Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Ballard newbies (Pt. 3): Reuben's Brews

    Three years ago, Adam and Grace Robbings gave birth to a son, Reuben.  Adam came from a distinguished home-brewing career and they decided to launch a commercial brewery a year ago.  August 5, 2012, to be exact.  Reuben's Brews is coming up on one year old even as its namesake blows out three candles.
     This brewery and taproom shares a block on NW 53rd St. with commercial and industrial neigbhors: the Bardahl Oil plant across the street has a giant sign that can serve as a beacon for the beer seeker.
Reuben's manages to find some square footage for beer garden atmosphere along the sidewalk.
    Inside, a five-barrel brewing system and row of fermenters share the floor with taproom tables.
   Some noteworthy aspects of the brews at Reuben's.  (1) They make a Kolsch and serve it in the correct type of glass.  (2) Out of 11 taps of their own beers, 3 were IPAs the day I stopped by. (3) Their initial foray into bottling, in 22-oz. bombers, features three types of rye-based ales: Roggenbier (Roggen being rye in German, I gathered), American Rye, and Imperial Rye IPA.  I tried the Roggenbier, which sends hints of cloves and bananas, a sweet & spicy combo which belies the 80+ IBUs ratng.
    By the time little Reuben is old enough to buy a beer in Washington state, I'm betting his namesake brews will be well-established and going strong.
(Visited 7/26/13)

Monday, July 29, 2013

Ballard (pt. 2): Peddler Brewing

   The kind of peddler celebrated at this new Ballard brewery is not the door-to-door salesman but the bicyclist, as a look around the inside of the taproom quickly establishes.
The location is key to this brewery's theme.  The Burke-Gilman Trail, that 30 miles of bikepath from the top of Lake Washington to the shores of Puget Sound in Golden Gardens Park, is an almost-continuous strip of asphalt.  There is a gap, a bit over a mile, in Ballard's most industrial area, and the Peddler sits on Leary Way on that gap route.  Its next-door neighbors are a paint manufacturer and a galvaning shop.  Cyclists weaving in and out of truck traffic in this area are no doubt happy to see a bike-friendly spot.

   Owners Dave Keller and Haley Woods opened Peddler last March, having pulled together some used equipment and cobbled together a seven-barrel system.
  They call their IPA "On Your Left", which those of us who pedal kind of slow hear a lot.  When I rode the north end of the trail up to 192's taproom last month, I'll bet I heard that phrase 300 times.
   I tried a schooner of the coffee saison--an unlikely-sounding combination that turned out very drinkable. 17 light IBUs and a 7.0 abv content.
(Visited 7/26/13)

Ballard brewing up a storm (Pt. 1): Hilliard's

    Seattle's Ballard neighborhood, in a northwest part of the city, has had a couple of well-established breweries for a number of years, Hale's and Maritime Pacific.  About a year and a half ago, a third one opened up: Hillard's Beer.  This brewery announces its presence with standout graphics:
Inside, a good-sized plant (15 bbl) turns out four styles to go into the 16-oz, cans, the brewery's primary product.  These styles are saison, amber, blonde and pilsner.  They also produce a pale, a stout, an IPA, and a curious hybrid called Chrome Satan (lager yeast in an ale recipe), for kegs only..  The canning line puts out 27 cans per minute.
I learned more about canning here.  The nearest can manufacturer doing the 16-oz. size is in Tennessee.  A minimum order is 150,000 cans, about a truckload.  When one of those truckloads arrives, they have to stack up can stock on every available flat space.  Hilliard's self-distributes in the Seattle area and Columbia Distributing delivers to more distant markets.
The aluminum can appears to be winning over a lot of craft beer consumers.  Most brewers canning today eased into it after establishing a reputation with draft beer.  The business plan at Hillard's is different in that cans were planned from the get-go.
(Visited 7/26/13)

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Island Hoppin' in the San Juans

