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7 Sips With … Shane Noblin, New Boundary

This is one in an occasional series of 7 Sips interviews, where we sit down for a pint and seven questions with someone active in the local craft beer community. Today we catch up with Shane Noblin, who formerly ran a homebrew supply store and print shop on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula before moving back to the mainland with his wife, Melanie, to open Cheney’s first brewery since 1910.

 

Q: You have your first anniversary celebration coming up on Saturday, what all do you have planned for that? You’re doing a Rocky Mountain oyster feed, right?

A: We’re going to charge about three bucks for a little boat of the oysters and all that money will go to Pints for Prostates, and then a buck from each pint. The barbecue wagon’s going to be out here, Hungry Hound, they won’t be out here most of the summer after this, they’ve got a bunch of gigs lined up so they’re going to be pretty busy moving the wagon around. We’ve got a Scotch ale that we’ve been barrel-aging (in cabernet franc barrels) since January. We’ve also got kind of an odd one;  I do large yeast starters because my system’s so small, it’s only a five-barrel so I can get away with, instead of buying a large block of yeast, I do a five-gallon homebrew starter, using some malt extract and water to get my yeast going. So the first batch of beer I ever did in here, the yeast starter, I went ahead and hopped it, and we’ve got five gallons of that back there that we’re going to release. I don’t even know what all’s in it, I had a bunch of stuff left over from the supply shop I used to own, I just started doing the mad scientist thing, a little of this and a little of that. I tasted it before we put it away back in November and it tasted pretty good, but I have no way to describe it. It’s got kind of a unique character to it, and I think it’s because it sat back there all summer and most of the winter, just heating and cooling and doing its thing. I don’t expect it to be a superb beer, it’s just something fun to do.

Q: What did you learn from the first year? Any big surprises?

A: I didn’t come from a traditional brewing background, I came from a homebrewing background, and you (think you) know how much work it is getting into it, but you really don’t know until you’re in the trenches and back there doing it, and then you’re like, damn, this is a lot of work. That’s been one of the big lessons. Working with distributors, that’s a whole other level. It’s finally coming around, a lot of the local bars and taverns are starting to support us a little more. They were pretty hesitant at first, but a good friend of mine opened up a sushi place, and the beer went in there, and after that it was like dominoes. If I could (afford to) sit here and run just the taproom, and be content and not have to worry about distributing, that’s what I like, just sitting here bullshitting with everybody.

Q: How much of your taproom business has been university-related, versus other locals, versus people coming from Spokane or the outside?

A: We got a bit (of outside business) before the (latest Inland Northwest Ale Trail) map came out, after the map was out that increased a lot. The college was slow at first, we weren’t getting a lot of college kids. They started out maybe 5 to 10 percent of the business, and now they’re up to at least 20. A couple of kids had their Founder’s Day party here, one of them was doing a report for his marketing class and he wanted to do it on the brewery, I think that gave us a little more exposure inside the college. A lot of the kids don’t even come downtown, several of them live in Spokane and commute from there. Our local population, the business we’ve been getting from them has been steady, we’ve been picking up a few more here and there but a lot of them really gravitated at first to us. It’s probably a good 60 percent of our base, I would say. … We lived in Alaska for 17 years, and nobody really lives next to each other. You might see the hardware store guy a couple of times a week or something, but here it’s like I drive down the road and people honk and wave. It seems like the community really embraced us out of the gate, which is pretty cool.

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7 Sips With … Ben Quick, Steam Plant

This is one in an occasional series of 7 Sips interviews, where we sit down for a pint and seven questions with someone active in the local craft beer community. Today we catch up with Ben Quick, who started as an assistant at the Steam Plant in 2007 when it was an offshoot of the former Coeur d’Alene Brewing, then returned as head brewer under the current ownership in December 2012.

 

Q: How did you get into brewing, and what were you doing before this?

A: I started homebrewing when I was 16 with the family, we made wine and mead and apple cider. We had an apple tree, and a cider press. We were just using what we had available on the farm (in Colville). Beer came a couple of years later, I think I was just out of high school when I started making beer. I pretty much fully transitioned to beer because it was a lot faster, and I like beer more. It accelerated from there. It was the curiosity of the process, different techniques, different styles, very much just a culinary interest that developed, and the science of it, too.  

I was going to school, I got an art degree, I did construction. When I was 26, I got a job with the Coeur d’Alene Brewing Co. I worked there between 2007 and 2009, and got laid off in 2009 with a lot of other people during that time in the country. I was the sole brewer here, so that’s kind of how the foot got in this door. At that time, they had three locations (Coeur d’Alene, Spokane, Moscow) and two with breweries. I was the only brewer who lived in Spokane, so they had me take over the Steam Plant location. Rather than have a guy drive over from Idaho, I was 15 minutes away. So I worked half the time there, half the time here. It wasn’t full production here the way it is now, it was supplementary, so we’d brew five different kinds here of the 12, and then the rest of it was brought over in kegs.

