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January 19, 2015 at 10:34am

A Sip of Community: Tacoma's Odd Otter Brewing offers novel experience

Odd Otter Brewing Company awards discounts to active-duty military.

In the orchestra of craft beers, the Odd Otter Brewing Company sits first chair. And those chairs happen to sit in an historic building in downtown Tacoma. Wedged in at 716 Pacific Ave., the building's history and the beers served therein create a sense of connectivity to the community.

"Tacoma is just a great place to be in," says John Hotchkiss, one of the Otter's five founders. "We believe in the unifying power of beer; it brings people together and builds a sense of community as this building has over the years."

Owen McGrane, Pablo Monroy, Derrick Monroy and Teresa Smith are the other founders.

Built in the late 1880s, the building has been home to a number of enterprises, to include a Sailors and Soldiers Club during the Great War and a USO Center that admitted African-American soldiers during the Second World War.

Talk about an historical antecedent to building community, T-town's community.

What's more, the building's hosting of organizations supportive of the military is stunning, simply, stupendously serendipitous.

Three of the company's founders - Hotchkiss, McGrane and Pablo Monroy - possess military backgrounds.

And then there's the symphony of beers that wait to play upon the palate.

McGrane is an award-winning home brewer with a decade of experience. According to Hotchkiss, McGrane's skills are evident in every sip of the 15 varieties of beer the company offers.

"The beer we brew is created to capture an experience," Hotchkiss explains.

Much like music captures your mind and soul, Odd Otter's beer captures your palate and heart.

In offering their patrons something unique in the enjoyment of beer, the company offers a tasting room and five-ounce classes with which to sample the various brews.

What's more, if so inclined - bring food. Odd Otter doesn't house a kitchen, but allows outside food.

Like the otter, the gestures of sampling a brew with a bit of pizza are refreshingly playful and fun and nice.

"As to the ‘Odd' in our name, it captures the different approach it take to experience we offer in beer," says Hotchkiss.

Again, talk - and drink - about community. The harmony is overwhelming - much like an orchestra seated and performing in the middle of Pacific Avenue in downtown Tacoma.

To learn more about this orchestra of craft beers in a building cloaked in history, visit www.oddotterbrewing.com.

ODD OTTER BREWING COMPANY, 11-2 a.m. Thursday-Sunday, 716 Pacific Ave., Tacoma, 253.209.7064

Filed under: New Beer Column, Tacoma,

January 18, 2015 at 8:42am

Seahawks Football: Watch today's championship game in a brewery drinking newly released beer ...

Pacific Brewing assistant brewer Bethany Carlsen has a Potomac Oatmeal Stout with your name on it during the game today. Photo credit: Pappi Swarner

The Seattle Seahawks thoroughly beat the Green Bay Packers 36-16 on the opening night of the NFL season - but a lot has changed since Sept. 4. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers took a chill pill and is the favorite to win League MVP. Looking to become the first team since New England from the 2003 and '04 seasons to reach consecutive Super Bowls, the Seahawks have won seven straight and 10 of 11, and has reason to feel cautiously optimistic about the next step. The NFC's final game of the 2014-2015 season looks to be a better game than its first. The NFC championship game kicks off at 12:05 p.m. at CenturyLink Field, broadcasted on FOX.

Sure, you love Seahawks football, but you also love South Sound craft beer. You often order something you've never tasted, just to see what it's like. You might have gotten into the habit of filling a growler at a brewery every weekend, or stopping by the neighborhood bottle shop two or three times during the week. But, have you watched the Seahawks in a championship game in a brewery drinking a newly released beer?

Of course you will. ...

Pacific Brewing & Malting Co.

Potomac Oatmeal Stout

ABV: 5.9%, IBU: 43

Pacific Brewing & Malting Co. might have opened in downtown Tacoma Sept. 20, 2014, but yesterday they released their first stout. Paying tribute to the Tacoma's original taproom, Potomac Sample Room - which was located at the original Pacific Brewing & Malting Co. on Jefferson Street over 100 years ago - the almost black Potomac Oatmeal Stout could be called a boozy candy bar. Not that this stout is sweet. It's not; it's just the flavors sweeping across my tongue could just as easily describe haute chocolat - creamy, chewy, chocolate and rich like cocoa powder stirred into ice cream. It's silky smooth, and easy to drink.

SEAHAWKS VIEWING: Their family-friendly taproom has plenty of communal seating and standing room to watch the game on the sole big screen. There's no food service, but outside food is allowed, and Sammy's Pizza will deliver. If you pull up on your bicycle, you'll receive a $1 off your first pint (entire month of January), thanks to Downtown On The Go. 610 Pacific Ave., Tacoma, 253.383.2337

Top Rung Brewing

Lacey Dark Lager

ABV: 5.8%, IBU: 27

Yesterday, standing shoulder-to-shoulder at Wingman Brewers' Porterpalooza, one of my shoulders was pressing against Top Rung Brewing's co-owner Casey Sobol and the other shoulder against Top Rung's salesman Mike Besser (BrewDad). "Aren't you releasing a new beer today?" I asked the gents. "Yes, our Lacey Dark Lager, but it's Porterpalooza. What are you going to do?" replied Sobol. They were actually dropping off kegs, so we raced back to their Lacey brewery for a sip of the new dark beauty. The Lacey Dark Lager, a tribute to their hometown, is Top Rung's ninth beer since Sobol and head brewer Jason Stoltz opened the larger brewery and taproom in April 2014. The session able dark lager goes down easy, with Pilsner, Munich, Black Prinz and Midnight Wheat for the grain bill and Sterling hops. It's crisp and refreshing, yet dark and malty.

SEAHAWKS VIEWING: A giant television screen hangs before a sea of bench tables, high-tops, couches and bar stools. The family-friendly, firehouse-theme taproom served limited snacks, but the Red Rover Grill food truck will be parked outside the brewery, with a wings special. 8343 Hogum Bay Lane NE, Lacey, 360.915.8766

Three Magnets Brewing Co.

Karakterbier Brett Saison

ABV: 6.2%, IBU: 40

Evergreen State College alumni Nathan and Sara Reilly, who have been running Darby's Cafe for the past nine years, opened Three Magnets Brewing Co. in downtown Olympia this past November. They hit the lottery when they hired head brewer and "Local Sourcing Liaison" Pat Jansen, who also hit the lottery with assistant brewer Jeff Stokes, who also runs the Three Magnets bar. Together, they brew a wide range of craft beers, but it's their Funkatorium section of their beer menu that draws beer enthusiasts like a magnet. By Funkatorium, I mean their sours, farmhouse ales and white ales, especially when they play with Brettanomyces (a.k.a. Brett) - a slow-growing wild yeast that when added to beer can give it a funky barnyard taste. Earlier this week the Brett was back when they released their Karakterbier Brett Saison, a Brett finished hoppy farmhouse ale made with German Pilsner and Vienna malts for a "peppery, floral, fruity, spicy nose that carries over onto the tongue with flavors of crackers, bread, pineapple, and a light farmhouse funk finishing with a dry and refreshing bitterness," as stated on their Facebook. The description nails it; and pairs well with their Two Mini Burgers ($7.50) off their happy hour menu.

