Northwest Military Blogs: Served blog

February 16, 2015 at 7:39am

Tacoman opens gluten-free brewery

Jason Yerger, left and Brian Thiel poured their Ghostfish Brewing Company gluten-free beers at the Cascadia Grains Conference in January. Photo credit: Karen Fleur Tofti-Tufarelli

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One evening in January, Olympia's South Puget Sound Community College student union turned into a tasting room as attendees of the Cascadia Grains conference helped themselves to a gluten-free, mostly vegan dinner, then ambled over to brewers and distillers to sample whisky, beer, liqueur and more.

Tacoma resident Brian Thiel poured tastes of his Ghostfish Brewery Company's Single-Hop Eldorado IPA, Buckwheat Brown and a stout - all experimental varieties concocted in a brewing laboratory he developed with $30,000 raised through Kickstarter.

The tasting topped off the Cascadia Grains Conference - a funky mix of craft brewers, farmers, academics, maltsters, marketing types and entrepreneurs sniffing out opportunities in the go-go world of craft brewing. Craft breweries surged from 537 in 1994 to 2,768 in 2013, according to the Brewer's Association.

New barley and quinoa varieties, organic certification, and the intellectual property perils of selecting brewery names were just some of the conference topics.

Thiel's Ghostfish opened Feb. 5 in Seattle; the grand opening celebration occurs in March. Thiel and his business partners considered locating in Tacoma and looked at property on Hilltop, but ultimately opted for Seattle.

Ghostfish is dedicated (but not yet certified) gluten free; that distinction has led to inquiries from several states and even the U.K.

"People are beating (your) door down," he said, asking, ‘When are you going to be in Maine?'"

Ghostfish packaged beer products will be distributed in Tacoma and the South Sound, says Thiel.

Craft brewing is a mix of science and spunk, clear-eyed corporate and folksy collaborative: propelled by the "Grain to Glass" model - the craft brewing answer to a growing focus on quality ingredients and local sourcing -conference participant Westland Distillery has started meeting with farmers and workers in its supply chain, said Westland's Matt Hofmann; a future Westland label might feature a farm where its barley is grown.

"People care about where their (product) comes from - not just whether it's local, but how it's made," he said during a conference lunch of chicken roulade, local beet quinoa salad, cauliflower tabbouleh salad and winter-roasted veggies prepared by Yelm-based Simply Organic.

"What cool barley varietal can you grow, and can you make whiskey out of it?" Hofmann asked.

That question could be asked of both farmers and scientists: Westland wants to participate in helping local academic institutions develop more productive barley varietals - a process that Hofmann says takes a minimum of 10 years - trying to "turn the tide" of barley production upward.

Westland uses 40,000 pounds of malted barley every week, and as GMO corn "keeps marching Northwest," Hofmann said. Westland wants to ensure a robust supply of Washington-grown barley.

"We've been helping these guys develop their business and saying in effect, if you build it, we will come," Hofmann continued. "Western Washington is one of the best barley-growing regions."

Scott Fisk, an Oregon State University faculty research assistant, affirmed U.S. barley production has declined over the last 30 years - losing out to corn, soy, wheat and grass - but stopped short of saying that the U.S. is experiencing an actual barley shortage. Fisk's department is breeding barley for disease-resistance, quality and yield. One component of this research involves making crosses with barley strains from Germany, which Fisk says are fairly well adapted for Willamette and Skagit Valley growers.

But Thiel's Ghostfish, as a gluten-free brewery, doesn't use barley malt, since barley contains gluten.

Gluten-free brewers must use gluten-free malt such as that made by Wellington, Colorado's Grouse Malting and Roasting Company - one of the only certified U.S. gluten-free maltsters. CEO Twila Henley said that Grouse's gluten-free malt costs 50 to 100 percent more than regular craft barley malt.

Seattle's first gluten-free brewery Ghostfish is open 3-9 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday at 2942 1st Ave. S., just a few blocks south of Safeco and CenturyLink fields. The brewery also serves an assortment of gluten-free pizzas.

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About this blog

Served, a blog by the Weekly Volcano, is the region’s feedbag of fresh chow daily, local restaurant news, New Beer Column, bar and restaurant openings and closings, breaking culinary news and breaking culinary ground - all brought to the table with a dollop of Internet frivolity on top.

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