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Bellwether Brewing archive

Landrace to the finish

Bellwether is again breathing new life into old grains.

In February, the North Spokane brewery released a series of small-batch beers brewed with Purple Egyptian barley grown locally by Palouse Heritage and malted by Palouse Pint. It followed up in August with another series using another ancient variety, Scots Bere.

Now comes Saturday’s Landrace Grainfest, featuring eight beers brewed with those barleys by Bellwether and six other mostly local breweries.

“Landrace” refers to grains that were cultivated locally in regions across the globe, before the advent of more mass-produced, hybridized varieties. They provide distinctive flavors when used for baking and brewing.

“They’re so tall, they have much deeper root structures,” says Don Scheuerman of Palouse Heritage, which grows several strains on its farm between Endicott and St. John. “They can pick up micronutrients that aren’t available in the top two or three feet of soil.”

For Saturday, several brewers have made big beers with the Scots Bere, which contributes a deep, rich color and flavor. Those include a Belgian-style dubbel by Genus Brewing (at the Nu Home Brew supply store), a strong ale by Snohomish’s Lost Canoe (co-owned by a cousin of Bellwether’s Thomas Croskrey) and a barleywine by Young Buck.

On the lighter side, Black Label brewed an easy-drinking Kentucky Common with the fruitier, nuttier Purple Egyptian along with corn from the LINC Foods farmers’ co-op, the parent company of Palouse Pint. 

Both Scots Bere and Purple Egyptian were used in an amber autumn lager by Whistle Punk (which was conditioned over hazelnuts), an Amarillo dry-hopped pale by Bellwether and a strong bitter by Palouse Pint that included some lightly roasted Purple Egyptian.

An English-style strong ale collaboration by all the brewers features both roasted and smoked Purple Egyptian and Scots Bere along with a little landrace Red Russian wheat from Palouse Heritage.

The festival runs from 3 to 9 p.m. Tickets are $25 (available in advance at Bellwether and at the door), which includes a 12-ounce pour of the collaboration and 5-ounce tasters of the other beers; the first 120 people through the door get a souvenir glass.

There also will be bread and snacks for sale by Culture Breads using the Red Russian and other landrace grains.

And there’s more to come. A cooperative project called the Grain Shed, in a former grocery store on the north edge of the South Perry District (at Newark and Laura), will feature beers brewed with Palouse Heritage grains plus breads and small plates by Culture Breads. It’s in the permitting process and plans to open by spring.

“You’ll be able to come in and taste the full gamut, in food form, bread form and beer form,” says co-owner Joel Williamson, who's also the Palouse Pint maltster.

Bright forecast for Bellwether

Bellwether Brewing turns two this weekend amid a major growth spurt.

The North Monroe brewery is preparing to upgrade to a 10-barrel system to meet taproom demand and begin distributing more beer in Spokane and beyond.

“I’m excited for the future,” says co-owner Dave Musser. “Seeing our overall growth patterns, this is kind of a no-brainer.”

But first, there’s a party to throw on Friday and Saturday – and some special beers to pour.

Friday from 3 to 10 p.m. will mark the debut of Gru-It Ourselves, an herbed beer (gruit) brewed with contributions from customers’ gardens.

“The herbs came through really nice,” says co-owner/brewer Thomas Croskrey, with catnip and lemon balm leading the way and accents of chamomile. At 5.5 percent alcohol by volume, he says, it’s dark brown but not particularly malty, with a mild bitterness from hops and some of the herbs.

There also will be some Seawolf braggot, a 7.9 ABV honey beer, that was brewed when Bellwether first got its license and has been aging for more than two years. Half the keg was poured for last year’s anniversary party, with the rest saved for this time.

Croskrey says he hasn’t tasted it since last year, when it came off a bit richer but not thicker, with a more pronounced honey character.  

Those will be joined on Saturday from 1 to 10 by a fresh hop beer dubbed Luposlipaphobia (after an old Far Side cartoon), brewed with Cascade, Centennial and Chinook from the farm at Big Barn Brewing (where it also will pour for Saturday’s fresh hop festival). It’s 6.2 percent with a reddish tint from Red X and Crystal Rye malts.

