Saturday, May 31, 2014

Made in Darrington: Whiskey Ridge

   The catastrophic landslide in Oso last month brought the nearest incorporated town into the news, too: Darrington, Wash.  Until the mountain fell, the biggest news in Darrington this spring was the planned opening of the Whiskey Ridge Brewing Co.

   This is smaller than nano, a ten-gallon brew kettle made out of a recycled keg.  From little acorns,
mighty oaks have been known to grow.  While Darrington is a mill town, the kind of place where a guy moves up from PBR or Rainier to Bud for special occasions, a craft brewery can make it in such a setting.  Mill City Brew Werks in Camas is a good example.  A strong sense of community, even before the mudsliide, should help.  And the plans for the building--it had been the city hall, the fire hall, the library in various municipal applications--has left it with a good hardwood floor upstairs and the option of converting that space into a nice pub and restaurant.
   Jack Hatley owns and runs the brewery with his wife.  The building's owner intends to put a distillery in a space to the side, and the option of a shot and a pint, hand crafted, could be a good draw.

   Whiskey Ridge is the kind of start-up you have to root for.  The highway from Arlington will reopen someday soon; for now access is just off the North Cascades highway, SR 20.

(Visited 5/22/14)

Aslan joins the Bellingham beer scene

     Imagine Aslan, the wise lion who came with the witch and the wardrobe in the C.S. Lewis books, walking into the leonine barber shop and asking to have his mane shaped in the silhouette of a hop bud. That's the logo for the latest brewpub to open in our city of subdued excitement.

    Like Elliott Bay,Laurelwood, and a few other brewers in the region, Aslan is striving to source all its ingredients from certified organic growers.  As we are accustomed to paying a little bit more (but not a fortune) for organic foods, Aslan will be testing our competitive beer market with slightly higher prices. The most illustrative instance appears in the growler case.
Like Kulshan and Foggy Noggin (and I remain surprised that the idea hasn't caught on more), Aslan stocks already-filled growlers which can be exchanged for an empty growler, their own glass, for a set price.  If you bring in some other branded growler, you can have it filled by hand, for a considerable premium.  For example, a 32-oz. fill of their OPA, exchanging their own glass, is $7, while the cost to put 32 ounces of that beer in your own "growlette" (the term used here) is $11.
Kulshan has a similar upcharge for manual filling of some other brewer's glass.  One can understand a brewer's desire to put incentives in its own loyalty program.  There is floor space for a cooler, and in Kulshan's case, the investment in a high-speed growler filler from Austria (see Everybody's Growing post a few weeks back).   The downside is that beer travelers who don't live in the brewer's town are discouraged from taking some beer back to where they came from to compare with the local brews.  And that organic price differential? Kulshan exchanges regular (non-imperial, etc.) styles in their glass for $10 a full growler, $6 for a half, that Aslan exchanges for $12 and $6, respectively.
     Aslan brews on a modern 15-barrel system designed and built by the Criveller Co. in Healdsburg, Calif.
I tried several of the styles listed in the first picture.  The Ginger Rye is a distinctive flavor: a true blending of ginger ale and malty ale.  The B'ham Brown adds another quality entry in our north sound region to the oft-overlooked English brown ale style.
(Visited 5/24/14

Thursday, May 22, 2014

New Belgian II: Wander Brewing in Bellingham

    The road Chad and Colleen Kuehl took to Bellingham and their just-opened Wander Brewing Co. rambled through a lot of the country, starting in Iowa, where they met as UI Hawkeyes, to San Francisco, to Seattle with a couple of years at Hilliard Brewing in the Ballard district, and finally to our city of subdued excitement.
Their beers were out in the community before the taproom was open.  Here are the Kuehls pouring a taster of Baltic Porter at the April Brews Day festival last month.  May 2 was the day the taproom doors were open and the customers poured in.
The brewing is done on a twenty-barrel system made by Marks Design and Metalworks down in Vancouver, WA.  "We wan to support local workers and jobs," Colleen says, so it was "extremely important to us to have equipment built in the U.S. and as close to home as possible."
The first thing a visitor notices is the high, cathedral-height ceiling in this industrial metal building.  It was erected in the 1920s and was involved in shipbuilding for some years. (Factoid: in World War II, Bellingham shipyards made minesweepers, with wooden hulls, for the Navy.)  After shipbuilding, the space was only used for storage until the Kuehls came along.
A crane, part of the shipbuilding days, now serves to hold a grist case over the mash tun.

