Northwest Military Blogs: Served blog

February 23, 2015 at 10:26am

Served Blog Banner Boy: Q&A with Mike Besser of Top Rung Brewing Company

You'd be hard to find someone more knowledgeable about all aspects of the beer industry than Mike Besser of Top Rung Brewing Co. in Lacey. Photo credit: Pappi Swarner

Every week we swap out the Served banner art above, introducing you to the people who serve food and drinks in the South Sound. This week, meet Mike Besser.

Server Banner Boy, Feb. 23-March 1, 2015

Mike Besser

Mike Besser has his grandfather to thank for enticing him into the beer and liquor industry. As a young boy he would have conversations with his "grandpa" came home from work. He was a butler/bartender for the rich and famous in Beverly Hills from the late 1940s until the mid 1990s and knew everyone. "Grandpa Charles was awesome," says Besser. "He would come home with different items from the parties. He would wake me and my brother up to show us what the lady of the house let him bring home. Most of the time it was whole hams, big bags of fresh food but then other times he would bring home whole bottles of whiskey. Now we were much too young to try it, but the bottles looked so cool. And he would tell us about how Jimmy Stewart would order his drink or how President Reagan would order and then Nancy would make him water down his drink. I was hooked!"

Besser knew he had to become a bartender when he turned of age.  At 21, he became a bartender at oceans restaurant in Salt Lake City, Utah. Since then, he has worked in many restaurants, bars and beer bars. When he and his wife decided to have a child, Besser became a stay-at-home dad. Although he had been home brewing and blogging for years, he decided to broaden his two loves and BrewDad.com was born around 10 years ago, which coincided with his daughter's birth, who is known today as "SodaKid." Besser posted stories daily with periodic piece in Northwest Brewing News and trips to the Beer Blogger Conference.

When Top Rung Brewing Co. in Lacey approached him to help with sales, he answered yes before owners Casey Sobol and Jason Stoltz could finish their question.

Today, when he's not posting as BrewDad or on the streets selling beers, you can find him at the Lacey brewing giving tours and pouring beers.

Why do you serve?

"I love chatting with people and when you include beer it is always a win-win for me." 

Who is your favorite server in the South Sound?

"My favorite server these days is Jarred at Skep & Skein. He has super knowledge of the product and always a huge smile followed by a big ‘Hi Mike.'"

What are you most proud to serve?

"I am most proud when I am serving a great beer that I can get behind. Take our CDA at Top Rung; this is a beer that can sell itself. The flavor profile along with the excellent brewing makes this one of my favorites to sell. I was sad to see it go so fast but. Not to worry - in a short time it will be back on our taps and available for me to sell." 

What's your current drink of choice? 

"I love a big citrus hoppy IPA. I love ours, of course; I can drink the Prying Irons IPA all day. Our Heavy Irons with the extra umph from the hops is always a tasty treat I quaff upon." 

Favorite movie?

"Give me any western and I am in. Lonesome Dove - although it's actually a TV mini-series - is my all-time favorite western movie. 'A man who wouldn't cheat for a poke don't want one bad enough.' - Augustus ‘Gus' McCrae" 

What don't you serve?

"Call me old fashioned but I will never serve anything with energy drink added. I think that is the worst invention and addition for drinking ever. When I see kids these days adding energy drinks to their drinks it is just a recipe for epically bad results." 

What's on your radar at Top Rung Brewing?

"Top Rung is headed for a terrific year. As we approach our first anniversary, I know for myself we have exceeded many of our goals we set last year. I am just so excited to see what unfolds as we venture into new areas and new accounts. just hope we get a new Top Rung rig for the sales department. Hint hint."

LINK: Meet other South Sound servers

February 17, 2015 at 3:29pm

Washington Hop Mob Triple IPA Roadshow to park at The Red Hot

Snipes Mountain Brewing’s Hayduke the Wrencher was voted Best Triple IPA at the Hop Mob Roadshow kickoff event at Brouwer’s Café in Seattle Feb. 6. Photo courtesy of Facebook

Hop Head. Sounds like a euphemism for a speed addict, no? Or a professional pogo stick stunt artist. Maybe a bunny-loving furry. Well, it's none of those things. Hops go in beer, and hop heads like 'em bitter. Meet some hardcore Hop Heads as they drink highly alcoholic, wonderfully hoppy triple IPAs at The Red Hot tomorrow.

