Northwest Military Blogs: Served blog

February 25, 2015 at 3:46pm

Engine House No. 9 to open a beer Barrel House, release first-ever bottles

Engine House No. 9 is moving its barrel program to Tacoma's Stadium District, setting up a Barrel House. Courtesy photo

This just in from Engine House No. 9 World Headquarters on Pine Street in Tacoma. I imagine E9 head brewer Shane "Saison" Johns is swinging from the top branch of that big ol' tree in front of the joint. Congratulations!

Tacoma, WA - We are excited to announce that plans are in motion to expand the existing brewery fermentation capabilities, as well as the creation of a new barrel storage facility that will increase our current barrelage ten-fold. The existing 7 BBL brew house will remain in tact with a few needed upgrades in the original space at 609 Pine St., next to the historic Engine House Nine restaurant and brew pub. The first phase of the new Barrel House addition will be located in the Stadium District, closer to downtown. Tacoma's first craft brewery will now have the first Barrel House in Tacoma, and possibly the state...

Increased product availability-

The increased stainless steel fermentation space will allow us to continue to keep up with the heavy demand of our brew pub next door, and increase the distribution of kegs throughout western Washington, which we began last year with Alpha Beer Distributing, based out of Kent, WA. The massive increase of oak barrels, combined with the purchase of a new bottling system, will allow us to start releasing some of (Head Brewer) Shane Johns' award winning style beers, including American wilds, saisons, sour beers, and lambics. There will also be barrel space dedicated to higher gravity barrel-aged beers, like barley-wines and imperial stouts.

First-ever Bottle Release Saturday 3/7/2015

We will be releasing 375mL bottles of a raspberry wild ale and a farmhouse style saison. There is a very limited number of these first batches, and will be first come, first served. There will be a kegged version of the raspberry on tap at the brew pub, so you can try it before you buy. You will also be able to sign up for a new "Sour Club", as well as a newsletter that will announce future bottle releases and events. This will be the beginning of hopefully a long line of bottle releases to come from one of the only true producers of wild ales in this state.

More event info here:!/events/1609958445891962/

February 24, 2015 at 10:40am

Where to plan your South Sound beer enterprise

Oly Taproom bottle shop opened last week across from Percival Landing in downtown Olympia. Photo credit: Pappi Swarner

You know they heard. South Sound beer entrepreneurs have read the studies. They know sitting for long periods is the single-most horrible thing you can do to your body - next to twerking in a bouncy house or babysitting a Viking child or trying to ski this season in the Pacific Northwest. Beer entrepreneurs might stretch, exercise regularly, eat right and take great care of his or her bodies, mostly. Doesn't matter. WebMD says if you sit for long enough periods, you're in peril. Period. Sitting for a long time causes muscles to burn less fat and blood to flow more sluggishly, which can increase the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and other problems.

Several South Sound beer lovers have moved from sitting enthusiasts to entrepreneurs. They have moved from the stool to standing and dodging and twirling and leaning on the other side of the bar. Want proof? Beautiful Zog's Pub is serving craft beer on Fox Island. Levi Hendricks and Sanrica Marquez just opened the handsome Oly Taproom across from Percival Landing in downtown Olympia. Bryan and Molly Copland and Aaron and April Johnson are still forging ahead with their Wet Coast Brewing in Gig Harbor. John Fosberg and crew have installed the tanks at their forthcoming Gig Harbor Brewing Company. Half Pint Pizza Pub owners are brewing Sluggo Brewing. Award-winning home brewers Jay Walker and Shawn Anderson have formed the Grit City Group. Destiny City Brewing has a future. Fox Island Brewing is sly like a fox. Tacoma World Beer changed hands. Fish Brewing now has cans.  

You can't pull a chair out from under these folks. They kicked the chair over.

What do you have planned? Maybe you'll meet your new beer business partner at one of these events tomorrow night.