SEAHAWKS VIEWING: Months before their Three Magnet's opening, the Reillys squeezed a ginormous big screen television in their living room. Seahawks football, as well as soccer, is important to them, and the huge screen was purchased when the brewery was just studs and nails. During Seahawks games, the Three Magnet's happy hour menu is on, which means $1 off pints 50 cents off snifters and delicious, gourmet appetizers range from #4-$7.50, including the 3.5-ounce Painted Hills all natural house ground chuck Two Mini Burgers(!). The giant TV sits in the taproom, but there is a family-friendly dining room on the other side of the brewery. 600 Franklin St. SE, Olympia, 360.972.2481

7 Seas Brewing

Belgian Blonde, Tap Room Reserve
ABV: 6.2%, IBU: 15

This week, Gig Harbor's 7 Seas Brewing released its Belgian Blonde, a spicy medium-bodied beauty specifically for its taproom. An authentic Belgian Trappist yeast strain provides a delicate Belgian character; European Pilsner, Aromatic, and a touch of domestic Pale ale malts deliver a grainy, slightly up-front malt sweetness; while Golding hops - consisting of a group of traditional English aroma varieties which have been cultivated since 1790 - accent the distinctly spicy, peppery and fruity yeast driven phenolic character of this medium-bodied, slightly creamy blonde ale. The clean, refreshing brew is poundable yet flavorful.

SEAHAWKS VIEWING: Streaming NFL games is not restricted to sneak peaks during church. The Gig Harbor brewery might not house televisions, but 7 Seas bartender Max says many folks nestle up to the taproom's long tables and stream the games on their computers. FOX Sports GO has streamed 101 NFL Games on its website and tablet app, including the playoff games. 3006 Judson St., Gig Harbor, 253.514.8129

January 12, 2015 at 11:22am

Power to the Porter: Porterpalooza returns to Wingman Brewers

P-51 Porter's posterity will pour during Porterpalooza Jan. 17. Photo credit: Pappi Swarner

Poor Porter. What was once the most popular style of ale in 18th century London, Ireland and the American colonies - beloved by George Washington and a possible business adventure for Thomas Jefferson - the Porter fell on hard times. Roughians Pale Ales, Mild Brown Ales and Stouts shoved beer foam in Porters' face, eventually taking over Northern European taste buds. In mid-19th century America, German immigrants opened their long mohair coats with larger beers dangled inside, winning the hearts of Blue and Gray, as well as the Gold out West.

Oh, but Porter once had supporters. In the early 1700s, it was common for London pub patrons to ask for blends of the various available brews. Historical documents say the Brits called their mixed beer beverage "Three Threads" using a third of a pint each of ale, lager and a strong brew called "Twopenny." Eventually, bartenders told the Three Threadheads to take a flying leap off the London Bridge. Around 1730, a brewer named Harwood came up with a solution. He re-created the flavor of Three Threads into a single craft beer called Entire before it reached the pub. This beer came to be loved by porters and other physical laborers, and so earned its name, Porter.

But, a century later, PBS - Browns, Pales and Stouts - grabbed the public dollars, pushing Porter to the postern.

It wasn't until the late 20th century when bearded guys in Jean Vigne T-shirts, better known as American craft brewers, pulled the Porter out of the scrap heap, strapped on their prize power over finesse bibs, highly hopped the brew, incorporated smoked malts and placed it on a pedestal. The new American brewers created a smooth, balanced, dark brew with subtle roasted-malt flavors of coffee and chocolate bound by a sort of tart, minerally twine. OK, it wasn't a full-bodied, full-flavored and often full of alcohol Stout sitting in its leather chair by the fire, but rather one notch below, sharing the Stout's color but different in that it lacked the Stout's intense roastiness. That's so Porter - balanced, with modest levels of alcohol and plenty of room for delicate, complex aromas and flavors, sitting on a stool next to a trashcan fire, one notch higher than shivering Lager 20 feet away.

Does Porter have you now? Has its rise to power inspired you? Are you so joy-filled you spread your love for Porter on Instagram or SnapChat? Or fill a little locket with Porter and clasp it around your neck?

There's an even better way to show your love for Porter.

Ken Thoburn, brewer-owner of Wingman Brewers in Tacoma, will pay homage to Porter during the brewery's annual Porterpalooza celebration Saturday, Jan. 17. On tap will be nine different Porters - all made by Wingman.

Thoburn and his crew will offer creative variations on their flagship P-51 Porter: Coconut, Peanut Butter Cup, Vanilla Rum, Chili Pepper and Sichuan Pepper Corns, Maple Pecan, Chocolate Orange, Smoked Sea Salted Caramel, Mexican Chocolate and Cinnamon Raisin. The celebration not only allow Thoburn and his crew to exhibit their Porter polish, but also select winners for a spot in the regular rotation. Porterpalooza gave birth to their staples Coconut Porter and the Peanut Butter Cup Porter.

"We brewed with Peanut Butter first for Strange Brewfest (Port Townsend) a few years ago making a peanut butter-coconut beer. After that, we decided to try the peanut butter-chocolate combination in our P-51 Porter for 2014 Porterpalooza last January," says Thoburn. "It was a huge hit, so we brought it back for the Washington Brewers Festival last June and since then, we've had non-stop requests to make it again. Since we cave easy to pressure from our customers, we decided to make it again for Porterpalooza 2015 - this time to also put it into 22-ounce bottles as a seasonal so everybody - not just those at Porterpalooza - can get their hands on it."

Thoburn says he learned the precise technique of adding copious amounts of peanut butter and chocolate to the post-fermented beer from the Big Al Brewing folks in Seattle.

"There has been much trial and error in trying to add oily products to beer," says Thoburn, "but we think we finally got it right."  

The P-51 Porter was Wingman's first real beer recipe. 

"It goes back to 2008 when Derrick (Moyer) and I were home brewing," explains Thoburn. "At the time, Lazy Boy Porter from Everett was my favorite beer around, so we tried to emulate that. The beer was initially made for a friends birthday and called ‘Nalty's Tall Order Porter' since he's a tall dude and asked us to make a Porter for his birthday party. The beer went over so well with our friends that it remains the only recipe we've never changed since Wingman started. We now make P-51 Porter for our taproom, local sale, can sales, Coconut Porter and now Peanut Butter Cup Porter. They are all the same base recipe made with Washington-grown barley and Moxie valley hops. I don't know exactly how much we make each year but I think it makes up around a fourth of our production ... it sure seems like I make it a lot."  