A brewer of imperial IPAs, Adam Robbings of Reuben's Brews in Seattle shined a spotlight on triple IPAs last year launching the Washington Hop Mob Triple IPA Roadshow, a series of triple IPA tasting events in Western Washington. The two-week event was a smash(ed) success. This year's Hop Mob Roadshow - 30 breweries showcased at seven events driven this year by Washington's King and Queen of Beers (Kim and Kendall Jones of the Washington Beer Blog) - ends Feb. 21, but not before making its South Sound appearance tomorrow at The Red Hot.

Triple IPAs are such a new style that most national competitions don't offer a "Triple IPA" category, forcing most of the high-alcohol, hopped-to-hell beers to compete under "Imperial/Double IPA" headers. But the actual line between a double and a triple IPA is hard to draw. Some say that any IPA over 10 percent ABV should be considered a triple. Still, beers that might fit the ABV and hop-burn requirements are still labeled as a double IPA, leaving the term "triple IPA" more of a marketing preference than an official style.

"Triple IPA is a difficult style of beer to master and breweries that do it well are highly revered," says Kim Sharpe Jones in a new release. "Some out-of-state triple IPAs get an enormous amount of attention and cause beer enthusiasts to swoon like preteens at a One Direction concert. Our goal with Hop Mob is to show that Washington's brewers can produce beers that stand shoulder-to-shoulder with any of those ballyhooed, out-of-state beers. Also, it's a great excuse to drink some really excellent stuff."

According to pre-event hype, "to brew a good triple IPA, brewers use a substantial amount of malted barley, which provides the elevated alcohol content. To balance-out the malty sweetness and give the beer its requisite hoppy character, brewers rely on substantial quantities of hops. In Washington, hops are more than an ingredient; they're a way of life. The Yakima Valley produces between seventy-five and eighty percent of the nation's hop crop each year and some of the farms are operated by families that have grown hops for four and five generations."

At 11 a.m. tomorrow, The Red Hot will tap 14 triple IPA kegs - all brewed in Washington state - and poured into 6-ounce glasses. Here's what to expect:

  • 7 Seas Trident 10.3%
  • Black Raven Birdserker 10.2%
  • Fremont Triple Trifecta 11.8%
  • Georgetown Kiss Ass Blaster 11.4%
  • Rainy Daze Tri-Power 11%
  • Stoup Brewing TR2 Haymaker 10.5%
  • Snipes Mountain Hayduke The Wrencher 9.3%
  • Reuben's Brews Blimey Thats Bitter 10.5%
  • Naked City Cry Me A River 10%
  • Bainbridge Brewing Hoptopus Rex 10.3%
  • Maritime Pacific Hop Surge 11.2%
  • Pike Hopulus Erectus 9.5%
  • Boundary Bay Dry Hopped IIIPA 9.7%
  • Spinnaker Bay What? A Tripp 10.9%

WASHINGTON HOP MOB TRIPLE IPA ROADSHOW, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Wednesday, Feb. 18, The Red Hot, 2914 Sixth Ave., Tacoma, no cover, 253.779.0229

Filed under: New Beer Column, Tacoma,

February 17, 2015 at 12:25pm

Happy Chinese New Year!

This year, the Spring Festival falls on Feb. 19. For 15 days, Chinese families around the globe are returning to their homes for half a month of feasting, money-stuffed red envelopes and much-needed bonding to honor the Year of the Goat.

One of the great things about living in the Great Melting Pot is it's always some Americans' holiday. For a half-Anglo, half-Latino dude from L.A. and Oklahoma, I know a surprising amount about Chinese New Year. Chalk it up to too many hours spent in Chinese buffets, but also to genuine interest in the culture. My Oklahoma friends and I threw a Chinese New Year party each February; it gave me the chance to show off my burgeoning wok skills. Oh, make no mistake, I can still throw down a half-decent Buddha's delight, the vegetarian medley traditionally served around that time because the end of its Cantonese name, fat choy, sounds like the phrase for prosperity. Don't delve too deeply into the black "hair weed" that thickens the dish, though. Instead, think of it as Chinese black eyed peas, and bon appetit.