Beer entrepreneurs Renee and Barry Watson host Loowit Brewing from 5-7 p.m. at their Pint Defiance Specialty Beers and Taproom. The Watsons have spent a lot of time visiting brewers in Vancouver, Washington. Loowit is one of their favorites. Devon Bray and Thomas Poffenroth opened Loowit in 2012 specializing in approachable, well-balanced ales. Expect to drink Shadow Ninja IPA, Flawless Victory IPA, Two Sixteen Red Ale and Der Couvensteiner Dunkel, among others. The Watsons will have the raffle machine running, too.

The Red Hot will more a bunch of Full Sail beers including Top Sail Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Porter, 2013 Full Sail Bourbon Barrel Imperial Stout, 2015 Full Sail Bourbon Barrel Imperial Stout, Full Sail 27th Anniversary Wheat Wine, Powder Stash Pale and Session IPA, beginning at 5 p.m.

Meet Rob Brunsman from the newly distributed Hop Valley Brewing Company from Eugene, Oregon at the Puyallup River Alehouse. Hop Valley opened their doors on Friday, Feb. 13th, 2009 in Springfield, Oregon. Their brewery is placed on the same grounds that used to be the hot-bed for hop production before prohibition, and is a marker to those that drink their beers, that they are proud to still be using the same local hops that once supplied the industry. Since opening, they have accomplished a lot, including increasing their overall production from 1,000 barrels/year to 12,000 barrels with their current setup in Eugene, and have also won a couple World Beer Cup medals. Brunsman has beer and prizes from 6-9 p.m.

According to Laurelwood Brewing Co. in Portland, Oregon, coffee and beer can help ignite your creative juices. They posted this ditty on their blog: "What's the drink you reach for to get that first burst of motivation at work? That's right, coffee. But how many of you have had that ‘lightbulb moment' after a couple of beers? It turns out both coffee and beer are good for your creative process, each in their own way." They suggest you head to their Brewer's Night from 6-9 p.m. at The Swiss Restaurant and Pub, drink their Organic Portland Roasting Espresso Stout, and think of your next brilliant idea. I predict the rich, chocolate flavors and warm, roasted aromas will inspire the idea to have another.

Filed under: New Beer Column, Tacoma, Puyallup,

February 23, 2015 at 4:33pm

Eat This Now (Weekend): Bertha's Big ol' Biscuits

Bertha's Big ol' Biscuits features two biscuits, housemade sausage gravy and hash browns. Photo credit: Jackie Fender

When you walk through the doors of Stadium District's Shake Shake Shake it's like walking through a time warp portal delivering you smack dab into a rad, vintage burger joint: think soda machine, clean cut, bee bopping bunny hoppin', McFly fun with creamy delectable shakes and damn tasty burgers. The vibe is rad and the grub is good.

Just when I thought it couldn't get much better Shake Shake Shake rolls out of bed earlier with breakfast on the weekends. Oh yes, and it has just gotten better.

Large perfectly prepared waffles with golden brown edges and fluffy interiors are adorned with strawberries, caramel, whipped topping and even Nutella. Le sigh. Also on the morning menu are Pig-sicles, Scramble Scramble Scramble, Stadium Bowl Breakfast, Shakin' Egg Sandwich and several dishes paired with Bloody Marys or Mimosas.

There was one Shake Shake Shake breakfast dish that stood out: Bertha's Big ol' Biscuits ($5.99/$7.99). The biscuits are the proper fluffy consistency - not too dense - while the housemade sausage gravy highlights loads of tasty meaty bites and a nice creamy pepperiness you expect from your breakfast gravy.

I'm fairly certain the "hash browns" are really tater tot crumbles. I'm not complaining; I believe tots are the best manifestation of the potato.

Bottom line, check out Shake Shake Shake for breakfast before the masses catch on and the wait times are as severe as the rest in town. This menu is the bee's knees and will have you saying, "yum yum yum."

SHAKE SHAKE SHAKE, 8-11:30 a.m. Saturday and Sunday, 124 N. Tacoma Ave., Tacoma, 253.507.4060

>>> This is one spicy Bloody Mary!

Filed under: Breakfast, Eat This Now, Tacoma,

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 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,

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