Monday, September 23, 2013

Moses Lake gets on the beer map: St. Brigid's

  St. Brigid's Brewery has been running about a year now, as a three-barrel production brewery on the farm of Tom and Whitney Wytko, outside Moses Lake.  As of August 30, they are pouring pints and more in a taproom in the downtown area.  An outdoor deck in the back looks out over the lake and the setup is relaxed and comfortable.
The names all come with stories.  St. Brigid was a 5th century Irish nun who brewed beer in the nunnery,  Zone 3 Pale Ale refers to the zone of underground irrigation piping beneath the brewery.  40 Acre IPA hearkens back to when Columbia River water was first made available to area farmers in the Fifties. limit forty acres per farm.  London Calling is what they call their brown ale, which they start with a malt imported from Britain and named for the capital.  That's the pint I had, 5.4% abv, rich and malty on the tongue. TKO Amber is a play on the last three letters of their name, Wytko. And Berner Oatmeal Stout--that honors the family dog, a Bearnaise Mountain dog.
   In addition to filling growlers and mini-growlers, St. Brigid's offers pigs for beer to go.  The "pig", a large beer container with an internal bladder that expands to mainain pressure and keep air away from the beer, is more popular in this part of the state.  I first saw them at Ice Harbor in Kennewick, and heard that Rocky Coulee sells pigs, too.  Tom pulled out an empty pig to demonstrate how they do it here.
He then set the pig on a stand with four little feet and gave it a cardboard face; everything but a tail. Here are the economics of the pig: you get 2.25 gallons of beer (that's four and a half growlers) for $32 here (the initial cost is $25, so you need to be sold on the idea).  Unlike the 36-hour outside limit on fresh tasting beer from a growler once opened,the bladder keeps the beer tasting fresh for a month or more.
   These pigs are made by a company called Quoin in Boulder, CO. founded by one Mike Lowe.  Whose brother is a former mayor of Moses Lake.  Seems like Colorado is coming up with beer innovations a lot these days (thinking of the 22-oz aluminum can Base  Camp brought to Tacoma, the new ideas in cans at Oskar Blues, etc.)  Slainte', St. Brigid!
(Visited 9/20/13)

Rocky Coulee in ooom-pa-pa Odessa

     Odessa, Washington sits amid gently rolling, treeless plains, growing a lot of wheat. A tidy-looking little town, settled by Germans who once a year act like Leavenworth and put on a Deutschesfest. Bratwurst and pretzel stands pop up along the main street and Bavarian band music fills the air.
Across the tracks and apart from the town's official program, Rocky Coulee Brewing Co. puts on its own party. Started in 2002, Rocky Coulee sells 12-oz glass bottle 6-packs in a respectable chunk of eastern Washiington.  The flagship is Fireweed Honeyh Blonde Ale and brewer-owner Tom Schafter buys from a beekeeper who takes pains to assure that his bees are working with fireweed almost exclusively. They also bottle a winter ale and a golden lite summer ale, in season.  Several other brews are draft-only, such as the Dunkel I tasted.  Very rich and amlty; I would llove to taste it side by side with Chuckanut's Dunkel one day.
                                                                                                                                                                   There was no time for more than a peek at the brewing equipment, as a band was tuning up to play for the festiival.  A sunny day to close out a fine sunny summer in Washington.
(Visited 9/20/13)

Kettle Falls means Northern Ales to us brewstourists

  East from Republic over the steep, high Sherman Pass (5575 ft.), State Route 20 takes you across the Kettle River Mountains and the Columbia River, down into Kettle Falls (pop. about 1500).  The town takes its name from a cascade, now drowned by Grand Coulee Dam and Lake Roosevelt, which had been the Indians' premier salmon-taking spot before the dam.  For nine thousand years, that's how far back archaeologists have dated human activity at the site.
   Along the highway, behind a nice breakfast restaurant, The Gallea, Northern Ales operates out of a green, windowless, cinder block building.  From the front, it did not seem large enough to have accommodated all the cars and pickups in the graded dirt lot. The front part of the building opens up, however, to a more expansive area.  Up some stairs a longish bar offered a half dozen on-site brews, a guest tap (Widmer) and a nice menu of pub grub, mainly pizza.  I ordered a dark ale, a personal pizza, and sat back, listening to a folkie musician pick some oldies on his guitar.
  I got to chat with Steve, the brewer and owner, about his business.  He started it in Northport, a tiny town some miles up the river, as a real nano-brewery, in 2007.  Moved the whole works down here a couple of years ago and had retired the nano equipment this summer, replacing it with a gleaming 15-barrel system.
Eight brews were on tap: three constants and five rotationals.  The constants are Okanagon Highlander, a 6% Scotch Ale, Flume Creek IPA, at 6.5%, and Smelter Ash Imperial Stout, a helfty 7.5% abv.  The seasonal lineup featured a couple of takes on a pale ale, a dark lager, a dark ale, and something rather mysterious at the end, a Honey Basil at 13.0% alcohol.  It was characterized on the board as a "bragot" which I had never heard of, but which googled up as Braggot, a mead-malt combination that went back to the miiddle ages. (Chaucer praises it).
   Steve said his version begins with a barleywine, fermented up to 9% or so, and then combined with fermenting honey, rather than finished mead, to finish at 13%.  Like a good port or sherry, the sweet, smooth taste masks the potent punch. The basil just a trickster.  I could see it as a sipping, dessert drink like those fortified wines. Braggot and cigars on the veranda, if you please!
(Visited 9/19/13)