The weekend also will include treats, raffle drawings and the launch of this year’s Pint Club; for a $35 fee, you get a metal, double-walled imperial pint glass (20 ounces), fills for the year at regular pint prices and access to special events.

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Homegrown gruit

This time of year, it’s common for breweries to seek backyard crops for community fresh-hop brews (like the call New Boundary just issued).

Now Bellwether – which specializes in old-world styles including gruits, which are herbed, often hopless beers – is taking that a step further.

The North Spokane brewery is inviting gardeners to bring homegrown herbs and spices to Sunday’s Gru-It Ourselves harvest party and brew day from 2 to 4 p.m. Hops are welcome as well, along with fruit and vegetable greens and even weeds.

Those will be tossed into a mass brew that will be released for Bellwether’s second anniversary Sept. 29. There will be discounted pints during Sunday’s event and goodies for those who bring in their bounty.

There are a few qualifiers: Your contributions must be identifiable (by sight or smell) and not sprayed with pesticides. And there’s no guarantee everything collected will be used in the beer; it does need to be drinkable, after all.

"It's a little bit of an experiment," Bellwether's Thomas Croskrey says. "I hope people don't get too personally attached if something they bring in is too weird, or if they think that it's edible but it turns out to be toxic."

And some herbs need to be added later in the brewing process to preserve their character, he says, like basil. "It turns out like spinach if it's boiled too long," Croskrey says.

"We're keeping a light-hearted attitude about it," he says. "We'll see how it goes. If it goes well, we'll do it again next year."

Beer, honey and history

Solace Mead & Cider adds beer to its lineup today, just in time for a special Renaissance-themed Night Market at Kendall Yards.

The joint tasting room by Green Bluff’s Hierophant Meadery and Twilight Cider will now be pouring beer from two taps, beginning with a pair of Hierophant collaborations that debuted at Bellwether Brewing’s recent Braggotfest.

Casus Fortuitous is a gruit (herbed beer) that was jointly brewed by Bellwether, Young Buck and others, aged in merlot barrels and mixed with Hierophant’s Gilead vanilla poplar mead. There’s also a blend of Young Buck’s gose (tart wheat beer) and Hierophant’s Matricaria chamomile mead.

Those two braggots – a honeyed beer/mead hybrid style that dates back to the Middle Ages – are appropriate fare for the special Renaissance fair version of the weekly Night Market starting at 4 p.m.

It aims to transport visitors back to the year 1527 through music, dance, storytelling and other re-enactments in conjunction with The Spokane Entertainer’s Guild. Costumes are encouraged.       

Hierophant plans to feature a variety of local beers in the future, both on tap and in bottles.    

Grin and Bere it at Bellwether

In February, Bellwether embarked on its Purple Egyptian Barley Project, brewing a seven-week series of small-batch beers with the obscure grain.

Now history is repeating itself with another ancient varietal, Scots Bere, which will be showcased each Thursday through August starting this week.

The barley again is grown by Palouse Heritage (which sourced original seed stock from Scotland’s Orkney Island), and malted by Palouse Pint in the Spokane Valley. The beers again will be accompanied by loaves made with the grain by Culture Breads.

But there are a few differences. The new series runs for five weeks, not seven. And while the Purple Egyptian beers were made with a minimum 60 percent of that barley, only Scots Bere is being used in these recipes.

“There are a couple of reasons,” says Bellwether’s Thomas Croskrey, who specializes in Old World styles. “I’m really excited about ancient Celtic brewing traditions, and for posterity I wanted to be 100 percent with it. And Scots Bere is historically a beer barley, so you theoretically don’t need any other grains.”

Believed to be Britain’s oldest cultivated cereal, Scots Bere (pronounced “bare”) was raised by Viking colonists in Scotland and the Orkneys. While it was surpassed commercially by higher-yielding barleys, it’s still grown there in limited quantities and used to make beer and whisky as well as breads.

“It carries a ton of flavor,” says Croskrey, who may be the first U.S. brewer to work with it. He describes it as bready but not heavy, and producing a deep brownish-red hue.