Thoburn feels he can control the amount of flavor in Porters best when he adds the flavoring components after fermentation. The exception to this is when he uses fresh fruit; he often ferments the beer with fresh fruit. He says ample aroma is lost during fermentation and the flavors of ingredients change greatly during fermentations, which is why he likes to add elements in afterward.  

What advice would Thoburn give an up-and-coming craft brewer when considering how to brew a Porter product? 

"Find a yeast you like," he says. "I love the flavors that we get from our traditional English Ale yeast.  The yeast is a bear to work with, but I think the end product is worth it.  After you have a yeast picked, it's time to decide if you want the beer to be chocolaty and smooth or roasty and bitter - or even some combination of those items. Selecting caramel malts and what kind of roasted malts you use and in what quantities can be tricky. As a professional brewer, I would never be able to come up with a recipe like P-51 now. It uses an absurd amount of specialty malts - malts that taste like caramel, chocolate, coffee, biscuit and such. It goes against conventional wisdom to brew a beer with so many specialty malts but when we made the recipe, we didn't know any better and turns out it works."  

Also available during Porterpalooza will be Wingman's Bourbon Barrel Aged Big Baby Flat Top Imperial Stout, aged in Willet Distillery barrels from Kentucky.

"The Big Baby Flat Top Imperial Stout" was at our Denizens of the Dark event last month and it will be in bottles during Porterpalooza," Thoburn says. "We have had it aging in barrels since last March and we're very excited to release in bottles as the second beer in our Bourbon Barrel Aged Series."  

A $5 cover secures a commemorative Porterpalooza glass and a first pour; all other pours cost $4 each.

If you're looking for a little decadence with a lot of history, pull up a stool at Porterpalooza and ask Thoburn to pull you a Porter.

PORTERPALOOZA, 2-11 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 17, Wingman Brewers, 509 ½ Puyallup Ave., Tacoma, $5 cover, 253.256.5240

Filed under: New Beer Column, Tacoma,

January 7, 2015 at 1:55pm

Beer Here: Hop Valley, Tacoma Runners, Guzzling For Gorillas, 7 Seas Brewing ...

Powerhouse restaurant & Brewery has unleashed its Jan-u-cherry saison. Best get on that before it's gone. Photo courtesy of Facebook

Well looky here, it's 2015. And we hope you rang in the New Year exactly how you wanted to. But just because some of us may have partied hard last week, doesn't mean we're not going to take January lying down. Hell no. We're going to get out there and live it - and so should you.

WEDNESDAY, JAN. 7

Powerhouse Restaurant & Brewery (454 E. Main, Puyallup) has been releasing its Sourhouse series of barrel-fermented saisons over the past month. This week, their merlot barrel fermented saison with dark cherries Jan-u-cherry has hit the snifters.

Pacific Brewing & Malting Co. (610 Pacific Ave., Tacoma) proclaimed their New Year's resolution is a happy hour every Wednesday-Friday until 6 p.m. And it is so. Expect dollar off pints and discounts on growlers.

Puyallup River Alehouse (120 S. Meridian, Puyallup) hosts Bainbridge Island Brewing for a brewer's night, 6-9 p.m. Expect to drink Eagle Harbor IPA, Puget Sound Giant Hoptopus, Arrow Point Amber, and a barrel-aged olde ale.

THURSDAY, JAN. 8

Hop Valley Brewing Co. out of Eugene, Oregon, will head to the house of burgers and brisket - Stuck Junction Saloon in historic downtown Sumner - for brewer's night festivities and HVB beers, including Double D Blonde Ale, Alphadelic IPA, V.I.P (Vanilla Infused Porter) and Festaroo Winter Ale, their winter warmer. HVB rep Rob Brunsman will kick off the craziness at 6 p.m.

Forget light and low-carb beers. The Tacoma Runners have a better method for fighting fat: They run then drink beer. They're the classic drinking group with a running problem. They meet at 6:30 p.m. every Thursday at a Pierce County alcohol-slinging joint, run 3 miles and then return to the starting line to celebrate. This week, the group will meet at the Pacific Brewing & Malting Co. for Moon Yard Ales, Dirty Skoogs IPA, Donkey Puncher ESB and elevated heart rates.

SUNDAY, JAN. 11

Pacific Lutheran University Sous-chef Erick Swenson offers a four-part, beer-tasting class launching Sunday at 208 Garfield restaurant, running consecutive Sundays through Feb. 1. Read the full story on Swenson's classes here.

WEDNESDAY, JAN. 14

In the late '80s, only 248 mountain gorillas remained in the wild, no thanks to civil wars, dangerous diseases, poaching and the devastating consequences of increased habitat loss. And although the number of gorillas living in the wild has now risen to more than double thanks to the efforts of such groups as the Mountain Gorilla Conservation Fund, the situation is still tenuous. Disease remains rampant, and logging and land development continue at an alarming rate. Clearly, there's only one thing to do: drink beer. Tacoma's Drinking for Conversation folks present "Guzzling for Gorillas," where 50 cents of every draft beer sold at Doyle's Public House will be donated to the MGCF. If you enjoyed Drinking for Lynx last month at the ParkWay, you'll certainly enjoy guzzling beers at Doyle's Public House (208 St. Helens Ave., Tacoma), beginning at 5 p.m. Who's wearing a gorilla suit that night?

7 Seas Brewing in Gig Harbor is unleashing head brewer Travis Gutterson on Pint Defiance (2049 Mildred St., Tacoma) to answer questions and hug it out with his fans, beginning at 5 p.m. In Gutterson's trunk will be a bunch of 2013 Wheelchair Barleywine. The Pint Defiance folks will also run 7 Seas' Rude Parrot IPA through a Randall full of fresh hops.

Harmon Brewing Co. will takeover the taps at Ammar's Mediterranean Grill (409 E. 26th St., by Tacoma Dome) from 5-7 p.m. You'll receive a raffle ticket with every Harmon beer.

SATURDAY, JAN. 17

Wingman Brewers (509 ½ Puyallup Ave., Tacoma) will host their annual Porterpalooza in which they'll offer creative variations on their flagship P-51 Porter, from 2-11 p.m. Expect to drink the following variations on their Porter theme: Coconut, Peanut Butter Cup, Vanilla Rum, Chili Pepper and Sichuan Pepper Corns, Maple Pecan, Chocolate Orange, Smoked Sea Salted Caramel, Mexican Chocolate and Cinnamon Raisin. Also available during PorterPalooza will be Wingman's Bourbon Barrel Aged Big Baby Flat Top, aged in Willet Distillery barrels from Kentucky. So good! A $5 cover secures a commemorative glass and a first pour; all other pours cost $4 each.