Much like Westerners' spring cleaning ritual, the Ch?njié (Spring Festival) of the Chinese lunar New Year gives families a festive reason to spruce up the house, clearing the way for all that good luck to come. It's a time of reunion, when red decorations appear, firecrackers get 'sploded, and money is liberally distributed in red envelopes. Why all that red? A Nián Shòu is a mythical, leonine beast. Legends tell us that a Nian used to attack a certain village each year on New Year's Day. The villagers left food in front of their doors in hopes the man-eater would devour it and amscray, until finally, the gods hinted to a local hero that he should consider hanging red banners and lighting fireworks instead. The Nian, secretly terrified of the color red, hit the bricks and was never seen again-unless you believe a story that it was later captured by a Taoist monk, Hóngj?n L?oz?", who wore red undies and thereby scared the Nian into serving as his personal show pony.

It may surprise you to learn there's no real agreement on which numerical year this is in the Chinese calendar. That's because mainland Chinese tend to not to assign numbers to years, and scholars outside the country never quite agreed on when their calendar should start. We do know that as of this Thursday, Feb. 19, the twelve-year astrological cycle lands on the Year of the Goat, sometimes prettied up as Year of the Ram. In America, goats are known for their stubbornness. That's true in China as well, but they're also thought of as kind, peaceable and popular, if not a bit clingy (cf. those adorable kid videos on YouTube).

So how should you, fellow Yank, celebrate the Spring Festival? Aside from the fireworks where legal, red banners, good-luck messages, and gifts of money to stubborn but popular Volcano bloggers, I recommend getting your eat on. (I know. I recommend that for every occasion.  It's a thing I do. Shut up.) A downside of being ethnic-American is one often has to work hardest on one's own cultural holiday, as my cousins could attest every Cinco de Mayo. So yes, my beloved Main Chinese Buffet will be open in Lacey, as will the always delicious Indochine in Tacoma. You might also brave the crowds at Din Tai Fung up in Bellevue, my wife's favorite restaurant on the planet. Have a family photo taken. By all means, have a drink. The traditional toast is "g?n b?"i," which means "empty cup" or "bottoms up!" Then wish each other a hearty "gong hey fat choy," meaning "congratulations and prosperity." Teenagers are free to add the jokey suffix "hóngb?o nálái": "now gimme a red envelope!" More jao gok dumplings, anyone?

Happy New Year!

Filed under: Holidays, Lacey, Tacoma,

February 16, 2015 at 12:36pm

Eat This Now: Lobster Mashed Potatoes

Lobster Mashed Potatoes at El Gaucho, Tacoma

I consider eating out my job, nay, sworn duty. Each nibble I take, each sip I imbibe I am always considering, "Is this something I should tell the beautiful Volcano readers?!" I often bounce from restaurant to restaurant until I discover a dish worthy of sharing. I've hit a rough patch lately with some mediocre dishes and sub-par service. Then came Valentine's Day, and my husband went all out and made reservations at El Gaucho in downtown Tacoma.

Consider my faith restored.

My husband knows I order multiple menu items. This is the best way to combat two things: one - indecisiveness, because why settle for just one dish when you can dig into several; two - it gives me the opportunity to decide what dish I would prefer to recommend. Therefore, a visit to El Gaucho can prove to be extravagant. After sampling several items, and ringing up a hefty tab, I feel El Gaucho's shareable side, the Lobster Mashed Potatoes ($24), is a must eat now dish.

El Gaucho has some of the best steaks in town - they are prepared to perfection and so buttery each bite virtually melts in your mouth. I suggest you get any among their selection and pair it with the Lobster Mashed Potatoes because it's rich, velvety bliss. A very generous, shareable portion of pillow-y whipped potatoes is presented, swimming in a nice brown gravy, salted just the way it should be and includes bits of Maine Lobster throughout. Le sigh, it's a downhome dish done in decadent style.

With a matrimony of speakeasy ambiance, stellar service, exquisite steaks and the wine selection, El Gaucho is primo date night material when you're feeling like really going all out.

EL GAUCHO, 4-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 4 p.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday, 2119 Pacific Ave., Tacoma, 253.272.1520

Filed under: Eat This Now, Tacoma,

February 16, 2015 at 10:39am

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

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.

February 13, 2015 at 12:24pm

Mac and Cheese Madness: C.I. Shenanigans

C.I. Shenanigans in Tacoma serves one of the best mac and cheese dishes in the South Sound. Photo credit: Pappi Swarner

This week marks 38th different mac and cheese dish I have eaten since April 2014. Don't look at me like that. I have a soft spot in my heart for mac and cheese. After any major trauma in my life, a dish of macaroni and cheese has bolstered me and given me a full belly and clear mind with which to plow ahead. Mac and cheese is what I want when I'm sick, when I'm sad, when I'm happy, even when I'm not particularly hungry. It forms a protective layer of love around my heart. (To be fair, that could also be arteriosclerosis. But it's too good for me to care.)