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Republic Brewing Co., way up there

   Sitting on a barstool in the Republic Brewing Co. taproom, pondering the lineup, I see a regular come in off the street and call out a number.  217, let's say.  The barmaid takes a long wooden handle and slides the hook at the end around a ceramic mug hanging from the ceiling over the bar.  The highest number is something over 300 and that many mugs are for sure hanging up there.  Pretty good numbers for a mug club, you'd think.  Consider this: Republic's entire population is just over 1,000 and all of Ferry County, up where the Rockies and the North Cascades merge into one big bunch of mountains and roll into British Columbia, the county has about 7500 people. A lot of the adults here are drinking Republic's craft beer.
   The brewery is in a building that once served as the firehall.  The doors can still slide up.
 Billy Burt, the brewer and owner (with wife Emily) tells me his Big Mischief Porter won a gold medal in the robust porters & stouts category in a judging competition conducted by the state Beer Commission in June. I try a half pint (6.6% abv) and appreciate the coffee-chocolate maltiness.  Billy says sales are entirely in the county, here, two restaurants in town, and one in Okanagon County next dloor.  His two-barrel system works hard to meet the local demand.
  More mugs are called down and filled as the last sunny Friday of summer becomes a mellow late afternoon. Conversations are slow-cadenced, country talk. A brick patio out back is styled a beer garden and the hallway has a blackboard with a tongue-in-cheek history of beer.
  As the board indicates, the brewery opened in 2011 and was two years old in June. Its fame may spread a bit beyond Ferry County, as Republic has joined the Inland Empire Ale Trail, a Spokane-sponsored collect the stamps program similar to the trail in Bend, Ore.  Inland Empire's trail lists sixteen brewpubs, and one only needs visit ten of them to win the prize (a quart mini-growler).  Still, the beer lovers of Spokane would be well rewarded if they take the scenic drive up to Republic.
(Visited 9/19/13

12 Bar Brewing & Tacoma craft festival

   En route to the Tacoma craft beer festival earlier this month, I stopped off in Woodinville to call on one of the new breweries I missed in June: Twelve Bar Brews.  It is located at the back end of a dead-end, pothole-laced road that serves a small business park.
The name has nothing to do with the number of retail accounts and everything to do with music.  Kirk Hilse, who founded the business last year, is in equal parts a brewer and a blues musician.  He was already down in Tacoma, setting up a booth for the festival, but Laura was there to pour pints and fill growlers.
    The fifteen-barrel system behind the tasting room stays busy, keeping up with demand for Kirk's music-themed ales (Wicked Riff IPA, Pentatonic Pale, etc.) and also serving for neighbor Brickyard Brewing's beers until they get their own system in.  I tried a taste of Turnaround Red and the IPA, but liked the Pentatonic best and sipped a pint of that (4.5% abv, 40 IBU, nice balance).
   Just one pint: the traffic of I-405 had to be navigated, then a few miles of I-5 before the Tacoma exits appeared.  This year the festival organizers moved the event into Cheney Stadium, where the Tacoma Rainiers, the Mariners' AAA farm club, play through Labor Day.  Seventy-some breweries set up their stands all along the outfield fences while bands rocked a stage set up over second base.  Down the left field line (a spot that afforded a fine view of Mt. Rainier over the right field stands), Chuckanut was flying the Bellingham flag and staying busy.  Next to Chuckanut, a Colorado brewer called Base Camp was showing the new 22-oz aluminum containers they had developed with canmaker Ball Container.  An interesting alternative to the 22-oz glass bomber for brewers big enough to order that can stock in carload lots.
 (Visited 9/07/13)