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Not-so-terrible twos

River City Brewing has grown up quite a bit in its second year of operation.

In its first year, the downtown Spokane brewery – from the family that owned Coeur d’Alene Brewing from 1999 until its closure in 2010 – was all about establishing an identity.

Its second year, which is just ending, saw big steps forward with new brewers and several new beers.

“I think the brewery has continued to evolve,” says brewery president Gage Stromberg. “The industry has changed so much since 1999, if we were making the same beer today we were making then, we wouldn’t have a good reason to exist.”

Now River City is celebrating its second anniversary Saturday with yet another twist on its latest creation.

The brewery already has tapped its Congratulator Doppelbock (8.3 percent alcohol by volume, 33 International Bitterness Units), a big, dark, malty lager.   

On Saturday, it will be joined by Congratulator Eisbock, another traditional German style. The River City crew took advantage of early January’s frigid temperatures to chill some of the doppelbock outside and remove the frozen water – twice – to further concentrate the flavors (and the potency).

That will be tapped Saturday at 5 p.m. when River City opens its brewery to the public, along with the tasting room (which will open at 3 as usual).

Starting at 5, there also will be live music by jazzy/funky Grocery Snakes, and food from the Veraci Pizza truck as well as nearby Andy’s.

In particular, Stromberg will be celebrating a pair of awards River City won last year: gold medals for River City Red at the Washington Beer Awards, and Deep Thaw Winter Warmer in the United States Beer Tasting Championship's Northwest/Pacific Region.

“As a brewery, you feel like you’re doing a good job – you make beer and you taste beer and you’re hopefully proud of what you do – but it’s nice to receive outside validation,” he says.

He’s also excited about the upcoming release of this year’s Riverkeeper IPA, which benefits the Spokane River water protection program. It was brewed with different hop varieties and a new, cleaner West Coast yeast, in place of the brewery’s regular English house yeast, which will highlight those hops more.

A recent series of experimental beers using various hop combinations helped fine-tune the new Riverkeeper recipe.  More experimental offerings are on the way, Stromberg says, which will be variations on the brewery’s regular styles.

The English yeast still is being put to good use in the Heritage Pale. It has joined the year-round lineup in place of the session-style Afternoon IPA, which will be brewed more occasionally.

In his first full year, head brewer Moose Sanders, along with more recently added assistant Todd Grove, has come up with other beers including a spring seasonal Inconceivable Imperial Pilsner, some barrel-aged offerings and a pair of fall fresh hop collaborations with Waddell’s.

River City also is creating new flavors with Randalled beers every weekend (look for the 2014 Riverkeeper through U.S. Golding hops Saturday), and special firkins for First Fridays.

To broaden its market, the brewery recently signed with KBI Craft – a division of King Beverage, the local Budweiser distributor – which also carries Orlison and several other regional micros.

“We sold a lot more beer in 2014 than we did in 2013, and January 2015 was much better than January 2014,” Stromberg says.

For more on River City and the craft beer scene in general, look for a full 7 Sips interview with Stromberg here on Saturday.