Bayview School of Cooking teams up with Elysian Brewing to present "New Year- New Beer, A Brewery Dinner with Elysian Brewing" at 6 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 17. Bayview chefs and Elysian's regional manager will pair beers with a five-course dinner, and discuss all aspects at the school (516 W. Fourth Ave., Olympia). The dinner will include Avatar Jasmine IPA partnered with chicken wings in a spicy peanut sauce and the Split Shot Stout matched with coffee and ancho chili flat iron steak with a green chili apple relish and garlic mashed potatoes. Nice. Tickets are $75 and reservation is required at 360.754.1448.

WEDNESDAY, JAN. 21

The Swiss Restaurant and Pub (1904 Jefferson Ave., Tacoma) has their beer dinners dialed in, offering multiple food courses paired with beer, beer production and history from brewers and reps, preparation details from the kitchen and lots of laughs. This month, Silver City Brewing teams up with The Swiss kitchen on a Wednesday night. Drop by the historic building with $40 to secure a delicious, fun time.

January 6, 2015 at 10:41am

Top Rung Brewing Co. offers servicemember discounts

Casey Sobol, left, and Jason Stoltz founded Top Rung Brewing Co. in April 2014. Photo credit: Pappi Swarner

For Lacey-based Top Rung Brewing Co., it's all about family, friendship and honoring those who serve with a great product, a terrific atmosphere and a heartfelt thank you.

It all began with a dream, hard work and the passion to serve the local community.

The craft beer brewery, who opened their facility and tasting room in the spring of 2014, is the product of a unique friendship and family collaboration. Casey Sobol, brewery operations manager and managing member, along with Jason Stoltz, head brewer and managing member, were both deeply passionate about brewing great beer. With the support of family, investors and friends, Top Rung Brewing was born.

However, both men have another important role: they work full-time as firefighters, serving the Olympia area.

With that in mind, Top Rung Brewing Co. is passionate about recognizing and supporting families; not only immediate families but the "family" of servicemembers, fellow firefighters and police officers who serve their country and communities. As a way of saying thank you, the brewer has created "Challenge Coin Saturday" to recognize military, firefighters and police officers. Patrons that show their challenge coins on Saturdays will receive a $1 discount on a pint (military ID will also be honored to receive the discount). Also, the same group of servicemebers may receive a $1 discount on their first pint Thursday-Sunday, unless they pull out a coin on Saturdays.

"Jason and I took on the ‘challenge coin' concept, which started in the military, and thought it would be a neat way to recognize people," explains Casey Sobol. "We wanted to do something to say thank you to the military, fire and police communities and to recognize their service to our country and our communities."

In addition to recognizing those who serve, Sobol said it's also important to recognize families too.

"When it comes to balance, we have to achieve that very delicately," says Sobol, the parent of two young daughters. "Working on this business and being a firefighter, well, it can be challenging at times, but we make it work.

"We are so thankful for our families and their support; that's why it was important to have Top Rung be family friendly. I wanted to be able to bring my girls here."

Seating is long wooden tables to accommodate groups and conversation. The brewery provides a variety of board games to borrow and play (in the warmer months, outdoor games are planned). While there is a television available for big game day viewing, the volume is off. It's a relaxed environment to enjoy family and friends (to note: snacks are available and patrons can bring their own food).

And, of course, there is some terrific beer.

All the brews have subtle and not-so-subtle firefighter-themed names. The Prying Irons IPA and the My Dog Scout Stout are patron favorites. The pumpkin ale was also a big hit in the fall. A light, easy drinking black lager winter release is in the works and the brewery also features a nice Cascadian dark ale, Good Jake CDA, that hop lovers will appreciate.

Other plans for the brewer for 2015? It is going to be an exciting year.

According to Sobol, they plan to start bottling their beer in the first quarter of this year in-house with limited release. A beer club is in the works that promises to be one of a kind.

Top Rung will also be offering their first beer pairing dinner and tasting Jan. 25 at 6 p.m. in their tap room.  The special dinner will offer a full menu, tastings, brewery tour and brewing overview. Tickets are $45 per person and available at the brewery. This event is limited to 26 people.

For more information on Top Rung, upcoming events, hours of operation, directions and more, visit them online at toprungbrewing.com or on Facebook.

Top Rung Brewery Co. is at 8343 Hogum Bay Lane NE in Lacey.

January 5, 2015 at 12:49pm

208 Garfield Beer Geek offers beer-tasting classes in January

208 Garfield in Parkland will host a series of beer-tasting classes using the Siebel Institute Basic Sensory Training Kit.

New Year resolutions are a manifestation of looking back and seeing all the foolhardy, self-serving, reprehensible qualities that have so bedeviled you in the past, then resolving to do better in the upcoming year. But, within the first few weeks of January, approximately 100 million Americans walk the same path. It's a path filled with empty promises to quit smoking, lose weight and exercise more. Trying to quit smoking can be as tough as Parker Posey in Dazed and Confused. And even though you're totally BFF with Mother Earth these days, did you really need those jeans made from cotton grown by blind monks? Maybe make this the year you get a grip on your finances. Consider education as a resolution. Expand the horizons of your mind. Put your mind to the test, because with every new thing you learn, another door opens. This could be something as easy as reading a novel, or learning the science behind tasting beer.

If building skills to distinguish between beer flavors is your resolution, then Pacific Lutheran University Sous-chef Erick Swenson has your, er, tongue. His four-part, beer-tasting class launches Sunday at 208 Garfield restaurant, running consecutive Sundays through Feb. 1. Titled "Perfecting Your Inner Beer Geek," Swenson is the perfect geek to teach the class. When he's not creating cuisine at PLU's dining facilities or catering departments, Swenson runs the monthly beer nights at neighboring restaurant, 208 Garfield. The brain trust at 208 Garfield endearingly dubs Swenson their resident "beer geek," encouraging him to help with their beer selection. In return, Swenson oversees the food production at the PLU commissary kitchen that supplies 208. With 20 years in the culinary field, it's surprising 208 doesn't call Swenson their "food geek."

"I have embraced the label of ‘geek'," says Swenson. "I use it as an alternative to ‘snob.' A geek is someone who finds a passion for a subject and then plunges in deep to learn as much about that subject as they can. A geek is excited about what they have learned and wants to share it with as many people as possible. In addition to that, a geek is looking for things to love about their subject where a snob would be looking for things they don't like. ‘Have you tried this? It is amazing,' says the geek. ‘I would never drink that. It's a domestic,' says the snob. I think that geeks are more fun to talk to and we want our events to be a fun experience with the chance to learn something."

Swenson has also been a home brewer for 17 years.

"I started with Charlie Papazian's books, of course, and I read as much as I could get my hands on. I also got a lot of useful advice from Beer Essentials and Larry's Brewing Supplies. I really went off the deep end when I read Ray Daniels' book, Designing Great Beer. That is the best primer for beer styles and ingredients that I have found. I have not taken any courses from the Siebel Institute but I was impressed with their website when I was researching Cicerone training. When I pitched the idea of doing a Sensory training course the Siebel Institute's kit made the most sense.

