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March 10, 2015 at 11:18am

Odd Otter Brewing new releases, new hours and new science

The bigger the difference in original vs. final gravity (density of the wort compared to water), the stronger the beer. Experience high and low gravity at Odd Otter Brewing Co.

It's easy to let brewery operations big and small grab your attention. Here in the South Sound, we have a lot of that going on. But when Odd Otter Brewing Company co-founder John Hotchkiss told me their new "big system" is pumping out seven times the amount of beer as before, I had to ask him twice. Yes, indeed, seven times.

"What that functionally means is that we can distribute beer to other businesses - Pint Defiance, The Red Hot, Copper Door, etc. - and that we can sell kegs to go to individuals for parties and the like," explains Hotchkiss.

I dropped by Odd Otter for a few pints Sunday. The taproom was lively, with folks playing games and Hotchkiss milling about in his black work galoshes. Their Screeching Otter Imperial IPA, my fav, and its 151-plus IBUs erased hours of yard work.

The Otter big system is a busy beaver, with several beers on the docket. Head Brewer Owen McGrane will release a gluten-free Appleweizen any day now. In late March, he'll also be releasing a Scotch ale, and by mid-April, a Doppelbock will drop.

"We also will be releasing a dark, strong Belgian beer designed for Adam Boyd and his Why Adam? Show events that will be held in early April at a variety of local bars," says Hotchkiss. "The events will help to raise funding and awareness for Adam's local science-focused educational projects and initiatives."

Odd Odder will open its taproom at 8 a.m. Saturday to inspire St. Paddy's Day Run participants, since the half-marathon, 10K and 5K races start and end outside their front door. Finishers may celebrate with an Odd beer until 2 a.m.

"On St. Patrick's Day Tuesday, we'll also have some drink specials - two-for-one Luck O'the Otter Pints," says Hotchkiss. Tuesday also marks their new tasting room hours - Tuesday through Sunday, with Ottering hours running 2 p.m. to 2 a.m. Tuesday-Friday, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Saturday and Sunday.

ODD OTTER BREWING COMPANY, 716 Pacific Ave., Tacoma, 253.209.1064

Filed under: New Beer Column, Tacoma,

March 5, 2015 at 4:07pm

Still time to grab a chair for the Deschutes Brewers Dinner at The Swiss Restaurant and Pub

Deschutes Brewery is headed back to The Swiss, March 11. Photo credit: Pappi Swarner

Yesterday, beer dinners were nonexistent. Today they're ever-present.

When I was running around Tacoma wearing flannel and Docs, there weren't any South Sound breweries until Fish Brewing fired up in 1993, followed by Engine House No. 9, The RAM and Harmon Brewing. Fast forward 20+ years and the South Sound sports numerous craft breweries, brewpubs and dozens of craft beer-centric bars and bottle shops, with more to come.

Right around the time Fish Brewing starting pumping out beers in Olympia, former Engine House No. 9 worker bees Jack McQuade and Bob Hill, along with foodie Gayl Bertagni, opened The Swiss in downtown Tacoma. Instantly, downtown denizens (read: those living in the neighboring defunct Heidelberg Brewery) didn't need to journey across town to drink craft beer, and by craft beer I mean North Coast Brewing Co., Rogue Brewery, Goose Island Beer Co., McMenamins, Red Hook and, of course, Gary Fish's little brewery in Bend, Oregon, Deschutes Brewery - and one of the original Deschutes beers, Black Butte Porter.

Before you could say Dogfish Head, Deschutes Brewery would become the sixth largest craft brewery in the country and Black Butte Porter would become the number one craft porter in the country.

Wednesday, March 11, The Swiss will host another craft beer pairing dinners, this time welcoming one of the first craft breweries the downtown Tacoma pub had on tap - Deschutes.

"I'm looking forward to celebrating Deschutes with Jack and the crew," says Norm Cartwright, Deschutes sales representative.

Glassware full of Black Butte Porter will be served at 6:30 p.m., Wednesday, March 11 at The Swiss, followed by four courses paired with Deschutes beers. The Deschutes Brewers Dinner will officially end when Not the Stoic Belgian Quad lands in front of each beer dinner participant. There are seven spots left as of this posting. It just sold out!

The cost is $40 per person. Drop by The Swiss - 1904 Jefferson Ave. in downtown Tacoma - and purchase your ticket. If you're not convinced, then check this out. ...

Filed under: New Beer Column, Tacoma,

March 3, 2015 at 12:10pm

Pulling Nails at Harmon Tap Room: Roll IN the Barrels

Harmon Brewing Co. will soon have around 90 barrels aging their beers at the downtown Tacoma brewery AND Harmon Tap Room. Photo credit: Pappi Swarner

Two minutes after I enter the Harmon Tap Room back in October 2014, Jesse Holder embraced me with a warm hug in the form of a barrel-aged strong ale - a generous pour of Olde John Barrel Blend, which touched two barrels - one whiskey barrel and one wine barrel - then blended.

Sure, it was just beer, but no ordinary ale; more of an evolution into a higher form in memory of someone in a higher place.

The Olde John Barrel Blend, Harmon Brewing Co. head brewer Jeff Carlson's baby, hit the barrels last May, with bottles on shelves the following December. The strong ale pays homage to former Parkway Tavern manager John O'Gara who passed last March. "John loved the Harmon NW Biennial Brew strong ale," explains Holder, director of brewery operations at the Harmon Brewing Co. "A single release, John called it one of his favorite Harmon beers. When he passed, Jeff wanted to pay tribute to him. All the proceeds from the first keg at the Parkway went to his family." The Dry Fly Distilling barrels were acquired the day before the Olde John went in, so it drew plenty of whiskey.

The Olde John kegs sold out in two hours, through Tavour craft beer delivery service.

A true test of willpower: waiting months, years, to drink a beer. But some suds benefit from a little aging. They're like the Mathew McConaughey of beer, evolving and maturing in flavor intensities and taste complexities.

