Seattle Stumbles, part II-

So where was I? Oh yeah. When last we left our intrepid hero, he was reluctantly vacating the beginnings of an epic microbrewery crawl to go watch a USL 1st Division soccer game that didn’t even feature the team he supported…

(Hold on a sec while Mark bitchslaps himself for using this third-person prose)

OK. Whew. I’m good. Anyway, there’s something to be said for watching soccer on a field demarcated for football in a nearly vacant 70,000-seat stadium. The open seating for the 3,000 or so Seattle Sounders fans in attendance was all on the east side of the field, and acres of folded blue jumpseats towered over us like a permanently cresting wave as we kicked back with our Rogue IPA (a very nice touch for the stadium vendors). The only way this place could’ve been emptier is if the Cleveland Browns were in town.

Five or six $8 Rogues later (Hey, our hero TOLD you he was intrepid), we tottered off the the nearby Pyramid Brewing Company, nestled in the shadow of Safeco Field.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

With an MLB park across the street, and an NFL stadium the next block up, Pyramid is geared for mass service. A large, crescent-shaped bar serves as the focal point for the cavernous seating and merch area. The brewery sits in a glass-enclosed room off to the side.

“Hi, I’m John from Spokane,” slurs the guy next to me. He’d been holding that stool down for a while.

“Hi. How’s the beer?”

“It’s awesome. I like the Curve Ball [Koelsch] the best.”

Based on this recommendation, I promptly ordered a Hefeweizen, the beer for which Pyramid is famous, despite their weird marketing campaign insisting patrons receive a lemon in it.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
Pyramid Brewing, sponsored by the citrus industry

John wasn’t done with me. He moved to Spokane from Fort Lauderdale, and really likes the Pacific Northwest, partly because of the beer and also partly because it looks less stupid to walk around in flannel than in a wifebeater. I bought him another Curve Ball and settled in for some serious Weizenation.

Hefeweizen is one of those styles that really benefitted from the tenacity of American brewers. Five years ago, American Hefes sucked. The characteristc banana/clove notes imparted by the yeast were usually absent. The space above the beer where your nose goes was often suffused with a swampy, sump-pump odor, and the liquid sometimes had a weird yellow-green tinge. The fact that breweries like Pyramid are now producing excellent Hefeweizen, with perfect apricot coloring and a big, soapy head, is one of those things that instills patriotic pride within me. I drank two. And a Curve Ball Koelsch for John’s sake.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
There’s a fine line between ‘critic’ and ‘idiot’

It’s simple evolution; a mediocre brewery would not be allowed to survive in this capitol of beer. My only regret about the Seattle trip was a lack of time to visit the other breweries. This will be rectified sometime this winter. In the words of a Great Seattleite, KAMPAI! (Oh, and Ichiro, get your ass over to the Yankees. We could use you in right field).


Beer in Seattle: Elysian Brewing Company

To many, the Pacific Northwest is the Bordeaux region of American brewing. A good chunk of the microbrewery movement got its start in the top left corner of the country and most American hops are grown there. After a whirlwind weekend in Seattle, I’m pleased to report that the beer is as good as you’d expect, despite the city’s mawkish obsession with espresso-based coffee drinks.

The problem with spending such a short time in as interesting a place as the Emerald City is you’re quickly overwhelmed with things to do. the other issue is that, although home to a ton of breweries, the place is really spread out. Thus I was limited to the physical premises of Elysian Brewing Company and Pyramid Brewing, although I tried beer from many others over the course of the weekend.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
Elysian Brewing’s tap room

Elysian takes up an avenue corner in the trendy/seedy Capital Hill district, a roomy glass-fronted box perched at the halfway point of a steep incline. The place might have been an old car dealership, or something. Judging from the beer names, the owners enjoy their Athenian history.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
My buddy Brian neck-deep in Elysian’s “The Immortal” IPA

IPA is the beer to order at Elysian. “The Immortal” is excellent, with a tantalizing citrus bite that makes you wonder if, like salmon from Puget Sound, the hops weren’t harvested from that day. I mean, obviously they weren’t; there wouldn’t be time to brew and ferment the beer, but there’s a freshness to Elysian’s draft Immortal that I hadn’t encountered before.

