North by north west, the micros are blooming
Once the beer lover has discovered Portland Oregon, he finds it hard to leave. A drive of a mere 35 miles north, across the state line to Kalama, Washington, seemed little more than a gesture, but it was just enough to escape the gravitational pull.
Not that I wanted to tempt physics here: Kalama is known for a nuclear power plant.
When the Hart micro-brewery was founded there a few years ago, a wag suggested it should make a Kalamity Ale, but the joke was too close to home.
When I first visited Hart, it had been newly established by a couple who had previously run a health-oriented grocery and deli store, which sold beer.
They had set up the brewery, using scavenged dairy tanks, in an old shop premises.
Their first product, an aromatic, hoppy ale, was called Pyramid, in a somewhat hippie allusion to a peak in the nearby Cascade Mountains.
Less than a decade later, it has moved to a purpose-built structure, on a nearby "green field" site next to a yacht marina.
The founders have sold Hart to a consortium of local businessmen, and the brewery now emphasises the Pyramid brand name.
At the brewery, I greatly enjoy a rounded, tasty, Best Brown (1052 degrees OG) and an intense, coffeeish Sphinx Stout (1062). The principal product today is wheat beer.
The first example in this style was given the odd but distinctive name Wheaten Ale. It is firm, crisp, dry in the finish and lightly fruity.
There is now also a more fruity, orangey Hefeweizen. Yeasty wheat beers are all the rage in the North West.
I was travelling with Vince Cottone, a consultant to many small brewers in the region, and himself a writer on beer.
We headed north on Interstate Highway 5, then east toward the sawmill town of Onalaska (What's Brewing, October 1993), through the Cascades to the hop town of Yakima (home of the famous Grant's brewery) and north again along the Wenatchee river to Leavenworth.
I recommend this countryside to anyone planning a scenic pub crawl this summer. In the heat of last summer, there was still snow on the mountains.
The rocky outcrops, foaming white waters, and steep, tree-clad valleys, make for leisurely driving.
Stop in a small town, have a few beers, and find somewhere within walking distance to stay the night.
We passed Grizzly Road and Timberline Drive; Lava Creek, Blue Creek, Ruby Creek, Indian Creek, Squaw Creek ...
There were orchards of apples, pears and cherries as we approached Leavenworth. It was once a staging post on the railroad that crossed the northern states.
When it ceased to be a railroad town, it had to find a new economic base. The city fathers decided it should be a mountain resort, tricked out in Alpine fashion.
The Hotel Edelweiss and Konditorei Goldene Pretzel were just about credible.
The Tyrolean Ritz, the Bavarian Chiropractic Clinic, the Inssbruck Motel and Mexican Restaurant, there was something incongruous about them all, but no odder than in the similar facilities I once saw at an Aline Village in the middle of an industrial suburb of Los Angeles, or another in the hills outside Atlanta, Georgia.
Curiously enough, both of those places had new, small breweries. Vince was consultant to the Leavenworth Brewery, which is in a three-story, vaguely Alpine, building.
In the basement and ground floor area is the brewery itself, with a beautifully-made copper kettle. Above is a pub and restaurant, and the further floor has a beer hall.
The Alps and Friesland may be at diagonal corners of Germany; Friesland and Limburg at opposite ends of The Netherlands ... but this should be no barrier to a Friesian Pilsener, loosely modelled on Jever, but made with St Christoffel yeast.
Undeterred, Vince and the folks at Leavenworth make a splendidly hoppy example, with a lingering bitterness.
I also enjoyed a soft, very sweet Wheat Beer; a malty Altbier (from another corner of the Alps?); a dry, hoppy Bitter; a hoppy-fruity IPA; and a Stout with lots of bitter chocolate character.
Lunch was bratwurst, of course, with beer-battered onion rings and beer bread.
The brewery's owners are Scott Hansen, a former academic, and his wife Laura, who was previously in management with a lumber company. Some of the. funding came from Scott's father, who owns some local orchards.
There were more orchards as we headed round Lake Chelan and into the long valley of the Methow river.
Both feed the Columbia River, as do almost all the waterways in the Northern Cascades.
At the far end of the Methow valley lies Winthrop, once a cowboy town, now a hip place to live if you like being 200-250 miles from the nearest city.
It is one of those towns where the pavements are covered board walks, with hitching posts for horses, but it also offers 50 flavours of espresso, with munchies from bagels to biscotti.
In summer, Winthrop is a centre for hiking, mountain biking and rafting. In winter, it serves cross-country skiers and snowmobilers. What looks like a frontier schoolhouse turns out to be a replica a mere dozen years old.
It has seen time as an antique shop and a retailer of baseball cards, and now it is a saloon, with a pistol bolted safely to the bar.
There are more firearms around the walls, and a collection of cigarette lighters, despite the fact that this is a no-smoking saloon (I wonder what they do when a bad-hat wants to shoot a cigarette out of someone's mouth?).
In the back room is a brew-house, beyond that an outside terrace facing on to the Methow river.
Outlaw Pale Ale turned out to be golden and hazy, with a sticky fruitiness and a hoppy finish. Hopalon Red Ale was hoppier, with a long finish. Black Canyon Porter had an almost peaty taste.
Dan Yingling, who makes the beer, was a home brewer in his days when he worked as a systems analyst for Microsoft. Paul Brown, who looks after front-of-house, was an estate agent.
For dinner, we had sausages made with porter, followed by ice-cream in in the same brew.
As the sun went down, bartender Steve "Leprechaun" Caulfield sat down at the piano and we all had a few more beers. Next morning, we completed our loop by heading east toward Seattle.
We became hungry at Marble-mount and stopped at an establishment called Mountain Song.
I was anxious about its advertisement. "Buffet: quiches and grains; oat pies, soybean patties, vitaburgers; nitrate-free meals." Inside was another notice: "Because of a local ongoing 'Sting' being conducted by law authorities, we must ask you for a legal I.D. if you order beer and look like you might be under-age.
"If we ask you and you are over 21, please take of offense but instead realize that you appear younger than you really are. If so, you are the envy of the rest of us whose youth cannot return." The beer list offered Pike Place Pale Ale, so I put my youthful features to the test.
They didn't even ask ...
Published Online: SEPT 2, 1998
Published in Print: MAR 1, 1994
In: What's Brewing
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