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River City shifts gears

River City is closing its downtown taproom at the end of the year to concentrate on distribution and bottling.

"We have had a great time serving our beer and pretzel menu to the Spokane community, but we are ready to focus on the production side of our operation including bottling in the new year," the brewery says in a press release.

"There are lots of places to drink River City beer throughout our region so we feel as if the Tap Room has served its purpose as we introduced our beers, but now it’s time to refocus our attention on making, kegging and bottling beer. We will be changing up our core beers (and) introducing some new limited releases & collaborations, as well as continuing to produce award-winning beer."

Following Saturday's International Marmot Beer Festival, starting Sunday, all pints will be $2,50 and growler fills will be $10 until the taproom closes Dec. 30. River City still plans to host "garage parties" on First Fridays starting in February along with other special events.

The move comes at a time when brewers across the country are feeling competitive pressures as the number of breweries continues to grow, but overall sales are starting to slow down.

Not having food service put River City's taproom at a disadvantage compared to other downtown breweries that do offer food, says Emily Schwartz, the brewery's marketing and sales director who also managed the taproom.

"Moving forward with things like a bottling line, one-offs, a barrel-aging program, it just made sense to put all of our efforts, focus and funds into that aspect of what we're doing," she says.

River City's owners operated a restaurant brewpub with their former Coeur d'Alene Brewing, but said they were not interested in serving food when they opened River City in early 2013. The taproom was added that November.

In another change, Schwartz will be moving to King Beverage to oversee the distributor's craft beer operations. KBI Craft represents River City and fellow locals Orlison and Selkirk Abbey along with other smaller craft breweries from outside the area.

Schwartz says she will focus on building business for those breweries and training other KBI representatives about craft beer.

Midnight rambler

For a relatively small mammal, River City’s Midnight Marmot sure gets around.

The downtown brewery celebrates its seasonal imperial stout with the third annual International Marmot Beer Festival on Saturday from 3 to 8 p.m.

It will feature seven variations on the rich black elixir using ingredients from around the globe, including:

– Oranges and star anise from China.

– Coconut from the Pacific Islands.

– Vanilla and coffee beans from South America.

– Thai chilies.

– Mint leaf and cocoa nibs from Ecuador.

– Cognac and French oak chips.

– A wine barrel-aged version with Washington raspberries.

There’s also a grand cru blend of last year’s regular Marmot, its raspberry/oak, Indian curry and Madagascar vanilla versions plus Congratulator doppelbock.

Your ticket get s you 2-ounce samples of all eight beers, plus a 12-ounce pour of your favorite, for $25 in advance (at the taproom) or $25 at the door.

Food will be provided by the Nick’s Shameless Sausages truck.

Ho-ho-hot!

If you’re more down with winter wonderland than summer sauna, River City has a party for you.

The downtown brewery’s third annual Christmas in July on Saturday features reserve kegs of winter seasonal beers plus food, live music and holiday decorations – lots of decorations.

“I think we’ve got even more than last year,” says River City’s Emily Schwartz, a confessed Christmas junkie. “The brewery will be very well lit-up.”

But, fortunately for heat-stroke considerations, there’s no ugly sweater contest this time.           

“It’s too darned hot,” Schwartz says. “I felt bad for the people who came in sweaters last year, even if they brought something else (to change into).”

The forecast calls for partial cloud cover atop 92-degree temperatures with a chance of stray showers, some relief from the previously predicted 100 and sunny.

The beer lineup includes such cellared treats as the 2015 and 2016 vintages of Congratulator Doppelbock along with the coffee-infused version of Mad Latvian Baltic porter, which replaced Congratulator in the winter rotation this year.

There also are several takes on Midnight Marmot imperial stout: conditioned on oak chips soaked in Canadian and American whiskeys; Oako-Coco, aged on oak chips and cocoa nibs and served creamy from a nitro tap; and a wine barrel-aged Congratulator/Marmot blend dubbed Horned Marmot Shadow Ram.

All except the Mad Latvian are in limited quantities (5 to 10 gallons), so for this Christmas, don’t be late; doors open at 2.

More befitting current conditions, there also will be a lemon zest-infused Huckleberry Ale pouring outside in the parking lot along with the return of the Gose-Away tart wheat with cranberry, blueberry, orange and energy drink-style electrolytes.