I worked for the parks department (after the layoff), I worked for various different operations, and I kept up with my homebrewing. I went to school to get a master’s degree in occupational therapy, and then right when I was kind of getting to the halfway point with that, I got offered a job with No-Li, then two weeks later I got offered the head brewer job here at the Steam Plant.

Q: How would you describe your brewing philosophy?

A: I just try to go for quality. I typically am not satisfied – I was telling my assistant brewer, Kevin (Green), the other day that it’s kind of funny how good beer, you almost have no comment for, it’s like, eh. Because you’re waiting for something more exceptional all the time, how can we make it better? It’s like, at some point, isn’t a good beer good enough? But it’s a constant, how can we make it better, even though it doesn’t really need to be, or maybe can’t be. … You kind of need to be a little bit OCD to be a good brewer, because then you can go for more consistency and quality and you’re clean with everything. I don’t think I’m OCD, but some people might say I am (laughs). … I guess my only other philosophy would be, don’t brew anything that you wouldn’t drink yourself.    

Q: What’s your favorite beer that you’ve made here?

A: My favorite is our Oktoberfest. That’s the one I look forward to brewing the most. It’s pretty rare that a small brewery gets to dabble in lagers (because of the extra time involved). And then maybe a close second would be the summer seasonal, the blood orange ale. I’m not typically a fruit beer person, but I was pretty happy with that one. It’s got the citrus, it’s pretty balanced. I’m not really a hophead like a lot of brewers are, I like wheat beers, I like balanced beers. A pale ale is probably my typical go-to, or I’ll go with a blonde ale, the lighter stuff. I like the big beers, too, but to me they’re more dessert wine-like, where I just want something to sip on. If I want to have more than one, I can’t go barleywine.   

With the (new) Boiler 7, we want to keep that rolling as far as a one-off, experimental kind of IPA – we’ll probably call them different things, like Boiler 7, Boiler 8. We kind of went for the number being the alcohol level. The idea for the next one was maybe doing a session IPA for summer, we’ll just see how quickly this first one goes, and adjust from there.

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7 Sips With … Matt Spann, Slate Creek

This is one in an occasional series of 7 Sips interviews, where we sit down for a pint and seven questions with someone active in the local craft beer community. Today we catch up with Matt Spann, who won numerous awards for his work at Idaho Brewing in Idaho Falls before coming to Slate Creek in Coeur d’Alene last October as a partner and head brewer; the avid outdoorsman seems at home in the similarly themed brewery.

Q: So how did you get into brewing, and what were you doing before you came to Coeur d’Alene?

A: I have a degree in environmental science and I was working for a private consulting company in Wyoming, and doing homebrewing as a hobby. I was spending an awful lot of time in North Dakota, out in the oil fields, I was gone for weeks at a time. That was kind of taking a toll on everything else in my life, and I decided it was time for a change. I love the outdoors, I grew up on a farm (in Wyoming) and never had an inside job in my life, so the thought of an inside job was kind of tough. And the thought of turning your hobby, which is your getaway from your reality, into your reality was a scary thought. I was really worried that my hobby, my escape, would just become a job and I’d lose my passion for it. But on the other side, you hope to be one of those people who dares to do the thing they love to do, and can spend the rest of their life doing that and being happy doing it. So it was worth a chance. I took a Seibel Institute course to help get my foot in the door. I applied to numerous places and interviewed in Salt Lake City and Idaho Falls, that was on the weekend and by the time I got home on Monday I had a job offer in Idaho Falls. So I landed out there in 2011, I started as the assistant brewer and six months later I was in charge of production and the head brewer. I was there until October, when I came up here.     

Q: What brought you here, and how do you like it so far?

A: The major reason was I wanted to have greater involvement in the goings-on, the overall strategy of the brewery.  I was going through a business plan for opening my own, and this came along. It was kind of a ground-floor entry, we’re not real big yet so it was a chance to get in at the bottom and work our way up. Also, I was looking for places I wanted to live. I grew up in the West, I want to live out West. So this was a great location at the right time, I was ready to move on and do something bigger and better, and there was the opportunity to work with people like (Slate Creek founders) Jason and Ryan (Wing) who want to do the fun things I want to do. We want to come up with fun names for the beer and do fun things with it, things we weren’t doing at Idaho Brewing and I didn’t see us doing that much in the future. Jason and Ryan were open to the ideas of new and different beers, beers that I had made that they didn’t have the experience making, and that was a big part of it. So I came up here to help out and be in a different area, an area where I could see myself wanting to stay. I love to do outdoors things like fishing and hiking and skiing, and it offers all of that. I like the community, I like the size of the community, I just bought a house here. So I’m looking forward to getting out and doing more.

Q: What are your goals at Slate Creek?

