I grew up in a tiny California town, nestled in the mountains of Kern County. When I moved to Washington in 2012 and drove through Ellensburg for the first time, I felt like I was right back in my hometown, complete with windmills, but minus a giant university. Ellensburg immediately felt like home, but alas, my job was nowhere near Ellensburg so I had to start my PNW life in Auburn for the first seven years and then West Seattle since then.
This past weekend, my boyfriend and our two friends loaded up a truck (one was our designated driver – always have one, folks!), grabbed our masks and suitcases and headed eastward to Ellensburg! And after two full days of fun in the sun, visiting a winery and some breweries, we are all ready to move out there and get away from the big city life. As an avid consumer of beer and wine, I would like to share with you where we visited to help you plan any trips you may have to Kittitas County (we still have so many other places to visit ourselves). As I am writing this during the COVID-19 pandemic, grab a mask and let’s go on a beer, wine and food journey together and support small businesses!
Ellensburg Canyon Winery
We left a rainy and cloudy west side for the sunnier pastures of the east side and our first stop was at Ellensburg Canyon Winery (ECW). The drive to the winery takes you off 82 and onto the scenic Canyon Rd / 821. We did miss the turn off to the winery initially and had to drive about half a mile down the road before we found a safe place to make a U turn. But in the misstep, we realized we were driving along the Yakima River and we longingly watched people tubing and fishing on the river. We did find our way back to Canyon Vista Way, where you drive up to a gate and press a button to be let in. Upon arriving, you get to meet Gary Cox, the vigneron. Between the website, email exchanges I had with Gary prior to our visit and signs at the gate – you will be reminded that the winery is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays when he goes fishing. What a life to have!
Gary is truly a treat of a person, very laid back and very knowledgeable about those vines that he tends to. We sampled all of the wines in small plastic communion cups (per COVID restrictions), starting off with whites and ending with reds. Rich, buttery chardonnays are my jam, and while he didn’t have Chardonnay, I did fall in love with the Rosé and the White Satin Nights Ice Port Style wine. Gary also has you taste the same Cabernet, aged four different ways, unoaked, American Oak, French Oak and Hungarian Oak. I have to say, the unoaked and American Oak were my favorites (please forgive me France and Hungary). Last but not least, you must have the 2013 Port. Absolute rich and decadent heaven.
I highly recommend visiting Ellensburg Canyon Winery. The wine, the views and conversations with Gary – the whole experience is a treat.
Canyon River Grill
It was well into the lunch hour by the time we had finished wine tasting. Not really knowing where to grab some grub, Gary suggested we drive about five miles on Canyon Rd to Canyon River Grill. He said it was a pricier food option, but well worth it. And he was right!
Canyon River Grill is the perfect name for the restaurant as it sits in a canyon surrounded by tall cliffs right next to the Yakima River. With seating on the outdoor patio, the sunshine and the fun wait staff, it was the perfect place to have lunch and the food was SO good.
My friend Jessica and I both ordered the Grilled 8 oz American Wagyu Beef Burger, which comes with apple smoked bacon, lettuce, tomato, onion, dill pickle and sliced red onions on a brioche bun. I ordered mine medium, while Jessica ordered Medium Well and both of us felt like the burger was like buttah. It was a true flavor explosion. The boys ordered the Zane & Wylie Steak Salad and the Fresh Alaska Ling Cod Fish & Chips and both told me they were absolutely delectable. I’m pretty sure we will be going back to Canyon River Grill on our next trip. After you finish eating, you should go hang out by the water and take fun photos. 🙂 Thank you Gary for this suggestion!!!
After lunch, we checked into our hotel and took some naps before heading downtown for some beers! We started the evening off at Whipsaw Brewing, which came highly recommended to me by many of my friends. Kyle, Jessica and Maser had all been before, so I was the only newbie trying out the beer selections.
As you read above, I love Chardonnays, but when it comes to beer, I love porters and stouts. I am that girl that cringes and makes sour faces when trying IPA’s (but to my credit, I try them at least?). I tried Hoot Owl, their American Stout, and it was definitely tasty. But lo and behold, do you want to know what I ended up loving, and Kyle even purchased a growler of it later? Their Coconut Cream Ale!! I do enjoy lighter beers from time to time (especially on hot days), but wow, that Cream Ale, delicious.