River City’s regular offerings also will be on tap, including the recently released seasonal Kung Fu Death Monkey imperial IPA. Beer tickets cost $3 each (8-ounce pours for one ticket, full pints for two).

Also look for food from the Couple of Chefs and Nick’s Shameless Sausages trucks, music in the outdoor tent by Dimestore Prophets at 5 and L.O.S. (Left Over Soul) at 7:30 and such lawn games as cornhole and ladder ball, with water misters to help everyone keep cool.  

You can get your picture taken with Santa from 2 to 4, and in the true Christmas spirit, nonperishable food items again will be collected for the West Central Community Center. 

A romantic Sparky

The Lantern Tap House is back in the collaboration beer business, again in support of a good cause.

It’s hosting a release party Thursday starting at 5 for Sparky Red, a hoppy red ale developed with and brewed by River City. The project benefits Spark Central, a nonprofit education center in the West Central neighborhood.

The Lantern previously collaborated with Portland’s Alameda Brewing for a pair of “PDA” ales to benefit a local girl battling leukemia. “It’s a play on Perry District Ale and also on PDA (slang for public display of affection), giving love back to the community,” Lantern owner Mike Dolmage explains.

Dolmage decided to do something similar with a local brewery and approached River City, known for its own charitable activities including Riverkeeper IPA in support of the Spokane Riverkeeper water protection program.

They started brainstorming beer styles with an eye toward something on the drinkable side for spring weather. There was talk of a pale ale, which evolved into a lighter variation on a red IPA.

“River City Red is our number one selling beer, but some people say, ‘I would really like this beer if it was a lot hoppier,’ ” says River City co-owner Gage Stromberg.

Sparky Red (5.5 percent alcohol by volume, 30 International Bitterness Units) isn’t just a tweaked River City Red, but a brand-new recipe. It uses different malts, is dry-hopped like an IPA for aroma (with Amarillo and Ekuanot) and fermented with the cleaner West Coast that River City uses for its IPAs, not the fruitier English-style house yeast used for its regular red.

“I’m really happy with the way it turned out,” Stromberg says.

While the beer was taking shape, Stromberg attended an event put on by Spark Central. It provides free programs for youth in the high-poverty neighborhood in such areas as visual and literary arts, engineering and robotics, along with community events for all ages.

“I had heard about Spark Central but really didn’t know what they were doing,” he says. “It’s a great little nonprofit that deserves some more recognition.”

Dolmage agrees. “It provides access to technology for young people and gives them that foundation moving forward in their lives,” he says.

The Lantern and River City each have made a donation to Spark Central, and people ordering the beer will receive a postcard with information about the program.

Sparky Red is available exclusively at The Lantern for now (there's live music by Milonga for the release party starting at 8), and also will pour later in River City’s taproom.

“If it sells well, we’ll do another batch and make another donation,” Stromberg says. ”Hopefully it will carry through the year and people will have a good time with it.”

Dolmage already is thinking about similar projects with other local breweries, to support other causes.

“We feel strongly that we don’t just want to brew beer,” he says. “We want to brew beer and give back to the community.”

Walk on the river side

It’s March, and that means it’s time to walk – Riverwalk, that is.

River City Brewing on Friday releases this year’s version of its Riverkeeper IPA, which benefits the Spokane Riverkeeper water protection program.  A launch party from 5:30 to 8 at Numerica Credit Union’s downtown branch, 502 W. Riverside, will include live music and food from Caruso’s.

And starting Monday, 10 downtown-area restaurants near the river are participating in the second annual Riverwalk promotion, which runs through the end of the month.

Riverwalk forms will be available at each stop. Visit five or more and order a Riverkeeper pint and/or a meal to receive a commemorative pint glass (Numerica will donate $5 to the Riverkeeper program for each glass given away); go to all 10, and you’re entered in a drawing for a half-day Spokane River rafting trip with ROW Adventure Center.

Participating restaurants include The Blackbird, Borracho Tacos & Tequileria, Central Food, David’s Pizza, Fast Eddies Bar and Grill, Nectar Wine and Beer in Kendall Yards, Ripples Riverside Grill, Spencer’s for Steaks and Chops, Steelhead Bar & Grille and Veraci Pizza.