A: Straightforward, it’s to no less than double production over the next year, get to the 1,000 barrel mark. What I really want to do is get us streamlined in the back (the brewery) so we’re running at our optimal efficiency. And then we’ve had numerous meetings about marketing, what beers we want to market and why, and where, and what form we’re going to do it in, whether it’s cans or bottles or draft. This year it’s simply upping production, so we can reach a point where we’re sustainable and can start being profitable, so we can start putting that into expanded growth.  When we have that, we’ll have better flexibility to do some of the fun things that breweries get to do. But if you’re just trying to get by all the time, your chances to have a barrel program, things like that just don’t materialize. We just want to focus on the core business of being sustainable, putting out a really consistent, high-quality product, and streamlining everything in order to accomplish those goals. We are relatively new still, so we don’t have a whole-hearted commitment to just doing things one way. We’re constantly going to be reassessing our core beers, and hopefully getting really honest feedback from people.

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7 Sips With … Craig Deitz, Big Barn

This is one in an occasional series of 7 Sips interviews, where we sit down for a pint and seven questions with someone active in the local craft beer community. Today we catch up with Craig Deitz of Big Barn Brewing on Green Bluff. He left his teaching career at Mead High School this fall to focus on the brewery, where he’s beginning to bottle his beers, and his Bodacious Berries Fruits and Brews farm.

Q: You just retired from teaching after 32 years to go full-time with the brewery. What prompted that?

A: We were pretty sure we were going that way, but the bottling was kind of an extra little nudge. My brother-in-law built me a four-head bottler and we’re looking this winter to move into that new marketing arena. We’re kind of excited about our labels – they play off of the farm, everything from our dog (Black Dog Stout) to sunflowers with our Mead Honey Lager and wheat fields for the Peone Wheat. When the bottler was built, we put 22-ouncers together and they were carbonated and they tasted good, and we were like, all right, we’re going to make it. But like any profession, you step away from something you’ve done for a long time and it’s a little scary. My wife, Jane, was great – she was like, you know, you need to do this. We decided if this really was to all fall apart, we would just move on, it would just be that it wasn’t meant to be. I don’t think that’s going to happen – we’re pretty blessed with the land we have and so forth, and with (partner) Brad (Paulson)’s help on the buildings, the fact we’ve done so much of it with volunteer help, we were affordable in what we’ve done, we’ve self-financed, we haven’t leveraged ourselves.

Q: How many styles have you been bottling?

A: We have the Dunn Day IPA, we have the honey lager and we have the Black Dog Stout, and we’ve got the Golden Pumpkin approved (for next year). We have the labels for the other ones all ready (to submit for approval). So far we have only sold bottles at two markets – we’ve sold them at Fairwood Market, when we were doing the farmers market there, and we’ve sold them at Perry Street. We’ve been selling bottles here, though I don’t even have any out right now. So we are just on the very cusp of breaking into that market. Probably one of our big first steps will be, this winter I want to make some Christmas packages where you might have four bottles and a couple of glasses, and we could package it up where it could be a gift. It could be kind of fun, I’ve got a spiced Belgian which I think would be really awesome in a bottle, let it sit for a while and give it a wax dip.

Q: Your taproom building isn’t insulated, but you’re going to be open again this winter in the big barn (where the brewery is located), right?

A: Last year was the first year we did the winter, and it worked out OK. We shut down until Thanksgiving weekend (after the farm season ended in October). This year’s a little different, we’re going to go ahead and close for a week, then we’ll start back up the weekend of Nov. 13 and we’ll go Friday-Saturday-Sunday. Half the time on weekends we’re down here working anyway. We do Christmas trees, so that will run us through the first of the year, and we’ll do the (NFL) playoffs, we had a fun time with that last year – hopefully the Seahawks will step it up again. We’ve got this fireplace, and I’ve got a fire pit on the back side. People just love getting out in the country, and in the winter if there’s some snow on the ground, you can sit out there with some picnic chairs and you’ve got a nice bonfire going and you can have a little beer to sip on, and you’re away from town, what a great venue, huh? 

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7 Sips With … Zach Shaw, Bennidito’s Brewpub

This is one in an occasional series of 7 Sips interviews, where we sit down for a pint and seven questions with someone active in the local craft beer community. Today we catch up with Zach Shaw, who began his brewing career in Northern California in the early 1990s, including co-ownership of Pacific Hop Exchange in Novato from 1992 through 1996. After moving to Spokane, he became a regular customer at Bennidito’s Pizza on the South Hill and teamed with owner Chris Bennett to launch the new Bennidito’s Brewpub, which opened on East Sprague last month.

 

Q: So how are things going so far? You’ve been making a lot of beer.