Over the past decade or so, the conditioning of beer in barrels recycled from distilleries and wineries has become a significant trend among craft breweries ... and beer geeks can't seem to get enough of these boozed-up or sour gems. Your typical candidate for barrel aging is found in the strong, age-able beer (imperial stouts, barleywines, old ales, wild ales, Belgian strong ales, etc.). While oak barrels were once the normal container used for aging and shipping beer, nowadays craft brewers use them to impart certain flavors and depth to their beer. And then there are sour beers, which seem to be everywhere lately, popping up on the menus of hip restaurants and piquing the interest of beer geeks and casual drinkers alike. And while these brews might taste weird to the novice palate, they have staying power.

Experimenting with sours is not just something a brewer can tinker with casually - it requires a big investment of time and money, not to mention praying to the beer gods. Sours usually achieve their flavor using bacteria such as lactobacillus and special yeasts - including wild yeasts and the hardy, ravenous brettanomyces, aka Brett - which can easily cross-contaminate a brewery's other recipes. Meticulous cleaning, or sometimes a whole different set of equipment, is required to ensure sour-making doesn't ruin other batches of beer.  After fermentation, which can take months, a sour typically ages for up to a few years, often in oak barrels that formerly house bourbon, whiskey and wine. At the end of this multi-year investment, sours can still come out tasting off and ultimately unsellable.

South Sound brewers are diving into the Brave Barrel World. Three Magnets Brewing Co. head brewer Pat Jansen lives and breathes fermentation. Engine House No. 9 head brewer Shane Johns excels at sour beers, and his bosses are building him a new barrelhouse in Tacoma's Stadium District that will increase his barrelage 10-fold.

And then there's Harmon Brewing Co. The brewing company's barrel program was in the works for a year and a half before it officially launched December 2013. Initially, it was a three-barrel system with a straight-to-keg carbonation. Of course, end result was a mystery - some of the early barrel beers were over-carbonated; some under-carbonated. Today, Harmon's barrel beers hit the carbonation tanks before the kegs.

Holder is having more fun than a barrel of monkeys with his barrel program. And he has only begun to scrap the barrel.

In the mid-'00s, Holder was a host and busser at the downtown Tacoma Harmon Brewery & Eatery before his mother, Carole Ford, partnered with owner Pat Nagle. After a run with real estate and a stint in China teaching in schools, he came back to Harmon, eventually commanding its beer program. At the time, head brewer Jeff Carlson and production manager Bill Lundeen were experimenting with a few barrels.

"Jeff has an amazing ability to create recipes, and Bill is a walking encyclopedia of barrel knowledge," says Holder. "Together, it's a barrelhouse dream."

Barrel tasting isn't easy at the Harmon Tap Room. Last October, when Holder and I pulled nails and sampled barrel goods, we had to squeeze past piping, hoses, tanks, fermenters and spouting beer, dodge busy brewers, slide under barrels - half of them jammed into crevices. As we pulled barrel nails above our empty tulip glasses, Lundeen was adding pumpkin to mash for another round of their Fall Ball Imperial Harvest Ale, laughing at what must have looked like a game of Twister. I tasted a dozen or so barrel-aged beer offerings inside 30 minutes.

I had to use all my muscles again in two subsequent visits to the Harmon barrels. As you can guess by the brewery room's configuration, flagship beers and seasonals dominate the Harmon production. That's about to change; I'll tap that in a moment. ...

October barrel samples included a cherry sour aged in Tacoma winery 21 Cellars barrels, an apricot tart and Caspar Ghost Pepper Peach Sour, which was part of the Harmon's daily 12 Beers of Christmas last December. The Steep and Deep Winter Ale aged in a third-use Dry Fly whiskey barrel was released in January 2014.

The Barrel/Tap Room Reserve Series Super Samurai Barley Wine had a limited bottle release in spring 2014. It was a single hop barleywine with zesty citrus flavors before it hit the wood. It mellowed out after six months in the Pinot Noir barrels. Chocolate and caramel notes drew applause. I imagined myself walking into a small cabin warmed by a wood stove from an all-consuming blizzard and cracking open a bottle of this warming as hell brew. It's simply comforting and absolutely fantastic. There's ample Super Samurai still in barrels.

Their Tap Room Reserve Series Barrel Aged Saison - Harmon Mt. Takhoma Blonde fermented and aged in red wine barrels with two different strains of saison yeast, was released in July. While fermenting in the barrel, Carlson also added some candied ginger and three different tea blends from Ubi's tea, herb and spice shop on Sixth Avenue.

We pulled the nail on their Drink This White IPA, which was fermenting with pineapple. The medium-bodied IPA with three different malted barleys was brewed for the Tacoma Art Museum's "Ink This! Contemporary Print Arts in the Northwest" exhibit. It was heavy on the pineapple and needed more time. We laughed at naming it Rethink This.

Down on all fours with one leg extended, we sampled a nameless pale wort fermenting with berry tea from Ubi's. It carried a lovely light sour pale ale taste. Naming Harmon beers is a group process.

Shoved in a corner, the Raspberry Blonde was too tart. It has a dandelion taste, which means the bacteria had their work hats on.

After the October barrel-aged beer tasting, Holder, Lundeen and I leaned against the Tap Room's outside fence; their faces beaming with hope. The duo dreamed of turning the back area of the Tap Room into a barrel-aged beer bar with leather couches, 10 ounce pours of their barrel beers plus a few guest barrel-aged beers.

Thursday, I discovered their dream is damn near a reality. Standing in the middle of the Tap Room's back room, Holder points where the 55 barrels will stack. The room will take on a cellar feel, but the games will remain on the big screen.

He beamed as he told me his barrelhouse program is a go.