The Siebel Institute in Chicago, created by John E. Siebel in the mid-1800s, has graduated many a professional brewer. The school's training kits contain 24 vials of pre-measured "standards" representing some of the most important flavors and aromatics found in beer. With the help of the kits, Swenson will lead participants through four flavor trainings: earthy/spicy/acidic Jan. 11; vanilla/grainy/bitter Jan. 18; identifying flaws in beer Jan. 25; Cicerone Certification Program training Feb. 1. To reserve a spot, click here.

"We will be exploring six sensory characteristics per session by tasting the sample, comparing it to a neutral sample and then talking about the differences we taste," says Swenson. "I will be giving a short talk on each one of the samples to guide the tasting but it will be largely interactive. It is important when training the palate that you are able to make personal associations in your mind. For example, Duchesse de Bourgogne reminds me of a really nice raspberry vinegar and that is now what I look for in Flanders Sour Red beers. The samples have been roughly broken up into the four sessions. The first and second sessions will be mostly flavors that are common to specific styles of beer, the third session will be flaws in beer and the fourth session will cover the characteristics that are tested in the Certified Cicerone test. 

Zeroing in on the various flavors in different beers will help you begin to isolate the styles that you like the most. Is it bitter? Earthy? Are there fruity flavors? Smoke? How about grassy, herbal flavors? The tasting series offers a guided tour through important flavors in both brewing and drinking beer, but it is not officially sanctioned by the Siebel Institute or by the Cicerone program.

Where does Swenson get his beer geek on?

"At 208, of course," he replies. "I also enjoy the selection at the ParkWay. I have been following Wingman brewery since they started. I love their P-51 Porter, and I really like what Odd Otter Brewing is doing in downtown Tacoma. Mamma Otter's Pancake Porter ... wow!"

As I said, all those good intentions will fall by the wayside some time before Groundhog Day. A far easier resolution to uphold would involve adding awesomeness into your life rather than denying yourself it, such as Swenson's beer tasting series. That's why I typically start the year by promising myself to drink better beer than the year before. I haven't failed yet. And I wish you similar success.

PERFECTING YOUR INNER BEER GEEK, 2 p.m., Jan. 11, 18, 25 and Feb. 1, 208 Garfield, 208 Garfield St. S., Tacoma, $10 a class, $36 for series, 253.538.5990

Filed under: New Beer Column, Parkland, Tacoma,

December 30, 2014 at 10:25am

Beer Here: Happy New Beer and upcoming events

Happy New Year!

Ten ... nine ... Please, please tell me you're not at home while the clock's ticking. Not bidding adieu to the bucking Year of the Horse 2014 on the couch. Not munching stale popcorn. Not watching hair-gelled Ryan Seacrest hyperventilate you into Jan. 1. Eight ... seven ... six ... So that 2014 diet ended at 3 a.m. last New Year's Day when you went on a bleary-eyed Taco Time run. So you weren't nicer to your sister, never fixed the washing machine and have yet to visit your ailing grandmother. If you're resolving to drink more South Sound beers in 2015, now's your chance to get a jump on a resolution you just might keep. Five ... four ... Here are this week's local beer happenings to help push out with the old, and drink in with the new, or something - and no better way to set a tasty tone for the year than by ringing in 2015 while drinking beer. Three ... two ... one ...

WEDNESDAY, DEC. 31

The Harmon Brewing Co. Mobile will be racing down the highway New Year's Eve. First stop, a noon to 3 p.m. new Point Defiance IPA tasting at Olympia Total Wine & More, followed by a 4-7 p.m. PD IPA tasting at the Puyallup Total Wine & More with Spokane's No-Li Brewhouse in the house, too.

Beer will be flowing all over the South Sound New Year's Eve, including at taprooms. Puyallup River Alehouse invites Two Beers Brewing Co. and its sister business, Seattle Cider Co., to wear party hats at its downtown Puyallup locale, with raffle prizes and free champagne toast at midnight as part of the festivities. The long haul begins at 6 p.m.

Three Magnets Brewing Co. hosts a NYE shindig with Major Thompkins Imperial Oatmeal Stout in the firkin with figs, gates and bourbon, Wreathing Havoc Imperial Red Rye Ale in another firkin with cocoa nibs and Himalayan sea salt, and Whitewood Cider's Wassail Spiced Red Cap Cider in on the party, too.

Wanna have a Happy New Beer? Head over to Odd Otter Brewing Company for "An Otter New Year's Eve Party", kicking off at 8 p.m. The Tacoma brewery will be unleashing its holiday beer Winterface Ale at the party for those who score a limited number of tickets. A wristband reading "Have an Otter New Year - 2015" is proof you belong, with neighbor The Matador providing the munchies. The $49.99 ticket is available at oddotterbrewing.com.

The Red Hot will hold a Duvel toast at midnight.

WEDNESDAY, JAN. 7

Puyallup River Alehouse hosts Bainbridge Island Brewing for a brewer's night. They have been brewing Kommuter Kolsch, Bainbridge Pale Ale, Port Blakely Brown, Battle Point Stout and its most popular beer, Eagle Harbor IPA, since opening in June 2012. Will they bring their "Beeritos" - a brew that includes Cool Ranch Doritos - to the Alehouse? Drop by from 6-9 p.m. and find out, and maybe win a prize.

FUTURE THINGS ARE COMING

The beer hits your tongue. You try to identify different flavor components in the beer. Is it bitter? Earthy? Are there fruity flavors? Smoke? How about grassy, herbal flavors? Zeroing in on the various flavors in different beers will help you begin to isolate the styles that you like the most, at least according to beer geek Erick Swenson. The Pacific Lutheran University sous chef holds special beer nights at the school's neighboring restaurant 208 Garfield. In January, he's hosting the four-part "Perfecting Your Inner Beer geek" series using the Siebel Institute Sensory Training kit every Sunday afternoon, beginning Jan. 11. The cost is $10 each, or $36 for the series. To sign up, visit 208garfield.com.

Bayview School of Cooking teams up with Elysian Brewing to present "New Year - New Beer, A Brewery Dinner with Elysian Brewing" at 6 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 17. Bayview chefs and Elysian's regional manager will pair beers with a five-course dinner, and discuss all aspects at the school (516 W. Fourth Ave., Olympia). The dinner will include Avatar Jasmine IPA partnered with chicken wings in a spicy peanut sauce and the Split Shot Stout matched with coffee and ancho chili flat iron steak with a green chili apple relish and garlic mashed potatoes. Nice. Tickets are $75 and reservation is required at 360.754.1448.

Hands On Children's Museum hosts "The Art & Science Behind Craft Brews" at 6:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 23. The museum will host beer tastings, beer-themed science experiments, art projects and more. The $25 admission fee includes free beer tastings and a souvenir glass. Barbecue will be available to purchase. Duh, adults only. Buy tickets at www.hocm.com/adultswim.

