For love of beer

Corporate Craft: A Field Trip to Redhook Brewery

We should be proud of our city’s most famous brewery.

February 20, 2009

Redhook’s old Fremont digs

Redhook sometimes gets dissed for being the Budweiser of craft beers, what with the bicoastal breweries—one in Woodinville, a second in Portsmouth, NH—the massive distribution, and the “unchallenging” IPA. (For a NW India Pale Ale, Redhook’s Long Hammer isn’t crazy hoppy. But to me, that’s a good thing. I actually appreciate that piney quality of cascade hops more when they aren’t scorching my throat).

I was thinking about all that as I drove to Redhook’s Woodinville HQ yesterday to meet with a marketing staffer and head brewer Greg Deuhs. And I started to wonder what the brewery would feel like—would it be more like a mini Anheuser Bush, or a giant Georgetown Brewing Company?

The answer, it turned out, was neither. Indeed, there’s no doubt that the company is a long way from the ramshackle operation that used to brew out of Fremont in the building that now houses Theo Chocolate. But then again, from what I’m told, Fremont too has changed a lot since the late 1980s. The whole city has. So why not its most famous brewery?

And maybe it was just the dozen-odd samples swimming in my head as I walked out into the unseasonably bright afternoon sun, but I really liked what I found at Redhook, and I think local beer geeks would agree. Even as it has lost the freewheeling character that makes NW craft brewery exciting, the brewery remains a real Seattle gem. Here are some of the reasons why:

1. Deuhs, a 20-year brewery veteran (he made some of the first Pete’s Wicked), came to Redhook a year ago, and he wants to take the brewery back to its experimental roots. He challenges his staff to mix small batches of their own brews, the latest of which you can taste on draught at the Forecasters Pub. (Ask for the “blue handle.” On tap yesterday was Deuhs’ own continental-style pilsner.)

2. Tours of the Woodinville brewery still only cost $1, and for that you get four samples and a free glass. I know what I’m doing next time I have out-of-town guests.

3. Back when Redhook came out with the Double Black Stout for the first time, it teamed up with Starbucks—then a small local outfit—to create the coffee infused beer. For the second release this winter, they chose Lighthouse Roasters instead, (though I’m sure Starbucks would have been cheaper) because they wanted to partner once again with a small indie business.

4. The new batch of the limited edition Belgian Tripel (coming out in April) is unreal. Brewing Operations manager Kim Brusco—formerly of Pike Brewing—told me he uses an invert candy sugar from Belgium, but the pleasant, almost bubble gum sweetness comes not from the sugar but from esters that form during yeast activation. I’ll take him at his word, and tell you that it is not to be missed: despite its full body 9% APV, it’s a remarkably easy-drinking beer, fruity (thanks, I guess, to the esters?) with a soft malt quality. We should all be proud this beer was made in our backyard.

I just have one complaint: the interior of Forecasters. Why do brewpubs have to be so bleakly lit and blahly decorated? If there wasn’t beer, would anyone put up with the high school cafeteria style décor? I doubt it.

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