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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Onion goes big with Area 51

North Side eatery’s new tap house boasts dozens of brews

North Spokane is now playing in the big leagues, beer-wise.

The Onion Bar & Grill on North Division Street has remodeled and relaunched its bar space as the Area 51 Tap House, boasting that many taps plus another 50 bottled beers.

“It’s always been a big part of the Onion to offer draft beer, and there are so many great ones out there today,” said Ken Belisle, co-owner of the downtown and North Side restaurants. “It’s kind of like expanding your restaurant menu – it seemed like a natural step up.”

The revamped room is brighter and airier than before, with one cozy corner featuring a fireplace and leather chairs. The big, new concrete bar is warmed in the front, where you rest your arms, and chilled in the middle, where you set your beer.

Behind are the titular taps, up from the previous 19. So is it mere coincidence there’s one more tap than the former local leaders, Manito Tap House on the South Hill and Crafted in Coeur d’Alene?

“That’s for my bourbon,” Belisle said with a smile – namely, A-51 Root Bourbon, a distinctive, keg-conditioned concoction made with Maker’s Mark, root and cocci from an 1880s recipe said to cure malaria.

Another two taps are devoted to wines, and two to ciders. Most of the rest pour a rotating selection of craft beers, including several from local and regional breweries (there were 20 in the initial lineup).

Unlike most specialty alehouses, there also are a few macros on tap: Bud Light, Coors Light, Blue Moon.

“I love craft beer, but I don’t like saying no to a guy who likes a light-bodied domestic beer,” Belisle said. “They’re awfully popular.”

You can order 12-ounce schooners, pints, pitchers and flights of four 4-ounce tasters, along with growler fills. There’s a mug club (an annual $30 gets you 20-ounce pours for the price of a pint), with beer dinners and “meet the maker” brewer’s nights in the works.

And as for the name, you might recall Seattle Mariners fans dubbing right field at Safeco as “Area 51” when Ichiro (who wore that number) patrolled there – which they borrowed from the Air Force base in Nevada long suspected of secret activities relating to UFOs.

Brewery watch

• At long last, Black Label is busily brewing beers – Reese’s Red, Honey Bandit Blonde, an IPA and a Nut Brown – in anticipation of opening its taproom next month in the new Saranac Commons development downtown on East Main Avenue.

• Daft Badger in Coeur d’Alene has its licenses in hand and is finishing up construction, also aiming for a January opening.

• Cheney looks to be getting its first brewery in more than 100 years with New Boundary Brewing. The project by a former Alaska homebrew store owner is planning to launch on First Street downtown by mid-March.

• Skiers heading to 49 Degrees North could have a new treat next winter. Quartzite Brewing is shooting for a summer opening in an old wooden grain tower in Chewelah.

• Working with Spokane’s Spokes Mobile Canning, Northern Ales in Kettle Falls has released its first canned beer: The Grouch, a session-style lager honoring the “town grouch” elected each summer for the Town and Country Days festival. Look for it in stores throughout Stevens, Ferry and Pend Oreille counties.

Freshly tapped

• Trickster’s has brought back its Naughty Nick “chocolate chip cookie” oatmeal stout (7.2 percent alcohol by volume, 34 International Bitterness Units), brewed with cocoa powder, vanilla, cinnamon and brown sugar. It disappeared in three days last year; there’s a double batch this time, but no guarantee it will still be around by the time you read this.

• Also returning for Christmas is Budge Brothers’ big Thirteenth Reindeer Egg Nog Stout (around 9 percent ABV), with milk sugar and seasonal spices.

• Perry Street is pouring a Winter Lager (6, 25) brewed with French Vienna and German Munich malts for a medium body and soft, dry finish.

• Ramblin’ Road’s latest Belgian-style experiment is a Wild IPA (6.5, 85) fermented with Brettanomyces yeast for funky, tropical fruit flavors followed by a lingering bitterness. Look for another Brett-fermented beer, a fruity red also soured with lactobacillus bacteria, around the first of the year.

• Twelve String’s Volume 3 Anniversary Ale (8.4, 91) is a clean, easy-drinking imperial red with big fruit, pine and spice flavors from Chinook, Mosaic and Ahtanum hops.

• Zythum Brewing in Fairfield has revamped its Navis IPA (5.5, 87) using citrusy “Trestle” hops, discovered growing wild near the railroad trestle in Tekoa.

• Both River City in Spokane and Downdraft in Post Falls have begun tapping occasional test recipes in their tasting rooms.

River City’s Experimental Series started with a pair of IPAs – Exp-IPA 30 (6.8, 74), to be followed by 60 (referring to the pounds of hops per barrel) – full of fruity Citra and Palisade.

Downdraft’s Winds of Change series also led with an IPA 1.0 (7.5, 102), hopped with Columbus/Tomahawk/ Zeus and Cascade.

Save the date

On New Year’s Day, Mad Bomber Brewing in Hayden is sponsoring the Punks for a Princess fundraiser, in partnership with the Make a Wish Foundation, to send a 6-year-old girl with leukemia to Disney World. An 11 a.m. Polar Plunge at Hayden Lake’s Honeysuckle Beach will be followed by an after party at the brewery featuring two punk bands. For more info, see

Send beer news, comments and questions to senior correspondent Rick Bonino at
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