“You look at it and have a hard time believing it’s a single-malt beer,” he says. “It’s not the pale malt that we’re used to.”

In keeping with the grain’s origins, Croskrey is doing a series of Nordic- and Celtic-inspired ales, starting this week with a pair of Scottish styles: a mild (4.6 percent alcohol by volume) and a wee heavy (7.9) with heather, elderflower and oak.           

As with the Purple Egyptian, a big batch of the most popular beer in the series will be brewed later. You can vote on that if you come to at least four of the five Thursdays; those who attend every week will get a free souvenir glass, which also is available for purchase. 

The Crate food truck will be on hand each week serving dinner from 5 to 8.

Homebrew away from home

It’s all about the homebrew tonight at Bellwether.

For the past two years, the North Spokane brewery has hosted a homebrewers’ competition for Spokane Craft Beer Week in May, with the winners having their recipe made on Bellwether’s system for commercial release.

This year’s winner will be tapped today at 5: Hazy Disposition, a New England-style IPA created by Jim Schulte and Chad Powers.

Their contest entry compared favorably to the professional versions of the style done so far at area breweries. The recipe has been tweaked a bit for full-scale production, says Bellwether’s Thomas Croskrey, but remains impressive.

“It’s still really cloudy and super-juicy, especially in the nose but also in the flavor,” Croskrey says.

It’s brewed with malted oats, wheat and triticale in addition to barley – which helps create the hazy appearance and soft mouthfeel – and hopped with fruity El Dorado, Ekuanot, Amarillo and Azacca.

The Crate food truck will be on hand serving dinner starting at 5, as it will be every Thursday through the end of summer.

And from 6 to 8, the crew from the Nu Home Brew supply shop will be on hand to conduct a free introductory class on the basics of brewing with malt extract.

The recipe is a kolsch with small additions of lemongrass and lavender. It will ferment at Bellwether and be served at a discount price when it’s ready, Croskrey says.

“We’re hoping to get some people here who have never brewed beer,” he says.

And who knows – maybe one of them could be standing in the winner’s circle at Bellwether someday.

Boys and the bubbles

Four-Eyed Guys' Alex Rausch and Bellwether's Thomas Croskrey deliver their Simon & Gruitfunkel beer to the Spokane Arena's Antwone Whaley before Friday night's Paul Simon concert.

When Bellwether’s Thomas Croskrey brewed a beer called Simon & Gruitfunkel, he never expected to be sending some to Paul Simon himself.

But that’s exactly what happened Friday night before Simon’s show at the Spokane Arena.

Croskrey and Four-Eyed Guys’ Alex Rausch collaborated on the recipe for Spokane Craft Beer Week. It combined one of Rausch’s specialties, gose (tart wheat beer), and one of Croskrey’s, gruit (herbed ale), flavored with parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme (hence the name).

The Arena crew, who are presenting their second annual Spokane Brewers Festival in August, heard about it and asked Croskrey if he could bring some for Simon’s backstage spread – like they did in February for Blake Shelton, who had taken a liking to No-Li beer during a previous stop.

So Croskrey and Rausch showed up with two growlers of Simon & Gruitfunkel and one of Bellwether’s Fernweh Baltic porter, which won a gold medal in last weekend’s Washington Beer Awards.

Croskrey, who was celebrating his birthday, stayed for the show with a longtime friend. “He and I grew up listening to Simon and Garfunkel,” he says.

“The concert was awesome,” Croskrey continues. “He did a half-dozen of the old Simon and Garfunkel songs.”  

He hasn’t heard how his offering went over with Simon. “He didn’t say anything during the show,” Croskrey says.

And no, he didn’t play “Scarborough Fair.”

Bragging on braggots

Bellwether is about to do for braggot what it did for gruit.

The North Spokane brewery specializes in Old World offerings like braggot, a honeyed beer/mead hybrid, and gruit, a typically hopless ale brewed with herbs and spices.

In February, it packed its cozy space for Gruitfest, featuring a half-dozen of those on tap. And on Saturday, it hopes to attract an equally enthusiastic crowd for Braggotfest, with a dozen examples from several area breweries.