Also ... I'm doing research for our Tournament of Mac and Cheese, which begins next month. My goal is to report on a South Sound mac and cheese dish every week up to the tournament - to spread the cheesy word, ease into tournament research and, obviously, build hype. With your help, we'll pit 64 of the South Sound's best mac and cheese makers in a elbow-to-elbow battle - a titanic, cheesy tournament the likes of which has never been seen in these parts, unless you count our previous tacos, pizza, breakfast, sandwiches and burgers tournaments.

This week, I found one of the best mac and cheese dishes at C.I. Shenanigans.

Crab mac 'n' cheese is hardly the novelty it once was, but in the expert hands of C.I. Shenanigans, it's elevated to new heights. The Tacoma waterfront fine-dining restaurant relies on a béchamel sauce spiked with blue lump crab, smoked gouda cheese and long strips of Hill's bacon to give their Blue Crab Mac & Cheese ($22.95) an assertive edge. The lumache pasta was fluffy but not insubstantial.

"Blue lump crab gouda cheese, bacon, sautéed in béchamel - those are the only ingredients I can reveal," says Marvin Spencer, bar manager at Shenanigans. "It's a secret formula."

It's one of the few baked mac and cheese dishes that's not overcooked, nor does it reveal a layer of grease and unemulsified cheese at the bottom (as so many baked mac and cheese dishes do). Instead, the giant bowl of mac and cheese is thick all the way through except for a crunchy layer of breadcrumbs and slightly crisped pasta at the very top. Be careful, though: It takes a good five minutes to cool off enough to eat; I like to spend that time enjoying their tableside margarita.

C.I. SHENANIGANS, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. to close Sunday, 3017 Ruston Way, Tacoma, 253.752.8811

LINK: More mac and cheese dishes in the South Sound

LINK: The answer to why this mac and cheese column exists

February 9, 2015 at 1:38pm

Brewer On Brewer: Exit interview with Joe Walts of Narrows Brewing

Joe Walts, center, poses with Zoe Brackney and Todd Buckley at the ParkWay Tavern. Photo credit: Morgan Alexander

During a recent Monday Randall night at the ParkWay Tavern in Tacoma's Northslope neighborhood, I met with Joe Walts, head brewer for Narrows Brewing Company. Walts is leaving Tacoma to return to his former position as head lab technician for Ale Asylum in Wisconsin. Seated around us at the ParkWay were Tristan Litke of Tacoma Brewing Co., Zoe Brackney of Tacoma Beer Week and Todd Buckley of Tacoma Alcohol Consortium. We decided it was a good time to give Walts a Tacoma beer community exit interview.

MORGAN ALEXANDER: What's been your take on the Northwest brewing scene?

JOE WALTS: It wasn't that different from what I was experiencing in Wisconsin and Michigan, which have been in the lead, and other states are starting to do more such as Minnesota and Illinois. What I expected when I came out here was to be blown away by the hoppy beers. I was ready for that. What I found is a good IPA is a good IPA everywhere. The difference has been the people who are drinking craft beer because it's local or drinking craft beer for the taste - those people are drinking IPAs out here. Back in the Midwest, they're drinking amber lagers and cream ales.

TRISTAN LITKE: Let's talk about beer flavors. What are some of your favorite flavors?

WALTS: First of all, my palate sucks. I'm the first to admit it. I drink a beer and I think it tastes beery and delicious. So, I'm going to start with what I don't like. There's one flavor in beer that I don't like, and that's dextrines. So, really sweet beers - that come from mashing at a high temperature - that flavor and mouthfeel, I don't like across the board. You're making a Scotch Ale and it could be malty and overly sweet or it could be malty and delicious. It's a really specific type of sweetness. I don't mind sugar sweetness but I hate dextrine sweetness.

ZOE BRACKNEY: I totally trolled your Facebook pictures and lusted over the lambics and other beers you were brewing. Now that you won't be working crazy hours for a startup brewery, are you looking forward to brewing at home?