The Riverkeeper IPA recipe has changed each year since it was first released in 2014. This year’s version (6.5 percent alcohol by volume, 70 International Bitterness Units) includes eight hop varieties: Bravo, Centennial, Chinook and Columbus in the kettle, and Cascade, Citra, Simcoe and Mandarina Bavaria – a newer hybrid known for its fruity, tangerine/citrus character – for dry-hopping.  

“The focus this year is to make the brew more aromatic and drinkable,” says River City brewer Todd Grove. That involved more late-addition hops (double the amount of dry-hopping this year), plus a lower mash temperature for a leaner, crisper malt body.    

The beer is available year-round, with a portion of sales donated to Spokane Riverkeeper.

Two special events also are scheduled during Riverwalk. On March 18, a River Cleanup Day to collect litter along the riverbank begins at 1:30 at Glover Field in Peaceful Valley; gloves, bags and garbage pickers will be provided (meet afterward at River City).

And on March 25, for Riverwalk Pub Crawl Day, representatives from the Riverkeeper program will visit participating restaurants to talk about their work.

Straight lotta cold beer

Several Spokane breweries put their best beers forward for Blake Shelton before his appearance at the Spokane Arena last night.

When the country star played here in 2014, he liked No-Li’s offerings so much that he had a supply shipped to his next tour stop in Tacoma, then bought another $200 worth to take to his dates in British Columbia.

This time, No-Li delivered a custom case of “Blake Shelton – Doing It to Country Music” golden ale bombers to the Arena backstage before the show, along with a large steel key to the brewery. And Iron Goat, River City, Perry Street and Badass Backyard chipped in with bottles and growlers of their own.

No word whether the “Straight Outta Cold Beer” singer and his crew consumed the entire stash before leaving town.

Down the deep river

River City celebrates its fourth anniversary Saturday with a liquid journey through its past.

The party from 3 to 10 p.m. will feature a dozen-plus specialty beers that span the past three years. The oldest is the final remaining keg of 2014 Deep Thaw winter warmer, the last time that was brewed; the newest is a big Mad Latvian Baltic porter, pushing 10 percent alcohol by volume, which makes its debut.

There also will be both cocoa- and coffee-infused variations on the Baltic porter, a smooth Northern European lager interpretation of the traditional British ale style. It balances the sweeter fruitiness of River City’s Congratulator Doppelbock – its anniversary release the previous two years – with the chocolaty roastiness of its Midnight Marmot imperial stout.

The largely rotating lineup also includes both the 2015 and 2016 Congratulator, the past three vintages of Marmot – along with its Curry Spice, blended Grand Cru and chocolate/oak-aged Oako Coco Nitro versions – and a coffee-infused Riverkeeper IPA.

Also look for the standard Riverkeeper and Afternoon IPAs, Girlfriend Golden, Huckleberry Ale, River City Red and VBS Stout, plus root beer for the kids. Beer tickets will be $2.50 (8 ounces for one ticket, a full pint for two).

One Night Stand BBQ will provide the food, with live music by Haley Young and by L.O.S. (Left Over Soul).

It all caps a year that saw the brewery’s production reach almost 2,000 barrels, a 16 percent increase over 2015. A fourth 25-barrel fermenter has been added for further expansion.

“With the number of breweries growing, it feels really good to be in that position,” says brewery president Gage Stromberg.

The biggest beer news in 2016 was the return of the sessionable Afternoon IPA as a permanent part of the lineup, led by Todd Grove, who took over as head brewer in September. “I couldn’t be happier with the way that he’s stepped up and the beers that he’s created,” Stromberg says.    

Next up on the agenda is this year’s crisper, more aromatic version of Riverkeeper – which benefits the Spokane Riverkeeper water protection program – to be released in early March, hopped with fruity, floral Mandarina Bavaria along with Simcoe and Columbus.

A bigger change comes this summer when the former seasonal Clocktower imperial IPA gives way to a new version dubbed Kung Fu Death Monkey.  “We want to maintain the alcohol but lighten up the body a bit and make it more hop-forward,” Stromberg says.

River City’s first sour, the tart wheat Gose-Way developed jointly last summer with Moscow Alehouse, will be back. There also will be a new, upcoming collaboration with The Lantern Tap House.

And, Stromberg promises, “After saying it the past two years in a row, the third year is the charm: We will be in 22-ounce bottles this year.”

