Departing Selkirk Abbey head brewer Steve Milnes (left) with assistant Jordan Luikens and owner Jeff Whitman.
Steve Milnes got his first taste of professional brewing back in 2009, when he made a Belgian golden strong ale with the Ram restaurant/brewery in Lakewood, Wash., for a pro-am homebrew competition.
Now a beer based on that recipe will be released at Selkirk Abbey on Friday, Milnes’ last day as head brewer there, for his going-away party.
After working at the Belgian-inspired Post Falls brewery since its inception in 2011, Milnes is returning to his previous profession as a low voltage electrician to earn more money toward his daughter’s education.
“The opportunity presented itself,” he says. “I’ve got a daughter finishing her first year in high school, and she wants to go to college. I don’t want her to struggle like I did.”
Friday’s tap lineup, which will pour at discount prices, includes such specialties as barrel-aged Guilt imperial porter, Atonement tripel and a pair of recent releases under Selkirk’s non-Belgian Northern Cross label, a Russian imperial stout and a barleywine.
There’s also another debut: Father Cilwick’s Old Ale, a mixture of Saint Joseph imperial saison and imperial blonde ale aged in Dry Fly wheat and triticale whiskey barrels and a Templeton Rye barrel. Big, boozy and complex, it packs a wallop at around 14 percent alcohol by volume.
By comparison, the Belgian golden strong is deceptively easy-drinking for its 9 percent ABV, effervescent with a light sweetness up front and a drying, spicy yeast character.
Asked about his favorite beer he’s brewed at Selkirk Abbey, Milnes doesn’t hesitate: Saint Augustine rye saison. “It might be one of my favorite three beers anywhere,” he says.
That one almost didn’t get off the ground. Selkirk owner Jeff Whitman says he had sampled several rye saisons, and “they all tasted like soggy rye bread. I said it couldn’t be done.
“Steve came back and brought me a growler and said, ‘Here’s that beer you didn’t want me to make.’ I sent him a two-word text, after I finished the growler: bring more.”
Along with the Augustine and Joseph, Milnes has brewed four other Selkirk saisons: a standard Saint Stephen, black Saint Thomas, a Summer Saison and one in 2014 for the Coeur d’Alene Triathlon.
“I can say with confidence that Steve has done more for the saison style than any other brewer in the country,” declares Whitman.
Now the torch passes to assistant brewer Jordan Luikens, who started at Selkirk Abbey in 2013. Milnes, meanwhile, will be digging out his old homebrew setup.
“It’s not like I can stop brewing,” he says, adding with a sly grin: “That’s not fair to the world.”