WALTS: I am excited about that. I'm probably going to jump back into lambics for sure. It's something I was doing at home before I moved out here and was two-and-a-half years into a three-year geuze blending project when I got this (Narrows Brewing) job and abandoned it. I am going to have to brew an Anniversary beer again - I only have two or three bottles left. I'll have to do something Belgian and huge and raspberry for my wife. I don't expect to be brewing every weekend or anything like that. The biggest issue is that I don't have any time with my family. Getting back to that is what this job is going to give me, so I'm probably not going to be spending much of that time brewing.

TODD BUCKLEY: Being from outside the area, what did you think about Tacoma?

WALTS: Tacoma has a mix that is really rare in the world. Tacoma is a liberal blue-collar town where people are really pragmatic but also fairly educated and really not snobby about it - and that's hard to find. Places that I've experienced either tend to be really, really academic or really, really ignorant. Tacoma reminds me of Portland, Maine - it's just a place that I really identify with and I'm going to be sad to leave Tacoma. As a town, I think it's wonderful. As far as the beer scene goes, I think the best word I could use to describe it is under-rated. There's so much good beer in Tacoma and nobody knows it. I don't think even people in Tacoma know it.  Before I came out here, I checked on reviews of Tacoma's breweries and not many people had good things to say. When I got to Tacoma and started drinking the beer, I'm like, "this is delicious!" I've had people say to me before, "that brewery's beer tastes like poison" and "this brewery's beer is s--- garbage" and "this brewery's beers are boring," and every single one of these breweries is putting out some great beer. I think there's a disconnect with Tacoma's reputation and what Tacoma is actually doing in terms of beer. I think one thing Tacoma's excelling at is - even if the community doesn't know it yet - they're really good at connecting with the community. I mean, Morgan and Ken down at Wingman are both Tacoma as Tacoma gets. And people are figuring out their niches. Like Engine House Nine and their sour program. It's just off the charts. And they're running with it and they're turning it into something fantastic. I don't know anyone that's making a hard ginger ale and Tacoma Brewing is just rocking it. And so all these breweries are figuring out what they do really well and I think people are going to recognize it someday.

Joe Walts official send-off party will be held from 5-7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 20 in Narrows Brewing Company's taproom. The party is also a chance to welcome Mike Davis - formerly with Harmon Brewing Co., H-Fi brewing and Elliott Bay Brewing - as the new head brewer at Narrows Brewing Co.

NARROWS BREWING COMPANY, 2-9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, noon to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 9007 S. 19th St., Tacoma, 253.327.1400

Morgan Alexander is founder and head brewer at Tacoma Brewing Company, 625 Saint Helens Ave., in Tacoma's Triangle District.

Filed under: New Beer Column, Tacoma,

February 9, 2015 at 10:00am

Served Blog Banner Girl: Q&A with bartender Emily Myers of ParkWay Tavern

This month, Emily Myers will shift from weekend days to Friday and Saturday nights at the Parkway Tavern. Photo credit: Pappi Swarner

Being a great bartender is about far more than mixing magic - although that element is certainly important. But a bartender's role behind the stick is also about spending time with those bellied up to the bar, whether they're high rollers or gravediggers. And Emily Myers, who has been pouring beer at the ParkWay Tavern since May 2013, deserves heroine worship for the way she straddles the line between professional and perky. She's engaging, exuberant, genuine and knowledgeable but never snooty. And she adores the ParkWay and its staff. A patron before an employee, it was the staff that drew her into the beer business. When she's not pouring, she's peddling. Myers other passion is bicycling, and she's thrilled 2015 is "Year of the Bike" in Tacoma.

Why do you serve?

"I truly like getting to know my fellow Tacomans. Without bartending, I would miss out on hearing all the rad stories and experiences of my regulars."

Who is your favorite server?

"Kendra Varadi is part of why I fell in love with the ParkWay. She's knowledgeable, genuine and always knows my current beer craving."

What are you most proud to serve?

"Any local beers I can get my hands on. When in doubt, go local. I'm so proud of our city's growth in the brewery and craft beer scene."

What is your current drink of choice?

"One of my current drink obsessions is cider, specifically gin-infused ciders like Seattle Cider's Gin Botanical. Really anything with an interesting flavor profile."

What is your favorite movie?

"Die Hard. It also doubles nicely as a favorite Christmas movie."

What don't you serve?

"Booze or assholes."

What's on your radar at the ParkWay?

"The Stone Brewery's tap takeover is Feb. 21, the Barleywine Festival will be March 28 and this July will be our 80th anniversary."

