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Big taste, small ego

Ruston Way Ram Restaurant and Brewery head brewer Rhett Burris takes the gold

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You might say his ego matches his stature.

Standing at five feet, four-and-a-quarter inches, in shoes (according to him), Rhett Burris may not be the tallest brewer of beer in the state of Washington.

But after earning two gold medals from this year’s North American Beer Awards, and one last year, you might say Burris is one of the best.

The head brewer at the Ruston Way Ram Restaurant and Brewery, Burris represented the Ram with his India Pale Ale and his Washington Blonde at the awards, held in Idaho May 30-June 1, winning gold medals for both. Last year his jalapeno-infused “Hot Blonde” won gold, as well.

Of winning the award, Burris shrugs with a small laugh, “Yeah, it was pretty cool.”

Burris gives credit to the Ram for allowing brewers creativity within their corporate structure. During regional monthly meetings, brewers bring in samplings of their beers to a blind tasting, as a sort of company quality control measure. There a best of each category is chosen, kudos to the brewers for doing their best work; additionally brewers create their own seasonal blends such as Burris’ Maibock, Belgian white with hints of coriander and orange, and ESB (Extra Special Bitter.)

For Burris, brewing good beer comes out of experience starting before he was legal. Burris says he began brewing at the age of 18 in Santa Cruz, because “I couldn’t buy it.”

Eventually he went to the American Brewers Guild and began brewing legitimately, with his first brewing job in Nevada, and his second, as an assistant brewer at the Engine House Number 9. From there, he began work as an assistant brewer at the Ram on Ruston Way, and moved on to be head brewer at Puyallup.

Now at the company 10 years, Burris is back at the Ruston location as its head brewer, working what he calls his “glorified janitor” position; since the basis of any good beer is a sanitary and clean environment, sanitation and cleaning take up a large chunk of his time.

But the other chunks of his time consist of learning about other beers (through “sampling” — beerspeak for beer-drinking) and dispelling myths about “corporate sodapop,” (beerspeak for mass-produced beer.)

While Burris produces on a fairly large scale, when added to the other Ram locations throughout Washington, Oregon, Colorado, and Idaho, he insists that he has “a passion for it,” he’s not just “brewing from a recipe.”

His recipes are tweaked from what he’s tasted through sips sampled at the Parkway, among other places, but don’t think that makes him a beer snob.

“What’s my favorite beer? If I’m camping? It’s cold Rainier out of the crick,” he says.

As to his summer plans outside of the Ram, after July 4, when you’ll see a fattie beer-garden in front of the Ram with at least 10 different beers on tap, he’ll be on his sailboat, trying not to get lost, and dreaming up the next beer battle.

[Ram Restaurant and Brewery, 3001 N. Ruston Way, Tacoma, 253.756.7886]

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