Friday, November 20, 2015

Spinnaker Bay sails through Rainier Valley

   Hillman City is one of Seattle's least-famous neighborhoods, a stretch along Rainier Blvd. in the southeast quadrant.  Among the desiderata of urban living this district had lacked was a brewery of its own, but not since Spinnaker Bay opened its doors a couple of years ago.  The founders, Janet Spindler, who brews, and Elissa Pryor, who manages the business side, claim to be the state's only brewery that is 100% women-owned.                                      

Here's Elissa giving me a little tour of the brew system, while Janet, like any brewer, is cleaning vessels and gear in the back.  The fermenters each have a female name, and the brite tank is one you don't forget, Phyllis Chiller.
    The pub in front is a convivial area and had a good crowd on a weeknight. A lot of the beers have nautical names--Spinnaker Bay itself is a place in the south end of Lake Washington, a couple of miles away, where the owners live and keep a sailboat.  The names of the beers reflect this love of the water--Fraid Knot, the Pale Ale, the Hummer (not the monster SUV, this term has a meaning in sailing, too) and the Little Dinghy Blonde, what they call their Kolsch.  I had a pint of the Dinghy Blonde that had been soured in a bourbon barrel (below), and it was an amazing out-of-the-box taste.
(Visited 10/4/15)

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

More garages of Marysville: At Large

    One of the longer lines at the Everett craft beer festival last month stretched out in front of the recently launched At Large Brewing Co.  Opened last April by Jim Weisweaver and his wife Karen, At Large
grew out of Jim's increasing commitment to homebrewing excellence and an academic assignment for Karen.  She took a business class where the term paper was to be on the startup process for either a hypothetical business or an actual business.  As Jim had been filling their garage with bigger and better homebrew gear, they decided to create the actual business for her class paper.
They make beer one full barrel (31 gallons) at a time,  finishing in a brite tank enclosed in a chilled glass compartment.
    The styles are classics, nothing exotic.  A couple of IPAs. a brown, a pale, and a blonde, I'd Tap That, which was one of the hits at the festival.
Another was a watermelon infused cream ale, which Jim made only because the festival wanted every brewer to dispense one beer through a randall.  "I'm no fan of fruit beers in general," Jim says, "but they make the rules, and as we've only been open since April, we cut up some watermelon and went along." The couple have day jobs and brewing is something done in the evenings.   "If I could brew all day long, I'd have a dozen styles up," Jim says, "but I can't so I don't."

(Visited 09/05/15)

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Up in the pass: DruBru

  Snoqualmie Pass:  doesn't that seem like the kind of place that needs its own beer?  Of course ti does.  That's the mission of Dru Ernst, founder of DruBru, a 15-bbl brewery and taproom located right near the 3,000-ft summit of the busiest pass through the Cascades.  Open since last October, it survived one of the
least snowy winters on record, showing that even without the usual numbers of skiers at the nearby ski area, a good beer can prosper.
  The styles Dru favors are generally continental European (Belgium and Germany most-favored nations) and in the session-strength range, abvs ranging from 4.5 to just under 5 percent.  I tried a glass of the Schwarzbier. brewed ale-style (no lagers here) at 4.8% and 37 IBUs. A nice rich caramel taste.
There is no bottling, only keg sales, which DruBru self-distributes mostly along the I-90 corridor, from West Seattle to Yakima.
(Visited 08/26/15)

Monday, September 7, 2015

The previous newest brewery in Snohomish Co.: 5 Rights

   Had I made this stop in Marysville on the fourth of August, just before Sno-Town opened, I could have labeled 5 Rights the newest brewery in a county where they keep popping up like mushrooms after the rain stops.  R. J. Whitlow and his family rolled up the garage door to reveal their tasting and growler-filling room on July 3.
  So whence the name, I asked.   Are the five rights some codicil to the Rheinheitsgebot, the Bavarian purity law?  No, no, they said, it's a principle in the nursing profession when giving medications: be sure it's the right patient, the right drug, the right dose, the right route, and the right time.  R.J.'s wife Kristi is an R.N. at the Everett Clinic, and she evidently has a key role in brewery operations, too.
  The lineup on the first Saturday in September was about a dozen styles, with some interesting twists.  The brews are sorted into three sets: regularly made beers under the Over-the-Counter heading, seasonals are RX or Prescription only, and the special imperials fall under the Nurses' Orders heading.
Heading the Over-the-Counter offerings was Nellie's Nectar Bavarian Hefe, the tap handle for which is pictured on the right.  Mme. Nellie, mother of one of the Whitlows, was present last Saturday, though not pouring--she had a granddaughter doing that.  We had some laughs about her selling the naming rights, though, in light of the UW Husky stadium becoming Alaska Airlines Stadium last week.  The Hefe, my growler take-home choice, was full of clove and banana flavors: it won a tasting award at the Evergreen Fair in Monroe recently.
   Another interesting angle was the stout options.  There was a straight oatmeal stout and a coffee oatmeal stout, both 5.4% abv.  The coffee was not beans in the boil, but cold-brewed coffee (a 24-hr process I had not heard of).
  There were the usual IPAs, pales, an amber, etc.
It does sound as if 5 Rights is still on track to stand out from the crowd.
(Visited 09/05/15)

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Badgering the witness? No, Badger in Wenatchee!

