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 Shane Noblin, who formerly ran a homebrew supply store and print shop on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula before moving back to the mainland with his wife, Melanie, to open Cheney’s first brewery since 1910.
A: We’re going to charge about three bucks for a little boat of the oysters and all that money will go to Pints for Prostates, and then a buck from each pint. The barbecue wagon’s going to be out here, Hungry Hound, they won’t be out here most of the summer after this, they’ve got a bunch of gigs lined up so they’re going to be pretty busy moving the wagon around. We’ve got a Scotch ale that we’ve been barrel-aging (in cabernet franc barrels) since January. We’ve also got kind of an odd one; I do large yeast starters because my system’s so small, it’s only a five-barrel so I can get away with, instead of buying a large block of yeast, I do a five-gallon homebrew starter, using some malt extract and water to get my yeast going. So the first batch of beer I ever did in here, the yeast starter, I went ahead and hopped it, and we’ve got five gallons of that back there that we’re going to release. I don’t even know what all’s in it, I had a bunch of stuff left over from the supply shop I used to own, I just started doing the mad scientist thing, a little of this and a little of that. I tasted it before we put it away back in November and it tasted pretty good, but I have no way to describe it. It’s got kind of a unique character to it, and I think it’s because it sat back there all summer and most of the winter, just heating and cooling and doing its thing. I don’t expect it to be a superb beer, it’s just something fun to do.
Q: What did you learn from the first year? Any big surprises?
A: I didn’t come from a traditional brewing background, I came from a homebrewing background, and you (think you) know how much work it is getting into it, but you really don’t know until you’re in the trenches and back there doing it, and then you’re like, damn, this is a lot of work. That’s been one of the big lessons. Working with distributors, that’s a whole other level. It’s finally coming around, a lot of the local bars and taverns are starting to support us a little more. They were pretty hesitant at first, but a good friend of mine opened up a sushi place, and the beer went in there, and after that it was like dominoes. If I could (afford to) sit here and run just the taproom, and be content and not have to worry about distributing, that’s what I like, just sitting here bullshitting with everybody.
Q: How much of your taproom business has been university-related, versus other locals, versus people coming from Spokane or the outside?
A: We got a bit (of outside business) before the (latest Inland Northwest Ale Trail) map came out, after the map was out that increased a lot. The college was slow at first, we weren’t getting a lot of college kids. They started out maybe 5 to 10 percent of the business, and now they’re up to at least 20. A couple of kids had their Founder’s Day party here, one of them was doing a report for his marketing class and he wanted to do it on the brewery, I think that gave us a little more exposure inside the college. A lot of the kids don’t even come downtown, several of them live in Spokane and commute from there. Our local population, the business we’ve been getting from them has been steady, we’ve been picking up a few more here and there but a lot of them really gravitated at first to us. It’s probably a good 60 percent of our base, I would say. … We lived in Alaska for 17 years, and nobody really lives next to each other. You might see the hardware store guy a couple of times a week or something, but here it’s like I drive down the road and people honk and wave. It seems like the community really embraced us out of the gate, which is pretty cool.
Q: What beers have been moving the best, and what’s your favorite so far?
A: The red and the IPA. The red’s kind of, I like to call it a transitional beer, it makes it easy for people who come in who drink Bud, Miller and Coors to fall right into it. A lot of those people, they’re not real educated about craft beer, and they think they want the lightest colored beer on the tap, give me the pale. What it is, a lot of it is IBUs, that’s what they’re shying away from, but they’re not aware of it. The red’s pretty reasonable, there’s enough malt there that the IBUs aren’t as noticeable. And the (new seasonal) honey wheat, we just went through a couple of kegs in that in two days. … I’m not going to pick a favorite. I love all my children equally. Everybody always asks me that, and it’s always the same answer. I’ve brewed the majority of these beers for years, before I even thought of opening a brewery.
Q: What’s the first craft beer you remember trying?
A: Believe it or not, it was Sam Adams Cherry Wheat. I tried the Boston Lager at the same time and for me, it was way too hoppy. That was ’91 or ’92, I was on the East Coast, I was born in Oregon and then I moved back, but in the interim I spend eight years in Washington D.C. I really started brewing when I got to Alaska, of course you had Alaskan Brewing Company, but the beer scene wasn’t big then, that was in ‘96, ‘97 and it wasn’t really catching on up there yet. And the beer selection was horrible compared to, when I met my wife we lived in Newport, we were three blocks from the (Rogue) brewery, we lived right on that side of the bridge. I spent all of my weekends at the brewpub back then. So moving up to Alaska and losing all of that, it definitely changed things.
Q: The other question I ask everybody is, if you could be drinking any beer right now, other than something make yourself, what would it be?
A: Anchorage Brewing’s Deal With the Devil barleywine. It was first released right before I came down (from Alaska), so that was like 2013 or 2014. That beer was amazing. It came out at almost 20 percent ABV, super-limited release, aged in cognac barrels. You’d pour it and it was almost like Karo syrup coming out of the bottle. You were only allowed one bottle per person, and up in Anchorage there were only like two liquor stores that ended up getting it. So I had a bunch of friends go around and scoop up bottles for me. I’ve got one bottle left, I had three, of course I tried the first one, and I dragged the other two down the Alcan with me. When we opened the brewery, that night, we celebrated with it, and then the third one I’m saving until my son’s drinking age. He’s only 13, in a few more years it will be interesting to see how it drinks.
Q: What are your goals for New Boundary? Where do you hope to be in another year, or five years?
A: I want to do a lot more beers that are not necessarily BJCP (style) guidelines, kind of like that sour gruit we just did, and the Lemon Kick (hard lemonade). We're trying to shoot for things that people don't expect. We’ve got label approval in for Lemon Kick right now, so we’re going to experiment. I’m not going to hand it off to a distributor, we’re just going to do a few places here and there and see how well it does and how well the product holds up. We’re just going to build a manual bottler and see how it works out. You don’t see hard lemonade in 22-ounce bottles, so that will kind of give us a bit of a niche on the shelf, anyway.
We also want to get some wine on tap. My wife’s been making wine for 12 years now so she’s got a real strong background in it, and then with the recent legislation that you can have a winery now in the same facility as a brewery, we might throw a little bit in. … We’re looking at possibly picking up some food, too, just small, no major production or anything. We allow outside food now, and I think we will even when we put a kitchen in. We’re primarily a brewery, and that’s all I really care about, making beer.