Like gruits, braggots can cover a wide range of beer types from light to dark, mild to strong, malty to hoppy.

“It’s almost more of a method than a style,” says Bellwether brewer/co-owner Thomas Croskrey. “There are all these different beer styles that you can turn into braggots and gruits.”

Braggot traces its origins to the Middle Ages among Nordic and Celtic populations (it’s mentioned in Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales”). They likely started out by blending finished ale and mead, often accented with herbs and spices, then began brewing using a combination of grain and honey.

Not all beers made with honey are braggots, though there’s no clear definition of the term today. It’s simply not something federal alcohol authorities see often enough to establish firm guidelines.

“Honey-based beverages basically died in the 1600s and are just starting to come back in a major way,” says Jeremy Kyncl of Green Bluff’s Hierophant Meadery, co-sponsor of Saturday’s event.

Croskrey considers 30 percent honey content to be the minimum for braggots, though his are typically 50-50. Even so, they’re not necessarily sweet; the sugar ferments into alcohol, leaving behind the flavor components.

And with more than 300 honey varieties in the United States – plus regional variations within those, based on climate and other conditions – there’s an abundance of flavors.    

Croskrey uses lighter clover honey in his new Summer Run session braggot (4.6 percent alcohol by volume), a collaboration with Nu Home Brew that gets its bright, crisp character from a combination of lemongrass, birch bark and basil.

Hearty buckwheat honey goes into his stronger, Scottish-inspired Seawolf (7.9), lending what Croskrey calls “almost a Tootsie Roll chocolate.” And given the natural variations in honey supplies, he says, “Every batch is a little different. This one’s a little more chocolatey, this one has a little more leather. I love that part of it.”

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Purple grain

Ancient Egyptians would bake bread and soak it in water as their first step in brewing beer.

Now a modern Spokane brewer and baker are making beer and bread using a type of barley that originated in the headwaters of the Nile River thousands of years ago.

Bellwether this week launches its Purple Egyptian Barley Project. Over the next seven Thursdays, through April 6, it will release a variety of beers using the grain grown in this region by Palouse Heritage and malted by Palouse Pint in the Spokane Valley.

The beers will be accompanied by breads baked with the barley from Spokane’s Culture Breads. Customers who sample at least six of the offerings will receive a souvenir pint glass and be eligible to vote for their favorite; a full batch of the winner will be brewed for Spokane Craft Beer Week in May.

“We’re pretty excited to see the results,” says Bellwether brewer Thomas Croskrey, who’s known for his creative, historically themed endeavors (like the recent Gruitfest) . “Hopefully we’ll get a full crowd every Thursday.”

Croskrey says the malt made from Purple Egyptian barley, a hull-less grain with a purple/black bran layer, reminds him of Grape-Nuts. “I could pour milk on it and eat it for cereal,” he says.

While it doesn’t actually turn the beer purple, he adds, it imparts a more reddish color compared to typical barley base malts.

Purple Egyptian from Palouse Heritage previously was malted by Skagit Valley Malting in Burlington, Wash. and used in the initial version of Pike Brewing’s Locale Skagit Valley Alba pale ale.

Thursday marks the first time that the locally malted grain will be featured in a public release. Croskrey’s initial beer is an Egyptian-inspired recipe with dates, honey, black pepper and chamomile.

“From the reading I’ve done, they used a lot of dates in their beer, and some honey,” he says. “They didn’t use black pepper, but they had grains of paradise, which is similar.”

Other beers scheduled for release in the series, though the order hasn’t yet been determined, include:

– A hoppy pale that Croskrey says isn’t quite an IPA but gets lots of flavor and aroma from late-addition hops.

– A darker offering conditioned with cocoa nibs, roasted dandelion root and coffee.

– A strong braggot (honey beer) brewed with yerba mate tea from South America.

– A gruit (with herbs instead of hops) using lavender, basil, strawberry leaf and yarrow. “It’s one of my favorite gruits that I’ve made,” Croskrey says.