Then, he pointed through the wall toward the Harmon downtown, announcing 35 barrels will be rolled into the original brewing room on Pacific Avenue, where he hopes to fill four barrels a month until reaching the capacity number, letting them age as he adds. A Harmon's Hop Coffee shop will also be erected in the downtown barrelhouse, where you can hang with the barrels as you sip a blend of Bluebeard coffee and Harmon beer reductions.

Holder has another 20 or so barrels floating in his head looking for a home.

The barrel program will be separate from the other Harmon products - restaurants, flagship beers, seasonals and Hop Coffee. The barrel program won't grow until it can finance the next step ... but the next step is now.

The Saison will remain in constant production, with 10-ounce pours and no growler fills.

The Shinto Sour Cherry is Carlson's recipe, aging Harmon's Amber Ale with cherries. He's a huge amber fan. The Shinto will be released this month in 375ml bottles.

The White IPA I tasted in October? Meet Kamehameha's Crown - a blend of the Drink This White IPA aged with pineapple and the Harmon Point Defiance IPA. It's a delicious wine-y IPA. "Our beers blend well because they are so well-balanced," boasts Holder. "We can go in any direction we want." Kamehameha's Crown is also earmarked for a March release, also in 375ml bottles.

The Raspberry Blonde's dandelion funk from October has faded. With some carbonation, it should pop. Lundeen created the blonde raspberry 26 pounds per red wine barrel. "We'll add another ten or fifteen pounds of raspberries during the kegging to freshen it up," says Lundeen. "You never know what's going on with the souring in the barrel. Some of the barrels we'll inoculate with specific cultures, others we rely on the barrel and whatever happens happens." It will leave the barrelhouse sometime between May and July.

"We don't want to flood the market. We'll release the ‘5 Liter Farmhand' saison (farmhands were paid five liters of saison in Belgium back in the day) on a continual basis," says Holder, revealing the name of the saison. "We'll unleash the Shinto and Kamehameha this month, followed by the Raspberry Blonde.

In a year, Ivan will be released - a Russian Imperial Stout aged in red wine barrels, although it's named after the famed B&I Shopping Center resident gorilla. "It's ready, but it's only going to get better with some sour characteristics," adds Holder.

Although it's growing, Holder still considers Harmon's barrel program in the experimental stage. He'll soon add white wine barrels to the mix of whiskey and red wine barrels. Lundeen is anxious to move on to Belgians.

It would be very easy for the microbreweries to be suspicious of each other as they all fight over such a small piece of the pie. But for the most part, there's a convivial attitude that a rising tide lifts all craft breweries. Most of them are friendly, realizing that their competition is the multinational conglomerates, not each other. The news Engine House No. 9 will build a barrelhouse a football field away from his Tap Room barrelhouse doesn't concern Holder. It actually excites him. "The more the merrier, I say," he remarks. "Let's put Tacoma's barrels on the map."

Patience is a virtue, at least when you're aging beer.

HARMON TAP ROOM, 204 St Helens Ave., Tacoma, 253.212.2725

HARMON BREWERY & EATERY, 1938 Pacific Ave., Tacoma, 253.383.2739

Filed under: New Beer Column, Tacoma,

February 26, 2015 at 1:11pm

Top Fun: Hudson and Goose

A night with Goose Island Beer Co. at Maxwell's Speakeasy and Lounge in Tacoma, Wednesday, Feb. 25, 2015.

Top Fun: Hudson and Goose

Chef Hudson Slater stands in the kitchen at Maxwell's Speakeasy and Lounge on ready alert, staring at his stovetop. Hudson draws a breath, then forces himself to grab the saute pan off the heat. The flames shoot into the air. Suddenly, the kale breaks apart. The purple leaves break in every direction as he BLASTS through their formation. Something comes up through the flames. A sous chef darts by. The line cook drops in and locks onto him.

"Talk to me, Goose," pleads Hudson as he turns toward Goose.

The clanking of cookware drown out the roar of the flames.

"Critical point," Hudson quips to Goose.

Hudson takes a 180 turn and presses both hands on his Tom Douglas cookbook sitting on the counter, the inspiration for his career. ...

He stares at the cover as if he can read page 59.

He twists back around.    

"I'm gonna go! THREE ... TWO ... ONE. ..."

Hudson engages his cutlery and cookware as if in a dogfight. Blades twirling, ingredients airborne, liquids falling like Niagara Falls. His kitchen companions gaze in disbelief. A fusion with steamed edamame sprinkled with black-olive powder, garnished with shiso leaves and surrounded by dots of black-olive-and-citron crème, morphs into a curried green-coconut-milk soup with tiny clams, scallops, flying fish eggs and garnished with flash-fried whitebait turns into grilled sardine brushed with jalapeño juice. He dumps each dish into the trash. Hudson gives a nod to Goose, and with adrenaline pumping as a charging bull, a rabbit mignon in a syrupy caramel of Iberian-ham drippings with a smoked-eel petit four suddenly appears, as if it was pulled from a hat.

The twirling stops like Dorothy's house in Oz. Panting, Hudson takes a swig of Goose, dumps the rabbit down the hole and dives back in. Gaining speed, he plunges toward the dessert. His Marzipan spacers and zester become one with his hands; a slow-motion blur that would draw a smile from Morpheus.

The music builds. The action increases. As the scene fades to black, you can make out a smile as Hudson asks permission for a fly-by from Maxwell's owner Steve Anderson.

Judging from the frequency of high (and low) fives, Chef Hudson Slater and Goose Island Beer Company do it all well, and they prefer to do it together. In a kitchen full of barely contained roars and lots of nutty oak, dark dried fruit, molasses, vanilla, bourbon, bittersweet chocolate and burnt raisin, Hudson and Goose have the real bromance. They're on top of their game and they're always there for each other with a commendable loyalty.

