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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.

Q: What’s the first craft beer you remember trying?

A: It would’ve been Full Sail Amber … God, I loved that beer. It was just so different. I loved the six- pack, I loved everything about it. I wouldn’t call it my all-time favorite, but back then, there wasn’t much. It was the early ’90s, and you’d see Rogue, and you’d see some Full Sail, and in Missoula you’d see Bayern, and you’d see Sierra Nevada, and that was it for the shelves. … You drink a few of those, and you get into college, and you have a little money in the bank account, then you buy a home brew set, and there you go. I remember really liking Newcastle Brown right before I bought the home brew – the first beer I brewed was a raspberry brown ale, with my dad’s raspberries. To this day, it’s one of the best beers I’ve ever made. It was fantastic. The ones after that were terrible.

Q: If you could have any beer right now, other than one of your own, what would it be?

A: That would be my favorite beer from Belgium when we traveled over there, De Dolle Oerbier, the grand reserve. It’s like a tart amber beer – I wouldn’t even call it a Flanders (red), it’s got its own thing going on. It’s just a beautiful beer. Sitting in a little fireside bar in Belgium drinking Oerbier and having some mussels, that’s the deal. De Dolle, they do all kinds of stuff – you can find them at Total Wine now, they’re getting bigger and bigger. … I love the Belgian tradition. I wish we could do more of them here.

Q: One of the attractions here is your 1980s Frogger video game. Are you the Frogger King of Perry Street?

A: Unfortunately, I can’t say that I am. Rick Welliver, the Spokane boxing champion, comes in here every day before we open, with a cup of coffee or water before he opens his gym, and he’s incredible. You can basically count on him to open the building with any one of my servers that comes in to sweep and stuff, he just walks in with them and plays his games, sets records and walks out. I’m terrible – I’m Level Three, you get snakes, you get water chucks swimming around and it’s all over for me. I can’t survive in those environments. … We’re hoping to have a world Frogger championship here – that’s kind of a joke, but definitely citywide, get some people in here and put a nice pot out there and see what kind of Frogger town this really is.

Q: So how do you define success for Perry Street Brewing?

A: I guess in terms of what I anticipated and what it actually turned into, I think we’ve already achieved everything I could have ever imagined for this place. We’ve already dug in and become a local staple, I mean, people come in here and say it feels like this was always a part of the street. … Coming from a production background, all I ever wanted was to have a little brewery where I could try new recipes day in and day out, mix things up, have fun, be a part of the community and really just be part of something in a neighborhood setting. And if I can ski more than one day this year – which is all I got last year because of this place – that will definitely be a success.