– An all-Purple Egyptian beer including a small amount of malt smoked by Palouse Heritage’s Don Scheuerman in his smokehouse, with pine resin added for extra character.

– Another using unmalted barley roasted by Palouse Pint’s Joel Williamson along with the base Purple Egyptian malt and some of his regular Crystal/Biscuit 40.   

“I wanted to get a real variety out there and see just how versatile this malt is,” Croskrey says of the lineup.

All are five-gallon batches that will start pouring as soon as Bellwether opens at 3 p.m., so they could go fast. In addition to the slices served with the beers, the Culture Breads creations will be sold as full loaves to go.

Culture Breads’ Shaun Thompson Duffy bakes his breads in a wood-fired oven using traditional, locally grown grains. “He approaches baking in the same way that I approach brewing, with a deep respect for the historical way of doing things,” Croskrey says.       

Gruit basket

In today’s IPA-crazed climate, it’s hard to imagine a time when beer was brewed without hops. But hopless, herbed and spiced ales – called gruits (rhymes with “fruits”) – were common throughout most of European history.

While they faded from favor for reasons ranging from hops’ supposedly superior preservative properties to religious/sexual politics, a smattering of traditionally minded brewers still are keeping the category alive.

Spokane’s Bellwether, which specializes in Old World styles, has regularly served gruits since opening in September 2015. Its rye gruit jointly brewed with Mad Bomber was one of the featured collaborations for last year’s Spokane Craft Beer Week.

The real local coming out party is tomorrow, when Bellwether celebrates International Gruit Day with its first Gruitfest. The centerpiece is another collaboration, this time with Young Buck, Whistle Punk and Republic Brewing. Bellwether, Whistle Punk and Republic also will pour their own separate interpretations, as will Big Barn and Iron Goat.

The $20 tasting package includes a commemorative glass (pictured above) and seven 6-ounce pours (each of the featured gruits, plus an extra of your favorite). Doors open at 3 p.m., with other brewers expected to arrive around 5 for the official start of the festivities.

The variety among their offerings is impressive. Like sours, gruits aren’t so much a style unto themselves as a broader concept that can be applied across the beer spectrum.

“Dark or light, high ABV or low ABV, instead of hops, put in a mixture of herbs and spices and you’ve got a gruit ale,” says Bellwether brewer/co-owner Thomas Croskrey. “And the whole scope of herbs and spices that are available makes it limitless.”

The new, complex collaboration – dubbed We Are Gruit (a comic-book movie reference) – is a dark mild, just under 5 percent alcohol by volume, made with wormwood, yarrow, lemongrass, lemon verbena, smoked chili flakes, rosemary, heather, horehound and spruce.

It’s a full batch brewed on Young Buck’s seven-barrel system, so look for it to show up on other taps around town. The others are small batches made specially for tomorrow’s event.

Croskrey cooked up an amber with birch bark and leaves, cardamom and black pepper. Whistle Punk produced a delicate saison with wormwood, lemon verbena, basil, hibiscus flowers and spruce, while Republic is bringing a hearty winter warmer with hyssop, black pepper, cardamom and yarrow.    

Big Barn’s contribution is a dark, rich beer brewed with smoked and peated malts and finished with spruce tips. Owner/brewer Craig Deitz is so satisfied with how it turned out that he’s considering a fresh spruce Scotch ale next fall using the Christmas trees he grows at his Green Bluff farm.

As for Iron Goat, co-owner/brewer Greg Brandt says, “We wanted to make ours taste as much like a hopped beer as we could.” Over a pale ale base, that involved passion fruit for tropical yet dank aroma and flavor, and a bark tea for bitterness.

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Bellwether’s bounty

Bellwether is rolling out a cornucopia of beers for Thanksgiving week and beyond:

– First up is this year’s winter seasonal Ancestry Ale, a big (7.4 percent alcohol by volume), dark gruit that releases at the taproom today. Like last year, it includes both bitter and sweet orange peel, allspice, cinnamon and grains of paradise. But this time around, there’s chamomile instead of mugwort and elderberries replace the previous rose hips.