  Hop--the noun--means a quick springy leap, a trip by conveyance of any sort, and the tall green plant, humulus lupulus, that underpins civilization as we know it.  To hop, the verb, I always took to mean the actions associated with the first two meanings.  My dictionary tells me, however, that "to hop" also means "to add hops to beer," a usage dating back to at least 1572.
   All this is to say, Island Hoppin' is a cute name for a craft brewery in an archipelago.  For you do have to hop around in our San Juan Islands to get stuff done.  County gov't business?  Hop a ferry to Friday Harbor on San Juan Island.  Big-box electronics?  Hop on a boat over to Anacortes on Fidalgo Island.  Taste a good white wine?  Hop on over to Lopez Island and its eponymous winery,  Brewer-owners Nate Schons and Becca Gray have to hop around the other islands from their Orcas Island base to get stuff done.
   They moved into present quarters in the picturesque village of Eastsound last September and have evidently tapped into a powerful thirst among their fellow islanders.  They were in the process of grading a parking lot up the hill from their brewpub and signs, many signs, cautioned their customers not to park elsewhere.   One can sit out on the patio on a sunny day and look in on the brew works.
The half-dozen fermenters in the back enable Nate and Becca to create that many beers at any one time, out of the ten or eleven styles they list on their website.  Stopping by on a sunny Saturday afternoon, I was not tempted by Rip Tide Porter or Oaty Stout--give me a cloudy or rainy typical Irish day for them. I ordered up a four-taster tray and sampled there three to start: K Pod Kolsch, Lime Kiln Lager, and White Cap Wit. Stepping up the int. bitterness units bit by bit, from the Kolsch (18) to the Lager (25) to the Wit (49).  Then I laid a taste of Becca's Copper Hull Ale on my tongue and I was fascinated.  It's single-hopped (Centennial) to 60 IBUs and finishes nice and tart. But the first taste--I hate to use a cliche like malt-forward but it's apt sometimes--the first tast is rich and peaty. She uses a combo of Vienna, Special Roast 50, Crystal 60 and Gambrinius 2 row malts to achieve this effect. Four stars!
   I like the logo for the brewery: a sort of polar projection of the islands with little Shaw Is. at the pole.
 Orcas, the shape of a couple of saddlebags at the top, has the highest point in the islands, Mt. Constitution at 2409 feet, several miles west of the brewpub.  The summit can be seen from my front porch, rising over Lummi Island.  A landmark for some fine beers.
(Visited 7/20/13)

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Bale Breaker: now Yakima has two breweries

   The justly celebrated hop fields of the Yakima Valley are best seen along State Route 24, going from the city toward the town of Moxee.  That road will take you right past Bale Breaker Brewing, just opened in April this year.  Their modern 30-barrel system and taproom are literally surrounded by hops growing on their trellises.  Here's a view from the back of the plant:
And yet more hops can be seen from the front.
We must assume this is Field 41, since that's the name of their outstanding Pale Ale.  I had a festival taste of this at the Kennewick festival last May and had been looking forward to a whole pint ever since.  4.5% abv, 38 IBUs, and a wonderful aroma.
    Bale Breaker has started out just making this and an IPA, called Topcutter, attractively packaged in cans. They were also pouring a golden ale made for a fundraising event, called Ales for ALS. (a/k/a Lou Gehrig's disease.)  They seem to be doing a lot of things right and it's easy to predict a bright future for them.
(Visited 7/12/13)

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The next afternoon: Bend's Final Four

8.  The next stop on the ale trail was several miles across town, on the northeast side of the city.  Armed with advice from the server at Boneyard for the most bike-friendly streets to take, I pedaled off and eventually came to the Worthy Brewing Co..  This is a very modern plant, just opened last February with a 30-barrel system, canning line, all the latest equipment.
One item of interest: the wood in the bar and the tables is made from lumber salvaged from the old Oregon State Mental Hospital when it was demolished in 2009.  The building had been closed for a number of years and its last active use was as the set for One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.  Part of the bar can be seen in this shot looking toward the high-ceilinged brewing area.
I ordered a pint of the Single Hop Pale Ale, which carried these statistical attributes: 5.4% abv, 50 IBUs, and 5 SRM.  What is SRM, I asked the bartender.  Standard Reference Method, he said, a way to show clarity or opacity of a liquid.  Water's SRM value is 1; the blackest coal tar is 50.  They may have had an imperial stout with an SRM in the twenties.  Stamp the passport and move on.