The preciously-named Perseus Porter stands out as well. There’s a dry, bready quality to the finish that I vastly prefer to the more common cloying sweet aftertaste of porter. There’s caramel and mocha in the aroma, ahd a hint of that in the flavor, but they accentuate the dry, roasted character of the beer instead of dominating it. The Perseus is capped off by a back-of-tongue bitterness that brings the beer into balance; This is the product of a skillful brewer.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Most of the other beers rocked as well. Nancy was on the Hefeweizen like Persephone on a pomegranate. “The Wise” ESB held its own, as well. The Zephyrus Pilsner disappointed, though, with a noticeable diacetyl flavor and a surprising lack of bitterness in the finish, considering they got the bitter flavor so right in the IPA.

Anyway, an hour at Elysian, and we were off to 70,000-seat Qwest Field to slurp Red Hook ESB and join 3,999 fellow soccer junkies as the Seattle Sounders defeated the Charleston Battery. Then, off to the nearby Pyramid Brewing company- a place which will be discussed at length in tomorrow’s post.


Beercraft Newspaper Column #46- You, too, can homebrew

<I’m still in Seattle, flying back on the redeye tonight. Get ready for a big post on microbreweries of the Emerald City. For now, here’s this week’s newspaper column.

Homebrewing is the best thing you can do in your kitchen

Home brewers are the reason we have craft beer today.

As recently as 25 years ago, the beer aisle was a depressing place; a frigid wasteland stocked with half a dozen brands of watery lagers, and it didn’t matter which one you picked, because they were all clones of each other anyway. When you hear jokes about American beer, this is the beer they’re talking about. Needless to say, it was hard for people to be passionate about beer, and those who wanted styles outside the mainstream had little choice but to get a vat, some barley, yeast and hops, and try to make their own.

Out of this first wave of home brewers came the original microbrewers, opening tiny brewpubs all over the country and sewing the seeds for today’s regional craft breweries. Even though the beer selection for most Americans has vastly improved, home brewing as a hobby is stronger than ever, and it’s easier to get started than you might think.

Home brewer Thomas Barnes received a hands-on initiation to the hobby. “I was invited over to watch a friend do a batch,” he explained, “then I bought a home brewing kit and he talked me through it.”

Barnes, 42, has spent the last 8 years expanding his brewing skills, growing ever more confident and creative. He remains mostly an extract brewer, using malt syrup instead of actually milling and mashing the grain, although he does use a partial-grain mash when a recipe calls for it.

It’s innovations like malt extract syrup that make home brewing more accessible to the novice nowadays. Neophytes can progress in stages, beginning with a simple “dump and stir” all-inclusive home brewing kit and progressing to more advanced methods as they grow their knowledge and skills “A home brewing kit is 60 to 80 bucks, and it’s handy because you get a fun little book on how to brew.” Barnes says. He also points out that if attention is paid to the temperature of fermentation, those innocuous little kits can produce some decent beer.

According to Barnes, the minimum equipment you’ll need to get started as a home brewer is a 5 gallon stock pot, a stove, a food-grade 5 gallon plastic bucket, an airlock for the bucket, food-grade plastic tubing for siphoning, and a bottle of bleach for sanitation. Setups for advanced home brewers are usually a great deal more complex than this, but you can grow your brewery in parallel with your abilities as a brewer.

“Brewing with all-grain instead of malt extract is more difficult, but ultimately allows more control over the beer’s character,” says Patrick Hughes, a computer science student and 6-year home brewing veteran. Like Barnes, Hughes started out assisting a friend of his who was an experienced home brewer.

“I was looking for a hobby that didn’t involve drinking beer in front of the computer,” Hughes, uh, explains. “My buddy and I started brewing beer. We didn’t go all-grain until the 4th or 5th time.”

Hughes, 33, offers a practical example of how little space is required to actually operate a home brewery. The diminutive kitchen of his second-floor duplex apartment comfortably serves as a brewing space, Kegging station, and fermenting area, with plenty of room left over for less important things like cooking and cleaning up.

