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7 Sips With … Gage Stromberg, River City Brewing

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. As River City Brewing celebrates its second anniversary today, we catch up with owner Gage Stromberg, who in his spare time also a pension attorney and an avid bicyclist (River City sponsors a cycling team).     

Q: What can we expect from River City in the year ahead?

A: I’m really happy with the 2015 Riverkeeper beer – that is going to be released toward the end of February. This is going to be a big departure for us in terms of IPAs. I was happy with the way the Riverkeeper IPA came out last year, but it didn’t have the longevity it should have had. When it was real fresh, it had a really nice aroma, but I think the malt tones became more predominant as it sat in the keg even for a short period of time. We’ve got a whole slew of new hops in this beer, and a new yeast, and it’s kind of the culmination of all those experimental IPAs we’ve been doing over the last four months.

We have a sour in a barrel right now that we’re continuing to monitor, see where it’s going, and we will be getting some more barrels. But I think for us now the barrels are more of, it’s that growth and evolution and learning what works and doesn’t work, as opposed to jumping in and buying a warehouse full of barrels. Kind of like the experimental beers, it’s a way for our brewers to learn and our customers to have some one-offs to enjoy.

We have hired a graphic designer to move ahead with labels (for bottles), so those are underway. That’s later in 2015, but we’ve made contact with the bottlers and manufacturers and are going ahead with label design, so we continue to have every expectation that sometime by Christmas, we’ll have bottles of beer – or maybe I should say New Year’s Day. We continue to do some research on cans and bottles, but I think for us, for right now, it probably makes more sense for us to do 22-ounce bottles, so I expect that will be first. It doesn’t mean it will be only, but that will be first.

Q: Do you have any predictions for the local beer scene in general in 2015?

A: I think the flood of new breweries will start slowing down. I’m hearing about fewer people at the very beginning stage. We still have plenty of people who are at some point in the process and now they’re getting their license or they’re getting their facility built, but I think there’s been such a flood of new breweries – not just in our region, but nationally – that probably the home brewers and the guys who are enjoying beer and thinking about having a brewery are at least going to sit back a bit and watch the market. That said, I think that we’ll continue to see more local consumers and more national consumers drinking more craft beer and fewer people drinking the mass-produced lagers. The demographics continue to move positively for us, younger people are more focused on craft beer, and so as new beer drinkers come along, more and more people are interested in it, and it’s continuing to be a larger percentage of what people are buying and drinking.    

Q: What do you think is the most important thing that could happen to move local beer forward?

A: I think the underlying issue always is how your beer tastes. It’s the quality and consistency of your beer. I invite people down here all the time who say they don’t like craft beer, or they’ve never found a craft beer they like. I think that perception is based on (someone else saying), I love this IPA, try it, and they don’t love that IPA, but if you have them try a huckleberry, or you have them try a stout, or if you have them try something on the Randall with coffee beans, there’s a flavor that’s going to work for almost every drinker. Once you find some things you like and continue to explore either other breweries that are doing a similar style or something similar at that brewery, it helps grow the whole circle of consumers and interest in the beer as a whole.

Q: You’ve talked before, too, about changing the whole mindset regarding local products.

A: I think for a very long time, in Spokane, maybe we had a self-esteem problem. In years gone by, if you had someone from Portland and someone from Seattle and someone from Spokane, and you put a Portland beer and a Seattle beer and a Spokane beer in front of them, the Seattle person would always tell you the Seattle beer was the best one, the Portland person would always tell you the Portland beer was the best one and the Spokane person would say, I’m not sure, but it probably comes from Seattle or Portland. But I really think that, there’s not a clear line in the sand where you can say that’s changed, but I think that perception is changing. I think we have a much better appreciation for the beer we’re making in this community, for the coffee we’re making in this community, for the wine we’re making in this community, for the music we’re making, for the artists that are creating work, our authors in this community. There’s such a greater awareness of the quality of what we can produce in Spokane that I think Spokane is finally understanding how cool we really are and how neat the stuff we’re doing really is.

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

A: I remember having a distinctly fond, positive relationship with the original Redhook ESB. I was in Seattle at the time Redhook started brewing beer. But my journey in craft beer really started in more of an international way. When I got interested in beer was really before craft beer took off, and so I was standing at the grocery store looking at beers from Africa and South America and from Asia, and really trying beers from all over because there weren’t that many available options. If you wanted to be drinking something other than the giant mainstream beers you were drinking imports at that time.

Q: What’s the best beer to drink after a long bike ride on a warm day?

A: The IPAs are always appealing in the heat. I come from that age where IPAs were a summer seasonal , so I continue to identify IPA as a summer beer. I think either that or our Girlfriend Golden, when I get done mowing the lawn, the Girlfriend Golden is the right balance of quenching your thirst, but still has some malt, some hops, it’s got some flavor to it.   

Q: People who know you obviously know you’re into biking, but what’s something people might be surprised to learn about you?

A: I guess I’m one of those people who tends to compartmentalize what it is I’m doing at the time, and so people in the beer world know about the beer, but most of the people in the beer world and the restaurant world don’t know I’m a lawyer, and my pension consulting clients for the most part don’t know that I own a brewery. It’s very common for clients I’ve had for years and years to say, I just saw your name in the paper, are you the same person that owns that brewery? I don’t think I get hired as a pension consultant based on the quality of my beer, and people don’t drink the beer based on the quality of my 401k plans.