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Best of Tacoma 2016: Wingman Brewers

Best Microbrewery

Wingman keeps their beer cold in an industrial setting. Photo credit: Jackson Hogan

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Microbreweries are really having a moment, aren't they? Twenty-five years ago, the average American was likely not even aware that there was beer outside of Budweiser, Coors, Miller, and maybe one or two local favorites, perhaps Rainier and/or Red Hook in the Puget Sound's case. But today? Seemingly everyone and their mother in the Tacoma area make their own beer now, all seeing how many hops they can cram into their IPA. Luckily for Wingman Brewers, their pursuit of simple quality will grab the attention of beer drinkers faster than anything else.

Wingman was founded five years ago, armed with nothing but, as they put it in their slogan, "Authentic. Well-crafted. Tacoma ales." Since then, Wingman has become one of Tacoma's premier microbreweries, and to founder and T-Town native Ken Thoburn, the rapid success makes quite a bit of sense.

"Each year of business we have increased our production by about 100% or more. That said, we still can't fulfill all our orders, so we've got some more growing to do," Thoburn said. "The scene for craft beer has been getting better and better, though.  More and more people want to drink local and great tasting beer every day."

The beer in question also gets some benefits from constantly seeming novel to the customer: Unlike your average brewery, which would feature four to five mainstay beers, Wingman only has two year-round options: the Ace IPA and the P-51 Porter, and many different seasonal and special occasion beers. This helps keep the experience fresh and exciting when one visits their taproom, or searches the beer aisle at a specialty grocery store. These include a coconut version of the P-51 Porter, a British-style Beazle Extra Special Bitter - or ESB - and the Pocket Aces 2x IPA, which is a much stronger and more hoppy edition of their more traditional Ace IPA.

Another feature that helps Wingman stand out is their location. While most area microbreweries operate either in a downtown setting or on a waterfront, Wingman's taproom is in the markedly industrial Dome District. In a way, this blue-collar aesthetic helps the brewery maintain a down-to-earth and - dare I say it - gritty feel synonymous with Tacoma. The vintage arcade games and clever reuse of barrels as tables also benefit the taproom in terms of memorability.

Although Wingman might be as Tacoma-centric as it gets, even down to the retro Air Force-themed names for drinks, Thoburn mentioned they already have expanded their reach not only to other Puget Sound cities, but throughout the entire state of Washington, and even into Portland and northern Idaho. Clearly, they have northwest domination on their mind. Still, no matter how high their star rises, Thoburn says Wingman won't try to use any gimmicks to sell beer, as their back-to-basics approach has served them well.

"I don't think we've tried to do anything too different than the other breweries. We are just trying to make every batch of beer better than the last," Thoburn said.

Wingman Taproom, 2-11 p.m. Fri. and Sat.; 2-9 p.m. Thurs. and Sun., 509 ½ Puyallup Ave.,
Tacoma, 253.256.5240

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