A: Much more than I thought we would. We started in the slow time of year, (but) everything’s been just very steady. Essentially we’ve done 100 barrels in a month and four days. I did not expect that at all, so thank you very much, Spokane! If we keep on this track we’ll be doing 1,200 barrels the first year. I would have been absolutely satisfied with 650 to 700 – even 500, I would have been fine with. Obviously we’ve got the two stores, so that’s a big benefit. I’m doing half-batches now, because we own 72 kegs, and when you’re getting yields of 17 to 20 kegs per (full) batch, to keep a few more handles on (of different styles) you’ve got to ration. So I do half-batches and spread everything around a little bit. We’re shopping for about 20 more kegs, if we get those in that will be good. I could use probably 30 more, 40 more, but you’ve got to do this out of cash flow. And it’s still going to be maybe October-December before I get another fermenter, which I desperately need. The backlog is the fermentation, and then you’ve got to wait for kegs to put it in.

Q: What’s your favorite? What are you most proud of that you’ve done here?

A: The one in my hand (Old Bill dry Irish stout). I can get this a little bit closer (to Beamish), I think, but it’s pretty good.

Q: You started brewing commercially back in the 1990s. A lot has obviously changed since then – what do you think are the biggest differences between then and now?

A: The biggest thing is the (long-term) hop contract nonsense. That’s a completely different world. They charge way too much for their product, and they’re gouging the market. They hold the brewing industry hostage. … When we started, everything was new (in terms of equipment). There was no used stuff, there wasn’t even any new stuff. Everything was being built, so everything was very expensive. And the permitting process – nobody knew what to do with these things. Banks had no clue what it was, they thought it was a restaurant. The failure rate of brewpubs for a very long time was 1 percent, so you really had to majorly screw up in a brewpub for it to fail, compared to a restaurant, they fail all the time. Banks didn’t quite get that concept, so getting money then was hard. Getting money now is a little easier, so that’s changed. (And) in a lot of ways, the market is a lot better, because people are far more educated now about the product. You have a much better consumer, they know what they’re looking at, and they enjoy it. You don’t have to filter as much, and I don’t filter. I think filtering strips out about 30 percent of your flavor profile. So if you’re going to filter, you have to build a bigger beer.

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7 Sips With … Tom Applegate, Mad Bomber

This is one in an occasional series of 7 Sips interviews, where we sit down for a pint and seven questions with someone active in the local craft beer community. Today we catch up with Tom Applegate, a former Army EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) specialist who opened Mad Bomber Brewing in Hayden in November 2013 along with his wife, Stephanie, and two bomb squad buddies. After soldiering through with a makeshift 1-barrel system, including plastic fermenters with little temperature control, he recently upgraded to a shiny new 7-barrel brewhouse and began distributing beer around the Coeur d’Alene area.

 

Q: The new system is up and running. How much of a difference has that made?

A: It’s dramatically improved the quality of the beer. I think it’s cleaner, with more well-defined flavors. Consistency we don’t know yet, because we’ve only done, out of the 23 batches (so far), I think we’ve only had maybe three repeats. …  Just having real equipment, getting a real boil, knocking it out into stainless steel (fermenters), where you can actually clean them – our fermenters are air-tight now, which I’ve heard is really important to brewing, and temperature control, that’s a big one. So we’re back to having the homebrew level of control, where we started (before opening the brewery), where you’ve got your tiny little batch that you just love and take care of. More of that’s in our control now, so now we can take the recipes and manipulate them to the beers that they should be. Before, you would make a batch and it would turn out however it turned out. You could try to replicate it, but you didn’t know if a good batch was the wild card, or if that’s how the beer was supposed to taste. So the quality of the beer has improved a lot, and consistency, I’m sure we’ll get there, probably.

We’re still learning a lot, because the first time any of us worked on commercial equipment is when it showed up at the brewery. So we’re learning how to be professional brewers instead of homebrewers brewing commercially, that’s a much different thing. It’s removed a little bit of the spontaneity of it, and that’s one thing I miss. We used to have a stockpile of grains, and it was, what do you feel like brewing? On a seven-barrel, it’s not, oh, I’m going to use 20 pounds of this, it’s I need 120 pounds of this, and you usually don’t have it lying around. So now I know what we’re brewing next week, I know what we’re brewing tomorrow.  That’s not how we’re used to brewing.

Q: Part of the charm of Mad Bomber has always been the steady stream of new beers. Is that going to change now with the larger system?

A: Beers are still going to rotate, though it’s almost impossible to rotate with the same frequency. It takes folks in the taproom a long time to drink seven barrels, when there’s eight beers on tap. (With the old system) you would come in two weeks after your first visit and there would be a whole new lineup on the board. … The idea to keep things rotating quickly is to keep them rotating on the distribution side. So we can continue to brew new beers, and just keep pushing them out – we’ll keep two kegs for the taproom, and send the rest out the door. That way, a week later, that one’s gone and we rotate another one in. (And) we should be adding more taps soon. We’re going to add eight more taps, so we might not rotate as often, but the goal is we’ll have a root beer, a cider, and 14 of our beers on. So they might not rotate as often, but there will be more variety.

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7 Sips With … Terry Hackler, Twelve String

This is one in an occasional series of 7 Sips interviews, where we sit down for a pint and seven questions with someone active in the local craft beer community. Today we catch up with Terry Hackler, a longtime guitarist and homebrewer who opened Twelve String Brewing in the Spokane Valley in December 2011.