December 23, 2014 at 11:04am

Greatest Christmas carols paired with beers

Christmas is better with beer.

The International Society of Pairologists has released its definitive list of 10 Greatest Christmas Carols of All Time And The Beer That Pairs With Each. The revered group of retired piano tuners who are also home brewers spent the entire year of 2014 holed up in their headquarters in Orting, Washington, listening to more than 800 Christmas carols and drinking 7,200 beers.

According to Rudolph Pinglehead, the distinguished president of the society and co-writer of the unauthorized biography of Josef Mohr, the author of "Silent Night," the tuner home brewers listened to every Christmas carol at least 11 times. "Once for the lyrics, once for the tune, nine times to pair the perfect beer."

Pinglehead, who hails from Düren, Germany, said he is aware that everyone might not agree with the list. "We were strictly objective, and did not let sentimental associations or drunkenness cloud our judgment."

I was disappointed to see several favorite Christmas carols not included. Where is "O Tannenbaum?" Where is "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas," "The Christmas Song" and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas?" How about "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer?" The biggest outrage is the omission of "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer," Elmo and Patsy's poignant ballad of loss and redemption.

Nevertheless, we shouldn't let subjective partisanship ruin the holidays.

Without further ado, here are the 10 Greatest Christmas Carols of All Time And The Beer That Pairs With Each, with commentary and analysis by Pinglehead.

1. "Santa Baby." As voiced by the sexy Eartha Kitt, this song asks the eternal question: "Santa honey, I really do believe in you, let's see if you believe in me." Eartha doesn't beat around the bush as she implores Santa to "hurry down the chimney tonight," and "fill up my sock." She assures Santa that she will wait up for him, and ends up with a provocative offer he can hardly refuse: "Come and trim my Christmas tree." Beer Pairing: The International Society of Pairologists found a spicy, dark rich beer to loosen up Santa. Seattle's Fremont Brewing took their Bourbon Barrel Abominable, aka B-Bomb - a winter ale with spicy aroma, dark roasted chocolate malt and rich notes of bourbon, wood and vanilla - and infused it with coffee and cinnamon to create the Coffee Cinnamon Bourbon Abominable. It's the bomb, Santa baby! Available at 99 Bottles in Federal Way, Gravity Beer Market in Olympia, Pint Defiance and The Copper Door in Tacoma

2. "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus." This perennial favorite, sung by former jockey Jimmy Boyd, takes a humorous approach to a child's shocking discovery of his mother's infidelity. "Mommy" and "Santa Baby" are just two of many songs dealing with the theme of Santa as sugar daddy. Beer Pairing: The Pelican Pub & Brewery in Pacific City, Oregon, brews a beer that pairs with Mommy's merry adulterer - Bad Santa. This mysterious dark elixir is filled with complex malt flavors and aromas with toasted malt and roast character, blending seamlessly to the alluring herbal hop aroma that comes from copious amounts of Fuggle hops. Bad Santa doesn't care if you've been naughty or nice, he just wants Mommy. Available at Gravity Beer Market, Pint Defiance and Tacoma Boys

3. "Have a Holly Jolly Christmas." Everyone loves this upbeat song by Burl Ives, who played the role of Big Daddy in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof - a large, brash and vulgar plantation millionaire who believes he has returned from the grave. Beer Pairing: Iron Fist Brewing out of Vista, California, makes a Dark Days Imperial Stout with 11 percent ABV. It's a pitch-black beauty aged in brandy barrels with a chocolate after taste. It's perfect for Big Daddy's dark side. Available at Gravity Beer Market and 99 Bottles 

4. "A Marshmallow World." This was a popular hit in the '50s, and deserves a comeback. The gifted Arthur Godfrey with the Chordettes and the Cherry Sisters performed it. Mr. Godfrey makes effective use of onomatopoeia as he croons, "It's a yum-yummie world, made for sweethearts." Beer Pairing: The yummy Candy Cane Porter by Harmon Brewing Co. pairs well with the song, as Candy Man Jeff Carlson who uses 13 candy canes per keg of the deep brown goodness. The peppermint is forward, almost overwhelming the roasted malt and cocoa notes. Carlson makes the world taste good. Available at the Harmon Tap Room in Tacoma

5. "Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town." The consensus among the pairologists was that the best version of this song about a vindictive voyeur - "He sees you while you're sleeping, he knows if you're awake, he knows if you've been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake" - was done by the Beach Boys, with their sweet voices belying the dark theme of the song. You better watch out, indeed. Beer Pairing: And you better watch out for Maritime Pacific's Jolly Roger Christmas Ale, which is also sweet with just a hint of harsh booziness to it. The official insignia for this English Strong Ale style is a smiling skull-and-cross-bones, reminder to all to enjoy their Jolly, but afterward you better be good for goodness sake. Available at Gravity Beer Market, Pint Defiance, Tacoma Boys and The Copper Door

6. "Mele Kalikimaka." This is an admirable attempt to incorporate other cultural traditions into our provincial WASP celebration of Christmas. Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters tell the inspiring tale of the Three Wise Men getting lost on their way to Bethlehem, and ending up in Hawaii. Beer Pairing: Duh ... Tacoma's Wingman Brewers has planes and coconuts. It's Stratofortress Aged in Bourbon Barrels on dark rum-soaked cedar planks with notes of figs and ripe fruit will get you to Hawaii (aloha 11.4 percent!). Their P-51 Coconut Porter will keep you there (aloha 8 percent!). Available at Wingman Brewers' taproom, as well as Gravity Beer Market, 99 Bottles, Pint Defiance and The Copper Door

7. "Blue Christmas." This was the favorite song of many pairologists, with its complex use of "blue" as a trope. Blue snowflakes, blue memories, etc. We all agreed that only Elvis captures the full blueness of the carol, managing to say blue 13 times in his version. Beer Pairing: Pacific Brewing & Malting Co.'s Griswold's Winter Warmer, an easy drinking malty 8.5 percent ABV ale named after the Clark Griswold who was extremely blue after his employers renege on the holiday bonus he needs. "Hey! If any of you are looking for any last-minute gift ideas for me, I have one," says Griswold. "I'd like Frank Shirley, my boss, right here tonight. I want him brought from his happy holiday slumber over there on Melody Lane with all the other rich people and I want him brought right here, with a big ribbon on his head, and I want to look him straight in the eye and I want to tell him what a cheap, lying, no-good, rotten, four-flushing, low-life, snake-licking, dirt-eating, inbred, overstuffed, ignorant, blood-sucking, dog-kissing, brainless, dickless, hopeless, heartless, fat-ass, bug-eyed, stiff-legged, spotty-lipped, worm-headed sack of monkey shit he is! Hallelujah! Holy shit! Where's the Tylenol?" Available at Pacific Brewing & Malting Co. in Tacoma

8. "Grandma's Homemade Christmas Card." There are many Christmas carols about Grandma, but our panel believed that this song says it all. Merle Haggard sings of his elderly grandma making a Christmas card out of scraps of discarded magazine inserts. Beer Pairing: 53 Peaks Brewing Co.'s Nut Brown. You'll have to go over many rivers and through many woods to reach Grandma's House, a Denver brewhouse and pub that allows other aspiring breweries the opportunity to create their beers on their brewing system, cover their tap handle with a knitted sweater and sell them through the taproom. 53 Peaks Brewing Co. is one of Grandma's grandkids, and its Nut Brown with Traeger roasted cashews and pecans, has Grandma pinching their cheeks with joy.