     A couple blocks south of the heart of downtown Wenatchee, in a corner of a huge, block-long former fruit warehouse here in the apple capital, the thirsty traveler can find Badger Mountain Brewing open most afternoons. The last time before this I saw it was from an Amtrak window at sunrise, riding the Empire  
Builder back to Everett. The train tracks are visible just beyond the parking area.
    Badger Mountain opened its taproom early in 2013. with a 15-bbl system and 30-bbl fermenters turning out enough beer to distribute kegs in a three-county area and to pass Columbia Valley Brewing as the largest beer maker in Wenatchee.  The styles cover a wide range. from stouts to wheats to an experimental sour.  A pizza oven at the end of the bar, and a barbecue food truck outside, parked on weekends, makes food an option.

     Dave Quick, pictured here to the right, is the brewer and principal owner.  He is demo'ing a new fruit-fly gun, one that fires a tiny burst of table salt, lethal to the flies that proliferate this time of year.
   My tasting notes have disappeared but I had a couple of excellent pints, including an apricot ale and a coconut porter.

(Visited 08/25/15)

Monday, August 31, 2015

Snohomish getting downright beerish: SnoTown's taproom open a month

    Believe it!  At the corner of Second and Lincoln in the town of Snohomish, Snotown Brewing has been open to the public and pouring tasty beer since August 5. Frank and Keri Sandoval, pictured here, had been
brewing kegs for sale to a few on-premise places for some months now, but permission for a taproom has come just this summer. The initial selection was two blonde ales, a citrus-basil ale, a red, a brown, and an IPA.  Nothing heavier than the brown (6.5% abv).  "We only brew what we like to drink," Frank says, and as our much-warmer-than-normal summer wears on, the Sandovals were liking to drink lighter ales.  The flagship, at least for now, is the Keri's Blonde, 5% abv and crisp.  Brews in the works include an ESB, a rye made with smoked peppers called Loose Rooster, and a session IPA.

Frank works on a 2-bbl system with fermenters the same size.  This equipment launched Whitewall Brewing in Marysville just last year.  When Whitewall was one year old, business had been good enough to warrant an upgrade and SnoTown became the beneficiary of a score in the hot market for used brewing equipment.
   The taproom has some nice decor touches, like repurposed pallets for a ceiling and a wood rendition of some classic rock albums on the wall.  No food service, but next door, mere steps away, an Ixtapa Mexican restaurant is cooking and will deliver to the taproom. Looks like a good launch.
(Visited 08/26/15)

Mt. Index: making beer with the left hand, vodka with the right

   Heading into Stevens Pass on US 20, once you escape the maddening traffic of the Monroe to Gold Bar stretch (the Camino del Muerto to the locals), you come on to Index, about MP 33.  Pointy peaks jab at the sky on both sides; the scenery is getting real special real fast.  And then you come on to the sign for the Mt. Index Brewery and Distillery.
Charles Tucker has been making liquor here for a couple of years now.  He added the 1.5 bbl brewing system last year, around the back of the building.  As the state regulators worked through the licensing issues, they told him to maintain a rigorous separation of the two processes. His beer styles are whatever suits his fancy; in late August it was a stout and a ginger beer; he would start in on a wheat beer come September and then it would be time to think about Octoberfests.
    The liquor production is set in a much more precise pattern: a coffee liquor, a  coriander vodka, a gin. Because spirits must be bottled before sale, in bottles with labels approved by the federal regulator, a time-consuming process, the choices will be limited. Beer, going out in kegs, is not so constrained.
Charles plans to sell kegs to taverns and restaurants in the Skykomish Valley, and to swap guest taps with other small breweries in Snohomish County.
Sites like Facebook and Yelp indicate that this combo is open seven days a week, but that is a glitch in the sites.  The brewery side is only open Thursdays through Sundays; it is just the distillery that is open M-T-W.  So I wasn't able to get a taste of beer on a Tuesday afternoon, but I'll save that pleasure for another time.
The distillery is pictured at the right.

(Visited 08/25/15)

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Flying Bike Co-op: off to a flying start

   Greenwood Avenue in August: already a great beer block between 85th and 87th thanks to Naked City Brewing.  I stroll up past their outdoor beer garden, tables all full on the pleasant afternoon, and am duly amazed by what I see in the very next building.  It's the Flying Bike Cooperative Brewery, and it has just signed up its 1649th member.  I study the tap list at the bar, noting that a number of the brews have someone's name written at the bottom of the white tile they are written on.

Ryan, tending the bar, says the Storm Cycle CDA was the home brew chosen by a panel of members and brewed as a collab with the new Counterbalance Brewery down on the south end of the city.  This I had heard about at the Everett festival a few days ago.  "So how does this member input thing work?" I asked him. He started to explain, then broke off to wait on a new customer.
  "Member?" Ryan asked.
   "Four-fifty-three," the guy said, ordering a pint of the Penny Farthing Wheat Ale.
   "Members get a dollar off our pour price, four to seven," Ryan said after filling the pint.  "They get a dividend at the end of a year, like at REI, if we make a profit.  And, if they home-brew, we must have several hundred who do, they can enter a brew in one of the events we put on, every two or three months. The winner, chosen by a panel of members, gets his or her recipe made by our head brewmaster back there."  Ryan indicated the back of the building where a gleaming new 7-bbl system sat.

