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.
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!