Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Snohomish brewing scene adds two more (Middleton, DK's MLT)

 1.  When Jeff Middleton opened his Middleton Brewing on the south side of Everett (near the mall and Lazy Boy Brewing) last August, he cast around for an angle, something to make his beers stand out in a crowd. He settled on flouting the old Bavarian purity law with unusual fruits, etc. to known beer styles.

Check out his taplist on a recent August day.  Tangerines in the IPA.  Ginger in the red ale.  Strawberries in the wheat ale.  Oatmeal stout is already a Reinheitsgebot violation; chocolate and coffee just compound it.
Working with a one-barrel system and a couple of fermenters, Middleton can brew enough for the taproom and some growler fills, but other retail outlets will be an aspiration rather than a current happening.
If the extra ingredients don't come across sufficiently in the regular brewing process, Jeff has another thing going on every Friday.
He runs one selected beer through a Randall (the hop infuser invented at Dogfish Head).  He can load the plastic cylinder with more hops and/or more exotic ingredients and pour a pint or pitcher with even more of the above.
Here is one former homebrewer who wants to live his dream in the stream of commerce, and I hope he gets the fan base every brewery needs.  It will liven up the Everett brewing scene.

2.  Diamond Knot hits the Terrace.  Diamond Knot Brewing, based in the middle of Snohomish County in Mukilteo, has for some years run an outpost restaurant on Camano Island, just over the north county line. Since April, they have also marked their territory near the southern county line, in Mountlake Terrace.  This one has some brewing capacity, too; small but functional.
The taps appear, for the most part, to be pouring DK's well-established favorites like Industrial IPA.  The server said one or two taps would be set aside for beers made on site.

(Visited August, '14)

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Sierra Nevada: Happy campers, great tour, good book

     Driving down I-5 to the Bay Area recently, I diverted in the valley to Chico, Calif. to check out the Sierra Nevada plant. The last tour of the day was forming up and our guide started out with good news: we would begin in the tasting room, where brewery tours typically end.  The reason, she explained, was that she had extra duties that evening, setting up for the opening day of the traveling beer camp.
     Lollapalooza!  Sierra had just opened their east coast plant, near Asheville, N.C., and was celebrating with a dozen excellent collaborations with top-tier brewers around the country, from Oregon (Ninkasi) to Florida (Cigar City), from San Diego (Stone, Ballast Point) to Maine (Allagash). The opening party, in a
couple of days, would showcase Sierra's collaborations with Ninkasi and Russian River. To the left, I took a picture of the 12-pack I bought at the swag store after the tour.  My tasting room highlights: Can-fusion, the collaboration with Oskar Blues, a tasty rye bock (7.2%, 45 IBU, in the silver can on the right), and Mallard's Odyssey, made with Bell's of Kalamazoo, a chocolate-y imperial dark ale (8.5%, 40 IBU), made with ten different malts. The Mallards is the only bottle with the cap still on, and I am about to pop the cap and revisit the bliss after I publish this post.

     Tour time.  Our guide had other chores but she gave us a fine experience all the same,  In a large room dominated by the upper parts of a 200-bbl brew kettle.  A small pitcher of wort, drawn from the mash tun, was poured into sampling cups so we could taste the sweetish brown liquid that will meet hops and yeast and become our ambrosia.
   After the wort, we went into the hops room. Our guide invited each of us to take a pinch of one or more loose hops leaves and rub them between our fingers to experience the differing aromas.  Note these were baled leaves: the whole-cone hopping that SN boasts of on its signature Pale Ale is evidently not the only hopping process used here.
Still, this was a fine experience, and to have it in a brewery nearing a million barrels a year in sales made it even better.  Bitter and better.
     The last stop on the tour was to the bottoms of the huge 800-bbl fermenters.  The purchase of these monsters bought Sierra a bit more time before ever-increasing demand stretched this plant to its full capacity (977,00 bbls last year). I learned this by buying and reading Beyond the Pale (2013) by Ken Grossman, who started this brewery in 1980 (medieval time in craft brewing history).  Grossman writes that he was inspired to write this business and personal autobiography in part after Sam Calagione published his Brewing Up a Business, about how he began Dogfish Head Brewing in 1995.  Now, having read both books, here is my take:  Calagione has written a wonderfully entertaining book in the how to succeed in business category, his business happens to be beer.  You know those titles in airport bookstores, using 6-sigma to take your company to the next level? Sam C. tries to write general truths that will work for a scissors manufacturer as well as a beer maker.  Ken G., on the other hand, has written a beer book, plain and simple.  A reader can learn a lot about brewing processes, dealing with distributors, hop and barley growers, and all the rest.
   These two men are among the most successful craft brewers today, and they sound like friends,  Each has chosen to tell his story in his own way: Calagione shows his passion for unusual beers as intellectual curiosity, while Grossman just lays his heart on the table and lets the reader watch it beat.  The excruciating pain of buying out his original partner. the guilt he keeps alluding to about the neglect of his family life, the agony of when to spend money he didn't have, in the early days, this makes a gripping story. Later, with a successful business, his chapters get a little dull, like the CEO's message in a corporate annual report.  But to have started in 1980, 35 years ago, and to be where his company is today, is worth a salute from all who love good beer.
(Visited 7/17/14)