 This equipment, made at the Bridgetown factory in Oregon, is operated by Kevin Forhan, a well-credentialed veteran of the Seattle craft scene (stints at Pike Brewing, Big Time, Elysian, and the RAM chain), head brewmaster and mentor to the many home brewers among the membership. The guy whose CDA recipe won the last taste-of got to load the grain in the mash tun: his excitement at working with eight hundred pounds of malted barley instead of the ten or twelve pounds in his home system is captured on a vimeo in the Co-op's website.
   A bit later, member # 114 (or somewhere around there) pulls in with his backyard hops harvest--from Lynnwood, about twenty miles north of here.  In this picture, our Lynnwood farmer and Kevin Badger, chairman of the co-op board, get ready to grab some buds--the tasty kind!  The energy in here is impressive; the wall art consists of dozens of bike handlebars, mounted like elk antlers on wood plaques.  Ashley tells me that she and about six other members who don't brew got together to create this unique bit of decor.

(Visited 08/20/15)

Monday, August 24, 2015

Lantern: Greenwood's bit o' Belgium

   The Greenwood neighborhood in northwest Seattle is focused on the eponymous avenue, home to #NakedCityBrewing and now the new #FlyingBike brewing cooperative, along with an assortment of funky business ventures like the Wingdome and the space travel shop.  The district extends several blocks to either side of Greenwood Ave., to Rt. 99, Aurora Ave. on the east. A traffic light at Aurora and 95th St. marks a corner where Lantern Brewing brews.  The converted warehouse holds a 15-bbl system in the back and a
comfortable taproom area in the front, open Thursdays through Saturdays and hosting food trucks weekends.
   Brewer and owner Christopher Engdahl started the business about five years ago, a few blocks west of here, and moved here when he expanded capacity a couple of years ago,  The taproom has been open since early 2014.  As the taplist one day in August indicates, Engdahl is fond of all brews Belgian,  The French Biere de Garde  (6.5% abv, crisp hop finish) was very nice, too.  That's one of the seasonals: the standards, which are sold in 22-oz. bottles here and at some bottle shops in Seattle, are the Dubbel, the Tripel, the Witbier, the Pale and the Stout.  Kegs and bottles are self-distributed within the city for now,  I'll be looking for a lantern come the next Belgianfest this winter, for sure.
(Visited 08-20-15)

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Festival notes--Everett

    The state beer commission's north sound component of its regional beer festivals took over Hoyt Street in downtown Everett last Saturday (August 15) and I definitely learned one new thing.  "To randal" is now a verb, meaning to pass draft beer through a cylinder filled with small bits of some flavoring substance, e.g., hops, pineapple chunks, crushed Jolly Rancher candies.  Many of the participating breweries offered randalized styles or randalizing your sample while you watched.
    The longest lines stretched out in front of Fremont Brewing and the new face in Marysville, At Large Brewing.  About thirty breweries were there. most of them were from Everett south along I-5. Only two Whatcom County brewers attended and none from Skagit.  This is the time of year Festival Fatigue starts to afflict smaller firms.  Inventory is stressed, staff is stressed, the Mount Vernon festival was just a week ago, etc.
     To update some recent posts, Cole Rinehart said he is in the process of relocating his little backyard shed brewhouse for his #InTheShadows beers to a commercial building along SR 530 between Arlington and Darrington.  That;s a sign of growing demand, When I got a sandwich, I shared a table with Jeff Howard and Frank Lawrence, co-founders of the new Counterbalance Brewing in Seattle's Georgetown district.  Jeff told me they had just produced a collaboration beer with the new #Flying Bike Cooperative Brewery up in the Greenwood district, near Naked City.  Flying Bike was having its grand opening the same day.
     One of the most unusual beers was Nocino Walnut Porter, created at Scuttlebutt in Everett just for WABL members. Nocino was described as a sticky brown liquer made in Northern Italy from unripe green walnuts.  After steeping in spirit, the walnuts are removed and the now black alcohol is blended into a simple syrup.  "We get the boozy walnuts from Skiprock Brewing," said Matt Stromberg, head brewer at Scuttlebutt, "and when we dry hop our porter, we add a couple of pounds of the walnuts."  Matt was hopeful this unusual take on porter can have an encore later this year.
(Visited 08/15/15)

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

How about a demo brewery? Old Abbey in Abbotsford

   What's a demonstration brewery, you ask?  Well, just over the border in Abbotsford, B.C., it's a brewery built by an importer of craft brewing equipment, to show what that equipment can do.  At Old Abbey Ales the equipment can do quite a lot.  Head brewer Tony DeWald, whose many years of experience include a stint most recently at Dead Frog Brewing, creates some of the most celebrated Belgian styles: a quadrupel, trippel, dubbel, sours, etc.  He also brews a number of the better known west coast styles.  A full picture of the tap list last weekend is better than 1,000 words.
The quadrupel was not on tap, but it was for sale in bottles, so I took one home and tried it later. Having been in Belgium just over two months ago, I can attest to the authentic taste. the rich mouthfeel is all there.  What I did start out with was a Brett Texas Brown Ale, pictured at the left.
Why Texas?  The Lone Star State has no particular beer cachet.  Well, they said, Texas just connotes big and brassy, and that's what they got here.  7.1% abv and the bitterness units, a surprising 64.  You can hop a brown ale a ton, most folks don't but no one legislates the beer styles any more.  A very complex mix of malt and lupulins, tasty.
Had to try the Hophefeweizenbock just to see if I could get all the German syllables off.  As the numbers on the board indicate, this was a balanced hefe with a lot of alcohol.
My last 4 oz. sample (their license limits a customer to 12 oz. per visit) was the Kettle Sour. listed in the Standard brews column. That was worth a growler fill, The nose alone was singularly fine.
About the equipment being demonstrated, there were some nice tanks up front, a number more in the back, and a couple of tall grain silos outside. Brew-Stuff advertises itself as a fabricator and assembler more than a manufacturer per se.  A couple of customer reviews available online indicate that the basic manufacturing is done in China, at least some of it.  On a Sunday afternoon, no one was on hand to walk the curious around the equipment.