 

Q: It seems like there’s never a dull moment at Twelve String. What’s on the front burner these days that you can tell us about?

A: We’re growing like crazy. For 2015, our production will easily be more than double than in 2014. This year we’ll be at 1,300 or 1,400 barrels, which is about our capacity. Whenever we have an empty tank, we brew into it. We’re brewing four days a week, sometimes we brew five days a week, depending on the fermenter schedule.

We’re continuing to search for a (larger) new location. We have a couple of things that we’re looking at very seriously, that I can’t really expand on at this point, that have really good potential. One location in particular that we’re really, really serious about, we’ll know the outcome of that in about two weeks or so. We’ll be in the Valley, hopefully we’ll be within a mile or two of where we are now. We think that will keep our core customers coming, and hopefully gain a lot.

We’re expanding the barrel-aging in big ways. We’ve got somewhere around 48 or 50 barrels full right now. And we have more barrels coming – we’re developing relationships with lots of barrel brokers around, so we have a source for Cruzan rum barrels now, direct from Jamaica. And from another source, I think we’re going to get some gin barrels. We’ve got whiskey barrels, two different kinds of bourbon barrels, rum barrels, tequila barrels, cognac barrels, wine barrels. So that’s turning into a bigger and bigger thing.

And we’re working on bottling. We added another fermenter, which was supposed to pick up some of the slack and allow us to brew enough beer for bottling, but wholesale keg sales have been so huge lately that now we’re not quite sure where we’re going to get the beer to bottle. What we’ll more than likely do initially is do some smaller runs, and have it available for sale in the taproom and maybe a very few select places around town.

Q: What have been your favorite combinations of beers and barrels so far?

A: My favorites are the dark beers we’ve aged in whiskey barrels and bourbon barrels. I like that combination the best, although way back when we aged our Spring Reverb (pale) in a four times used Dry Fly barrel, and that one was delicious. The tequila barrel-aged stuff is weird, you either love it or you hate it. The tequila Mango Mambo, at the Washington Brewers Festival coming up, we’ll go through four or five half-barrels of that by the five-ounce pour – it’s ridiculous. People line up 200 feet for that beer. It’s good, it’s not necessarily my favorite one, but it’s fun. … That (festival) will be the debut of the rum barrel-aged imperial coconut porter.  I’m really happy with where that’s gone.

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7 Sips With … Bryan Utigard, Waddell’s Brewpub

This is one in an occasional series of 7 Sips interviews, where we sit down for a pint and seven questions with someone active in the local craft beer community. Today we catch up with Bryan Utigard, who both brewed and worked in sales at Northern Lights and then No-Li before signing on as head brewer at Waddell’s Brewpub at Five Mile when it opened in December 2013.

Q: I see you have 14 of your own beers on tap. Is that pretty much the goal from now on?

A: Yeah, we’re trying to keep on 14 at all times. You can definitely say (assistant brewer) Adam (Wardle) and I have been very busy. We’re brewing two times a week minimum, and four times a week sometimes. … We’re going to be selling the seven-barrel fermenters and getting three more 15s – we want to sell two of them, and keep one little guy. We’ve got three sevens and three 15s now, and eight brite tanks. That allows you to experiment and blend things, with barrel-aging and stuff, and do lagers. We’re so happy to be able to experiment, we just don’t have to put it all in the brite tank and keg it up right away.

Q: Three of the regular beers are German styles (Barkeep Bavarian Wheat, Punxsutawney Pilsner and Vienna Lager), and you have a kolsch coming for summer. What is it about those that you tend to like?

A: Adam and I really love German beers. Nobody in Spokane really does a German pilsner, or a German lager, or a Bavarian wheat beer, for that matter. It’s a genre of beer a lot of people just don’t really focus on, and I think more people should. They’ve been around for so long, and they’re not really in the mainstream like they used to be, IPAs are in the forefront right now. When people think of a pilsner, or a lager, they think of an American (domestic) style – I’ve turned so many people’s heads, they’re like, what, this is a pilsner? Yeah, it’s a German pilsner.  …  I have some German heritage, and I’ve just been enjoying a lot of German beers for so long that when I got the chance, there was no way I wasn’t going to brew some German beers.

Q: The collaboration beer you’re doing with Wallace Brewing for Spokane Craft Beer Week is a SMaSH (single malt and single hop) bock, which is kind of an unusual style – how did that come about?

A: (Wallace brewmaster) Jack Johnson came down here and met with Adam and I and we were just B.S.-ing over all these different styles and what we could do. We wanted to do something hoppy, but everybody brews a lot of hoppy stuff, so we thought, what about a German style. Jack said, what about a SMaSH beer, and we said, what about Munich malt, and he suggested Bonlander, it’s a richer Munich. And we were looking at yeast strains none of us had used, what about this German bock lager yeast? So we put enough (malt) in there to get a 6.7 or maybe 7 percent lager, with just Czech Saaz – a lot of Czech Saaz, actually. We were trying to get to 35 or 37 IBUs, and Czech Saaz is usually 3.5 to 5 percent alpha acids, so you have to use quite a bit to get it to that level. There was 12 pounds of Czech Saaz, or something like that. It was really fun, those guys are awesome. We brewed it up there because they have a 20-barrel system.  