9.  No bike-friendly streets for the next leg, but at least Bend had painted a good bike lane on the busy road (US 20) that headed back toward the downtown section.  Happily, the next stop, Silver Moon Brewing, was on my side of the highway.  Coming by car from downtown, access to this spot may be tricky. Silver Moon has been around since 2000, one of the veterans of this expanding brewing scene. They don't have the glass walls that let one gaze at the brewing equipment, but they have murals on the back walls depicting just that view.
Silver Moon had a number of intriguing brews on tap.  I settled for a pint of High Plains Hefeweizen, which came with this information: made with 60% malted barley, 40% malted wheat, hopped with just Northern Brewer hops for 14 IBUs, and the yeast was Weihenstephaner, a strain which gave this hefe a cloudy, spicy taste.  And an abv of 5.2%.
   The clock nears 3 p.m. and the trail has two breweries to go.

10.  Downtown begins a couple of blocks from Silver Moon, and the road, Greenwood Ave, approaches another bridge over the Deschutes River. Just before the bridge, a left turn leads to Bend Brewing Co., , another relative old-timer in town (founded 1995).  The location is said to overlook a wide spot in the river called Mirror Pond, but the banks are overgrown with brushy stuff and you can't see the water.  No matter, the pub is very pleasant and cozy and the outdoor eating areas are popular on a sunny afternoon.  I stay in, where I can chat with Jen, the bartender, after she draws a Ludwig Pilsner. Learning that I'm from Bellingham and a Chuckanut fan, she tells me that Bend Brewing's booth at the Great American Beer Festival last year was right between Chuckanut's and Boundary Bay's.  Knowing how many times Chuckanut had won medals for their pilsner, Wendy, the owner of Bend Brewing, was thrilled to have scored the gold for her pilsner last year.
   BBC has an impressive display of medals from various prestigious tasting festivals like the GABF.
Many of these awards name the responsible brewer, and the name most often seen is Tonya Cornett. Ms. Cornett has recently been lured over to 10 Barrel, where she gets to experiment on their smaller brewing system.  A 10-barrel system just to play around with, try out different ideas, while the 50-barrel system cranks out the proven winners.
   Chat is good, pilsner goes down easy, but 4 o'clock nears and one brewery remains to be seen and a stamp collected so I can turn in the passport before the visitor center closes at 5.  Fortunately, that brewery has a downtown pub just a block away, so I can leave the bike where it is and walk to the last stop. One many folks have heard of.

11.  1988.  Guy named Gary Fish opens the first brewpub in Bend, names it after the river flowing through. It grows, and grows, and today Deschutes Brewing is the fifth largest craft brewer in the USA, as the Brewers Association defines craft brewing (sorry, Blue Moon, Shock Top, you guys don't qualify).  This has to be run from a humongous (well, by craft standards) brewery in the southwest part of town, They are said to have a terrific tour.  But the pub downtown is where it all started so long ago.
Deschutes beers are said to be available in 21 states now, throughout the west and some of the midwest (I hope that includes Iowa and Illinois).  This would be for their best-known bottled beers, Mirror Pond Pale Ale, Black Butte Porter, Chainbreaker IPA, and seasonals like Jubelale, the winter beer.  Last winter my bowling alley put up a poster showing 25 years of Jubelale labels: I loved it!
  But they make stuff they don't bottle. Draft only.  I had yet to try a sour ale, and I saw some good options here,  I have two female relatives who are quite enamored of the Duchesse de Bourgogne, one of the great Belgian exemplars of that style. So when I saw Gold Kriek Sour on the tap list, I chose that for my last pint on the trail.  So complex, so many fruity hints, a lot like tasting a wine.  This cherry-sweetened golden ale checked in at 4.5% abv, bitterness negligible.  A wild yeast.  Totally delicious.