(Visited 08.10/15)

Monday, August 10, 2015

Sound to Summit: Snohomish city gets a happenin' brewery

    Snohomish: The bypassing  US 2 doesn't subject you to a long stream of traffic lights (Monroe, the next town on the way to Stevens Pass will) as you head into the mountains from Everett.  Quaint downtown, if you take an exit, fun place to stroll or start a bike ride on the Centennial Trail, but not much of a beer town until lately.  A garage nano, Mt. Pilchuck Brewing, has been in business a couple of years but hasn't gained much traction.  Now, however, we have Sound to Summit Brewing, nine months in business and making a statement.
     The owners, Drs. John (M.D.) and Stacy (D.D.S.) Sype, both home brewers for some years, decided to go commercial about three years ago, and hired Gray Warnock as brewmaster while still in the planning and design stages. The space is in a business park, about a mile west of the downtown
area, in a space previously used as a warehouse.
Pipes and cables criss-cross the high ceiling; they play no part in the brewing process.

Rather than run down the various styles offered here, I present the tap list as written last week.

Three kinds of IPA, but also note the pilsner, Vienna lager, and kolsch.  We can always cheer another lager maker.


  The three fermenters toward the back of the work space are each rated 15-bbl.  The brewing system appears to have a batch capacity of around 5 bbls.  The tasting room is family-friendly and a ping-pong table was getting good use on a summer afternoon.   Sound to Summit looks like it is well grounded and off to a good start.

(Visited 08/07/15)

Monday, August 3, 2015

The Holy Mountain is not Rainier

    OK, we do venerate Mt. Rainier around here, put it on our license plates, the Washington quarter coin, and all that.  Some folks might call it sort of mystical, maybe sacred.  But when the folks who started Holy Mountain Brewing went to thinking about a name, they went with the title of a 1973 movie by Mexican director Alejandro Jodorowski and the title track of a 1993 album by a metal/stoner band called Sleep.  Besides. Rainier was already taken in the beer world.
   Holy Mountain pushes the envelope.  This is not your typical 2 IPAs and a Hefe brewery.
They do some Belgian styles, they make lagers, and they do have a couple of ales (pale and stout).
Some of the Belgians are sours,  A saison is aged three months in a foudre (new word for me, means a huge wooden fermenter, like forty barrels huge) with Brett yeast,  There's a Grisette, a sour farmhouse, lots of new age beers like that.
Holy Mountain brews 10-barrel batches and uses 20-bbl fermenters, plus the foudre.  Had to use my new word again,
The location is on the waterfront well north of Belltown,  The trains run on the tracks right out the back door: the Amtrak came whistling by as I was sipping last week.  The ship in the background is the USS Boxer, in port for the annual Seafair weekend.

In a city that sees a new brewery open just about every month, Holy Mountain has made some waves in its first year of existence.

(Visited 07/29/15)

Friday, July 31, 2015

She Stoups to Conquer Ballard

     Apologies to Oliver Goldsmith for making the title of his 1773 rom-com into a pun, but it does promote proper pronunciation of Stoup Brewing Co.  In less than two years (founded October 2013) Stoup has made a pretty fair splash in the Seattle scene.

The production brewery and taproom, augmented by food trucks after 5 p.m., is located in an industrial part of the Ballard district--a block from the big Bardahl plant that is also a navigational landmark for Reuben's Brews. Stoup (a Scots word for a tankard or cup, also an Old Norse word for a beaker) has kept four ales in production since opening day: a Red, an IPA, an ESB, and a porter.  Four others rotate in and out, on the day I stopped by, they included a Citra IPA, an India Golden Ale, and a Mosaic Pale.
Notwithstanding the name, the Mosaic Pale is bittered by another hop besides the mosaic; I tried a pint and liked the tangy nose and the long finish. 555.3% abv and 39 IBUs/
   Repurposed cargo containers seem to be an in thing these days.  Pictured here is an orange container behind the bar, where the working kegs are hooked up. There is another container outside, its present function I did not learn.  Stoup is self-distributing, within King County and also south, beyond Tacoma and down to Olympia.
  With three medals at the 2015 state brewers festival last month, they seem to be off to a great start.
(Visited 07'29/15)

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

New thoughts from the Pierce County outback

     Coming back from Mt. Rainier a few days ago, I wended down toward Buckley in the early afternoon. Stopped at a pub in the town as I knew Elk Head Brewing did not have a kitchen.  A pint of local brew?  Sorry, Elk Head is not selling to bars or restaurants.  Hmm.  Settled for a Mac & Jacks with my sandwich and then went off to check out this story.
     True. according to Al Garrison, running the taps at the brewery taproom.  Elk Head can turn out just enough beer to satisfy taproom customers here and at its Ocean Shores alehouse, and to keep the growlers filled, a few kegs for individual customers, and now the new 32-oz. can they brought out.
Here it is next to a regular quart growler.  They put four of their fourteen styles (at the moment, including some seasonals) in these cans and sell them for $7.  A bit more than most brewers are charging to fill a quart growler, but then one need not worry about the 48 hour shelf life on a growler fill.
Plenty of breweries make enough for what they can sell on their own premises and seek no wider markets,  But they are almost always part of a restaurant or eatery of some form, whether part of a chain like McMenamins or RAM or single operations.  This is the first production brewery I have seen with output all consumed on the premises.
      A few miles south of Buckley, in a spot near Graham and Orting, I went back to the M.T.Head Brewery, still operating out of the erstwhile garage of Tim and Renee Rockey as it was four years ago, the only other time I had visited.  Gone was the old jury-rigged half-barrel system, though, and Tim was now brewing on modern equipment fabricated down in Vancouver and turning out about five barrels per batch.  He had signed up with a new wholesaler, Alpha Distributing out of Kent, a partnership organized in 2011 and now handling several south Sound breweries. One of them is Airways Brewing, and Airways and M.T. Head will soon be pouring each other's brews in a pair of guest taps.
     The lineup here was adventurous.  I tried a Triskell Lager--Triskell being a French hop, not often seen in these parts.  Tim also encouraged me to try a sample of his Tantric Wheat IPA, a somewhat hazy, balanced ale, made with a single hop in the boil but a potpourri of fourteen hops dry in the fermenter.  Unusual and tasty.
(Visited 07/18/15).

