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.
Q: You previously teamed up with River City last fall for some fresh hop beers. What do you get out of doing collaboration beers that you might not just brewing on your own?
A: It’s always super-fun to hang out with some other brewers – you’re brewing a batch of beer and you’ve got four or five brewers hanging around and it’s always going to be a good time. It’s like, do you want me to do something, or do you want me to just drink beer? … A lot of times you get ideas for stuff you can use on your own system. When we did that collab with River City the first time down there, we did the hopback kind of method that I had actually never done before, so we definitely learned that idea. And when we came up here and did the second fresh hop collab with them, the Equinox, we did the exact same thing they did there and it just worked out so well, it was great. You’re having a great time and learning something new and just producing an extremely awesome beer.
Q: What’s the first craft beer you remember trying?
A: It was back when I would help my buddy and his dad – I would drive for them, and pick them up paragliding up in the Methow Valley, over by Winthrop. Afterwards we’d go their cabin, this little chalet on property out in the middle of nowhere, and his dad would always get three or four growlers of the Twisp brewpub beers. Normally he would drink them and he’d let us just try it, but one day, I think we were 16, he was like, well, this is where we separate the men from the boys, and he brings out these growlers and says, I’m not drinking them by myself today. I think we basically had a growler to ourselves apiece, and we got pretty loaded off those four pints. I was like, so this is what good beer tastes like. … The funny thing, he said, this isn’t the crappy cheap beer you guys have been stealing from me. We kind of looked at each other and laughed, and he said, don’t think I haven’t noticed. He had like this Keystone Lite, or Miller Lite or something like that that was underneath the stairs downstairs in the cellar, and we’d just grab one every once in a while.
Q: Waddell’s recently hired a sales person and you’ve been distributing more beer around town. What does that mean to you as a brewer?
A: It definitely keeps us busier – it keeps us on our toes, it keeps us coming up with fresh ideas. Matty, Matthew Smith, he used to do sales for No-Li. Since he’s been here we’ve got a lot more beer in the market. Obviously we’re still a new brewery for being out there, it takes a couple of years to establish yourself a little bit, but I think we’re doing a pretty good job. We just ran out of kegs and had to get 48 more so we can keep selling the beer that we have in here. And it helped me out a lot, because I wasn’t in the market selling anymore.
Q: What do you think is the most important thing that could happen to move local beer forward around here?
A: I think obviously that coming out with the best beer you can possibly produce, quality beer, is definitely one thing. Make sure the beer is quality, so that when people come into Spokane, or the Inland Northwest, and they try the beers, they’re like, the Inland Northwest is a mecca for amazing beers. Make it a destination point for people who come in, so the word of mouth gets around in a good way. … A lot of times when I talk to people who tried a new brewery’s beer and they say, oh, it wasn’t very good, I’m like, OK, give them a second chance – our beer here wasn’t where it is now when we first started, either. So give them a couple of months, go back and try them and they’ll maybe change your mind.