Like mugwort, chamomile adds bitterness when boiled for a longer time but has a cleaner, more tea-like character, says brewer Thomas Croskrey. The elderberries contribute a purplish tinge and “sort of a winelike tannic quality that lingers in the aftertaste,” he says.

The beer will likely show up at a few area restaurants and bars as well. “I would have thought it was a little too weird, but we’ve had some interest already,” Croskrey says.

– Wednesday will see the release of the fifth beer in Bellwether’s small-batch garden series, a sour with rosemary from Croskrey’s garden and heather. It’s similar to the regular Albion heather ale, but without the smoked malt, he says.

Albion, by the way, will return to the tap lineup in a couple of weeks after aging for a couple of months. “It tends to sell really quickly, and heather has been a little difficult to get hold of lately,” Croskrey says. “I think I’ve secured a source now for wild-grown Scottish heather. I’m pretty excited about that.”

The garden series is scheduled to wrap up with two more weekly releases:  a pumpkin rosemary sage sour, and a kale hefeweizen.

– Bellwether will be closed Thursday and Friday for the holiday, but reopens Saturday with a Christmas tree decorating party. Help trim the tree (bring a small ornament if you like) and get your first pint for $4, plus free popcorn.

The beer specialty will be the return of Hearthstone Barleywine after aging for a year. That will be followed after it blows by the rest of last year’s Storytime Wheatwine, and then the Armchair Ryewine.

– The week wraps up with the launch of a Sunday series of warm mulled ales. They will be different each week, including some with cider, but most will be based on the Ancestry, Croskrey says.

“I actually like it warm better than cold,” he says. “I think it’s going to be awesome as a mulled ale.”

The series will continue at least through December, and possibly the rest of the winter if it proves particularly popular.

– Croskrey also has brewed two beers with the winners of Bellwether’s homebrew contests.

A porter with home-smoked chipotle peppers, cinnamon and cacao nibs – the champion in the Blank Slate Challenge with the Inland Brewers Unite (IBU) club on Learn to Homebrew Day earlier this month – is expected on tap by mid-December.

Joining it by year’s end, if not before, will be the chai stout that won an earlier competition during May’s Spokane Craft Beer Week. It includes a spice blend that focuses on cardamom and clove, plus buckwheat honey and some lactose to mimic the steamed-milk creaminess of a chai latte.   

“I’m really excited for both of them,” Croskrey says. “They’re going to be great.”

– Also coming next month is a red ale with pine resin and rose hips that was brewed in collaboration with Four Eyed Guys, which is wrapping up the licensing process to open its own brewery.

Bellwether just released another collaboration last Saturday, with Young Buck, a Winter Woods IPA featuring birch bark, juniper berries and fir tree resin.

Weathering year one

Thomas Croskrey (left) and Dave Musser are the men behind Bellwether Brewing.

After building a business rooted in ancient times, Bellwether is celebrating some history of its own.

The North Monroe brewery, which specializes in Old World styles made with herbs and honey, has its first anniversary party Thursday through Saturday with beer releases, food, live music and the launch of a pint club.

“I’ve been pleasantly surprised – not surprised, really, but blessed – by how well people have responded to our creativity and taking risks,” says co-owner Dave Musser, a community activist and pastor in the surrounding Emerson-Garfield neighborhood.

“(Partner) Thomas (Croskrey) has been so creative with the beers that he’s done, I think it’s inspired other people to say, hey, let’s do something different.”

Adds Croskrey, a history buff who started homebrewing four years ago and has turned it into a full-time job: “It’s something I learned specifically for this purpose. Now it actually looks like it’s going to work.”

Along with more familiar hefeweizens, pale ales, IPAs and stouts, the more than 100 beers Croskrey has cranked out so far include the likes of gruits – with herbs instead of hops – and braggots, a honeyed hybrid of beer and mead.

He’s particularly proud of his Kulning, an adventurous, Nordic-inspired gruit/braggot brewed with yarrow, juniper, flower honey, toasted oak and a bit of smoky peated malt.