PARKWAY TAVERN, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily, 313 N. I St., Tacoma, 253.383.8748

LINK: Meet other South Sound servers

February 6, 2015 at 10:13am

Mac and Cheese Madness: Marrow Kitchen and Bar

Marrow Kitchen and Bar in Tacoma serves fancy mac and cheese in a pot. Photo credit: Pappi Swarner

Macaroni and cheese - once a comfort-food staple of every Wednesday night dinner while your dad works through the night publishing a newspaper with hot type press - isn't what it used to be. And thanks to Marrow Kitchen and Bar, which makes no apologies for food steeped in indulgence, squiggles of meaty, housemade daily cavatelliare enmeshed in a Mornay sauce and delivered in a cast iron pot for an elegance of the re-imagined comfort food crafted like no other.

The immodestly rich recipe is completely hedonistic. Every chef, every cook, every kid and every home-kitchen tongs-twirler has his or her own version of macaroni and cheese, but Marrow's orchestration - with a $2 option for bits of salty, delightful pork belly nubbins - is so sensual - so wonderfully immoral - that it makes my heart race just thinking about it.

Each pasta piece is perfectly cooked al dente. Creamy, cheesy béchamel sauce with just the right amount of salt, this is what lovers of noodles and cheese sauce rhapsodize about. The baking pot arrives hot, the top layer of pasta burnished and browned. It's already awesome thanks to the Mornay sauce ($17), but the option to add the pork belly or truffle mushrooms ($2) should be all but mandatory.

An order of this love in a pot doesn't come with a hammock, as it's serving size leaves room for deviled eggs ($8) or mussels with bacon lardons and bone marrow Hollandaise ($10) and, of course, two nationally-recognized craft cocktails. Oh, I have 3,000 words ready to burst out on Marrow's steelhead gnocchi ($24), but that's for another day.

MARROW KITCHEN AND BAR, 3 p.m. to midnight, Tuesday-Saturday, 2717 Sixth Ave., Tacoma, 253.267.5299

LINK: More mac and cheese dishes in the South Sound

LINK: The answer to why this mac and cheese column exists

February 3, 2015 at 3:01pm

Catch a beer flight in the South Sound

Grab a 7 Seas Brewing beer flight and land on their front patio. Photo credit: Pappi Swarner

Beer festivals are an excellent way to sample a wide range of craft breweries and styles. But if the festival scene doesn't sound appealing, beer fans can create their own diverse festival at their own pace on almost any day of the week - while also getting the most bang for your buck and more beer for your belly. The answer: flights.

Fortunately for those fickle souls among us, most South Sound breweries and a few bars and restaurants offer beer flights. If you can't decide what beer to taste on a night out, taste as many as possible with these various flights put together by beer aficionados. Some establishments, such as Narrows Brewing Company, remove the burden of choice by offering a curated flight - often featuring their most recent brewed beers.

Of course, many places offer build-your-own flights, which opens a door to endless possibilities (and hours of waffling back and forth). If you can't make up your mind or have no idea where to even start when picking the beers yourself, ask your server; he or she should be happy to help fill out your flight or offer suggestions to get you started.

Either way, beer flights can widen your beer knowledge or help a friend broaden a narrowly focused viewpoint, as well as be a cost-effective way to train your palate to recognize the differences between similar brews.

Vertical flights demonstrate the way a specific beer can change when properly cellared, but they are more rare and usually reserved for special events. Finding several beers from a single brewery on tap is more common, providing a feel for a brewery's character. If you're in a restaurant or bar, multiple breweries most likely will be offered in a single flight.

Typically, flights land on a paddle or tray, six to eight small glasses full of beer, for a single price. Sometimes, the beers are priced a la carte.

My South Sound travels revealed most flights land with beers lightest to darkest. Generally, the lightest beers have a gentler character, lower ABV and lower hop bitterness than darker beers. If a dark beer is sampled before a light beer, it is likely that much of its character will be lost behind the forward charisma of the dark one.

Travis Guterson, head brewer at 7 Seas Brewing, suggests arranging his beers according to their hops content.