Monday, June 29, 2015

In the Shadows: Granite Falls gets a brewery

     First off, Granite Falls is not on the way to anywhere.  The road from Arlington to Darrington, SR 530 via Oso and much in the news last year, bypasses Granite Falls on its tour of the Snohomish County outback.  But it was on my map since I had a pint of a delicious basil-flavored ale at the nano brewers' night at the Local several months ago.  Made by In The Shadows Brewing, with an address in Arlington but a physical location here in Granite Falls.  Opened last October and open by appointment only, so, cell phone in hand, I went there and asked if I might stop by.  Access granted.
My host, the brewer and co-owner of In the Shadows, is Cole Rinehardt, pictured here in the center of the 240 sq, ft, brewhouse he built in the back yard of his home, on the banks of the South Fork of the Stillaguamish.  As Cole tells the story, "I'd been home brewing for a number of years, kept upgrading equipment and buying more exotic ingredients, until my wife Sarah said one day, 'we have more outgo on your brewing every year--isn't it about time we see a little income from it?'  So we raised the money--I even sold my '69 Mustang. one sweet car, to set up a commercial grade brewery."
   So Cole set out to do just that.  He brews 37 gallons per batch, a barrel plus a sixtel. He keeps his day job, an engineer at Boeing in Everett, and shows his engineering skills in some of the features of his system.  Over Cole's shoulder is his wort chilling apparatus, an array of double copper pipes with warm wort flowing one way through the inner pipe and cold water passing the other direction in the outer pipe.
In the yard. otherwise the play area for the couple's two young sons, Cole is growing hops on three trellises.  East Kent Golding is thriving in the foreground and Cascade hops are also doing well out toward the street.  These will be picked and used come harvest time.
The standard rotation is an IPA, a pale, and an amber ale.  That basil treat I had earlier this year? A seasonal, the full name being Honey Basil Lemon, a pint of which I enjoyed just as much this visit as the first time.  Cole bottles most of his production, in 12s and 22s, for about a dozen current retailers: the Barbecue Bucket in downtown Granite Falls tries to keep the 12 oz bottles on hand all the time for on-premise consumption. 
     Cole and Sarah opened In the Shadows last October, and when a first anniversary rolls around with fresh-hopped ales, I wouldn't be surprised if the income side of the ledger is looking pretty healthy. 
(Visited 06/25/15)

Friday, June 26, 2015

Wash. Brewers Festival, 2015: fine weather, fine beers

     The big state brewers festival, in Redmond's Marymoor Park again, had 105 beer-brewing entities setting up their booths under glorious sunshine last Saturday (the weather has not always been kind to this Fathers Day weekend event).  The real news is the sheer numbers.  Five years ago less than one hundred breweries even existed, and McMenamins and RAM each had a half-dozen locations licensed to swell the totals listed in the Northwest Brewing News.  Today, I dare say last week's 105 was less than half the beer making entities brewing today.
     The Friday evening part of the program was must-be-21 and the booths staffed mostly by brewers themselves.  The Saturday program was family-friendly, and strollers and other kid-carriers were all over the place.  Most of the booths were still run by brewery staff members, and in some cases the brewers were back.  I had a chance to chat with Nigel from Outlander on the Fremont-Ballard border, learning that his Honey Basil Ale is his most requested keg at nearby taverns.  I wandered over to Port Townsend Brewing's stand for a taste of Yoda's Green Tea Golden, and again I lobbied Kim to move this delicious brew from the seasonal category to the regular rotation.  Saw some auld acquaintances like Mari from Chuckanut and Jim from Foggy Noggin and newer acquaintances like Chad and Colleen from Wander.  Great time, got home with several bus connections.
(Visited 06/20/15)

Monday, June 15, 2015

Now for some serious heartland: Dempsey's Brewery in Watertown, South Dakota

   A side trip on the way home included soup and a pint in Watertown, S.D., pop. about 21,000 and a few miles from the Minnesota border. Farms, looking green in early June, are the main thing, Among other attractions, Watertown is  home of Dempsey's Brewery. founded in 2000 and thus the second oldest brewery in the state.
Founder and brewer Bill Dempsey says the locals are not keen for the hop bombs so popular on the west coast.  A pale, a stout, a blonde, a lager, and my choice, a Valkyrie Red Ale (5.4% abv per the chalkboard, nice balance with a bit of hoppy tang in the finish) were in the rotation.  Behind the restaurant a brick oven for pizza baking could be seen, and son Sean Dempsey was listed as the only certified pizzioli crafter in the state, based on a course he took in San Francisco.