  I got back on the back (didn't hop on, had enough hopping this day) and turned in my passport at the visitor center by 4:30,  My reward was a flexible plastic 10-oz tumbler, a "sillipint."  Forget about rating the SRMs through that thing,. Still time to turn in the bike before 5.  I figured my elapsed time on the Bend Trail was about eight hours, two the previous evening and six today.  It could have been done more efficiently. Maybe driving the car out to Worthy the first evening.  Still not sure how to work the tour of the big Deschutes plant into a one-day tour: they only go on the hour from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.

  There are eleven breweries on the tour, but that does not exhaust the category.  Three more are listed in the Northwest Brewing News' latest edition, which runs the tally to 14.  I heard counts of 17 and 18 from various folks.  Where's the synergy?  Bellingham has about the same population, the same foodiness and abundant outdoor recreation choices, and three breweries in town (two more in the  county).  Of course, our brewers can only market in one direction, south,  West the ocean, east the mountains and passes closed in winter, north the Canadian border (why didn't NAFTA carve out a nice deal for beer?).  Bend brewers can market in all four directions.  But so can Yakima brewers, another city of like size, where they grow a bit of hops, and Yakima just got a second brewery.  Maybe they're fixated on wine (a rather minor factor in Bend) but that hasn't slowed the recent burst of brewing in Woodinville, wine city USA.  Another mystery of the universe to ponder.
(all visits done 7/11.13)

The next morning: Four more in Bend

Early the next morning (July 11) I drove downtown to the visitor center where I picked up a more reliable map and some useful information. Learned where to rent a bicycle for the day and headed over there to hire a three-gear fat-tired cruiser.  All right!  It was barely ten o'clock and most of the brewpubs didn't open until 11 or 11:30.  But the McMenamins would be open; it is one of their hotel pubs and figured to be serving breakfast.

4.  In Bend, the Macs acquired a Catholic school building and converted it to a brewing hotel, the Old St. Francis School.  It comes with all the trimmings, including a detention room/pub downstairs and a movie theater.

 I imagine my nephew Joe and my nieces Cathy and  Lisa, all alums of Boylan High in Rockford, would get a huge kick out of a place like this.  The barmaids don't have that steely-eyed nun look, though.  I don't consider a brewpub visit official unless I have a taste of something made there, so for late breakfast I ordered up a short glass of Father Francis Kolsch.  Light and summer-y, 5.0% abv and a mildly tart 28 IBUs.  Fourth stamp in the ale trail passport and the day was still young.

5.  On the bike, I pedaled across the Deschutes River to 10 Barrel Brewing's pub on the west side. This place was just a few blocks from Goodlife's brewpub but when I cruised by last night, there was not a parking spot to be seen for three blocks in any direction.  A madly popular spot like that, best to pop in right after they open, at 11 a.m.  Worked like a charm.  Manny was tending bar and he had time to talk about the operation before the lunch rush started.  First, the name. Yes, they run a 10-barrel system, but that's mostly for R&D, one-off brews and experiments.  The big casino is a 50-barrel system; the two are side-by-side in an industrial area across town.  Second, the age.  !0 Barrel was founded three years ago, and has already ramped up to enough sales to keep the big casino humming.  They also have a pub in Boise and a presence in Portland.  They bottle, the can, and they put out some stuff on a draft-only basis.
The poster in the Coming Soon column turned out to be announcing a four-city IPA competition in 10-Barrel's small parking lot.  Selected breweries from Seattle, Portland, Bend, and San Diego will each present lupulin-loaded India Pales to the judgment of a panel.
Upholding Washington's honor will be Elysian, Georgetown, Fremont and Naked City.  Hop to it, guys!
    Manny drew me a nice pint of the CDA (Cascadian Dark Ale) and also encouraged me to check out a taste of the Swill. Swill is a shandy-like summertime beer, in which an imperial-strength Berliner Weisse is brewed and then diluted with a non-alcoholic grapefruit soda 10 Barrel also makes.  Very nice.  Add stamp # 5 to the passport and push on. It's still morning in this part of America.

