Thursday, September 16, 2010

Fremont Brewing, a can-do outfit

                Fremont, the little brewery that can—or will can, in a few months.  I had run across the news that they planned to start putting their beers in aluminum cans on their website and was of course intrigued. The store I work in in Bellingham has just one craft beer in cans, Dale’s Ale from Oskar Blues Brewing in Longmont, Colo.  I was met by Sara Nelson, spouse of brewery founder Matt Lincecum, and heard the whole can story from her.
                The energy budget on manufacturing containers is a familiar story.  Making sheet aluminum from bauxite consumes humongous amounts of electricity.  But making sheet from recycled aluminum costs peanuts compared to making new brown glass bottles.  The bottles are not just washed and reused; they have to be smashed into cullet and re-formed.  And, Sara added, a full energy budget must look at the fuel used in wholesaling, too.  Odom Distributing, which gets Fremont’s kegs out to retail accounts in King County, can transport at least two cases of aluminum can six-packs for the cost of getting one case of brown glass bottles to market.
                What about consumer acceptance? Don’t most craft beer connoisseurs have a negative idea about the taste of beer out of a can rather than a brown bottle?  Only if your brain tells you the feel of aluminum on your lip means a swallow of Bud or PBR is on the way.  Most of those connoisseurs are going to pour a bottle of craft or import beer into a glass anyway, Sara said, and once you do that, Fremont will welcome all comparisons.
                Ah, the tastes.  Fremont has a locally famous urban beer garden, which happens  mostly on weekends when they push a long table and some half circle couches out on the brewery floor. (The canning line is to be installed in this same area in a few months. Space management may be challenging.)

The beer garden furniture is pushed up against the wall earlier in the day.  To savor an honest pint, one must stop by during beer garden hours.  No food here, but they have no problems with people bringing in their carry-out from nearby restaurants.  The earnest tourist may get a wee sample to taste in earlier hours.  I got a sip of Little Woody to start out.  It appears that Fremont makes just two beers all the time: Universale Pale Ale and Interurban IPA, and a set of seasonal brews.  Then come the variations!  Little Woody is the pale ale, the Universale, aged on American White Oak chips, and dry-hopped with Chinook. The oak gives a pale that great tang, it’s not quite bitterness on the IBU scale but it is memorable.  This was my second oak-aged pale after I met this fine formula at Skookum Brewing up in Arlington. 
                Next, Sara offered a sip of the Summer Solstice, the current seasonal.  The hops used here, Amarillo, give a citrus quality which is most like tangerines in the basic version.  To play with this, the guys tried some zest of limes and grapefruit.  The limes win the opening rounds, but the grapefruit and that background tangerine taste linger and start adding layers of taste.  This crew, led by chief brewer Matt Lincoln, evidently likes to sit around grating fruit rinds.  On their basic IPA, the Interurban, they had made a batch of Mustafa Lemon IPA by adding the zest of some Lebanese lemons.
                Seasons come and go, and so do seasonal ales. They have a fall seasonal, Harvest, in production now.  What they sounded really excited about was the winter ale, Abominable, due in November.  They will be creating a standard run of this, and then (these guys love to tinker, can you tell?) they will also produce some cask-aged Abominable.  A stack of bourbon barrels acquired from a Kentucky distillery sits against a wall, waiting to do the aging. 
                Cask-aged Abominable sounds like a growler fill for the holiday shopping list for sure.  It sure doesn’t figure to be in the new cans.  In my opinion, for Fremont to develop a new customer base, especially outside King County, which canned six-packs would enable, means they will have to deliver a consistent taste every time.  This probably means the basic Universale Pale and Interurban IPA.  To taste what else the two Matts and their gang can do, one will need to go to the brewery.  The location is pretty scenic, near the north shore of the Lake Union outlet, looking across at Queen Anne Hill.

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