>>> Chef Hudson Slater

When he's not posting exquisite cuisine art on his Instagram, brewing craft beer with bacon, sharing recipes for published cookbooks or pushing the envelope in Maxwell's Kitchen, Chef Hudson Slater is winning chef competitions - almost every one he enters. The young family man from University Place cuts his teeth at Gordon and Steve Naccarato's The Beach House at Purdy before rising from cook to executive chef at the stylish fine-dining restaurant he clocks in today.

>>> Derek Wieting, sales representative, Goose Island Beer Co., Anheuser-Busch

In the late '80s, traveling salesman John Hall turned his passion into a career when he introduced his craft beer brewing Goose Island Brewpub to the macrobeer chugging city of Chicago. In 1992, Goose Island gave the beer industry a new reason to belly up to the bar: bourbon-aged beer. Then in 2004, America had a new tradition - the annual post-Thanksgiving release of Goose Island's Bourbon County Brand Stout, one of the most important beers in the history of American brewing. Heavily charred barrels from bourbon distilleries give way to roasty cocoa flavors with traces of caramelized wood sugars and vanillin compounds.

Last night, 20 people floated like gods, above Maxwell's dining tables, above the dinnerware, looking down at what one of the top bromances on the planet can create in the kitchen. With inspiration from his co-pilot Goose, Chef Hudson presented his five final dishes for a beer-pairing dinner.


"I strived to awaken your palate with this first dish," announces Chef Hudson. "The green curry edamame puree and japaleno bring a little heat; also on the plate are shiitake mushrooms from across the Purdy Bridge, a poached quail egg - so pop it open - plus pickled mustard seed and fennel."

Derek Wieting, the Washington, Oregon and Idaho sales representative for Goose Island Beer Co. - and all the Anheuser-Busch InBev products - as well as a Seattle Queen Anne Hill neighborhood resident, praised Chef Hudson for choosing the Goose Island India Pale Ale with his spicy dish. Wieting proudly announced the IPA is made with hops (Pilgrim, Styrian Golding Celeia, Cascade, Centennial) from Elk Mountain Farm, Goose Island's own hop farm in the Idaho panhandle, so it has Northwest roots. The multiple award-winning IPA has 55 IBUs, "making it really sessionable," he says. "This beer pairs really well with food, especially the dish in front of you. It's not a typical Northwest IPA, and shouldn't destroy your palate." 


"Since Goose Island is from Chicago, this next dish is my tribute to the city. I created a Chicago Hot Dog - kind of," says Chef Hudson. " I call it "Chicago Dog Ravioli," with all the elements of a hot dog - beef sausage, braised tomato, onion, sport pepper, dill pickle relish and a mustard sauce, plus a poppy seed aioli."

Wieting chimes in, "Our Goose Island Ten Hills Pale Ale has its roots firmly planted in the Northwest. All the hops come out of our hop farm in northern Idaho." Wieting went on to explain a dedicated Goose Island hop farm is one of the advantages of A-B purchasing Goose Island four years ago. The Goose Island brewers spent quality time on the farm and the community surrounding Elk Mountain Farm, forging a relationship between farmer and brewer to a point in which Elk Mountain Farms now grows more than 100 acres of hops for Goose Island annually. "We have access to hops that aren't readily available to a lot of other breweries," says Wieting. The Goose brewers picked the hops (Perle, Cascade and Saaz) on site for the Ten Hills Pale Ale. The apricot and tangerine aroma, with sweet honey and toasted flavors paired well with Chef Hudson's pasta dog. It's more floral than the IPA.


Touting the Goose Island Matilda Belgian Style Pale Ale as his favorite beer of the night, Chef Hudson wanted to complement the beer's spicy yeast flavor, so he choose a smoked mussel aioli as well as a single smoked mussel on the plate. He added a poached halibut seared in nutty brown butter with butter lettuce, puffed quinoa and roasted shallot.

Wieting explained the legend of Matilda of Tuscany, who lost her wedding ring in a lake. A fish appeared clutching the ring in its mouth. Overwhelmed with joy, Matilda funded the neighboring monastery and its brewing operation.

Inspired by great Trappist ales, this complex Belgian Style Pale Ale is fermented with the wild yeast Brettanomyces. The Goose brewers claim its has a farmhouse funk taste, "with lots of dried fruit and clove aromas," adds Wieting. On the tongue, thickness from sweet malts coat the tongue followed by flavors of earthy mushroom, orange peel and heavy yeast. The clove and peach preserves are present, with hay - mingling on the tongue while spiciness pushes out from the finish.

Wieting says the Matilda is aged in wine barrels, not so much for the flavor but rather as a second fermentation. The pale ale is part of the brewery's Vintage Series where they blend beers aged in wine barrels for different lengths to bring out complex wine-like notes paired with evolving tart or fruity qualities.

With the wild yeast slightly altering the taste every year, a five-year vertical flight can be a fun, tasty experiment. He added with the A-B buyout, Goose's Barrel House went from 30,000 barrels to 130,000 barrels.


"I love Bourbon County so I went with clean flavors for its pairing - braised beef short rib, celery root and parsnip puree, roasted Brussels sprouts and stout demi glace," explains Chef Hudson.  "It's not overpowering."

Wieting introduced Bourbon County Brand Stout saying, "I commend Chef Hudson for pairing the Bourbon County Aged Stout with a main dish and not dessert. Typically, chefs save this beer for the end of the meal. I applaud Chef Hudson's innovation."


Wieting paused. ... "There are a lot of bourbon-barrel aged beers now - Goose was the first." Goose Island was indeed there first - in 1992, long before anyone in the Idaho hop field had anything to do with the brewery. The Goose brewers age the beer in a warehouse that has no temperature controls for nine months to a year. The result is a rich, complex SMOOTH blend of bourbon, chocolate, cherry, leather and many more layered flavors at 12 to 13 percent alcohol by volume. "By the way," Wieting adds, "if you get a hold of our Bourbon County Coffee, please let me know and I'll buy it off you. It's ranked number two in the world."