Those will include the Huckleberry – the most popular bottled offering by River City’s previous incarnation, Coeur d’Alene Brewing – along with one or two other regular beers plus seasonals, he says.

The Huckleberry won a gold medal for fruit beers at last year’s Washington Beer Awards, with its wine barrel-aged version earning a bronze. The Congratulator took silver among strong lagers. 

More Marmots on the menu

River City’s brewers took a trip to the kitchen for this year’s International Midnight Marmot Festival.

While last year’s lineup centered on the seasonal imperial stout conditioned over oak chips soaked in various spirits, Saturday’s second annual event focuses on flavors from around the world, from Indian curry to Mexican chipotle peppers to Chinese star anise.

For $25 in advance ($30 at the door) you get 2-ounce samples of regular Marmot and nine variations, plus a pint of your favorite and a souvenir snifter (while supplies last). You also can buy one growler fill for an additional $10. 

Nick’s Shameless Sausages food truck will be on hand for the event from 3 to 8 p.m., and the Afternoon IPA, Girlfriend Golden and house root beer also will be pouring.

“We wanted to take a more culinary approach,” head brewer Todd Grove says of this year’s offerings. “You get a lot of food flavors from Marmot: dark fruit, cocoa, caramel, a nutty quality.”

He and assistant brewer Christopher Anderson, an avid cook, came up with a pair of complementary spice additions. The curry, they say, brings out the perceived sweetness in the beer, while the chipotle version echoes the chocolaty, smoky, nutty flavors of a Mexican mole.

With the Chinese orange and star anise, they say, the orange balances the Marmot’s fruitiness, leaving the licorice-like anise to accentuate its alcohol bite – “but not in a hot way,” Anderson assures.

“When you put together two things that have the same character, something else rises to the forefront,” Grove explains. “They almost cancel each other out.”

For example, he says, when a sweeter stout is paired with chocolate cake, “it’s easier to detect the cinnamon in the cake, and the bitterness in the stout.”

There’s also a Mediterranean pomegranate version of the Marmot, and another incorporating Madagascar vanilla and locally roasted Vessel coffee.

Since the fruitier, English-influenced Marmot isn’t as roasty as many American-style imperial stouts, Grove says, “When you add coffee, it doesn’t feel like it’s hitting you over the head with more roast.”

That also made it a good partner for an After-Midnight black IPA blend, he says, since there’s less roastiness to clash with the hops. While he and Anderson considered using Riverkeeper IPA, which has a fruitier hop character, they found that the sessionable Afternoon IPA worked better with its pinier, more resiny notes.

Other offerings include a reserve 2014 Marmot, an Oako-Coco Nitro aged on oak chips and cacao nibs and a complex Grand Cru blend of regular, curried and coffee/vanilla Marmot along with more that was aged on raspberries and oak chips, plus some of the anniversary Congratulator doppelbock from last January.

Adding the doppelbock, a dark, strong lager, “lightened it up and made the beer a little bit brighter,” Anderson says. Grove says he gets suggestions of port wine.

While the Congratulator has been River City’s anniversary beer the past two years, it’s being replaced by a big Baltic porter – another strong lager that falls somewhere between doppelbock and imperial stout – for the brewery’s fourth birthday party. That’s coming up Jan. 27, so hoist a Marmot and mark your calendars.           

Holly July Christmas

River City Brewing had such a merry little “Christmas in July” in its taproom last summer that it’s going full Griswold this year.

Saturday’s second annual celebration, from 2 to 10 p.m., will spill out into the brewing space and parking lot as well, with the additions of food trucks, live music and games.

“We had such a good time with it last year, we decided to go all out this year and make it bigger and better,” said Emily Schwartz, the downtown brewery’s marketing and sales director.

Like last time, the taproom at 121 S. Cedar will be decorated for December, and then some.

“I got full rein this year, and I’m a bit of a Christmas fanatic,” said Schwartz. “I’ve been borrowing stuff from all of my friends. We’ll have seven Christmas trees, inflatable yard ornaments, tons of lights and garlands, the whole nine yards.”

Servers will again be dressed in holiday costumes, with Christmas music on the sound system and classic movies on TV. Santa himself will be on hand for photos with customers from 2 to 4 p.m. (actually, that’s one of Schwartz’s friends, but don’t tell the kids).

Speaking of costumes, the winner of an ugly sweater contest at 4 will receive a Hydro Flask insulated stainless steel growler.