“It was kind of a risk, but it’s done pretty well,” he says. “Sometimes I don’t like drinking my own beer because I’m there from beginning to end and it gets kind of predictable, but that’s one I’ll go and grab.”

This weekend’s festivities kick off Thursday – Bellwether’s actual anniversary – with the tapping of a year-old keg of Seawolf, a brown braggot brewed with flavorful buckwheat honey. “(The aging) really brought out the richness of the honey,” Croskrey says.

There also will be grilled burgers – $5 each, or $1 with a beer purchase – and homemade cupcakes baked by a friend using the brewery’s Barefoot ginger blonde and Brother by Choice stout.

And Bellwether will launch its pint club: For an annual $25 fee, you get a 19.2-ounce metal imperial pint glass that you can get filled for the price of a regular pint.

Friday’s beer release is Higgelstein, a cross between a traditional Oktoberfest and session IPA that had a sneak preview at last weekend’s Inland Northwest Craft Beer Festival. It’s brewed with both German and American ale yeasts, German malts and fruity Jarrylo hops.

Live music will be provided starting at 7 by Renndition, a Coeur d’Alene fiddle/guitar combo.

Things wrap up Saturday with the 10th release in the ongoing Fibber McGee IPA series, this time an imperial version dry-hopped with Centennial.

For food, the 40 Below dessert shop makes a return visit starting at 1 p.m. with snow fluff both beer-infused – using Seawolf and the Second Breakfast hefeweizen – and nonalcoholic. That will be followed from 5 to 8 by the CRATE food truck and $4 pint specials on summer seasonals: Kulning, Barefoot and the dark-colored, light-bodied Halfdan the Mild.

Special events will continue throughout Bellwether’s second year, including more pint nights to benefit local nonprofits and a planned December brewer’s dinner featuring four spiced Belgian-style ales.

There will be more collaborations along the lines of a pair to be released in the near future: a roasted pumpkin porter with Young Buck Brewing, and a strong dark braggot with hand-picked green walnuts produced jointly with Green Bluff’s Hierophant Meadery.

There’s also talk of special 22-ounce bottle releases around Christmas, and eventually some limited distribution. That will depend on adding more tanks to Bellwether’s small 1.5-barrel brewing system.

“We’re going to grow slowly and organically,” Musser says. “We don’t want to get in over our heads.”

It’s all still an adventure, Croskrey adds: “We don’t feel like we necessarily know everything just because we have a year behind us. We have plans and goals, but it still kind of feels like we’re winging it.”

Gruits of their labor

Don’t feel bad if you missed International Gruit Day yesterday, or if you don’t know what a gruit is in the first place.

Bellwether is celebrating the occasion today (since they’re closed on Mondays), and they’ll be happy to fill you in on what you’ve been missing.

A gruit (rhymes with fruit) is a beer flavored with herbs instead of hops, which was common across Europe before hopped beers gained favor around the 15th century.

Bellwether brewer Thomas Croskrey, a history buff and fan of Old World styles, typically uses mugwort in his gruits to mimic the bittering effect of hops, plus a whole host of other herbs. For today’s festivities, he’s created a stout with horehound and aniseed for a licorice character.

In a more modern twist, if you order one and either check in at Bellwether on social media and/or post a picture of your pour, with the hashtags #GruitDay and #BellwetherBrewing, you get a discount on your first pint and growler fill. (That also applies to the brewery’s hopless Heather Ale, though it’s not technically a gruit since it uses a single herb.)

Bellwether’s gruits so far have been small 5-gallon batches (and only available to go in 16- or 32-ounce growlers). But by next week, Croskrey plans to tap a bigger-batch brown gruit off the 1.5-barrel system made with coriander, rose hips and grains of paradise; you’ll be able to get full 64-ounce growlers of that one.

And later in the month, look for another small-batch offering with roasted dandelion root, orange peel and sage.   

Bellwether report

Bellwether Brewing may have just opened Tuesday, but its roots run back for centuries.

Among the offerings at the new nanobrewery at 2019 N. Monroe are such Old World styles as braggot (a honeyed beer-mead hybrid), gruit (brewed with herbs instead of hops) and a hopless heather ale.