The beers are brewed on a ten barrel system, parts of which Bill was able to re-source from other uses in the food and dairy business.  Fifteen years sounds like a long enough time to conclude that the Dempseys will be selling good beer for this end of South Dakota as long as they wish.  As the folks here at North Sound Brewing and any others with a good Irish theme, Slainte'!

(Visited 06/09/15)

Friday, June 12, 2015

Where the "Heartland" brews in the Big Apple: on the way home v. I

Manhattan, 5th Ave & 34th St.  The Empire State Building, rising o so hi and being the wrap scene for Sleepless in Seattle, King Kong, etc.  Right down at the corner, craft beer flows from a dozen taps of the parent Heartland Brewery.
They brew in Brooklyn and serve up pints in five or six locations around the city, including this classic spot.  Penn Station is just a five minute walk from here, and with an hour and a quarter between Amtrak trains, it was easy to stop in for a pint.  The older daughter up in Albany gave me a Heartland t-shirt a couple of birthdays  back: it lists the beers they make all year, like Cornhusker Lager, Indiana Pale, and Farmer Jon's Oatmeal Stout.  You'd expect a tractor parked in the pub with all this country theme stuff, but alas, the Midwest is only celebrated in the beer names.  Well, cockle doodle do me, I had time for a pint of Red Rooster Ale and then it was back to the train station and on to Philly.
(Visited 06/06/15)

Sunday, May 31, 2015

St. Bernardus--the highlight of Watou, Belgium

    A few miles down country lanes from Westvletrren takes you to the village of Watou, practically on the border with France, pop. about 2,000.  The brewery of St. Bernardus, another mile south of the village, amid Flemish fields green in May, hums with activity.
The brewery was built in 1946, just after WW II had leveled much of Belgium, and has been expanded in recent years to a 100-hectoliter (close to 90-barrel) batch capacity.  The monks of St. Sixtus abbey in Westvleteren outsourced their brewing to St. Bernardus for a period of years, but when the popularity of their trappist styles really took off, resumed brewing as a monkish endeavor in 1992.  Still, the sense that St. Bernardus Abt 12 is a quadrupel a lot like the legendary Westvleteren 12 is hard to put out of mind.  Plus, you can get the St.B ales readily: I bought a bottle at Elizabeth Station in Bellingham shortly before I left.

The brewery had no tour the day we stopped in Watou, but it had something most breweries don't: a fine and comfortable little bed and breakfast right on the grounds.  In this picture, some of the 14  fermenters loom over the beautifully groomed courtyard of the inn. The grounds include a clay tennis court, koi ponds, a few pieces of sculpture, and inside, a refrigerator stocked with all the beers bottled here, which the guests pay for on an honor system, putting a euro or two in for each bottle they pop after supper at some cafe in the village.  Breakfast the morning after was great, too, the hostess, Jackie, will make you an omelette on request.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  (Visited 05/27-28/15)

Friday, May 29, 2015

The legendary Westvleteren Trappist abbey

 Best beer in the world?  It's very fine, but the highest elevations (is Everest higher than K2) require more sensitive instruments than my taste buds and nose.  I drove our rented Citroen out there Wednesday (May 27), blowing a half hour going back and forth from the village of Westvleteren looking for signs to the abbey.
Must have been coming from the wrong direction.  When I finally found the monks' retail side, expecting some dusty little cafe at the end of the one lane road, there it sat: a modern building, probably seats 300 if the weather is good for the outdoor tables, a big parking lot with several tour buses and a hundred cars.  When a fair number of the sippers left the cafe to get on the bus, it sounded to me they were speaking German (Dutch and Flemish are close).
A sign near the entrance advised that the monks of St. Sixtus were not selling any beer in bottles to go this day.  They bottle all their production and the servers behind the bar were busy popping the caps off bottles of WestV 8 and 12.  I had bought a bottle of 12 in Bruges for 12 euros and I guess that's the one I'll bring back to Bellingham.  I may put it up for auction in some fundraiser, but gosh I had to taste a bit of this best-in-the-world ale.  So I got in line and had a glass here.  Oh, yum!

At 10.5% abv, I suppose this dark malty brew is more like a quadrupel than a dubbel.  It has a nice aroma--but I have sniffed more intense and complex aromas--the lambic-laced Henrik Strasse in Bruges most recently, and I would say Fremont and Wander have created some fine aromas with bourbon barrels in Washington lately.  Front-of-tongue is certainly great, a number of spices so it's hard to single one out, coriander of course.  And the mouthfeel has a good linger time.
  Well, I went to the shrine and I felt rewarded but not sanctified.

(Visited 05-27-15)

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Halve Maan Brouwerij, Bruges: great tour, fine beer

     If there is a heaven for virtuous beer lovers, I would imagine it looking much like Bruges in Belgium's Flanders region.  Cobblestone streets crossing a network of canals, quaint old buildings; pure eye candy. Candy?  Half the stores are selling chocolates, Belgian chocolates, the other major food group this country does better than any other.  The rest of the stores sell beer, dubbels, trippels, lambics, geuzes, blonde ales, the styles invented here and now madly popular everywhere.
     In the heart of the city the Halve Maan (Half Moon in Flemish) brewery is making great beer in the same spot since 1856, through six generations of the Maes family.
 They have shoehorned a modern production plant (stainless steel vessels looking to be in the hundred-barrel capacity range ) into the old building, but the new bottling plant had to be built on the outskirts of the city, about two miles away.  Halve Maan is digging under the ancient streets and canals of the city to lay a pipeline from the fermenters to the bottling works; they claim it will be the world's longest pipeline devoted to beer.

