I live in Federal Way, and would absolutely love if we had a local brewery. I support this 300%.

    To all other comments addressing local bars: a restaraunt with a decent tap list is NOT the same as a brewery. Not at all. (shout-out to Billy’s, though – always been my go-to in the area.)

  11. Love the article, but I feel like the title was a missed opportunity…

    Maybe “Western Washington’s Beermuda Triangle”?

  12. I live in Kent, a city larger than Bend and we only have one brewery. I really like Airways, but why can’t I have more than one choice? At least a growler fill place would be nice. I’ll meet you at the Spot…

  13. Federal Way and Des Moines are “bedroom communities” that don’t really have the community feel to support craft breweries. Another Applebee’s would do quite well in either town though.

  14. I think there are some great points made here: Expensive industrial property, bedroom communities with low walking scores and a wide diversity in ethnicities with their own social scenes who may not even drink alcohol.

  15. The entire grey area is full of ethnic diversity, low income families, natives, and cast-outs from the more expensive cities like Seattle. MJ and cheap beer is all I’ve ever seen throughout there growing up. Bringing some craft brews to a party makes you hoity toity in the grey area but also the most popular person for a minute.

  16. I couldn’t agree with author! I left Camas, WA in January and moved back to FW. I left a small town that had three breweries (including Washougal) and three great tap houses to 0 tap houses! I dohave a couple of taverns close by with the usual 5 or 6 craft beers on tap but there is nothing like I could find in the Portland area. It’s a great question. Why isn’t there a tap house around here. I mean a true tap house. 32 beers, ciders, meads, snacks!

  17. That whole area is a black hole for about anything in general, which is unfortunate for those who live there. I think most people just drink in their cars, which would explain the erratic driving I see every time I stop through on my way elsewhere.

  18. This interests me because of marijuana not beer, Federal Way is notorious for being the only city with a “weed ban”. I live in Federal Way/Northeast Tacoma and have to drive to any surrounding city to get legal cannabis. Federal Way is a joke, the mall is easily the worst in western Washington and now the light rail project has interrupted a lot of local staples (Red Robin, Wendy’s, Outback Steakhouse, the Ram, etc.) Federal Way is clinging to the light rail and tons of senior living buildings. Clearly the offshore money thing is accurate considering the taxes Federal Way ignores from legal i502. Anyone who lives in or around “Fed Way” know it’s reputation as the ugly south tip of king county.

  19. Federal Way has no real downtown and isn’t really a place where people stroll around. People mostly drive everywhere. These things are not conducive to the tap room/brewery culture.

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