9. "Suzie Snowflake." Sung by heartthrob George Clooney's grandma, Rosemary Clooney, this particular carol is a vivid example of the carpe diem tradition. "I haven't long to stay," says Suzie Snowflake, just before she lands on the back of a border collie out for a walk. Beer Pairing: Rogue Yellow Snow IPA. While IPA is not commonly a winter beer, the southern Oregon brewery's winter-seasonal IPA with its bracing clean hoppy bitterness up front fits the bill. Suzie snowflake's dog walk will, no doubt, end with her falling in yellow snow; might as well enjoy a juicy fruit beer with a long-stay bitterness. Available at Tacoma Boys

10. "Frosty the Snowman." The pairologists were moved to tears by the picture of poor Frosty running here and there all around the square, frantically trying to have some fun before he melted away. If you listen carefully to the song, you realize Frosty is not quite the jolly, happy soul he was made out to be, condemned as he is to melt away, the sun being hot that day. Some dissenters saw in Frosty's promise to come again some day as a reference to Christian resurrection. Beer Pairing: ScuttleButt Brewing Company's 10 Below Ale. While the name suggests this Imperial Dunkelweiss from the Everett, Washington, brewery could keep Frosty from melting, the 7.4 percent ABV strong chocolate flavors of 10 below Ale is exactly what one needs to keep warm. It's a malty beast with just enough hops to make it drinkable, and make Frosty's fate forgettable. Available at Gravity Beer Market and The Copper Door

December 17, 2014 at 10:31am

Beer Here: Lagunitas night, Pelican party, holiday sweaters, Troll Crank ride ...

Ho ho ho yo!

You're lagging in the Christmas spirit this year. Just like last year. And the year before. Scrooging has always been your go-to reaction to the yuletide, but as your grow older, fatter and more sentimental, it's increasingly unacceptable to be crotchety and contrarian. It's unsavory. So, you decide to be proactive. You set aside this coming week to gorge yourself on Christmas cheer. By which I mean beer. ...

WEDNESDAY, DEC. 17

Engine House No. 9's 25 Days of Christmas beer-a-day countdown is going strong. Stop by 611 N. Pine St. and discover today's present.

Harmon Tap Room is hosting the 12 Beers of Christmas, tapping a different small batch holiday brew, every day, for 12 days in a row. By the way, the Tap Room just added 10 new taps.

Lagunitas Brewing Company in Petaluma, California, releases anticipated seasonals every year with high levels of alcohol and names as charismatic and irreverent as any beer might hope for - Lagunitas' own Imperial IPA, brewed since 1996, is called Maximus. Brown Shugga, a seasonal brew from Lagunitas, was created in 1997 as the result of an attempt to rescue a failed batch of Olde GnarlyWine Ale by adding "boatloads of brown sugar" - or so the story goes, anyway. Fingers crossed, The Swiss will be pouring it at its Lagunitas Brewer's Night from 6-9 p.m. Yeah, yeah, yeah, woo!

As I have written ad nauseam, a steady stream of big, goonish stouts are filling shelves and taps. Some of these seasonals are worth the fuss and price (Deschutes' The Abyss, for example - head to The Red Hot Sunday) while many others are lopsided thanks to hyper-inflated alcohol content and overblown flavor infusions. Pelican Pub & Brewery's Tsunami Stout rises to the top. With a color only a few minutes from midnight and a thick but clean pour, it has a satisfying, but not overpowering (7 percent), heariness. Big, roasty cocoa flavors dominate, but hopheads will find that Magnum and Willamette hops impart a slice of crisp citrus and a cherry topper. Drink it and eight other Pelican brews at 99 Bottles, beginning at 5 p.m. The first 48 people to check in at the Federal Way beer store will score a free Pelican glass.

The 2nd Annual Cheers to Winter Beers event takes place at 6 p.m. in the Puyallup River Alehouse. Here's the deliciousness owner Eric Akeson has planned for patrons: 10 Barrel Pray For Snow, Alaskan Winter, Elysian Bifrost, Widmer Brrr, Redhook Winterhook, Anderson Valley Winter Solstice, Naked City Potlatch Smoked Maple Brown Ale, The Lost Abbey Merry Taj Christmas IPA, Puyallup River Old Pioneer Winter Ale and others. "Our 2014 Old Pioneer Winter Ale is a new recipe for this year," says Akeson. "Last year, we brewed a malt-forward Amber Ale with vanilla beans and lavender. This year, we're brewing an Imperial Red IPA-style beer, with a big, dry hop that all the hop heads are going to love." Santa will arrive at 7 p.m.

THURSDAY, DEC. 18

Top Rung Brewing runs its My Dog Stout through a Randall loaded with candy canes beginning at 4 p.m.

How much wood can the Woodchuck Hard Cider chuck if the Woodchuck Hard Cider could chuck wood? I have no idea, but Topside Bar & Grill is allowing the Vermont cidery to take over four of its handles, beginning at 6 p.m.

FRIDAY, DEC. 19

Want to drink a Cozy Sweater while wearing an ugly holiday sweater? Twisted Kilt Irish Pub hosts an ugly sweater party with an emphasis on Iron Horse Brewery beers, including Irish Death, Mocha Dream and said sweater. Expect a DJ spinning and giveaways, beginning at 9 p.m.

SATURDAY, DEC. 20

Top Rung Brewing hosts an ugly holiday sweater festival from 2-9 p.m., with a contest going down at 7 p.m. Santa will drop off a food truck. The Outlanders will play bluegrass beginning at 6:30 p.m. The Randall will be working overtime.

Also hosting an ugly holiday sweater party is Pacific Brewing & Malting Co. Those who don holiday cheer will receive a dollar off every pint, from 6-9 p.m., and entered into a contest to win a PB&M gift basket.

Itchin' for an excuse to pull that bicycle out of storage and get some extra wear out of your Santa hat? Saddle up and get ready to ride through the streets of Tacoma drunkon candy canes and the drinks they garnished. The Tacoma Mob Rider invites revelers to jump on their pedal-driven sleighs and eat and drink their way through Tacoma, Saturday. The Troll Crank zaniness begins at 7 p.m. inside the canned beer and bicycle shop Broken Spoke. From there, the pack moves on to other fine establishments, which will be revealed over cans of beer at the Spoke. It's free to participate, but you'll be shelling out cash for anything you eat or drinkalong the way. Tacoma Mob Rules asks you to dress festive, with a nod toward Crosby sweaters.