"Think about what's going to wreak the most havoc on your palate," says Guterson. "The rule of thumb is starting with the flavors that are going to be the more mellow, subtle, and move toward the more bold, hoppy flavors. Hops, in particular, tend to have a numbing effect on your senses. They can burn your taste buds out. We suggest not arranging by mellow to bold, but rather least hoppy to most hoppy. I'll put our Rotating Imperial Stout before our IPA, Ballz Deep Double IPA and Cascadian Dark Ale. Starting with our Belgian Style Blonde Ale is a good bet, then on to the Cutt's Amber, the 253 Pilsner, then the Stout, CDA and last, the IPAs. Of course, this is a bit beer geeky; the main goal is to taste several beers and have fun with friends."

My originally scheduled beer column for this week (different subject matter) was postponed due to technical difficulties. Since I logged some beer flight miles (didn't open the bag in the seat pocket once), I thought I'd post my beer flight column early (I had planned to visit many other establishments). Please check the reader board for how this affects your connecting flights.

7 Seas Brewing

The Gig Harbor brewery allows drinkers to mix and match any of their beers on tap. Each deep, handsome long-wooden crate comes with four ($5), six ($8) or eight ($10) 5-ounce glasses filled with whatever your heart desires. If you're one of those people who loathes making important decisions like what to drink on Friday night, you could just drink seasonals or IPAs. You could also drink single 5-ounce pours for $1.50. 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday-Tuesday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, 3006 Judson St., Gig Harbor, 253.514.8129

Narrows Brewing Company

The waterfront brewery is the perfect place to while away sunny days sipping on Joe Walts' handiwork while watching boats float along the Narrows waterway. To try more beer for less money, order a flight of six 5.5- to 6-ounce pours for $10.50. Bartenders Mary and Taylor pick the beers, which typically are the most recently brewed beers. 2-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday, noon to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, noon to 6 p.m. Sunday, 9007 S. 19th St., Tacoma, 253.327.1400

Odd Otter Brewing Company

You can mix and match or go with a server's recommendation based upon your preferences, but you can't really go wrong with the beer available at Odd Otter Brewing Company in downtown Tacoma. Known for their unique flavors - Ottermelon Hefeweizen, Cozy Camper Amber, Momma Otter's Pancake Porter and on and on - Odd Otter serves their beer flights in a la carte 5-ounce tasters for $2 an Otter - which are discounted during happy hour. Their beer paddle holds six, but more can certainly ride shotgun. Warning: The beer slots on the paddle are very shallow so find a spot and stay put.11-2 a.m. Thursday-Sunday, 716 Pacific Ave., Tacoma, 253.209.7064

Pacific Brewing & Malting Co.

Down the street from Odd Otter, historic Pacific Brewing only drilled five holes in the old logs they used to carry their flights. Don't cry South Sound, the pours are 7-ounces for $14, and you can pick the beers. You know how Pacific Brewing is: Go big or go home. Their Moon Yard Strong Ale (7.3% ABV/89 IBU) with strong hop flavor and bitterness (named after a neighboring railway yard) and Dirty Skoog IPA (8.1% ABV/73 IBU) double IPA (named after a rumored speakeasy in Old Tacoma during Prohibition) is how they think. 4-10 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, noon to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, noon to 6 p.m. Sunday, 610 Pacific Ave., Tacoma, 253.383.BEER

Pint Defiance

The specialty beer store and taproom on the edge of Fircrest doesn't offer beer flights, but rather a "Sunday Beer Sampler" from 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Assistant Manager R.J. Adler runs the Sampler, typically choosing four 3- to 4-ounce pours from bottles out of the cooler, centered around a theme - a specific brewery, certain beer style, holidays, topical event or, if he can, his favorite sours. "It's a way to try a unique bottled beer without drinking all 22-ounces," says Adler. The price runs $4 to $5.50. Bonus: Pint Defiance's third annual Valentine's Day Chocolate & Beer Event will feature special draft releases paired with artisanal chocolate from local Cocoa Tantily Feb. 13 and 14. 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2049 Mildred St. W., Tacoma, 253.302.4240

The Red Hot

The Tacoma Sixth Avenue craft beer and hot dog joint will pour you 5-ounce tasters of any of the 24 beers on tap for $2 less than the posted price. No paddles ... unless you're a jerk. 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday, 2914 Sixth Ave., Tacoma, 253.779.0229

Wingman Brewers

The Tacoma Dome District brewery serves a minimum of six 5.5-ounce pours for $12. According to head brewer Ken Thoburn, patrons will receive one of everything on tap that he has brewed. 2-9 p.m. Thursday, 2-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2-9 p.m. Sunday, 509 ½ Puyallup Ave., Tacoma, 253.256.5240

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