Washington Cask Fest

This last weekend my wife, a couple of friends, and I went to the Washington Cask Fest to pour beer up in Seattle.  We brought a bourbon barrel aged IPA, a Irish stout, and a coconut brown ale.  It seemed like all of the beers where well received and I got a lot of return customers, which is a good sign.  One thing I’ve learned is that if people don’t come back most likely your beer is bad, if there is a lot of beer and a lot of breweries and they still come back, which was the case this last weekend, you know you’re doing something right.  Funny thing was one of the most talked about beers was the Irish stout and I made that beer on my home-brew system using my own recipe, to say the least it was a confidence booster.  Sometimes I’m not sure if opening a brewery is a good idea but then something like last Saturday happens and I know that I can make beer that would be well received.

Visiting Seattle or pretty much any other place than here makes me realize how lame the Tri-Cities is , I mean in Seattle there is more to do in two blocks than there is to do in most of the Tri-Cities.  The people in Seattle are more my kind of people too, sure there are still crazies, but I can wear my utilikilt and actually fit in and not get stared at like I do here.  Did I mention the food, pretty much freeking awesome in Seattle.  For reference I have posted a picture of our breakfast on Sunday at Pikes Market.  If you have never had perogies from Peroski Peroski in Seattle you haven’t lived, oh man the rhubarb perogie was sooooo damn good, I want more.

Well needless to say I had a great time in Seattle, not sure I would want to live there as it’s maybe just a little too big, but if I had to choose it over here well….. you know.  Looking forward to heading down to western Oregon this coming weekend.

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Iron Horse Brewing

Katy and I made another trip up to Ellensburg, WA yesterday since our last trip up for the Winterhop fest didn’t allow us to check out the town.  Ellensburg is the home town of Central Washington University, as a result the town really has that college town feel.  Katy and I really miss the college town feel that Corvallis provided, colleges tend to bring in the sorts of activities, food, and culture that we are used to and love.  As always if there is a brewery in a particular town we are visiting I have to visit it, this time it was Iron Horse Brewing.

Iron Horse Brewing opened in 2004 and from what I understand from talking to Nicole, the bartender, they had a different owner and philosophy and recently a couple of young guys, around my age, took ownership and changed the beers and totally changed their philosophy.  They have a punk skater feel to their brand now and most likely that is the sort of feel they are trying to convey to their consumers.  As Iron Horse states on their website, forget about style guidelines, and for the most part they are right.  The first beer I tried was their “Cozy Sweater” which was described to me as a bigger badder version of an oatmeal stout,  their website says imperial brown but after tasting the beer I tend to believe Nicole.  It’s a good stout, nice smooth roastyness, good mouthfeel, and a hidden warming alcohol effect much like a cozy sweater.  My next pint was their “Irish Death” this beer really stays true to Iron Horse’s philosophy of not making beers within style guidelines, it’s large in alcohol, malty as a m’fer, and has a balanced sweetness.  This beer is almost 8% ABV but I couldn’t taste the alcohol, it isn’t hoppy which is a welcomed change to the hop bombs you get around here, and it’s a dark reddish brown in color.  If I had to give this beer a style I’d say it’s a Strong Scotch ale, which kind of goes against the name but really this beer doesn’t fall into any Irish style.  Nicole told me that this beer is around 50% of their sales, which surprised me because most breweries around here are making headway mostly with IPAs, but this beer is really good so I can see it.  Lastly I had a pint of their pale ale, this was a good malty pale ale with lots of NW hops, we actually bought a growler home of this because Katy liked it so much.  I don’t typically drink more than a pint of two from anywhere, but Katy was driving and Iron Horse’s offerings were just so good.

Supposedly IHB, same initials as our brewery, is trying to grow, I guess last year they did 3000bbl.  I look forward to following their progress, I really think they may be on to something up there in Ellensburg.

The Entrepreneur Within Us

I often ask myself late at night when I can’t sleep why I decided to leave my well paying job with full benefits and payed vacations for a job that is hard physically, pays little, and has absolutely no benefits.  Sometimes I’m conflicted, life as a brewer is hard sometimes, people come up to me all the time and tell me how cool of a job I have, but they’ve never washed kegs for 6 hours.  I look at being a assistant brewer at Ice Harbor Brewing as a paid education.  Sure my wife got a full ride scholarship for grad school, hell they paid her to go to school, but I had to pay for school.  Am I using my college education as a geologist at the brewery? Well, yes and no, I think sometimes us young graduates get bogged down in thinking we have to have a career in our specific degree.  I think if you look around it’s a pretty high percentage of graduates that end up doing something completely different.  I have to laugh a bit now when I think about how much I used to complain about taking all of those required courses that had little or nothing to do with my major.  Those college advisers are smart really, they know that you need to be ready for anything, even being a brewer if that’s what you eventually end up doing.  I had an auto shop teacher in high school who once told me “If you love to pump gas, go to college for the experience, and when you get done go back to pumping gas because that’s what you love, but go to college for the experience and for the possibility to open you eyes to new ideas.”. What wise words those where, that very idea drives me now as I make my journey to the cut throat land of business.

I have started reading Sam Calagione’s book “Brewing Up A Business” which is a first account tale of Sam’s successes and mistakes on his way to making his brewery Dogfish Head a well respected business.  So far it gives me hope for my dream of opening a brewery in the future.  The overwhelming theme of the book is that if you are passionate enough about something and have the willingness to do the hard work anything is possible.  Personally I know I could run a brewery successful, anymore the only thing that really scares me is getting capital to get this thing off the ground.  It scares me when my boss says “you need a million dollars” I’m not sure I can really get that much put together, especially with banks being very tight with money.  I know I’m going to have to do a lot of the work myself, tap into friends and family, and probably use a lot of used stuff but I think I could get something going for under $500k (still seems like an impossible amount of money to acquire).  Ask my wife, I have ideas, lots of them, and even she is starting to warm up to the idea of owning a brewery, it seems like it has to be a reality now.  i see people open businesses all the time, and if they can do it well you know I’m sure I can do it too.  Note to self, start business plan soon….