From time to time, cleanup can be a serious issue in home brewing. “I decided to brew a Russian imperial stout,” Barnes relates. “The fermentation was so lively that I blew the airlock off and got black-colored goop all over the inside of my friend’s teacher’s shirt closet. He thought it was really funny except for the cleaning bill and the mop-up.”

When asked about how a newbie could screw up their first batch of beer, both Barnes and Hughes agree that sanitation is key. Disinfecting everything that comes in contact with the nascent beer prevents unwanted microorganisms from infecting the brew and making it really freaking horrible. Other key points are watching the stove closely for boil-over and making sure that the fermenting temperature is constant, even, and not too high. Home brewing books will detail proper temperatures for different styles of beer.

A wealth of information has been published on home brewing. One of the earliest books on the subject, still considered the home brewer’s bible today, is The Complete Joy of Home brewing by Charlie Papazian. Barnes also recommends John J. Palmer’s How to Brew as a more technical resource.

New brewers who’d like to benefit from the knowledge and experience of a group can attend meetings of the Upstate New York Home brewers’ Association (UNYHA). Association members are happy to offer advice, discuss technique, and share both knowledge and beer. Meetings and events are detailed on their website ( With a little study and experience, novice home brewers can quickly turn into capable crafters of beer, adept at brewing various styles to exacting specifications.

When you get there, give us a call. We’ll bring the growlers.

Bruce is a certified beer judge and commercial brewer. Mark owns a laptop and likes beer. For more on beer, check out the beercraft blog, updated regularly, at Send your questions, suggestions, or comments to

IEDs in your beer fridge!

As if promoting beer as a sophisticated beverage isn’t hard enough, now we have exploding Harpoon bottles. The Brewery has issued an urgent warning about its 22oz. bottles of Peche, which apparently exhibit a disturbing tendency to detonate due to the pressure of the secondary fermentation.

If you have any 22 ounce Pêche bottles, please carefully un-cap the bottles – if possible without moving them. We would recommend wearing protective eyewear and/or shrouding the bottle with a hand towel while un-capping.

Fewer explosions. Another way the Belgian lambics will always be superior to their American imitators 🙂

Beer School today: Belgian style ales

The best quality of American microbrewers is adaptability. Well, that and a fearlessness to try unorthodox things. They’re not afraid to make shitty copies of foreign beer styles over and over again until they get it right.

When it comes to Abbey ales, many have gotten it right. I won’t say that the beers of Ommegang, Unibroue and other North American brewers are on par with their Flemish exemplars, but they’ve still gotten pretty darn good.

If you live in Rochester, come on down to Monty’s Korner, on the corner of East Avenue and Alexander Street, tonight at 7:30 for a free tasting and (mercifully brief) discussion of these fine heritage beers.

In praise of vintage beers, and the beckoning of the West Coast

Beer never ceases to amaze me.

Just when you thought you’ve become wise in its ways, the beverage shows appeal from a whole new angle. Sure, I’d had some cellared beer before- a couple of Belgian ales my friend Bob pulled from storage in his basement- but at no point did I take the time to really pay attention to the possibilities offered by keeping your bottled stuff around for a few years. Thanks to Jules Suplicki and The Old Toad’s vintage beer dinner, I’ve learned that my education has only just begun.

it was the Aventinus that opened my eyes; a 2002 Schneider Weizenbock the flavor of which sprang beyond the expected earthy banana/clove notes, mellowing into toffee, raisin, and currant tones. It was unlike anything I’d tried with “Weizen” in the name, dancing perilously close to Trappist Ale territory, yet maintaining its own character and mouthfeel. Needless to say, it went perfectly with the apple galette (I guess that’s French for “sorbet”) with which it was served.

I’m going to explore vintage beer further, maybe even do the next column on it. If anyone has suggestions for what to cellar, I’d love to hear them.

By the way, we’ll be heading to Seattle this weekend to check up on the epicenter of American microbrewing. I’m currently collecting reommendations on what to try and where to go. The more stops I make, the better the travelogue, so if you know a beer or a brewery, let me know.

(editor’s note) I googled “galette.” It turns out the name refers to the crumbly cookie thing upon which my orb of mint-garnished apple sorbet rested. Delicious.