Live music kicks off at 5 in the brewery with the pop trio Friends of Mine, followed at 7:30 by the nine-piece R&B ensemble L.O.S. (Left Over Soul).  The 3 Ninjas and Mac Daddy’s food trucks will be in the parking lot along with cornhole and ladder ball games.

And yes, there will be beer – including the last remaining keg of 2014 Deep Thaw winter warmer (which hasn’t been brewed since, and was tasting great at January’s anniversary party) and both the rich, original 2015 and drier 2016 renditions of the anniversary Congratulator Doppelbock.

Five variations on the winter seasonal Midnight Marmot imperial stout also are coming out of the cellar: last year’s regular and nitro versions, plus the final taproom releases of Marmot conditioned over French oak and raspberry, whiskey-soaked oak chips, and oak chips and cocoa beans (aka Oako-Coco, also on nitro).  

Some of those specialties are in smaller sixth-barrel kegs, Schwartz said: “It’s definitely first come, first serve on those so be sure to get there early.”

On the more summery side, there will be two soured options – the Tart Saison collaboration with Perry Street Brewing and Gose-Away, a “recovery” beer brewed with energy drink-style electrolytes plus cranberry, acai and orange – along with the spring seasonal Clocktower Imperial IPA, summer seasonal Inconceivable Imperial Pilsner and a small-batch Munich Helles light lager. 

“It will be hot, and we want people to be able to hang out all day,” Schwartz said of the lighter offerings.

You’ll buy beer tickets at the door for $3 each, with an eight-ounce pour for one ticket and a full pint for two. Since it’s an all-ages event, it’s also worth mentioning that River City makes its own root beer.

And in the true Christmas spirit of giving, donations of nonperishable food will be collected for the Our Place Community Ministries food bank in the West Central neighborhood.  

A river crawls through it

River City is turning up the volume on its Spokane River water protection efforts with a pub crawl this afternoon.

As part of this year’s launch of Riverkeeper IPA, the brewery added a Riverwalk promotion through March involving eight restaurants along and near the river. If you stop at four of them, buy a Riverkeeper pint and/or food and get your guide stamped (available at participating locations), you receive a souvenir glass.

Sponsor Numerica Credit Union donates $5 to the Riverkeeper environmental program for each glass handed out (a portion of Riverkeeper IPA sales year-round also supports the cause).

For today’s crawl, starting at 4 p.m., representatives from River City, Numerica, Riverkeeper and distributor KBI Craft will form two teams to greet drinkers along the route.

One team visits Rock City Grill at 4, O’Doherty’s Irish Grille at 4:45, The Blackbird at 5:30 and Ripples Riverside Grill at 6:15. The other stops at Veraci pizza at 4, Nectar Wine and Beer at 5 and The Knock at 6.

Both teams converge on David’s Pizza at 7 p.m. for the wrapup. Pint glasses will be available there for those who get their four stamps, there will be T-shirts for sale and a group photo is planned on the footbridge by the Flour Mill.

As a bonus, anyone receiving seven stamps will be entered in a drawing for a six-person, half-day whitewater rafting trip with ROW Adventures.

Another keeper

River City’s Riverkeeper IPA is back for a third run, ready to make its biggest splash yet.

This year’s lighter, fruitier version began pouring at the downtown taproom today and will be formally introduced for First Friday at Numerica Credit Union downtown from 5:30 to 8. That event also will include live music and an exhibit of Charley Gurche’s Spokane River photos.

As always, a portion of sales will benefit the Spokane Riverkeeper environmental protection program. And this year, that’s getting a boost from the brewery’s new Riverwalk promotion, which runs all month.

Eight restaurants along and near the river are participating: The Blackbird, David’s Pizza, The Knock, Nectar Wine & Beer, O’Doherty’s Irish Grille, Ripples Riverside Grill, Rock City Grill and Veraci Pizza. Order a pint of Riverkeeper and/or a meal at each one and get a stamp on your Riverwalk guide (available at River City and the restaurants).

Get four stamps and receive a commemorative pint glass (with Numerica making a $5 donation to the Riverkeeper program for each one). For seven stamps, you’re also entered into a drawing for a half-day, six-person rafting trip with ROW Adventure Center.