"This is by far my most favorite beer in the Goose portfolio," says Wieting. "Named after Goose founder's granddaughter Sofie, we age the Sofie Belgian Style Farmhouse Ale for nine months in wine barrels with an abundance of oranges fresh from our fields - bacteria, dirt and all. I'm talking fifty pounds of oranges per barrel. It's bubbly with almost a champagne-like effervesce. I love this beer in the summer - light, refreshing with a creamy vanilla finish."

Chef Hudson created an upscale take on the banana cream pie to pair with Sofie's citrus notes. He offered a beautiful play of roasted bananas cream panna cotta, Nilla Wafer, strawberry mousse "macaron" with whipped cream, Nilla Wafer brittle and meringue. He added a dehydrated candy strawberry that's not on the menu.

"I feel the need ... the need for more beer," Chef Hudson didn't say as he bought the room another round of Bourbon County Aged Stout, as well as poured his personal bottles of Matilda and Goose black saison Pepe Nero.

You can be my wingman anytime Chef Hudson!

February 25, 2015 at 3:46pm

Engine House No. 9 to open a beer Barrel House, release first-ever bottles

Engine House No. 9 is moving its barrel program to Tacoma's Stadium District, setting up a Barrel House. Courtesy photo

This just in from Engine House No. 9 World Headquarters on Pine Street in Tacoma. I imagine E9 head brewer Shane "Saison" Johns is swinging from the top branch of that big ol' tree in front of the joint. Congratulations!

Tacoma, WA - We are excited to announce that plans are in motion to expand the existing brewery fermentation capabilities, as well as the creation of a new barrel storage facility that will increase our current barrelage ten-fold. The existing 7 BBL brew house will remain in tact with a few needed upgrades in the original space at 609 Pine St., next to the historic Engine House Nine restaurant and brew pub. The first phase of the new Barrel House addition will be located in the Stadium District, closer to downtown. Tacoma's first craft brewery will now have the first Barrel House in Tacoma, and possibly the state...

Increased product availability-

The increased stainless steel fermentation space will allow us to continue to keep up with the heavy demand of our brew pub next door, and increase the distribution of kegs throughout western Washington, which we began last year with Alpha Beer Distributing, based out of Kent, WA. The massive increase of oak barrels, combined with the purchase of a new bottling system, will allow us to start releasing some of (Head Brewer) Shane Johns' award winning style beers, including American wilds, saisons, sour beers, and lambics. There will also be barrel space dedicated to higher gravity barrel-aged beers, like barley-wines and imperial stouts.

First-ever Bottle Release Saturday 3/7/2015

We will be releasing 375mL bottles of a raspberry wild ale and a farmhouse style saison. There is a very limited number of these first batches, and will be first come, first served. There will be a kegged version of the raspberry on tap at the brew pub, so you can try it before you buy. You will also be able to sign up for a new "Sour Club", as well as a newsletter that will announce future bottle releases and events. This will be the beginning of hopefully a long line of bottle releases to come from one of the only true producers of wild ales in this state.

More event info here:


February 24, 2015 at 10:40am

Where to plan your South Sound beer enterprise

Oly Taproom bottle shop opened last week across from Percival Landing in downtown Olympia. Photo credit: Pappi Swarner

You know they heard. South Sound beer entrepreneurs have read the studies. They know sitting for long periods is the single-most horrible thing you can do to your body - next to twerking in a bouncy house or babysitting a Viking child or trying to ski this season in the Pacific Northwest. Beer entrepreneurs might stretch, exercise regularly, eat right and take great care of his or her bodies, mostly. Doesn't matter. WebMD says if you sit for long enough periods, you're in peril. Period. Sitting for a long time causes muscles to burn less fat and blood to flow more sluggishly, which can increase the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and other problems.

Several South Sound beer lovers have moved from sitting enthusiasts to entrepreneurs. They have moved from the stool to standing and dodging and twirling and leaning on the other side of the bar. Want proof? Beautiful Zog's Pub is serving craft beer on Fox Island. Levi Hendricks and Sanrica Marquez just opened the handsome Oly Taproom across from Percival Landing in downtown Olympia. Bryan and Molly Copland and Aaron and April Johnson are still forging ahead with their Wet Coast Brewing in Gig Harbor. John Fosberg and crew have installed the tanks at their forthcoming Gig Harbor Brewing Company. Half Pint Pizza Pub owners are brewing Sluggo Brewing. Award-winning home brewers Jay Walker and Shawn Anderson have formed the Grit City Group. Destiny City Brewing has a future. Fox Island Brewing is sly like a fox. Tacoma World Beer changed hands. Fish Brewing now has cans.  

You can't pull a chair out from under these folks. They kicked the chair over.

What do you have planned? Maybe you'll meet your new beer business partner at one of these events tomorrow night.


Beer entrepreneurs Renee and Barry Watson host Loowit Brewing from 5-7 p.m. at their Pint Defiance Specialty Beers and Taproom. The Watsons have spent a lot of time visiting brewers in Vancouver, Washington. Loowit is one of their favorites. Devon Bray and Thomas Poffenroth opened Loowit in 2012 specializing in approachable, well-balanced ales. Expect to drink Shadow Ninja IPA, Flawless Victory IPA, Two Sixteen Red Ale and Der Couvensteiner Dunkel, among others. The Watsons will have the raffle machine running, too.

The Red Hot will more a bunch of Full Sail beers including Top Sail Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Porter, 2013 Full Sail Bourbon Barrel Imperial Stout, 2015 Full Sail Bourbon Barrel Imperial Stout, Full Sail 27th Anniversary Wheat Wine, Powder Stash Pale and Session IPA, beginning at 5 p.m.