      Wander uses three yeast strains, an American ale yeast, a German lager yeast, and a Belgian abbey yeast (Abbey I, Chad says, the same as Sound Brewing down in Poulsbo uses).  The first strain goes into popular styles, like a Rye IPA "for the hopheads."  The lager yeast goes into brews like the California Common, a steam beer like Anchor.  Chad's eyes light up when you get him talking about the Belgian abbey yeast.  I tried his Belgian Brown Ale (more of a Dubbel) and asked him how he got those hints of caramel and apple.  "Rather than add the yeast when the wort is around sixty degrees F, I like to stress the yeast at a slightly higher temperature, mid-70s, to tease out those esters."
    This was the opening day lineup: besides the IPA, the steam beer, and the brown already mentioned, they tapped a Belgian Blond, a Wee Heavy strong Scottish ale, a stout, and the Baltic Porter so popular at the festival.
     Wander has no restaurant side but has a rotation of food trucks in the creekside beer garden out back.
The standup tables inside are eye-catching.  These live edge tables were made by a miller in Everson, doing business as the Mad Marmet.  Tricky Timbers in Bellingham made some of the other tables.  The bar is a whole set of stories.  A strip of darker wood running down the center comes from a tavern Chad's grandfather operated in Iowa for many years; the lighter wood on either side is recycled wood from an elementary school in town, and the whole is framed by more live edge wood from the mill in Everson.
In the medium range plan, Wander expects to do some barrel aging and to start bottling later this year. The evolution of this business will be fun to watch.

(Visited 5/2/14)

New Belgian I: Ramblin' Road in Spokane

     Ryan and Danielle Guthrie opened the taproom door to their Ramblin' Road brewery last January, in one sweet location.  A block north of the well-established No-Li brewery, beside the Spokane River and the Centennial Trail, across the street from the building where the Gonzaga Bulldogs play basketball and prepare to  go deep in the NCAAs every March.
The Guthries are Spokane natives who spent about a decade over on the wet side, in Seattle, where homebrewing experiences enticed them to take the road less traveled.  Their passion is the beers of Belgium; although the hoppy IPAs and Pales run up more sales numbers.

   Here's the tap list on a Friday afternoon in May: nine of RR's own and three guest taps from other local brewers.  The Grisette, first one listed, is a favorite in Belgian mining districts, as contrasted with the usual farmhouse or monastery themes.

Brewing is done on a ten-barrel system
visible through the pub wall on the right.  Four different food trucks come, each on a scheduled day during business hours, Wed thru Sat afternoons. RR has no current plans to try wild yeast open fermenters, but they are aging some sours in red wine barrels out back.
This and No-Li were my 9th and 10th stops on the Inland Empire Ale Trail, which I finally completed over an eight month stretch.  This earned me a half-growler (grunt? barker? growlerette? We have no consensus on what to call a 32-oz beer jar) with the imprint of the trail.
   The beer?  Tastes great.  I tried taster flights of the Saison, the Golden Strong, the Saison d'Rye, and the Dubbel. The Golden Strong Ale, cloudy, great mouthfeel, hints of raisins.  The Saison d'Rye, clear, chocolaty, rich aftertaste. My two faves.
(Visited May 9. 2014)

Friday, May 16, 2014

Untapped festival: rockin' the brews in Kennewick

     It was not a sure thing throughout the winter, whether the Untapped Blues and Brews Festival would go on again this year in the Tri-Cities.  But with new management stepping in, the blues bands came from near and far and so did the brewers.  Not as many brewers as last year, and no new faces.  The sun came out, the barbecues stoked up, the bands belted out their tunes, and the taps did flow.
     The big stage at the Benton County Fairgrounds showcased the better-known bands, while a couple of local bands played in a corner of one of the barns, where the better part of the twenty-some brewers set up.
Snipes Mountain Brewing had the booth closest to these bands.
This band opened the barn session and really got the house jiving. Blues songs run about
five minutes, too long for radio play, and they appeal to an older crowd.  I would guess the moshers who danced in front of the bands averaged over 45 and weighed--well, lets just say over average.
But the beats were irresistible foot-tapping stuff.  I snapped a photo of a couple of trim ladies staffing the Sierra Nevada booth, swaying to the beat when they had no customers lining up for a taster of SN Pale.
  Like Sierra Nevada, the festival drew some breweries from a distance:  Ninkasi and Rogue from Oregon, Fremont, Elysian, and Pyramid from Seattle. But most were Eastern Wash. brewers, some we seldom see on the wet side of the state: Rocky Coulee from Odessa, Orlison from Airway Heights near Spokane, Atomic Ales, Rattlesnake Brewing, Shrub Steppe, and White Bluffs, all from Richland, the third of the Tri Cities after Pasco. Wine-soaked Prosser, a few miles away, had its two brewers, Whitstran and Horse Heaven Hills, on hand.  No-Li showed up to represent the booming Spokane craft brewing scene.
   While most brewers brought kegs from their regular rotation, the pride of Pullman, Paradise Creek, put on quite a show, with two sours, among other treats.  Owner Tom Handy and his crew were happy to extol the
Rosemary-Lemon Wheat Sour and the Huckleberry Pucker, a Berliner Weisse built on a sour mash, with, yes, huckleberries for tart sweetness.  The huckleberry concoction clocked in at 5.5% abv and a very light 4 IBUs. No numbers for the rosemary-lemon number, but it was liquid lemon meringue pie, very easy drinking.
Kennewick: a long drive for a good time!  On May 10. 2014

