Some historians estimate that man has been brewing beer for more than 8,000 years. Anthropologists have even speculated that bearded Neolithic man made the transition from a nomadic to sedentary existence in order to cultivate grain for brewing beer. The beer served as an important nutritional supplement to an otherwise limited plant-heavy diet.
In 1840, archeologists digging up ancient Sumeria (present-day Iran) found clay tablets dating back 5,000 years that are inscribed with representations of brewing activity. From the tablets, we learned that these ancient cultures used beer as a dietary staple before bread was discovered. Their beer consisted of water, barley and flavorings.
Not as ancient, but certainly well bearded, man has been brewing beer in Tacoma since the late 1800s. In 1897, Pacific Brewing & Malting Co. was established in downtown Tacoma and grew to become the second largest brewery in Washington state, until shut down by Prohibition in 1916.
Last September, head brewer Steve Navarro and financial businessman Brent Hall reopened Pacific Brewing and Malting Co., not in Tacoma's old brewery district near 25th and Jefferson, but rather down the street in the lower level of the historic Old City Hall Annex Building on Pacific Avenue, near the corner of South Seventh Street.
Even before trying a single beer, one can't help but be drawn to the photographic evidence of Pacific Brewing's history adorning the taproom walls of the new brewery. During a recent visit, I wasn't the only one taking photos of the photos.
But what are not as evident are the changes Pacific Brewing has undergone in recent weeks. Navarro and company have increased production capacity and hired veteran beverage sales rep Andy Kenser to distribute product to restaurants and bars - freeing up Navarro's time to concentrate on brewing beer, which is vital with the recent departure of assistant brewer Bethany Carlsen to the head brewer job at Gig Harbor Brewing Company.
"We doubled our capacity," Navarro told me as we strolled the halls of the Oregon Convention Center in downtown Portland during last week's Craft Brewers Conference. "We opened the brewery with four 7-barrel fermenter tanks and we just bought two 15-barrel fermenters, so we went from producing twenty-eight barrels to fifty-eight barrels. With Andy coming on, we'll be brewing more beer."
Kenser comes to Pacific Brewing & Malting from Click Wholesale Distributing where he represented hundreds of brands, including Dogfish Head and Bear Republic. Kenser started his career at Pike Brewing Company, moved to Harmon Brewing Company where he was assistant brewer, and eventually became a head brewer for RAM Restaurant and Brewery.
"Andy is my neighbor in the North Slope of Tacoma. He'd come into Pacific Brewing from time to time and really enjoyed the beer," Navarro said. "I knew we were increasing production and I simply couldn't do it all anymore - brewing, selling, delivering. I needed someone to rep our beer so I could focus on brewing. So I gave Andy a call. He's the perfect fit. Andy is well known and liked in the industry. And he's a brewer. He is going to help take us to the next level."
While Kenser will travel Washington state spreading the Pacific Brewing brand, the next level is actually firmly planted in Tacoma. Navarro and Kenser will focus heavily on saturating Tacoma with their 1897 Pale Lager, Dirty Skoog IPA, Citra Pale Ale and Grit City Porter, as well as their seasonals and specialty brews. They want to be Tacoma's beer. They want the Pacific handle to be in all four corners of the city.
As 12,000 brewers from around the world squeezed by us, Navarro and I discussed the brewery's history and success on Facebook. His historical posts drew thousands to his page well before he opened his big doors to Pacific Avenue.
"Our one-hundred-year-old history sparked more interest than we could ever imagine," Navarro explained. "Thankfully, we have been able to back it up with beers that people enjoy."
There are more beers on the way, too.
"We're coming out with a red amber called Red Front," he said. "Back in the day, Pacific Brewing had ownership interests in dozens and dozens of bars in Tacoma. They all sold Pacific beer. During Prohibition, they had to divest all their interests. One of those bars was called Red Front."
He's also brewing another IPA as part of his seven IPA series. This one will be low bitter and all-aroma, made with Amarillo and Simcoe hops. A hoppy Pilsner will follow the IPA release.
Pacific Brewing will begin bottling in May.
PACIFIC BREWING & MALTING CO., taproom open 4-10 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, noon to midnight Friday and Saturday, noon to 6 p.m. Sunday, 610 Pacific Ave., Tacoma, 253.383.BEER