Meet Rob Brunsman from the newly distributed Hop Valley Brewing Company from Eugene, Oregon at the Puyallup River Alehouse. Hop Valley opened their doors on Friday, Feb. 13th, 2009 in Springfield, Oregon. Their brewery is placed on the same grounds that used to be the hot-bed for hop production before prohibition, and is a marker to those that drink their beers, that they are proud to still be using the same local hops that once supplied the industry. Since opening, they have accomplished a lot, including increasing their overall production from 1,000 barrels/year to 12,000 barrels with their current setup in Eugene, and have also won a couple World Beer Cup medals. Brunsman has beer and prizes from 6-9 p.m.

According to Laurelwood Brewing Co. in Portland, Oregon, coffee and beer can help ignite your creative juices. They posted this ditty on their blog: "What's the drink you reach for to get that first burst of motivation at work? That's right, coffee. But how many of you have had that ‘lightbulb moment' after a couple of beers? It turns out both coffee and beer are good for your creative process, each in their own way." They suggest you head to their Brewer's Night from 6-9 p.m. at The Swiss Restaurant and Pub, drink their Organic Portland Roasting Espresso Stout, and think of your next brilliant idea. I predict the rich, chocolate flavors and warm, roasted aromas will inspire the idea to have another.

Filed under: New Beer Column, Tacoma, Puyallup,

February 23, 2015 at 10:26am

Served Blog Banner Boy: Q&A with Mike Besser of Top Rung Brewing Company

You'd be hard to find someone more knowledgeable about all aspects of the beer industry than Mike Besser of Top Rung Brewing Co. in Lacey. Photo credit: Pappi Swarner

Every week we swap out the Served banner art above, introducing you to the people who serve food and drinks in the South Sound. This week, meet Mike Besser.

Server Banner Boy, Feb. 23-March 1, 2015

Mike Besser

Mike Besser has his grandfather to thank for enticing him into the beer and liquor industry. As a young boy he would have conversations with his "grandpa" came home from work. He was a butler/bartender for the rich and famous in Beverly Hills from the late 1940s until the mid 1990s and knew everyone. "Grandpa Charles was awesome," says Besser. "He would come home with different items from the parties. He would wake me and my brother up to show us what the lady of the house let him bring home. Most of the time it was whole hams, big bags of fresh food but then other times he would bring home whole bottles of whiskey. Now we were much too young to try it, but the bottles looked so cool. And he would tell us about how Jimmy Stewart would order his drink or how President Reagan would order and then Nancy would make him water down his drink. I was hooked!"

Besser knew he had to become a bartender when he turned of age.  At 21, he became a bartender at oceans restaurant in Salt Lake City, Utah. Since then, he has worked in many restaurants, bars and beer bars. When he and his wife decided to have a child, Besser became a stay-at-home dad. Although he had been home brewing and blogging for years, he decided to broaden his two loves and BrewDad.com was born around 10 years ago, which coincided with his daughter's birth, who is known today as "SodaKid." Besser posted stories daily with periodic piece in Northwest Brewing News and trips to the Beer Blogger Conference.

When Top Rung Brewing Co. in Lacey approached him to help with sales, he answered yes before owners Casey Sobol and Jason Stoltz could finish their question.

Today, when he's not posting as BrewDad or on the streets selling beers, you can find him at the Lacey brewing giving tours and pouring beers.

Why do you serve?

"I love chatting with people and when you include beer it is always a win-win for me." 

Who is your favorite server in the South Sound?

"My favorite server these days is Jarred at Skep & Skein. He has super knowledge of the product and always a huge smile followed by a big ‘Hi Mike.'"

What are you most proud to serve?

"I am most proud when I am serving a great beer that I can get behind. Take our CDA at Top Rung; this is a beer that can sell itself. The flavor profile along with the excellent brewing makes this one of my favorites to sell. I was sad to see it go so fast but. Not to worry - in a short time it will be back on our taps and available for me to sell." 

What's your current drink of choice? 

"I love a big citrus hoppy IPA. I love ours, of course; I can drink the Prying Irons IPA all day. Our Heavy Irons with the extra umph from the hops is always a tasty treat I quaff upon." 

Favorite movie?

"Give me any western and I am in. Lonesome Dove - although it's actually a TV mini-series - is my all-time favorite western movie. 'A man who wouldn't cheat for a poke don't want one bad enough.' - Augustus ‘Gus' McCrae" 

What don't you serve?

"Call me old fashioned but I will never serve anything with energy drink added. I think that is the worst invention and addition for drinking ever. When I see kids these days adding energy drinks to their drinks it is just a recipe for epically bad results." 

What's on your radar at Top Rung Brewing?

"Top Rung is headed for a terrific year. As we approach our first anniversary, I know for myself we have exceeded many of our goals we set last year. I am just so excited to see what unfolds as we venture into new areas and new accounts. just hope we get a new Top Rung rig for the sales department. Hint hint."

LINK: Meet other South Sound servers

February 17, 2015 at 3:29pm

Washington Hop Mob Triple IPA Roadshow to park at The Red Hot

Snipes Mountain Brewing’s Hayduke the Wrencher was voted Best Triple IPA at the Hop Mob Roadshow kickoff event at Brouwer’s Café in Seattle Feb. 6. Photo courtesy of Facebook

Hop Head. Sounds like a euphemism for a speed addict, no? Or a professional pogo stick stunt artist. Maybe a bunny-loving furry. Well, it's none of those things. Hops go in beer, and hop heads like 'em bitter. Meet some hardcore Hop Heads as they drink highly alcoholic, wonderfully hoppy triple IPAs at The Red Hot tomorrow.

A brewer of imperial IPAs, Adam Robbings of Reuben's Brews in Seattle shined a spotlight on triple IPAs last year launching the Washington Hop Mob Triple IPA Roadshow, a series of triple IPA tasting events in Western Washington. The two-week event was a smash(ed) success. This year's Hop Mob Roadshow - 30 breweries showcased at seven events driven this year by Washington's King and Queen of Beers (Kim and Kendall Jones of the Washington Beer Blog) - ends Feb. 21, but not before making its South Sound appearance tomorrow at The Red Hot.