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7 Sips With … Jamie Lynn Morgan, Girls Pint Out

This is one in an occasional series of 7 Sips interviews, where we sit down for a pint and seven questions with someone active in the local craft beer community. Today we catch up with Jamie Lynn Morgan of Hayden, Idaho, who started the local Girls Pint Out chapter (which meets the second Wednesday of each month at The Backyard in Spokane and the third Thursday at The Cork & Tap in Coeur d’Alene), organizes beer-themed Lake City Flyers Bikes and Brews rides in North Idaho and, in her day job as a marketing consultant, handles social media for Laughing Dog and Selkirk Abbey.  

Q: So how are things going with Girls Pint Out these days?

A: They’re going pretty good. We have a core group of about five or six women who pretty much show up every month, and then we have new people that just kind of rotate in and out, so that makes it nice. We’ve had as few as five of us to as many as 40 that show up for an event.  Coeur d’Alene has less population, and we don’t have as many of the breweries, so that one’s always a little bit smaller. But now we’re doing set locations each month, and where we picked in Coeur d’Alene is The Cork & Tap, it’s a newer little place and they have four tap beers, and then they have the store, so anything you want to go out and grab a bottle of in the store, they’ll open that for you and you can drink that too. 

Q: Do you think women tend to approach craft beer any differently than men?

A: It’s funny, because people think women, oh, they’re going to go toward lighter beer, but I’ve got some gals that are hard-core IPA women. If they find an IPA and it’s not really hoppy, they’re not happy. I think it’s one of those things where we approach it the same way as men do, but I think the difference is that we feel more comfortable talking to each other about it than we do talking to a guy. You have a lot of guys who are very educated about beer and they know their stuff, and there are times when they kind of look at you funny when you ask just a simple question. So it’s just a little more comfortable when there’s a few of us (women) who are kind of knowledgable about beer and we can answer those questions, it just makes it a little more comfortable. We even have some gals who show up and they don’t even drink beer. They’ll drink wine, or they’ll do something else. We’re trying to transition them. It’s one of those things, stepping stones. You’ve got to ease them in.

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7 Sips With … Gage Stromberg, River City Brewing

This is one in an occasional series of 7 Sips interviews, where we sit down for a pint and seven questions with someone active in the local craft beer community. As River City Brewing celebrates its second anniversary today, we catch up with owner Gage Stromberg, who in his spare time also a pension attorney and an avid bicyclist (River City sponsors a cycling team).     

Q: What can we expect from River City in the year ahead?

A: I’m really happy with the 2015 Riverkeeper beer – that is going to be released toward the end of February. This is going to be a big departure for us in terms of IPAs. I was happy with the way the Riverkeeper IPA came out last year, but it didn’t have the longevity it should have had. When it was real fresh, it had a really nice aroma, but I think the malt tones became more predominant as it sat in the keg even for a short period of time. We’ve got a whole slew of new hops in this beer, and a new yeast, and it’s kind of the culmination of all those experimental IPAs we’ve been doing over the last four months.

We have a sour in a barrel right now that we’re continuing to monitor, see where it’s going, and we will be getting some more barrels. But I think for us now the barrels are more of, it’s that growth and evolution and learning what works and doesn’t work, as opposed to jumping in and buying a warehouse full of barrels. Kind of like the experimental beers, it’s a way for our brewers to learn and our customers to have some one-offs to enjoy.

We have hired a graphic designer to move ahead with labels (for bottles), so those are underway. That’s later in 2015, but we’ve made contact with the bottlers and manufacturers and are going ahead with label design, so we continue to have every expectation that sometime by Christmas, we’ll have bottles of beer – or maybe I should say New Year’s Day. We continue to do some research on cans and bottles, but I think for us, for right now, it probably makes more sense for us to do 22-ounce bottles, so I expect that will be first. It doesn’t mean it will be only, but that will be first.

Q: Do you have any predictions for the local beer scene in general in 2015?

A: I think the flood of new breweries will start slowing down. I’m hearing about fewer people at the very beginning stage. We still have plenty of people who are at some point in the process and now they’re getting their license or they’re getting their facility built, but I think there’s been such a flood of new breweries – not just in our region, but nationally – that probably the home brewers and the guys who are enjoying beer and thinking about having a brewery are at least going to sit back a bit and watch the market. That said, I think that we’ll continue to see more local consumers and more national consumers drinking more craft beer and fewer people drinking the mass-produced lagers. The demographics continue to move positively for us, younger people are more focused on craft beer, and so as new beer drinkers come along, more and more people are interested in it, and it’s continuing to be a larger percentage of what people are buying and drinking.    