River City completely rethought the Riverkeeper IPA last year, with a total overhaul of the hop bill following a series of experimental test releases, and fermentation with a cleaner American ale yeast instead of the brewery’s house English yeast.

This year’s tweaks are “more of an evolutionary change,” says Emily Schwartz, River City’s operations manager.

The recipe switched to a caramel malt that’s not as rich and used less of it, resulting in a lower-alcohol beer (6.5 percent by volume, compared to the previous 7.2 percent) that’s lighter, dryer and crisper. “It makes it a bit more sessionable,” Schwartz says.

Hopping was adjusted accordingly. While the International Bitterness Units measure remains at 77, a new hop blend – Falconer’s Flight 7 C’s (a mixture of Cascade, Centennial, Chinook, Citra, Cluster, Columbus, Crystal) – was used in the middle of the boil, with fruity Citra and El Dorado hops moved solely to the dry-hopping stage.

That produced a more pronounced tropical, citrusy aroma, although that’s still offset by plenty of piney, spicy and earthy notes from a hop bill that also includes Palisade and Warrior.

“We feel one of the strong points of the Riverkeeper is its balancing act (between hops and malt),” says brewer Todd Grove. “As we brought the malt down, we took the hop charge down as well. We wanted to keep the perceived bitterness the same.”

Global stouting

What’s so international, you might ask, about River City’s International Marmot Beer Festival?

How about versions of the brewery’s winter seasonal Midnight Marmot Imperial Stout conditioned over oak chips soaked in Irish and Canadian whiskeys, Scotch and good old American bourbon, as well as straight French oak chips with Washington raspberries.

Those are half of the 10 Marmot variations that will be pouring at the event Saturday from noon to 8 p.m. For $25 in advance, $30 at the door, you get 2-ounce samples of each, a 12-ounce serving of your favorite and a growler to go for an additional $10 (one per person).

There’s also a souvenir snifter for the first 125 ticket buyers. You’ll probably still be able to get one of those at the door if you show up early enough, but there are no guarantees.

“We’re really fond of the Midnight Marmot, and we wanted to do something with that,” says River City’s Emily Schwartz. “It started out with a couple of beers we had in the cellar, and expanded into this whole lineup.”

That includes fresh Marmot (8.7 percent alcohol by volume, 78 International Bitterness Units) on American oak chips soaked in Kavanagh Irish whiskey, Pendleton Canadian whiskey, Shieldaig Highland Peaty single-malt scotch and Buffalo Trace bourbon. The American chips are toastier, Schwartz says, while the French chips have more of a smoky-tobacco character.

The other five versions to be tapped include the 2014 and 2015 vintages of the regular Marmot; nitro pours of this year’s release and last year’s Oako-Coco, aged with oak chips and cocoa nibs; and one dosed with the house-made root beer.

“We actually have had people in the taproom order Midnight Marmot mixed with root beer,” Schwartz says. “It really does add a different flavor, texture and mouthfeel. It’s a different experience.”  

Making a monster sour

River City's TW Frankensour (right), and the now 19-year-old beer that inspired it.

Barrel-aged sours typically take a year or more to mature, but the new one from River City has been in the works for close to 20.

The downtown brewery on Friday unveils its TW Frankensour, assembled Frankenstein-style from the remnants of four different beers – one dating back to 1996, from River City’s predecessor, Coeur d’Alene Brewing.

(Some background: Before Coeur d’Alene Brewing was bought in 1999 by the family that later launched River City, it operated under the T.W. Fisher’s brand name, after its founder. It closed in 2010, but River City continues to make one of its more popular products, a huckleberry ale.)

The Frankensour story starts in August 2013, when the Inland Brewers Unite homebrew club held a gathering at Twilight Cider Works on Green Bluff. Twilight owner Will Jordan’s father-in-law formerly ran a beverage distributorship out of the building, and as the evening went on Jordan pulled out some old beer kegs for the group to sample.

Homebrewer Harry Lawrence, a friend of River City brewer Moose Sanders, took one taste of 1996-vintage T.W. Fisher’s huckleberry – which had soured naturally in the keg – and bought it on the spot.

“I handed him $50, told him to take it off the tap and took it home,” Lawrence says.

Lawrence didn’t tap the keg again until last August, to celebrate earning his physician’s assistant degree. He took a growler in for the River City crew to try.

“It’s not that often you come across a beer that’s 18 years old, and if you do, to have it taste that awesome,” Sanders says.