Monday, May 12, 2014

Milepost 111: Cashmere gets beer

   If you drive Stevens Pass enough times, you learn the milepost markers of particular landmarks: the espresso shack in Index at mp 35, the summit at mp 67, Leavenworth at an even 100.  Add mp 111, for that is the name of a new brewery in Cashmere.  Opened in October 2012, it features a restaurant with plenty of pub food options and 27 taps flowing:  two wines, one root beer, two ciders, and 23 guest tap craft beers.
The brewing operation, visible behind the bar, is a pair of ten-gallon systems.  "Way smaller than nano," owner Melissa McLendon says with a laugh, "we're super-nano."
  McClendon had just hired a brewer this May and said he was still figuring out how to work with the little system.  She is hoping to buy a regular brewing system on the used equipment market; for now, MP 111 will have one or two of its own brews on tap now and then. at the moment there are none.
   One noteworthy component of the draft taps: the two wines come from one-sixth barrel kegs.  A CO2 delivery system is out of the question, of course (waiter, my merlot has bubbles in it), but rather than nitro, these wine kegs are pressured with argon gas.  McClendon says the Millbrandt winery down the Columbia from Wenatchee, is one of just a few putting up wine in sixtels.
(Visited 05-08-14)

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Everybody's growing--

   As the consumption of craft beer in Washington continues to climb as a percentage of total beer sales (hey, if Oregon's percentage is 15, we still have a ways to go), signs of growth appear in breweries all over the state. Fremont Brewing, an old favorite, has expanded beyond its original footprint, in the same location so that it now has an L shape around a yoga studio at the corner of N. 34th St. and Woodland Park St. in Seattle.  They still call their taproom the urban beer garden but have moved it into a more spacious setting.
   The yoga studio must be scouting out a new location, because FBC has plans to expand further, into their space for yet more taproom capacity and production space.
    Across the lake in Woodinville, Dirty Bucket is also planning to expand the floor space and Bellevue Brewing has tanks on order to nearly double production over last year's levels.  Another sign of growth is more hours open to the public.  Dirty Bucket went from Saturdays only to six days a week, while up in Arlington, Skookum has gone from the Friday and Saturday afternoon taproom hours to five days a week, Wednesdays through Sundays.
     Here in Bellingham, as we await the next two breweries about to open (Wander and Aslan), our existing producers have been fitting more equipment into the floor space they have to put out more beer.  The recent appearance of Chuckanut bottles (the 500 ml size) is due to the new bottling machine they ordered from Meheen Manufacturing in Pasco, Wash.
The machine was filling at the rate of twenty bottles per minute on March 18, when I got to watch the operation.  Meheen customized this machine for Chuckanut as the half-liter size the brewery has oped for falls between the 12-oz. (355 ml) and 22-oz.(650 ml) sizes most commonly used for beer on both sides of the border.
The bottles are labeled before filling.  Chuckanut bought a hand-labeling machne from another northwest manufacturer, LabelOne Connect in Beaverton, Ore.

   Another Bellingham brewer, Kulshan, does a roaring trade in growlers, thanks to its exchange program. A cooler out front holds an assortment of growlers already filled with counter-pressure. A customer walks in with an empty Kulshan growler, chooses a full one from the cooler, and slaps a ten dollar bill and the empty growler on the bar.  He or she is all set.  Keeping that cooler stocked is a major job here.
To make growler filling more efficient, Kulshan has recently acquired and installed this double growler filler made by the Alfred Gruber Co, in Austria.  In the photo, only the right-side filler is in use.  The fill rate when two 64-oz. growlers are at the teat, so to speak, is two per minute or 120 per hour.  Kulshan has also altered the landscape of North James Street by installing a 26 foot high grain silo out in front, big enough to hold 50,000 lbs. of malted barley. This unit was built in Alberta.  Great Western Malting, down in our Vancouver, ships a truckload of the malt to Kulshan every other month.
    This is just a wee sample of the bull market in craft brewing in these parts.  As more people discover that beer is just as varied and as fascinating as wine, the demand driving that market will go up yet more.