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7 Sips With … Patrick McPherson, Manito Tap House

This is one in an occasional series of 7 Sips interviews, where we sit down for a pint and seven questions with someone active in the local craft beer community. Today we catch up with Patrick McPherson, whose Manito Tap House gastropub has been wildly successful since opening on Spokane’s South Hill in September 2011. McPherson’s next project is The Blackbird, expected to launch April-May in the historic Broadview Dairy building (formerly Caterina Winery) just north of downtown on Washington Street.     

Q: Manito Tap House has been open for more than three years now. What have you learned about Spokane craft beer consumers?

A: There’s a sophisticated base of beer drinkers, and they’re really concerned with looking for unique styles and they really care about the quality of the beer. Then there are other consumers that are just looking to drink local beers. We certainly try to cater a little bit to both, but we don’t want to sacrifice quality. Our goal all along, while we want to support the local craft beer industry, we also want to bring beers to Spokane that other bars and restaurants won’t carry. Avery Tweak (a barrel-aged imperial coffee stout), which we just had on, was the second most expensive beer we’ve ever had. A lot of places don’t put those on, so we want to bring beers to Spokane that just aren’t here. … (People’s) tastes are evolving. Sours are certainly really popular, and more and more they’re seeking out new styles that they’ve never had.

Q: How would you judge the progress of local breweries over those three years?

A: Well, I certainly think it gets better and better every day. There’s still a few where I don’t think they’re quite ready for the mainstream, though they’ve got their fans that come into the brewery and buy their beer. I think if you came and did a blind tasting, which we like to do a lot of blind tastings here with our staff and sometimes our customers, I think you can really pick out very sophisticated or evolved beers versus some of the new brewers who started as homebrewers and they’re trying to open a brewery. I’m just surprised how many people are getting into brewing without seasoned brewmasters. It’s an uphill battle for a homebrewer to make the conversion without any (commercial) experience, in this competitive landscape.

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7 Sips With … Bernie Duenwald, Orlison Brewing

This is one in a series of occasional 7 Sips interviews, where we sit down for a pint and seven questions with someone active in the local craft beer community. Today we catch up with Orlison’s Bernie Duenwald, a former barley grower and salesman for Great Western Malting who launched an all-lager brewery called Golden Hills in Airway Heights in 2009. Rebranded as Orlison in July 2013 behind new investors, it has boosted production and distribution throughout the Northwest, with ambitious goals for bigger growth.

Q: OK, I’ll start you off with an easy one – why lagers?

A: That’s probably my favorite question. First of all, when I started the concept for this brewery, which was eight years ago, there were a lot of good ales around already, but there was a real dearth of lager breweries. To take the plunge financially, to enter the brewing industry at that time, I wouldn’t have been brave enough to do ales, there were too many good ales in the Northwest already. The goal over time was to be a production brewery with sizable sales, not just a brewpub or something local, but something that had potential to grow. And on top of that, I’ve always had a bias toward lagers, because they’re more drinkable. One of the hurdles we’ve found with lagers is that way too many people out there think they have to be watery and light, like the mainstream lagers. We’re living proof that’s not the case. You can take any flavor combination you’re looking at in the different ale-style beers and ferment them with lager yeast at (cooler) lager temperatures and you get a different beer. … Take Underground as an example, it’s got all the characteristics and the flavor profile of a true American stout style, it has all that at the front end but at the back end it just kind of goes away, it’s easier to drink. It’s crisper and drier. Lagers can be various things, but there’s a very, very innate tendency for lagers to be crisper and drier and ales to be sweeter and fruitier.

Q: You were a barley grower and a malt salesman before opening the brewery. How do you think that’s influenced you as a brewer?

A: Well, I think the biggest thing – and I challenge you to find another brewmaster at a brewery operating in the U.S. that actually started out as a farmer growing malting barley – but a lot of the smaller breweries around today are very, very hop-centric. We understand the importance of hops, and we don’t slight them, but we’re way more malt-centric with our beers. I have the advantage of having a really deep understanding of the contribution you’re going to get in the beer from the malt side of the equation, and I think that helps us put out beers that are pretty interesting. Brunette is a prime example – it has five different malts in it, and you get a sense of all five of them. Some of the beers in the marketplace you’re going to notice that basically, although they may have several malts involved, there’s going to be one that’s fairly predominant and that’s the only one you really get a sense of.

 

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7 Sips With … Ben Lukes, Perry Street Brewing

This is one in a series of occasional 7 Sips interviews, where we sit down for a pint and seven questions with someone active in the local craft beer community. Today’s guest is Ben Lukes, who previously brewed at Big Sky in Missoula and opened Perry Street Brewing with his wife, Christy, in March in the hip, bustling South Perry District southeast of downtown Spokane.

Q: You’ve been open for almost nine months now. What’s been the biggest surprise so far?