Triple IPAs are such a new style that most national competitions don't offer a "Triple IPA" category, forcing most of the high-alcohol, hopped-to-hell beers to compete under "Imperial/Double IPA" headers. But the actual line between a double and a triple IPA is hard to draw. Some say that any IPA over 10 percent ABV should be considered a triple. Still, beers that might fit the ABV and hop-burn requirements are still labeled as a double IPA, leaving the term "triple IPA" more of a marketing preference than an official style.

"Triple IPA is a difficult style of beer to master and breweries that do it well are highly revered," says Kim Sharpe Jones in a new release. "Some out-of-state triple IPAs get an enormous amount of attention and cause beer enthusiasts to swoon like preteens at a One Direction concert. Our goal with Hop Mob is to show that Washington's brewers can produce beers that stand shoulder-to-shoulder with any of those ballyhooed, out-of-state beers. Also, it's a great excuse to drink some really excellent stuff."

According to pre-event hype, "to brew a good triple IPA, brewers use a substantial amount of malted barley, which provides the elevated alcohol content. To balance-out the malty sweetness and give the beer its requisite hoppy character, brewers rely on substantial quantities of hops. In Washington, hops are more than an ingredient; they're a way of life. The Yakima Valley produces between seventy-five and eighty percent of the nation's hop crop each year and some of the farms are operated by families that have grown hops for four and five generations."

At 11 a.m. tomorrow, The Red Hot will tap 14 triple IPA kegs - all brewed in Washington state - and poured into 6-ounce glasses. Here's what to expect:

  • 7 Seas Trident 10.3%
  • Black Raven Birdserker 10.2%
  • Fremont Triple Trifecta 11.8%
  • Georgetown Kiss Ass Blaster 11.4%
  • Rainy Daze Tri-Power 11%
  • Stoup Brewing TR2 Haymaker 10.5%
  • Snipes Mountain Hayduke The Wrencher 9.3%
  • Reuben's Brews Blimey Thats Bitter 10.5%
  • Naked City Cry Me A River 10%
  • Bainbridge Brewing Hoptopus Rex 10.3%
  • Maritime Pacific Hop Surge 11.2%
  • Pike Hopulus Erectus 9.5%
  • Boundary Bay Dry Hopped IIIPA 9.7%
  • Spinnaker Bay What? A Tripp 10.9%

WASHINGTON HOP MOB TRIPLE IPA ROADSHOW, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Wednesday, Feb. 18, The Red Hot, 2914 Sixth Ave., Tacoma, no cover, 253.779.0229

Filed under: New Beer Column, Tacoma,

February 16, 2015 at 10:39am

Tacoman opens gluten-free brewery

Jason Yerger, left and Brian Thiel poured their Ghostfish Brewing Company gluten-free beers at the Cascadia Grains Conference in January. Photo credit: Karen Fleur Tofti-Tufarelli

One evening in January, Olympia's South Puget Sound Community College student union turned into a tasting room as attendees of the Cascadia Grains conference helped themselves to a gluten-free, mostly vegan dinner, then ambled over to brewers and distillers to sample whisky, beer, liqueur and more.

Tacoma resident Brian Thiel poured tastes of his Ghostfish Brewery Company's Single-Hop Eldorado IPA, Buckwheat Brown and a stout - all experimental varieties concocted in a brewing laboratory he developed with $30,000 raised through Kickstarter.

The tasting topped off the Cascadia Grains Conference - a funky mix of craft brewers, farmers, academics, maltsters, marketing types and entrepreneurs sniffing out opportunities in the go-go world of craft brewing. Craft breweries surged from 537 in 1994 to 2,768 in 2013, according to the Brewer's Association.

New barley and quinoa varieties, organic certification, and the intellectual property perils of selecting brewery names were just some of the conference topics.

Thiel's Ghostfish opened Feb. 5 in Seattle; the grand opening celebration occurs in March. Thiel and his business partners considered locating in Tacoma and looked at property on Hilltop, but ultimately opted for Seattle.

Ghostfish is dedicated (but not yet certified) gluten free; that distinction has led to inquiries from several states and even the U.K.

"People are beating (your) door down," he said, asking, ‘When are you going to be in Maine?'"

Ghostfish packaged beer products will be distributed in Tacoma and the South Sound, says Thiel.

Craft brewing is a mix of science and spunk, clear-eyed corporate and folksy collaborative: propelled by the "Grain to Glass" model - the craft brewing answer to a growing focus on quality ingredients and local sourcing -conference participant Westland Distillery has started meeting with farmers and workers in its supply chain, said Westland's Matt Hofmann; a future Westland label might feature a farm where its barley is grown.

"People care about where their (product) comes from - not just whether it's local, but how it's made," he said during a conference lunch of chicken roulade, local beet quinoa salad, cauliflower tabbouleh salad and winter-roasted veggies prepared by Yelm-based Simply Organic.

"What cool barley varietal can you grow, and can you make whiskey out of it?" Hofmann asked.

That question could be asked of both farmers and scientists: Westland wants to participate in helping local academic institutions develop more productive barley varietals - a process that Hofmann says takes a minimum of 10 years - trying to "turn the tide" of barley production upward.

Westland uses 40,000 pounds of malted barley every week, and as GMO corn "keeps marching Northwest," Hofmann said. Westland wants to ensure a robust supply of Washington-grown barley.

"We've been helping these guys develop their business and saying in effect, if you build it, we will come," Hofmann continued. "Western Washington is one of the best barley-growing regions."

Scott Fisk, an Oregon State University faculty research assistant, affirmed U.S. barley production has declined over the last 30 years - losing out to corn, soy, wheat and grass - but stopped short of saying that the U.S. is experiencing an actual barley shortage. Fisk's department is breeding barley for disease-resistance, quality and yield. One component of this research involves making crosses with barley strains from Germany, which Fisk says are fairly well adapted for Willamette and Skagit Valley growers.