“It’s exciting for me,” says brewer Thomas Croskrey, a history buff. “I hope it’s exciting for anyone else who walks through the doors and wants to try something different.”

The opening lineup from his 1.5-barrel system includes:

– Second Breakfast (5.8 percent alcohol by volume, 19 International Bitterness Units): A twist on the traditional Bavarian hefeweizen, with lemongrass, lemon balm and ginger contributing subtle flavors and a dry, spicy finish.

– Stargazer’s Rye (5.7, 54): A hoppy red with fruity notes from Galaxy and Comet hops balanced by the peppery rye.

– Sea Wolf (7.9, 51): Named after the seafaring Vikings who invaded Ireland, this big, brown braggot gets an intense richness from flavorful buckwheat honey.

– Albion (8.4, 0): After the original name for the island of Great Britain, a strong, richly malty heather ale with an herbal, floral character that’s suggestive of hops.

– Lemon Pepper Gruit (6.6, 0): One in a rotating series of small-batch gruits, with a drying, bitter lemon character and hints of pepper in the finish.

– Multi-Grain Bitter (6, 94): Another small-batch offering, a golden ale brewed with equal amounts of barley, wheat and rye and hopped with Belma.

– Session Stout (2.9, 19): Extremely light-bodied with a pronounced roastiness, to be followed soon by the fuller-strength Brother by Choice stout.

Bellwether’s Symphony IPA also is in progress, but in the meantime they’re pouring a fruity Citra IPA from Whistle Punk (formerly Hanson Brothers), a rare public appearance by the budding Newman Lake brewery.

Other guest taps include One Tree’s Lemon Basil cider and Hopped Up’s root beer, alongside the house-brewed Tenderfoot ginger ale and Tenderfoot XP, with key lime and jalapeno.

For food, there’s pistachios, a cheese platter, Alpine Bakery bread using the brewery’s spent grains and vanilla ice cream for floats, with food trucks planned for weekends and special events (outside food also allowed).

It’s all served up in a clean, inviting atmosphere in a former mechanic shop that sat empty for 10 years. The polished concrete floor and walls in light and dark gray are accented by the black walnut used for the bar and table tops, tap handles and taster trays.

Along with padded, high-backed barstools and standard tables in the middle of the room, there’s distinctive seating along opposite side walls: two tables with stools bolted to one wall, and a cozy nook along the other (painted blue) with couches around an old dresser.

It’s all part of the continued revival of the surrounding Emerson-Garfield neighborhood, says Croskrey’s business partner, Dave Musser, a minister and community activist.         

“I love this neighborhood, and I want to see it revitalized,” Musser says. “We’re trying to create a community gathering place.”

Bellwether’s hours are Tuesday through Saturday from 3 to 9 p.m. (children are allowed). 

Change in the Bellwether

There's a new order for the brewery formerly known as Modern Monk.

Owners of the planned 1.5-barrel nanobrewery on North Monroe had been aware there was a Nebraska brewery named Modern Monks, but didn't think that would be a problem so long as they weren't distributing.

But after hearing recently from the midwestern Monks, they agreed to find a new identity.

"We mutually decided there should only be one," says co-owner/brewer Thomas Croskrey. "There were no threats of court, no hard feelings."

Shortly afterward, Croskrey and partner Dave Musser explained the situation to some friends at a tasting party and put out a jar for name suggestions.

The winner: Bellwether, which means leader or trendsetter, after an Old English word for the lead sheep in a flock.

Croskrey, who plans to brew Old World beers like braggot, a honey ale that originated in Wales, appreciates both the word's ancient origins and its modern meaning. "Folks are really liking it so far," he says.

While the brewery's recent Kickstarter campaign failed to reach its goal, he says, they're still hoping to open by the end of summer.

It's not the first time a local brewery has faced naming challenges, something that's becoming more common across the country as the number of breweries keeps skyrocketing.

Downdraft in Post Falls had to change its name from Cloudburst after a Seattle brewer trademarked that, while Spokane's planned Hanson Brothers Brewing has run into issues with a contract brew by the singing brothers of the same name.