A: How incredible the street’s been for us. The street was so receptive to us just popping in and becoming part of the norm down here. It’s just been shocking the support that we’ve had and the tremendous people we’ve met along the way. Also, the amount of work – it really does just feel like a month or two ago. Working in the back, working 40 to 60 hours a week, then coming up here and running the front and keeping that going – time has just been flying trying to do both parts. It’s been the greatest challenge I’ve ever had in my life and probably the best, the most rewarding.

Q: I know you looked at other locations in the beginning. Can you imagine not being here?

A: I think about that so much. I was so close to signing a lease in a part of downtown that I still think would have been great. But once we found this spot, this was the model we were trying to build all along, something where the neighborhood support was there. … Once we found the neighborhood it felt like Missoula, it felt like we just walked out of our house and went to Draught Works or Kettle House. I met Christy in Portland and I lived on Hawthorne and Mississippi, two small streets that just started exploding and taking on their own identity. The Perry district is the closest thing I’ve found to that in Spokane. It’s like taking the best from Portland and having it in a place that has sunshine, and snow in the winter and all that stuff.   

Q: What’s the biggest challenge facing the local beer community?

A: I guess the biggest challenge is just keeping the quality as high as it should be. It’s about building the craft beer community and building our customer base together and all working toward the same goal, chipping away at domestics, and first and foremost quality has to be at the forefront of everything. Forget about advertising, forget about two-foot-tall tap handles, forget about all that other stuff, you have to put out a quality product so that when people discover a brewery on the Ale Trail and they want to move around and see all these places that are trying to do the same thing, they taste a quality product, they taste something that excites them, that makes them say, oh, this is something new and I need to get after it. There’s a lot of people with the same dream I have. As long as all of us are working together to put out the best product we can, we’re going to see nothing but success.

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7 Sips With … Mark Irvin, No-Li Brewhouse

This is the first in a series of occasional 7 Sips interviews, where we sit down for a pint and seven questions with someone active in local craft beer. Our obvious choice was Mark Irvin, the elder statesman of the scene, who started Northern Lights Brewing in late 1993 and partnered with beer business veteran John Bryant (Deschutes, Odell, Oskar Blues) to launch the rebranded No-Li Brewhouse in spring 2012.

Q: When you started out back in 1993, did you ever think you’d be selling beer around the country and winning awards in Belgium, Japan and Australia?

A: Maybe – I had kind of that youthful enthusiasm, anything is possible. But if you would have asked me that same question three or four years ago I would have said no, no way. Then I met John, and everything kind of changed from there. … As far as the awards go, probably not, I probably wouldn’t have anticipated that at all. I’d never felt the need to have awards to validate the work that I do, but I do see the tremendous value in them – as the brewery grows, and you have more people working for you, it is validating.  … I’d really love to win another award at the GABF (Great American Beer Festival), that’s the most prestigious, probably, competitive award that we’ve won (a gold in 2012 for what’s now Spin Cycle Red). There’s a lot of breweries there and a lot of great beer.

Q: What’s the biggest difference in the local craft beer scene these days compared to when you started?

A: The first thing is the number of breweries, also the beer environment, in other words the demand for craft beer is greater now than it was at that point in time. I think people are more educated, the craft beer scene has matured, and along with that maturation process, not only are the brewers and the breweries becoming better and more educated, but the consumers are becoming more mature and more educated, too. … I felt like there were some pretty good beers being brewed back then, though everybody had their misses, and there were some breweries that maybe weren’t brewing quality beer all of the time. But the overall economic climate was a big deal, and also I don’t think Spokane was quite as ready for that craft beer movement at that time. There weren’t that many craft beer places – the Viking was the very first place I delivered a keg of beer to, and that was the craft beer hub for Spokane.

Q: What do you think is the most important thing that can happen to move the local beer business forward?

A: I would say the most important thing would be that local retailers embrace local craft beer. If the places that aren’t craft beer-centric start saying, well, we’ve only got eight handles here, but I’m giving three to the locals, and everybody did that, all of a sudden, the craft beer scene would start to thrive. And you’re going to start to see tourism dollars increase – Spokane will be seen as a place with a viable and thriving craft beer scene, which is attractive to people driving by on I-90 or they’re flying in from Detroit for a business meeting, or just a family vacation from Canada or wherever. … I can tell you personally, it’s been a battle a little bit, like, it can’t be good if it’s from Spokane. It’s gotta be from Seattle or Portland, or California, or somewhere else. … It’s just making good beer, and hopefully eventually somebody will respect you for it, and decide that they want to buy it. And hopefully we can lead the way a little bit as the brewery that’s been around the longest, that’s been plowing that road, trying to break down some of those barriers. And I think as the whole scene grows, pretty soon, every time Terry (at Twelve String) puts out a great beer, every time that Iron Goat puts out a great beer, every time River City, whoever it is, puts out a good beer, and they’re able to get into those places, all of a sudden you’re going to find that we’re getting, as a community, validation, and I think it’s going to get easier for everybody. 

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