The most popular beer made here is Brugges Zot, zot being a fool or jester (story going back to something some emperor said about the city being full of fools); it's a fruity blonde ale in the 5.7% abv range.  Another winner is their Henrik Strasse, brewed both by conventional fermentation and with wild brett yeasts.

The English language tour was led by Maggie from Juneau.  She

seems happy working here in beer heaven--but she did ask if I might have brought a bottle of Alaskan Smoked Porter across the pond in my luggage! Here she is demonstrating the levels of roasting applied to the barley.
    After a quick tour of the modern equipment, the visitor is led through the old brewing setup.  Wort was cooled up on the roof in big copper tubs.  The fermenting tanks were in a horizontal alignment, each with a hatch big enough to admit a (skinny) worker to get in and clean the tanks.  A second worker stood outside to watch the cleaner, pulling him out if he passed out from CO2 or beer.
   The tour includes a glass of Zot in the elegant, canal-level dining room; I had to linger over the soup and bread with a second glass, this of the wild-yeast Henrik Strasse.  Magnificent aroma and taste!
(Visited 05-26-15)

First stop in Belgium: Lamborelle in Bastogne

   We entered Belgium from Luxembourg, driving a Citroen rented in Nancy, France, and soon took a side road to Bastogne, site of the turning point in the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944.  The 10th Armored Division and 101st Airborne dug in and stopped the German counter-attack here; General McAuliffe responding to a surrender demand with one word, "Nuts."  A corporal from Illinois in the 101st went to find water for wounded buddies; finding beer instead, he carried that life-sustaining liquid back in his steel helmet.  To this day, Brasserie Lamborelle in Bastogne brews a brown ale, 7.5% abv, labelling it Airborne and serving it in a miniature helmet.
Can't wait to get back and order a pint at #wingmanbrewers in Tacoma and ask em to put it in this "steel pot."
(Visited May 23, 2015)

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

From Kennewick back to Bellingham

     At the Untapped Blues and Brews Festival in Kennewick May 9, always a great time for rockin' blues bands, often with national reputation, smoky barbecue, and breweries of southeast Wash that we don't get to taste a lot, over on the wet side.  Chatted with Mike Sutherland of White Bluffs Brewing in Richland about his focus on the French farmhouse styles, Biere de Garde,Biere de Mars--mars being the month of March in france), Rocky Coulee from Odessa, promoting their fine Deutschefest in September, Bale Breaker and Yakima Craft from Yakima, the two Prosser breweries (Whitstran and Horse Heaven) upholding the worship of Ninkasi and Gambrinius in the temple of Bacchus, Ice Harbor from right there in Kennewick and Laht Neppur from Waitsburg. Richalnd is now up to five or six craft breweries, Atomic the most senior and Paper Street being the newest.
     On the way home the next day, I came via Wenatchee and stopped for lunch in Cashmere, at Milepost 111.  They have acquired some bigger brewing equipment since my last stop, a couple of fermenters
(3 bbl?) showing through the back bar glass, and a couple of their own brews on tap along with 20-odd well curated guest taps.  Then a brief stop in Leavenworth, for a passport stamp at Icicle and a look at how the town does "Mutters Tag" (Mother's Day) Bavarian style.  Over Stevens Pass and down the other side where I noted the sign for a new craft brewery in Index, but saved it for a future stop.  I did want to pause once more, in Monroe, where Adam's NW Bistro has now restored the old name of Twin Rivers Brewing to its beer-making side.  Chatted with brewer Dan over a pint of his good malty brown ale; he showed me a pair of barrels which had held bourbon once and then rum twice. I learned that spirits law limits whiskey makers to a single use of a barrel, but after that the barrel may be used for other spirits. This stout should be ready in December; I'm posting a reminder to myself.
#White Bluffs Brewing #Rocky Coulee Brewing #Milepost 111#Twin Rivers Brewing
(Visits 05/09-10-15)

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Sun shines on April Brews Day

Bellingham turned out a nice sunny afternoon Saturday, Apr. 25, to kick off the outdoor beer festival season around here. Beer lovers lined up at the booths of famous brewers and new brewers alike.
Chad and Colleen Kuehl, whose Wander Brewing is coming up on one year old this week, drew a good crowd here to sample their bourbon barrel aged imperial porter, Global Mutt.  This rich brew won the Peoples Choice award as the favorite beer by ballot.

Beer is keeping construction workers going here in town.  Kulshan is working away on their second brewery and pub, which they are calling K2.  Meanwhile, on the south side, cranes were
lifting used shipping containers up and into a lot in my Fairhaven neighborhood, where Tony Luciano is putting together the new Stones Throw Brewery.  He and his associates took a booth at the festival last week to show the flag and to pour some root beer--the real stuff is on the way, soon.

Tony Savoy came over from Whidbey Island with some good Flyers brews, his well-known Pacemaker Porter and a seasonal Best Bitter called Spitfire.

Construction workers are also working on beer things down in Bothell.  While McMenamins is finishing up their Anderson School brewpub/hotel, printing up statements that it will be open, after x years in the works, October 15, Jim Jamison of Foggy Noggin is hoping to be moved into new quarters in more of a business location sooner than that. Jim brought some Chief Lightfoot Irish Red to town, and we agreed that one would have to have watched Stanford football games a long, long time ago to get the reference there.