Whipsaw carries a wide variety of beers on draft including ambers and dark lagers, wheat beers, blonde and pale ales, IPAs, amber, red and brown ales, porters and stouts, strong ales, sour and fruit beers, ciders and meads. If you like beer, you are sure to find one that suits your palette.
And the best part of Whipsaw is that they are DOG FRIENDLY!!!! As a dog mom, who didn’t have her dogs with her on this trip – that is greatly appreciated.
[THE PUB] Iron Horse Brewery
Next up on our beer tour was [THE PUB] Iron Horse Brewery! The pub and the brewery itself are in different locations and the pub, while not offering food right now during COVID, does have outdoor seating and are still serving beer.
I will caveat this with the fact that Iron Horse’s PB & Death is one of my favorite beers. Peanut butter and chocolate in a can – it’s so freaking delicious! Thankfully, I have a very nice boyfriend who buys me a case every time he runs across it at the store. Aloha Death ranks up there in my favorite beer category as well (coconut dark ale – I see a coconut beer pattern here in my life).
When we arrived to the pub, I have to say, I was so sad that they didn’t have PB & Death on tap. I wanted it so bad, but alas, this would not be night. Instead, I had Irish Death on Nitro. Nitro makes anything that tastes delicious even better. I ended up having two glasses of it, and purchased an Iron Horse Brewery baseball tee – I am starting to build a collection of brewery hoodies and t-shirts, and that’s okay! 🙂
While I did not drink their High Five Hefe during this visit, my boyfriend did have some at his house, which I tried the night before our trip. The American Hefeweizen is made with Ginger and Honey, making it taste light and bright!
I definitely recommend visiting Iron Horse and I hope that next time I am there, they have PB & Death on tap, but if not, Irish Death on Nitro again will definitely keep me happy! And if you bring friends who aren’t beer drinkers, the pub does have wine as well!
Our final stop for the night was at The Tav!! Maser attended school at CWU and had very fond memories of his college years at The Tav. With COVID restrictions, we started with seating outside but all four of us ended up getting a little too cold so we switched to indoor seating.
Both Jessica and I ordered the ultimate in comfort food, the Super Nachos. They were the perfect meal to end the evening. I didn’t take very good pictures of my nachos and I think at this point in the evening I was getting more towards the inebriated side but just know, its a historic place with lots of memories for some, a great atmosphere and great food.
I cannot seem to find a website for them, but I’ll list their physical address and phone number below.
117 W 4th Ave, Ellensburg, WA 98926
Phone: (509) 925-3939
After The Tav, we went back to our hotel, broke open the growler from Whipsaw, started watching a movie and soon, all four of us couldn’t keep our eyes open so it was clearly time for bed. We got up on Sunday morning, ate a small breakfast at Perkins, and started the drive back to the west side of the Cascades. We had to make two stops though on the way home, as one can never pass by DRU BRU without a quick beer stop (another dog friendly brewery with those sick Snoqualmie Pass views!
Second stop before we hit home, No Boat Brewing in Snoqualmie. The four of us frequent No Boat quite a bit, especially when they have a food truck. No Boat offers a large outdoor seating area and is another dog-friendly brewery. The food truck out there on this day was the Burger Planet truck and I think each of us were in mouth watering heaven. I ordered the Atomic Fire Chicken sandwich, while Jess ordered the Nebula Chicken Sandwich and the boys ordered the Carne Asada Burger. Seriously everyone – absolute burger heaven. And the Asteroid Spuds – tater tots with some sort of seasoning we couldn’t put our finger on, but they tasted so zesty and almost like lime chili?? Whatever they put on there – I want more!
So there you have it folks, my weekend in Ellensburg in a nutshell. Hopefully I was able to help you a little with your future itinerary if you planned to visit. As of this writing, that area is in Phase 3 of reopening, but be sure to wear your mask as the businesses require. Go out there and be safe, practice social distancing and support local business!