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 Patrick McPherson, whose Manito Tap House gastropub has been wildly successful since opening on Spokane’s South Hill in September 2011. McPherson’s next project is The Blackbird, expected to launch April-May in the historic Broadview Dairy building (formerly Caterina Winery) just north of downtown on Washington Street.
Q: Manito Tap House has been open for more than three years now. What have you learned about Spokane craft beer consumers?
A: There’s a sophisticated base of beer drinkers, and they’re really concerned with looking for unique styles and they really care about the quality of the beer. Then there are other consumers that are just looking to drink local beers. We certainly try to cater a little bit to both, but we don’t want to sacrifice quality. Our goal all along, while we want to support the local craft beer industry, we also want to bring beers to Spokane that other bars and restaurants won’t carry. Avery Tweak (a barrel-aged imperial coffee stout), which we just had on, was the second most expensive beer we’ve ever had. A lot of places don’t put those on, so we want to bring beers to Spokane that just aren’t here. … (People’s) tastes are evolving. Sours are certainly really popular, and more and more they’re seeking out new styles that they’ve never had.
Q: How would you judge the progress of local breweries over those three years?
A: Well, I certainly think it gets better and better every day. There’s still a few where I don’t think they’re quite ready for the mainstream, though they’ve got their fans that come into the brewery and buy their beer. I think if you came and did a blind tasting, which we like to do a lot of blind tastings here with our staff and sometimes our customers, I think you can really pick out very sophisticated or evolved beers versus some of the new brewers who started as homebrewers and they’re trying to open a brewery. I’m just surprised how many people are getting into brewing without seasoned brewmasters. It’s an uphill battle for a homebrewer to make the conversion without any (commercial) experience, in this competitive landscape.
Q: What’s the most important thing that could happen to move local beer forward?
A: Certainly I’d like to see all the places that are pouring these local craft beers adopt the (Brewers Association’s) Draught Quality Manual in terms of cleanliness of their lines and cleanliness of their faucets, so the beers taste as the brewer intended. Unfortunately, the vast majority of places selling beer on draught in Spokane, or even across the state, don’t clean their lines to those standards, and that really affects the taste of the beer.
Q: What’s the first craft beer you remember trying?
A: Probably Full Sail amber ale – it was certainly a lot bigger and maltier and hoppier than the yellow beer that I’d had. It had tons more flavor and that’s really what interested me and got me into home brewing 20 years ago. I still have all the equipment, but I haven’t brewed since we opened here. Maybe someday.
Q: What was the best beer you ever made?
A: My wife and I made a dunkelweizen for the Cascadia Brewers Alliance competition (in Vancouver, Wash.) and we got third place. There were plenty of bad ones that I didn’t share.
Q: If you could be drinking any beer right now, what would it be?
A: I’m drinking a lot of pilsners right now. Chuckanut pilsner I like (from Bellingham), Chuckanut just does great lagers, that’s kind of their forte.
Q: You’re busy getting The Blackbird ready to go. What can we expect there compared to Manito, beer-wise and otherwise?
A: We’re going to have 34 beers on draught (Manito has 50), we’ll have four wines on draught, we’ll have 150 to 200 (beer) bottles. We wanted to focus a bit more with this restaurant on bottles. If we have a ton of taps, bottles get overlooked. We’ll have a separate cellar at 45 to 50 degrees – the cellar’s actually bigger than our keg cooler there, so we’ll be able to cellar beer for both restaurants. Most if not all of our bottled beers will come out of that. Typically the beers that we have in bottles are higher-end beers, barrel-aged beers, sours, things of that nature where serving at those temperatures would be more appropriate anyway. Our (current) cellar off-site is at capacity, so it will be nice to consolidate that into this large cellar.
There certainly will be some similarities in terms of reclaimed materials that we’ll use. We’ll once again be a Certified Green Restaurant, probably not four-star certified like we are at the Tap House but a three-star Certified Green Restaurant. We will have a wood-fired smoker and a wood-fired charbroiler, so the food’s going to be just a little bit more upscale, but there will be plenty of approachable items like hamburgers and sandwiches. We’ll probably be about 50 percent larger inside and the patio will be three times the size of our current patio. It should be fun – I love the old building, and we’re trying to use as much character from the building as we can.