I begin my day with a stroll to a nearby coffee shop for, er, coffee. The crusty-ish vibe of the place reminds me a bit of Amsterdam. Before all the yuppies moved in. Hang on. I'm probably one of those yuppies, aren't I?
I've an 11 am appointment at Pike Brewing. I'm meeting Charles Finkel, founder of said brewery, and Joe Walts of Narrows Brewing in Tacoma. I've an event there later today to which he'll be driving me.
As it's not far from my hotel, I stroll down there, taking in a little more of the city. The streets leading down to the sea are unfeasibly steep, like those in San Francisco. Thankfully it's only the last section of the roads. The rest of the city is reasonably flat. Unless, like me, you're used to dead flat.
Pike Brewing is just past Pike Place Market, a throbbing mass of indoor market halls strung out between 1st Avenue and the waterfront. I'm really tempted to have a quick look around. I love indoor markets. And outdoor ones, for that matter. But I'm running a little late. I don't want to take the piss.
A polite young waitress asks me if I want to eat. "I'm here to meet Charles Finkel" She sits me down and goes off to look for him. I'd heard about the legendary collection breweriana. It doesn't disappoint. Every kind of object you can imagine: trays, poster, postcards, mirrors, glasses, bottles, bottle openers, statues - you name it. There's scarcely and inch of wall space not covered with some beer-related object. Dead cool.
I've plenty of time to investigate as the waitress doesn't immediately reappear. It's taking a while. Eventually she comes back and hands me a telephone. Charles is on the other end. Due to an organisational cockup, he's not on site. We have a brief chat and he seems a really nice bloke.
We get shown around the brewery - the brewhouse shoe-horned into a tight space between the bar and restaurant - by a very enthusiastic and friendly guide. She tells us it's one of only two gravity-fed breweries in the USA. Downstairs where fermentation takes place, there's more room, though it's fairly well filled with all the shiny stuff you'd expect in a modern brewery. And, inevitably, there are oak barrels. Though also piles of golden gate kegs. Which I guess they're using as substitutes for casks.
Once we've given the brewery the once-over, we retire to the museum room to sample a set of samples. I'm amazed that Kilt Lifter, a Scotch Ale, is their biggest seller. I thought it was various shades of Pale Ale that sold best over here.
We would eat here, but it's getting late. The event at Narrows Brewing is scheduled for 3 pm. And we need to drive to Tacoma.
"We can order some food in when we get to the brewery, if you like." Sounds good to me.
We have a great view of Mount Rainier as we speed southwards towards Tacoma. It's a massive snow-clad volcano looming over everything. Tacoma is a fair distance from the centre of Seattle - about 40 km - but fortunately the roads are pretty clear.
Narrows Brewing is in the west of Tacoma on the, er, narrows. It's part of a marina complex that was once a saw mill. When we arrive Joe is relieved to see a barbecue stall outside. No need to order in food. I get a brisket sandwich with a side of cornbread. Really good stuff. The cornbread is incredibly dense, more like cake than bread.
There's time for a quick tour of the brewery before showtime. The equipment is very new and very shiny, but doesn't completely fill the space. There are fewer fermenters than you would expect. Lack of fermentation capacity is why we didn't do a collaborative beer. The explanation is simple: the building is timber framed and can carry a limited amount of weight, which limits the number of fermenters that can be installed. A 30-barrel fermenter filled with 30 barrels of beer is a fair old weight.
On the way into the bar I spot some familiar pictures of a bridge. One collapsing and I suddenly twig where I've heard of Tacoma Narrows before: it's the suspension bridge that twisted and tore itself apart in 1940.
There's a panoramic view of its replacement from the bar. Sadly my photo of it is too crap to use.
Narrows are releasing an Old Ale. It's a blend of Winter Ale which has been aged for a year in wine barrels with a fresh version of the same beer. They also threw in some Brettanomyces claussenii for that authentic aged flavour. I'm giving a short talk on Stock Ale, a topic dear to my heart.
There's a decent crowd of 40 to 50 by the time I stand up to speak. Not sure how long I speak. Once I open my mouth time seems to stand still, at least for me. Doubtless it's stretching to infinity for the poor bastards who have to listen to it. I get a couple of laughs, which is usually a good sign. And no-one throws anything at me, other than questions. I'm becoming surprisingly comfortable with public speaking. Not sure why. By nature I'm the shy, retiring type.
When the last question has been fielded, Joe takes a group of us down into the basement, where he has a few oak barrels full of maturing beer. Judging by how many of these things I've seen of late, the demand for barrels must be shooting up. I wonder if brewing will eventually soak up all the supply of second hand casks?
We share a few beers and a chat then Joe drives me back to my hotel. It's still pretty early. Which means I've time to drop by a Vietnamese restaurant I spotted earlier for a spot of Pho. It really hits the spot. I love me some Pho and I'm not disappointed. They even have some decent beer.
Once again a tot of Laphroaig gently pushes me into sleep's embrace. Goodnight Seattle. Tomorrow it's Denver.
Buy my book. Even if you already own it. You may misplace or have knicked your first copy.
The Home Brewer's Guide to Vintage Beer.
The Pike Brewing Company
1415 First Avenue,
Seattle, WA 98101
Telephone: (206) 622-6044
Narrows Brewing Company
9007 S 19th St,
Tacoma, WA 98466.
2230 3rd Ave
Seattle, WA 98121
Telephone: (206) 441-5995
Advice for Pub Staff, 1965, Pt.1 — the Beer - The 1965 book Bar Service offers a snapshot of what was going on in pubs at the time and contains lots of interesting, often amusing, details. It was wri...
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