Sanders, meanwhile, had recently finished aging some of River City’s huckleberry ale in a Barrister Winery cabernet franc barrel. After kegging that beer, he filled the empty – and increasingly funky – barrel with some leftovers of an experimental India pale lager (actually brewed with both ale and lager yeasts).

Then, in a true mad scientist move, he tossed in the dregs of Lawrence’s growler to kickstart the souring. Nine months later, the barrel beer was mellowed by blending with River City’s Girlfriend Golden, and TW Frankensour was born.

“It will never be replicated, I’m telling you that,” Sanders says.

He and Lawrence were kind enough to share an advance sample of the finished Frankensour, along with some of the final remains from that 1996 keg. Each was a delight, in different ways.

The older beer was surprisingly crisp, its bright, berry-tinged tartness accented with mineral-like notes. Its offspring was richer and fuller, with a funky, earthy character balanced by an underlying sweetness.

You can taste the Frankensour for yourself when River City opens tomorrow at 3. Only one keg has been set aside for the taproom, so it will be served in 8-ounce pours at regular pint prices.

Another keg is reserved for the Inland Northwest Craft Beer Festival at Avista Stadium on Oct. 2-3. The rest is being sold to outside accounts, including Manito Tap House and The Blackbird.

And some of another version of the blend is tucked away in River City’s cellar, awaiting whatever fevered inspiration might strike in the future. Bride of Frankensour, anyone?                     

 

Winner’s circle

Congratulations are in order to a pair of local breweries who took home medals in recent regional competitions:

– Three River City beers were named best of the Northwest/Pacific region in this summer’s United States Beer Tasting Championship judging: River City Red in the amber/red ale category, Inconceivable Imperial Pilsner in highly hopped lagers and Congratulator Doppelbock for bock/dopplebock.

The competition conducts field trials in six regions throughout the country each summer and winter, with winners advancing to the national championship. No Northwest/Pacific beers won nationally this summer.

– Orlison’s Havanüther light pilsner took second place in the pilsner category Aug. 29 at Reno’s Canfest international canned beer festival, which featured more than 70 breweries and cideries.

Orlison also showed third overall out of 17 breweries in the popular vote at the inaugural Brewers' Cup Craft Beer Festival last Saturday in Casper, Wyoming, in conjunction with the return of horse racing to the Central Wyoming Fairgrounds.       

Right jolly old July

River City is celebrating the 25th five months early – or maybe seven months late.

The downtown brewery’s Christmas in July party Saturday starting at 3 p.m. will feature eight cellared beers from the past winter, along with all the seasonal trimmings to put patrons in the holiday spirit.

It started when the River City crew was doing inventory and ran across several kegs that had been set aside for a proposed local winter beer festival that never materialized.

“Moose (Sanders), our head brewer, said, I’ve got an idea – let’s do Christmas in July,” says River City’s Emily Schwartz.

“The timing just worked out perfect,” she says. “We’re pretty excited. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”

The décor will include a Christmas tree, lights, garlands and paper snowflakes. Holiday music will be playing, and seasonal films will screen on the taproom TV.

“You’ve got to play ‘Elf,’ ” Schwartz says.  “You can’t not play ‘Elf’ for Christmas in July.”

Bartenders will be dressed as elves and Santas. Customer costumes (including Santa hats and ugly sweaters) are also encouraged, though not required. Bring a new, boxed toy for Toys For Tots and get a coupon for $2 off a pint (one per person).

The beer selection will feature four stouts, including the imperial, seasonal Midnight Marmot; the Oako-Coco version of that, conditioned over oak chips and cocoa nibs and served on nitro; the regular, straightforward True Stout, and some of that one aged in bourbon barrels with vanilla beans.

There’s also Deep Thaw Winter Warmer; the anniversary Congratulator Doppelbock and its distilled alter ego, the strong, intense Congratulator Eisbock; and a firkin of holiday spiced River City Red.

While there are full kegs of a few of those, most are smaller sixth-barrels. There will be no growler fills of the cellar beers, and customers will be limited to eight ounces each of the bourbon stout and eisbock (you get special tickets for those at the door) – as long as they last, anyway.

“When they’re gone, they’re gone,” Schwartz says.

So don’t be a cotton-headed ninnymuggins – plan to get there early.