Also greeted and toasted: Shawn Loring of Lazy Boy Brewing in Everett, whose Belgian Oatmeal Pale Ale was noteworthy, and the chief server lady from Island Hoppin' on Orcas Island (the two brewers, the Beccanators, couldn't make this party).
(Visited 04/25/15

Sunday, April 5, 2015

A sweet six-pack in the 'ham: beer-infused truffles

   Evolve Chocolate Truffles here in Bellingham has come out with the niftiest six-pack idea:
 six of their truffles, each with a flavoring dollop of a signature brew from one of our local breweries.
From Chuckanut, Pilsner,  Kulshan contributes a bit of Russian Imperial Stout.  The Baltic Porter, recently released by Wander in 750-ml bottles, enhances the truffle called Coffee Date. Boundary Bay's consistently popular Scotch Ale goes into a hazelnut dessert. Chili Bravo, a recent addition to Menace Brewing's taps at its pub The Local, spices up another truffle.  And last but not least, in a truffle touching multiple bases, the Ginger Bacon, we have Aslan's Ginger Rye.
What a clever way to get people who profess not to like beer but who love chocolate to dip a toe into the pool of zymurgical delights.

(Encountered 04/04/15)

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Sixteen nanos take over all taps at the B'ham Local

This was the tap list on March 25 at the Local, Menace Brewing's taproom in downtown Bellingham.  Sixteen nano-breweries, each working on small systems capable of brewing no more than two barrels (= 62 gallons) per batch,  Some in garages or back yard sheds, others in small commercial space they rent.  The owner/brewer/growler-filler/salesman often keeps a day job and does beer out of passion for brewing.  I imagine Local folks must have logged some miles rounding up all these kegs, as most nano brewers self-distribute only within a few miles of home.  So, bravo!
    Of course, all this effort has to have a payoff, in the form of some great and unusual tastes, right?  Here was my taster tray, six four-ounce glasses:
Front row, left to right:
In the Shadow, Honey Basil Lemon
Slippery Pig, Mojito Wit
Foggy Noggin, Burton Ale

Back row, left to right:
Propolis, Farmhouse Dubbel
Populuxe, Citra Red
North Fork, Sour Blonde

ABVs were not listed, so the studious tourist has to go to each brewer's web site or page to learn such things.
In the Shadow Brewing, Arlington
The honey goes in at the end, to balance the light hops bitterness. 5.5% abv. the basil and lemon prominent,  Smooth, sweet finish.
Slippery Pig brewing, Poulsbo.  The mojito wit is cloudy, tangy (I thought of tangerines), nice clingy mouthfeel,  7.5 % abv
Foggy Noggin Brewing, Bothell.  Have been to Jim Jamison's garage several times, when he opens on Saturday afternoons, but never had his Burton (the style they made before they invented IPA there). Jim brought this English strong ale (6.6%) out of retirement lately; earthy aroma.
Propolis Brewing, Port Townsend, those herbal brewers.  For the Farmhouse Dubbel, they throw in some yarrow, hyssop, and thyme.  7.5% abv and a beer of amazing complexity.  Aroma like our berry farms, taste earthy yet the hops don't hide. They call this Achillea on their labels.
Populuxe Brewing, Seattle (Ballard district). The Citra Red (5.5%) is a brilliant clear ruby in shade, with a big aroma, orange juice taste and lots of linger.
North Fork Brewery, Deming, in our own Whatcom County.  The sour blonde ale (6.0%), aged in white oak barrels of unknown prior use, had a good floral aroma.

   Another nano, just recently reopened in Arlington, is Whiskey Ridge. They had been in Darrington for a year (the town nearest to the Oso mudslide tragedy; their opening was delayed some by that event).
The summer trade was good, but come winter, Darrington becomes very quiet.  As one of the Hatleys told a reporter, they didn't sell enough beer on a weekend to cover the gas to get there.
So Arlington (now a three-brewery town, with Skookum and In the Shadow) made more sense. Their downtown location is in a former grain warehouse, with a scale from 1938 preserved on the floor of the pub space.  Here, Jack Hatley is cleaning a brew kettle in his 1.5-bbl system.
   I stopped in last Saturday, their opening day in the new location, and tried a pint of the Pale. It was medium hoppy and floral, a nice-tasting ale.

(Visted 03/21/15)

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Tacoma's northside beer scene, part III--Tacoma Brewing Co.

   From the top of the Spanish Steps, if you turn around and walk up the hill, a block will take you to St. Helens Ave, and the taproom of the Tacoma Brewing Co., the domain of brewer Morgan Alexander since 2012.  A staple here is Dr. Alexander's Hard Ginger Ale, based on a Victorian-era recipe Morgan found.  This nano-brewing operation involves kegging small batches from the 1.5 bbl  fermenters 
     TBC also carries a varying assortment of ales, with IPAs of various strengths.  For the St. Pat's weekend just passed, they offered pints of Broken Window IPA, Penalty Kick Triple IPA, and NW Pale as well as the Ginger Ale.  Alexander has just announced a new bottle option for Cigar Box IPA as well.
  This brief survey has just covered the new brewers on the scene in one part of Tacoma.  A few blocks up St. Helens would lead the curious and thirsty to Harmon Brewing's Hub and Taproom, additional outlets of the Harmon Brewing operation which started and still goes strong down by the State History Museum.  And the Tacoma Link streetcar that takes you there trundles on to the Tacoma Dome and the rich porters of Wingman Brewing.  Yes, Grit City is now ensconced as another fine Beer City.
(Visited 03.12.15)