But Thiel's Ghostfish, as a gluten-free brewery, doesn't use barley malt, since barley contains gluten.

Gluten-free brewers must use gluten-free malt such as that made by Wellington, Colorado's Grouse Malting and Roasting Company - one of the only certified U.S. gluten-free maltsters. CEO Twila Henley said that Grouse's gluten-free malt costs 50 to 100 percent more than regular craft barley malt.

Seattle's first gluten-free brewery Ghostfish is open 3-9 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday at 2942 1st Ave. S., just a few blocks south of Safeco and CenturyLink fields. The brewery also serves an assortment of gluten-free pizzas.

February 9, 2015 at 1:38pm

Brewer On Brewer: Exit interview with Joe Walts of Narrows Brewing

Joe Walts, center, poses with Zoe Brackney and Todd Buckley at the ParkWay Tavern. Photo credit: Morgan Alexander

During a recent Monday Randall night at the ParkWay Tavern in Tacoma's Northslope neighborhood, I met with Joe Walts, head brewer for Narrows Brewing Company. Walts is leaving Tacoma to return to his former position as head lab technician for Ale Asylum in Wisconsin. Seated around us at the ParkWay were Tristan Litke of Tacoma Brewing Co., Zoe Brackney of Tacoma Beer Week and Todd Buckley of Tacoma Alcohol Consortium. We decided it was a good time to give Walts a Tacoma beer community exit interview.

MORGAN ALEXANDER: What's been your take on the Northwest brewing scene?

JOE WALTS: It wasn't that different from what I was experiencing in Wisconsin and Michigan, which have been in the lead, and other states are starting to do more such as Minnesota and Illinois. What I expected when I came out here was to be blown away by the hoppy beers. I was ready for that. What I found is a good IPA is a good IPA everywhere. The difference has been the people who are drinking craft beer because it's local or drinking craft beer for the taste - those people are drinking IPAs out here. Back in the Midwest, they're drinking amber lagers and cream ales.

TRISTAN LITKE: Let's talk about beer flavors. What are some of your favorite flavors?

WALTS: First of all, my palate sucks. I'm the first to admit it. I drink a beer and I think it tastes beery and delicious. So, I'm going to start with what I don't like. There's one flavor in beer that I don't like, and that's dextrines. So, really sweet beers - that come from mashing at a high temperature - that flavor and mouthfeel, I don't like across the board. You're making a Scotch Ale and it could be malty and overly sweet or it could be malty and delicious. It's a really specific type of sweetness. I don't mind sugar sweetness but I hate dextrine sweetness.

ZOE BRACKNEY: I totally trolled your Facebook pictures and lusted over the lambics and other beers you were brewing. Now that you won't be working crazy hours for a startup brewery, are you looking forward to brewing at home?

WALTS: I am excited about that. I'm probably going to jump back into lambics for sure. It's something I was doing at home before I moved out here and was two-and-a-half years into a three-year geuze blending project when I got this (Narrows Brewing) job and abandoned it. I am going to have to brew an Anniversary beer again - I only have two or three bottles left. I'll have to do something Belgian and huge and raspberry for my wife. I don't expect to be brewing every weekend or anything like that. The biggest issue is that I don't have any time with my family. Getting back to that is what this job is going to give me, so I'm probably not going to be spending much of that time brewing.

TODD BUCKLEY: Being from outside the area, what did you think about Tacoma?

WALTS: Tacoma has a mix that is really rare in the world. Tacoma is a liberal blue-collar town where people are really pragmatic but also fairly educated and really not snobby about it - and that's hard to find. Places that I've experienced either tend to be really, really academic or really, really ignorant. Tacoma reminds me of Portland, Maine - it's just a place that I really identify with and I'm going to be sad to leave Tacoma. As a town, I think it's wonderful. As far as the beer scene goes, I think the best word I could use to describe it is under-rated. There's so much good beer in Tacoma and nobody knows it. I don't think even people in Tacoma know it.  Before I came out here, I checked on reviews of Tacoma's breweries and not many people had good things to say. When I got to Tacoma and started drinking the beer, I'm like, "this is delicious!" I've had people say to me before, "that brewery's beer tastes like poison" and "this brewery's beer is s--- garbage" and "this brewery's beers are boring," and every single one of these breweries is putting out some great beer. I think there's a disconnect with Tacoma's reputation and what Tacoma is actually doing in terms of beer. I think one thing Tacoma's excelling at is - even if the community doesn't know it yet - they're really good at connecting with the community. I mean, Morgan and Ken down at Wingman are both Tacoma as Tacoma gets. And people are figuring out their niches. Like Engine House Nine and their sour program. It's just off the charts. And they're running with it and they're turning it into something fantastic. I don't know anyone that's making a hard ginger ale and Tacoma Brewing is just rocking it. And so all these breweries are figuring out what they do really well and I think people are going to recognize it someday.

Joe Walts official send-off party will be held from 5-7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 20 in Narrows Brewing Company's taproom. The party is also a chance to welcome Mike Davis - formerly with Harmon Brewing Co., H-Fi brewing and Elliott Bay Brewing - as the new head brewer at Narrows Brewing Co.

NARROWS BREWING COMPANY, 2-9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, noon to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 9007 S. 19th St., Tacoma, 253.327.1400

Morgan Alexander is founder and head brewer at Tacoma Brewing Company, 625 Saint Helens Ave., in Tacoma's Triangle District.

Filed under: New Beer Column, Tacoma,

About this blog

Served, a blog by the Weekly Volcano, is the region’s feedbag of fresh chow daily, local restaurant news, New Beer Column, bar and restaurant openings and closings, breaking culinary news and breaking culinary ground - all brought to the table with a dollop of Internet frivolity on top.

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