After several wrong turns and one desperate consultation with Google Maps, I found Illuminati Brewing in what appeared to be an unassuming office building nestled between a long-term RV storage yard and a building supply company in northern Bellingham’s industrial area.
The building lacks signage, though there is a sandwich board outside advertising Masquerade Wine Company, the sister operation of Illuminati. A doorway connects the two separate storefronts that share a backroom for their respective processes.
Masquerade Wine Company is painted a bright peach color while Illuminati Brewing is painted a paler, but somehow equally bright sage green with light pine trim; the color palette you’d expect to find in your aunt’s guesthouse in Winthrop. It’s close to feeling comfortable but so sterile, clean and sparse it lacks the lived-in feeling I’ve grown accustomed to in breweries. The bar stools were trendy and sophisticated, but the chairs at the lone low table looked as though they lived their first life in a library.
As far as the beer goes, I would recommend it.
I found the Millenium Falcon IPA to be my favorite. Not overly bitter but still had a rounded IPA taste with fruity hints. The Stormborn Strong Scotch Ale was a close second, full bodied, strong, and smooth. If I hadn’t had to drive myself back into town I would have liked to enjoy a pint of it, but with 8 percent alcohol content, it was not in the cards.
Illuminati is the kind of place that appeals to a certain crowd, and that crowd is not college students, but rather those who work or live in the area. On the Sunday I visited, the patrons were a handful of older people, decked out in their Seahawks gear, casually enjoying the afternoon and chatting up the owners. There’s definitely a mature charm to the place, but nothing particularly compelling beyond that.
I was easily the youngest patron by about 20 years but the owners were welcoming, clearly interested in providing a good experience for those who came in. Knowledgeable about the brewing process and generally excited about serving their brew to new guests, the Kimmerlys fill the otherwise eerily quiet and clean brewery with life.
In addition to the four brews they make on site, they offered two guest taps and a selection of wine from Masquerade Wine Company. For $10 you can get a flight of their four beers and try them all. Artisanal cheese plates and sandwiches are offered as well, though a bit pricier than the average college student’s budget can allow. It’s hard to justify spending $23 on a meat and cheese plate when you determine how many packs of ramen that could get you— 68 single packs of ramen from Haggen, in case anyone is wondering. However, they looked and smelled delicious. Would if I could.
So was the trip worth it for the brews they offered? For me, sure. For anyone less enthused, probably not. Put simply: the beer is good, but not good enough to justify making the trip out to the Irongate neighborhood, unless I find myself in the market for heavy machinery or new tires, which comprise the majority of the businesses around Illuminati. I would buy a six pack if I saw it for sale, but probably won’t navigate myself through the maze of Northern Bellingham to drink and shop again. If your wine-or-beer-loving parents are in town, take them here, if you can find it.