  6.  Next target was the Crux Fermentation Project, reached in an odd way (you go west under the freeway, south a block, turn right and go back under the freeway again on a narrow dead-end road).  Their writeup in the passport book said their grilled cheese sandwiches are renowned, so I called this my lunch stop.  A brewer told me their system counts its capacity in hectoliters, and theirs was rated at ten of those (metric equivalent to an eight-and-a-half barrel system).  They also employ some untraditional brewing methods like open fermentation, wild yeast strains, and decoction mashing, and create a wide variety in small batches.  The operation has been going just over a year.
They had fifteen different taps working this day.  With my grilled cheese I ordered a tulip of a Scotch ale they called Bert. This was a tribute to Yakima brewing pioneer Bert Grant.  The back bar is a window into the brite tanks room.
The bartendress was good enough to give me bike-friendly directions to Boneyard, my next stop.  "You can see their roof from our patio," she said, "but by car it's like a couple of miles away."  I left at noon and was indeed at my next stop in three minutes.

7. Boneyard Beer is a production brewery, without a restaurant.  On-premise consumption is limited to little 2-ounce glasses, the first one free, additional tastes a dollar each. In brewery-speak, a boneyard is an area where old equipment is put after being replaced by something newer.  This boneyard was assembled with castoff equipment and opened in 2010.  Three years later, production on the 20-barrel system is surging.
A canning line is in planning stages now, along with expanded capacity.  I had two tasters, the Bone-a-Fide Pale Ale and the Hop Venom double IPA--10% abv and 80 IBUs.  A big red passport stamp and I was ready for the afternoon.
(All seen on 7/11/13)

Bend Ale Trail:in a day (eight hours): first evening (3 breweries)

Long had I heard of the vibrant craft brewing scene in Bend, Oregon and recently I traveled down there to check it out.  Web searches brought up ads for bus tours and even a group-pedaled bicycle tour of the brewpubs, but I've never been keen on guided tours.  I like to see stuff on my own schedule. So I drove to Bend on July 10, promptly got lost trying to find the motel, and floundered around Bend a while.  I wondered if these bus tours were selling something vital here, But eventually, things worked out.

Goodlife Brewing Co:  After motel check-in, I started to track down breweries with city map, addresses from Northwest Brewing News.  Bend likes to change names of streets at random, get the stranger lost in a hurry. Back and forth over half an hour before finally finding Goodlife, around 7:30 p.m.  This is a good-sized operation (30-bbl capacity) with nice beer garden areas on both sides.  East side has bocce and "cornhole" courts (the latter being the Oregon word for that beanbag toss into the hole game).
Brewing area open to view,  According to my server, Goodlife sells in Portland and throughout the state. Cans and bottles.
   I had a short glass of the 9er brown, enjoying the coffee and chocolate flavors from the malts.

 2.  The next stop, around 8:15, was at the Cascade Lakes Brewing Co. pub.  This is also a large-scale operation, with a 25-barrel system up in Redmond, Oregon, 18 miles to the north.  This started out small in 1994, in a business park by the local airport, and took off under new ownership in 2000.  My notes say I had a pint of Kolsch here, 4.5 % abv and 30 IBUs, a nice balanced summer ale.