Beer and Chocolate

Some time ago I got the idea to see if our local chocolatier, Baums House of Chocolates, would put our beer in their chocolates.  The idea really came from them since Rick at Baums had recently released a special wine chocolate with a local winery’s wine.  I had no idea how well this would go over but I soon found out that Rick was very accommodating, Rick is very interested in beer even to the point of once being a homebrewer.  Naturally he jumped at the idea of stepping up to the challenge of making beer chocolates, after drinking a couple of six packs that I gave him and having to bring him more, which I found quite funny, he created what you see in the above picture.

About the chocolates, they are truffles with a soft ganache middle, one contains our stout and one contains our red ale.  Rick and I discussed and sampled the chocolates coming to the conclusion that both types of beer lent some subtle differences to the chocolate, the red ale almost lent a fruity note, and the stout gave the chocolate a robust coffee liquor essence.  We both decided that these would be a hit and I must say I have quite enjoyed them maybe to the point of not sharing them as much as I should have.

The point of making these chocolates pretty much is to sell them at the brewery, have them at beer dinners, and to give them out at tastings.  I took the large boxes to work to have people sample, my main complaint is that no one really would say anything besides that they really liked them.  I’m beginning to realize that if I have an idea I pretty much have to do all the work and the follow through or it won’t get done.  As a result I have decided that the stout truffle is slightly better than the red ale truffle, so by executive decision I have decided that Rick should produce stout truffles for us.

My First Beer Fest

I’ve been to a lot of brewfests but none as an official brewer.  The Winterhop Fest in Ellensburg Washington was my first appearance on the public stage as a representative of the brewery.  Overall I think the festival went really well, we had a constant line of people at our booth (as you can see from the picture) and we had multiple people come back despite there being many other breweries at the fest.  I liked this festival because it reminded me a lot of the art walks that many towns now have, including my home town of Silverton, where people can walk from business to business and check out all that the town has to offer.  We set up in an art gallery, which had some really nice art and had a pretty decent band.  Giving out samples for 5 hours gets a little tiring but we had fun so I know we’ll be doing it again, oh and the town is really cool Katy and I are already planning a trip up there when we can count on the weather being good.

I did learn some things at my first festival.  First and foremost I will make sure from now on that I have some sort of drip tray for the taps, that was a pain in the ass and we went through a whole roll of paper towels.  Second, always bring a light easy drinking beer (yes Russ you where right), we actually went through more Kolsch than any other beer just because a lot of people, especially women, didn’t want a big in your face beer.  Third, we need a name for our IPA, people kept calling it an “Ice Harbor” as if that was the name, not our brewery’s name, so that was really confusing for a while until we realized most people where calling our IPA and “Ice Harbor”.  Fourth, we have no name recognition, most people had never heard of us and kept asking if we were a new brewery even though my shirt clearly stated that we have been around since 1997.  And lastly, we need to distribute our beer better, I had many people ask me if they could get our beer in Ellensburg, I just kept saying soon but honestly I don’t know.

One last thing, I have been recently toying with the idea of trying to get a group together of brewers over here on the East side a few times a year to talk about the industry and just share ideas.  I was hoping that yesterday would be a good time to get some contacts but since the brewfest was so spread out I really didn’t get an opportunity.  I did get to talk to a couple of brewers one being from Old Schoolhouse Brewery they seemed very interested in the idea.  The other brewer that I was looking forward to talking to from a brewery very close to ours, which I will not mention here, was an asshole.  It’s been bugging me since I talked to him, but right out of the gate he said negative things about our brewery, I can only assume because he is friends with the ex assistant brewer, and because the ex-assistant has been spreading crap about our brewer even before he was fired, I get to hear this stuff all the time.  I really don’t know how to mitigate it, honestly it really wears on me and I think about it all the time, hell we still have a couple of guys that work at the brewery that are really good friends and business partners with the ex-assistant that I’m sure are spreading crap about us.  It’s a really big mental block for me, I don’t know why I dwell on it so much but until all of this works out I think I’m always going to have problems, honestly it’s the only thing that is stopping me from enjoying my job at this point.

Doing the brewing thing

Things have been kind of slow after the holidays, I’m not sure if people are doing the New Years resolution thing or if the general public is just poor from the holidays.  I actually got to brew today which naturally being a brewer is always a good thing.  It was stout today, just 10bbl total, we never seem to go through much stout.  I don’t know if that’s a common theme at every brewery or just ours, my feeling is that dark beers probably never sell that well anywhere.  A lot of the beer drinking public are intimidated by dark beers, which makes absolutely no sense since we are a coffee drinking culture.  Sure our stout is a little too big and a little too in your face for most, I’d probably tone it down a bit if it was me but then again that’s something to do for my future brewery some day.  I guess the real argument is whether or not trying to brew an easier drinking stout would really sell all that much more, I think it’s the color not the taste that gets people.

In other news I’ve really been interested in session beers as of late, pretty much anything 4.5 abv and less I consider a session beer.  I’m a responsible drinker and I feel like there has to be a place for smaller beers that have a lot of flavor but can be enjoyed without the ill effects of higher alcohol beers.  I really think the craft beer movement is about being social, spending a couple of hours with friends at their local brewery and having a few, I believe session beers make this possible.  Word is 2010 is the year of the session beer.

Lastly I’m sad to hear about the devastation in Haiti and while I pretty much feel helpless I encourage everyone to make a donation to a charity that is helping over there, one of my favorites is Northwest Medical Teams.