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)

Monday, March 16, 2015

Tacoma's northside beer scene, part II--the Odd Otter

 Turn right outside the front door of Pacific Brewing, go up one block, and enter the taproom of the Odd Otter Brewing Co.  Open only since last November, the Otter has already made a splash with some distinctive recipes.  The most interesting of these has to be the Kentucky River Otter, based on a style known as Kentucky Common.  Called one of the few indigenous American beer styles, this top-fermenting beer developed in the Louisville area in the mid-19th century and was popular there until prohibition.
Very limited revivals have sometimes classed it as a sour mash, but a well-researched technical paper by Dienes and Harting concludes that the sour mash methods used by the bourbon distillers were not actually used by the Louisville breweries.  Nevertheless, the grain bill includes a generous amount of corn mixed in with the barley. 
An array of barrels stands between the pool table and the brewing equipment (7-bbl system with 14-bbl fermenters).  Half are bourbon barrels in which some Kentucky Rive Otter is aging; the other half are wine barrels last used for pinot noir and now used to mature a blonde ale, Bacchus Blonde.
  Odd Otter was launched by a small group of military physicians who work or worked at Joint Base Lewis-McChord nearby.  Owen McGrane, one of the founders, is head brewer, and John Hotchkiss IV is the general manager of the business side of brewing.  John describes his colleague as a free thinker in his approach to beer and brewing, not afraid to take chances/
"We take beer seriously and ourselves not all that seriously," he says.  He points to brews like Coconut Chai Porter and Ottzel Quatzel Pale, made with Peruvian blue corn, as other examples of how Owen likes to color outside the lines.
   The history of the building is a good story here, too.  John says it was a soldiers and sailors club during World War I and a USO club in World War II days.  "As Tacoma and JBLM have been points of debarkation for so many troops over the years, it was been fun for us, with our ties to the military, to have a building where we can recall those who served long ago."  In more recent decades, the building was a showroom for farm equipment and a print shop.  The old brick walls had been plastered over, and part of the restoration involved exposing this brick again.
   "The otter is a playful animal," John says, "and he seemed an appropriate mascot for our outlook here."  For sure, this is a brewery that's going to be making waves for a long time/
(Visited 03/12/15)

Friday, March 13, 2015

Tacoma's north downtown beer scene part I: Pacific Malting & Brewing reborn

Start this tour at the Spanish Steps--no, not the original Scale Spagnuole in Rome but the copy faithfully built by Tacoma boosters in 1916 and recently restored.  To the left, behind the monkey puzzle tree, is a wall of the Elks Club building now being restored by McMenamins, to be another hotel/brewpub.  The steps lead down to the old city hall, the five story red building, and the white building to the left, the former city hall annex.  The annex was originally the old Pacific Brewing and Malting Company, built in 1897 and of course shuttered by the state prohibition law in 1916.  Annexed to city hall, the building was used by the police as a jail, a garage, etc.
    O happy days for historic preservation, esp. when the result is a return to the original purpose of a building.  Reopened for brewing last July and serving in the taproom since September, Pacific has revived a fine old name from the pages of beer history.  One of their best sellers in tavern-bound kegs is Grit City Porter, bearing one of Tacoma's more positive nicknames in a rich, malty (five malts, including Black Prinz) ale of 6.2% abv and a moderately hoppy 37 IBUs.  Steve, the brewer, touts the porter's second life: as an ingredient in a House of Donuts recipe, the donuts sold right on the taproom bar.
  Another tasty treat I enjoyed was the Belgian Abbey Ale, a nice, dark Dubbel at 7.9% abv and 28 IBUs.  A malty aroma and flavors like dates in the finish.
  Other than the donuts and some bags of chips, the taproom lacks food service at the present.  The system is on full display through the interior windows, a pair of 15-bbl fermenters and another half-dozen 7-bbl tanks.  With a central location in the nascent craft brewing scene in this neighborhood, and some well-made beers, Pacific's second lease on life looks secure.

(Visited 03/12/15)