Tacoma Stars have dubbed Saturday, Dec. 20, "Wingman Brewers Night" for their soccer match against the Arlington Aviators. Wingman beer is now pouring at every match in the Far Post Bar at the Tacoma Soccer Center (2610 East Bay St., Tacoma). Saturday, beginning at 7:30 p.m., added giveaways and handshakes from the Wingman crew are an added bonus.

SUNDAY, DEC. 21

The Red Hot hosts its 3rd annual Darkest Day festival, while across the street Engine House No. 9 unleashes its 2014 Snow Cru, plus a multitude of other E9 big beers. Details on these Tacoma joints' celebrations of the longest night of the year can be found here.

MONDAY, DEC. 22

Fish Tale Brew Pub hosts the 15th Annual Holiday Brass Bash at 7:30 p.m. Trumpeter Andy Omdahl will lead a brass-tastic band, rattle beer pints and the donation boxes for Thurston County Food Bank.

December 16, 2014 at 10:26am

The Dark Walk: Engine House No. 9 and The Red Hot go big on the winter solstice

Engine House No. 9 will release its 2014 Snow Cru at 11 a.m. Sunday, Dec. 21. Photo credit: Pappi Swarner

During this time of year, it seems that no one can get enough of the celebrating, but some holidays are more noted by modern society than others. Nowadays, the winter solstice sometimes gets overlooked amid all the traditional eating and gift-giving days - but it's definitely significant. The winter solstice, Dec. 21 at 3:03 p.m., astronomically stands for the moment when the earth's axial tilt is farthest from the sun - directly over the Tropic of Capricorn in the southern hemisphere. It also stands as the most ancient midwinter celebration and the source of many holiday traditions now associated with Christmas.

Throughout history, cultures around the globe have celebrated the winter solstice, the longest night of the year, as a time to reflect on the past year and look with hope to the coming year. Long ago, the winter solstice was a time communities came together in the uncertainty of living through the winter and enjoyed wine and beer that was ready to drink, but its significance was diminished after the spread of Christianity. These days, after '60s counterculture helped revive its memory, people are more aware of the solstice tradition from centuries ago.

A Winter Solstice Parade will be held in Tacoma's Sixth Avenue neighborhood. It's doubtful the druid and pagan communities will be out in full force, dressed in magnificent costumes and singing incantations while waving luminous willow lanterns. No, this parade is a staggering affair between The Red Hot's Darkest Day and Engine House No. 9's 2014 Snow Cru release party. I do expect to see a BIC lighter or two.

"It's unfortunate the two celebrations landed on the same day. It wasn't planned that way," says Todd McLaughlin, bartender at Engine House No. 9. "You'd think since our staff drinks over there after shifts, and their staff drinks over here, that the big beer celebrations would have been planned on different days."

McLaughlin believes the two events happening at the same time is actually a good thing, bringing the beer community together due to the short walk between the two establishments. After all, the winter solstice has a social and spiritual element. At the time of greatest darkness, the solstice has been a beacon of light. There could be hugging and laughing at the intersection of Sixth Avenue and Pine. There could be exchanging of beer and beard suggestions and alcohol by volume warnings. There are many ways to celebrate the solstice, but only the souls at The Red Hot and Engine House No. 9 could, by chance, create an observance loaded with symbolism, and robust, full-bodied beers with rich color and flavor.

At E9, the celebration centers on the release of head brewer Shane Johns' annual Snow Cru winter ale. This year, Johns blended his E9 Imperial Stout, Barrel Aged Belgian Dark Strong, Old English Barley Wine and Thunder Buddies Barley Wine to create a complex beer showcasing the characteristics of barrel aging. With the 2014 Snow Cru, Johns creates complexity centering on oak, in a multitude of forms, by brewing high-gravity beers in complementary styles, aging them in different barrel formats and then blending them together to achieve harmonious new flavor. As a finished beer, the 2014 Snow Cru will be dark, rich and complex.

In addition to the Snow Cru release, E9 will pour a bunch of their beers - from special barrel-aged house beers to double IPAs to wild ales - all pushing the upper end of the ABV meter. Here is what to expect Sunday, beginning at 11 a.m.: 2014 Snow Cru (of course), Life of Pi (ker), 2013 Bourbon Barrel Aged Dark Passenger, 2013 Holy Diver, Barrel Aged Tripel, Nefelibata, Rhubarb Wild, VOLTRON 1.0, Viva la France Farmhouse, Vieux Monde Saison, Peabody Ale, Raspberry Farmhouse and the Peach Raspberry Tacoma Weiss. The Barrel Aged Triple and Raspberry Farmhouse might be new to folks. All these E9 beers will stay on tap until they blow.

The Red Hot's third annual Darkest Day begins at 9 a.m., pairing with its Sunday breakfast. Obviously, since it's a tavern specializing in craft beers and hot dogs, it will pour dark creations from breweries - 16 of them: 2011 Deschutes Abyss, 2012 Deschutes Abyss, 2014 Deschutes Abyss, 2012 Deschutes Black Butte XXIV, 2013 Deschutes Black Butte XXV, 2014 Deschutes Black Butte XXVI, Evil Twin Imperial Biscotti with cherries, Fremont Kentucky Dark Star, Fremont Kentucky Coffee Dark Star, Fremont Kentucky Spiced Dark Star, Midnight Sun Berserker, Midnight Sun Son of Berserker, Midnight Sun Bar Fly Smoked Imperial Stout, Naked City Big Lebrewski, Two Beers Sour Barrel Aged Jive Espresso Stout and Walking Man Jaywalker Imperial Stout. All these beers will be 5.5-ounce pours only, ordered by number, and when they're gone, they're gone. The Red Hot's celebration of the longest night comes with a cool T-shirt.

Sunday at the corner of Sixth and Pine will be a day of high alcohol warmth, lots of viscosity or mouth feel, assertive spices and bitterness and monstrous amounts of sweet, malty flavor. Society makes us feel weird and bad for sitting around in bars while the sun is still up (unless sports are on TV - then anything goes). On the winter solstice, you can feel good about hunkering down at your Sixth Avenue neighborhood bar when it's only 4 p.m., because it's probably dark out. And you can't really be depressed about it when you're looped on dark, heavy beers.

ENGINE HOUSE NO. 9, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 21, 611 N. Pine St., Tacoma, no cover, 253.272.3435

THE RED HOT, 9 a.m. to 11 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 21, 2914 Sixth Ave., Tacoma, no cover, 253.779.0229

Filed under: New Beer Column, Tacoma, Holidays,

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