3.  As the sun was setting over the mountains to the west (the Sisters Range), I navigated the streets of Bend's Old Mill District (only the name is old, it's all new construction here) to the Old Mill Brew Werks for dinner and another pint.  The Ale Trail map says this brewery is known for good food pairings.  I got to chat with Rudy Garcia, the head chef, about that very subject.  I chose Rudy's Meat Loaf, which he said he makes with the brown ale.  However, the Rabble Rouser Red (8.5% abv, 62 IBUs) was also, in his opinion, an excellent match for the food.  So, that's what I had.
As the evening grew dark, the pub looked a welcoming sight.  They moved to this location only within the past year, having started out in a spot more typical for small startups.
   This concluded the first evening, about two hours down the trail with three of the eleven stamps in the book.
(Visited 7/10/13)

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Pendleton: The Prodigal Son

   I'd stopped off in Pendleton, OR a time or two in the past, but had forgotten what an eye-candy downtown they have there.  All turn of the century (20th) buildings, with thriving local, one-of-a-kind businesses.  There's also the factory store for the best wool shirts and blankets, the Round-Up in September, and a nice little brewery.  The Prodigal Son Brewery occupies a 1915-vintage building on Court Street in the downtown area.
     Inside, some of the walls bear painted advertising from days gone by (seems like that would have gone up on the outside walls) and a number of little rooms for groups of various types to use.
   A ten-barrel brewing system works mostly to keep up with consumption right here on the premises,.Co-manager Jennifer Guenther told me that they send kegs to a very limited number of draft accounts in the area. Although the website says Prodigal Son is available in a few locations in Portland, Corvallis, etc., that is evidently not the case at this time.  No bottling, no canning.
   The beers are tasty.  I tried Afternoon Delight, which they style an ISA or India Session Ale. 5.3% abv, 56 IBUs, certainly sessionable as the current phrase has it.  The pub food with my pint was a Scotch Egg, a hard-boiled pickled egg done up in a pork sausage blanket with some veggies on the side.
Next time I get to Walla Walla, I'll allow time to come back to Pendleton and check out more of the good stuff at the Prodigal Son.
(Visited 7/09/13)

Elysian's Tangletown

   The ever-experimenting brewers at Elysian Brewing Co. have a nice location on the north side of Seattle, the Tangletown pub.  It looks down a hill toward Green Lake.
They used to do some brewing on the premises but since their production brewery opened down in the Georgetown district, all the kegs come from there.  My server said a bit of the old brewing space is still used for some special aging processes.
   I had a Superfuzz Blood Orange Pale to go with a bit of lunch.  Very nice pint for a fine summer day.
(Visited 7/03/13)

Thursday, July 4, 2013

192 in Kenmore: the taproom at trail's end

  The south end of Seattle's Burke-Gilman Trail, a 27-mile long bike & jogging trail, starts in the Ballard district, a real hotbed of craft brewing, with a half-dozen new startups keeping Hale's, Maritime Pacific, and Fremont Brewing company.  The north end, up in suburban Kenmore at the head of Lake Washington, has not bereft of such zymurgical delights--until this year.  192 Brewing, the Kenmore nanobrewery that takes its name from the 192-sq.ft. wooden building in owner Derek Wykoff's back yard which houses his brewing works, has opened a taproom at the northern end of the Burke-Gilman.
   Moi, I pedaled my bike up from the university district, about ten miles, on one of those sunny days so perfect it buys forgiveness for the last fifty rainy days. Mt. Rainier poking a hole in the sky eighty miles away, Lake Washington bluer than blue.  Mild, just warm enough to work up a bit of thirst.
    On arrival, I learned that none of 192's own brews were on tap right then.  No Shticky Blonde Ale (the most outstanding blonde ale I have ever tasted) that day.  I did learn that Derek would make another batch of Super Shticky Blonde for the Everett craft beer festival later in the summer.  That was the lavender-bitttered version I loved at the festival in Redmond last month.  So it was just guest taps, but plenty to choose from.  I had a pint of Port Townsend's Green Tea Golden (it must be summer!) and took it out to the beer garden.  This is a splendidly kitschy spot, decorated with stumps, a motley collection of chairs, even a plastic pink flamingo.
  Plans are to keep the pub open seven days a week.  There is automobile access on the back side, for those days that aren't quite so perfect.
(Visited 7/03/13)