Spokane Journal of Business

Inland Northwest brews craft beer industry

Small breweries emerge as specialty beverage draws fans

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Inland Northwest brews craft beer industry
-—Staff photo by Treva Lind
Iron Goat Brewing co-owner Greg Brandt says the brewery has started selling more kegs to Spokane-area pubs.

As microbreweries grab a bigger market share from major U.S. beer manufacturers, nearly a dozen Inland Northwest craft brewers have hopped into the beverage business, mainly in the past year.

"Seattle and Portland have very well-developed craft beer markets," says Brian Guthrie, co-owner of the Ramblin' Road Craft Brewery LLC that launched this past December at 730 N. Columbus in Spokane. "We want to put Spokane on the beer map."

The Kiplinger Letter, a weekly business forecast publication, recently reported that major U.S. beer industry companies are seeing flat sales growth, but microbreweries are booming with sales increasing better than 10 percent a year. The Colorado-based Brewers Association says more than 250 breweries opened in 2011, and a total of nearly 2,000 craft breweries operated in the U.S. during that year.

Another proponent of fostering growth in the Inland Northwest's craft beer market is John Bryant, co-owner of Spokane's No-Li Brewhouse LLC, which already has a 19-year track record here under its former name, Northern Lights Brewing Co.

Last year, Bryant partnered with Northern Lights founder-brewer Mark Irvin as the company rebranded and worked to increase market penetration here and in other U.S. cities from its location at 1003 E. Trent. Bryant previously held positions at such companies as Deschutes Brewery, in Bend, Ore., and Oskar Blues Brewery, in Longmont, Colo.

Bryant says No-Li has worked since May to get more of its bottled ale varieties stocked alongside other region' craft beers in most supermarkets, but he'd like to see a lineup of other Spokane-area specialty brews as well.

"There's great beer being made locally that's as good as or better than what's getting shipped into Spokane," Bryant says. "Yet at the grocery store, almost every craft beer is from another city, state, or country. We want to create a culture here where brewers are recognized not only as an economic base, but a cultural base as well."

He adds, "Barley is grown in our backyard and hops are grown nearby in Yakima, and our water is among the best in the world with our natural aquifer. Why not make great beer where the ingredients are grown? That's why Spokane is the perfect fit for developing a strong craft beer culture."

Last summer, Bryant and Irvin hosted a gathering of Inland Northwest brewers on No-Li's patio to swap beer samples and ideas to grow the craft beer industry here. Bryant says the group met a second time and includes some 12 breweries here, most of them recently started but some being developed.

In addition to Ramblin' Road, newer microbreweries in operation include Iron Goat Brewing Co., at 2204 E. Mallon in Spokane; River City Brewing, at 121 S. Cedar west of downtown and operated by the owners of Coeur d'Alene Brewing Co.; Twelve String Brewing Co., at 11616 E. Montgomery in Spokane Valley; and Selkirk Abbey Brewing Co., at 6180 E. Seltice Way in Post Falls.

Budge Brothers Brewing Co. started operating at 2018 E. Riverside in Spokane just over a year ago, under the ownership of brothers Brad and Bruce Budge, who started brewing professionally three years ago. Another company that started in 2009 is Golden Hills Brewing Co., an Airway Heights maker of lagers.

Many of the microbreweries include taprooms that have limited hours and allow customers to buy a glass of beer or a growler, which is a refillable 64-ounce jug for customers to take home. A number of brewery operators here also say they're garnering wholesale accounts with restaurants and bars in the Spokane area.

Ramblin' Road's Brian Guthrie and his wife, Dani, along with partner Will Spear, launched that brewery at a location east of Hamilton Road near the Centennial Trail. He says the brewery currently is brewing its Belgian-style ales and barrel-aged sours on a small scale. However, Guthrie says the group has ordered new equipment to expand brewing capacity and plans to start building a 1,000-square-foot taproom to open by this spring.

"Basically, everything we can possibly make, we're selling right now," Guthrie says. "We moved back here from Seattle because we saw an exploding or about to explode craft beer scene here."

Gage Stromberg is co-owner of River City Brewing along with brother Spencer Stromberg and their parents, Ron and Julie Wells. This month, the company completed its first batches of River City Red and Girlfriend Golden Ale for distribution to restaurants.

Stromberg says a Huckleberry Ale and VB Stout also will be available later this month, under the Coeur d'Alene Brewing name, but manufactured in the newly renovated, 3,500-square-foot brewery at the corner of First and Cedar, west of downtown Spokane. In late 2010, that company lost its lease of space in Coeur d'Alene, and finding a new location took more than a year, Stromberg adds.

"We're just focusing on production and distribution to restaurants," he says. "We're thinking sometime in the spring, we'll be open on Friday afternoons for tours and tastings."

Stromberg says the family business's ties with Coeur d'Alene Brewing date back to 1999. Back then, few Inland Northwest restaurants focused on serving a good craft beer lineup, he says.

"For the first several years, it really was just us and Northern Lights, and we were both trying to convince restaurants and bar owners that they should support local products," Stromberg says. "Now, there are 20 places, maybe more, that have a good craft beer lineup."

He says he's noticed several breweries start up here recently. "I think four or five of them opened in late 2011 and during 2012," he says. "There are another half dozen that will in 2013. It's a big positive. What it means is people are loving beer and interested in supporting local products."

Iron Goat Brewing co-owner Greg Brandt says that brewery started in June and is selling kegs to many Spokane-area pubs. He and his wife, Heather, along with another husband-and-wife team, Paul Edminster and Sheila Evans, started the brewery inside a refurbished old industrial building east of downtown. The company, named after the goat sculpture in Riverfront Park, has a taproom open on certain days to offer such selections as Head Butt IPA, The Impaler, and Goatmeal Stout.

"We're getting some locals, but we get more of the craft beer enthusiasts who take 'beercations,' as the term I've heard a lot," Brandt says. "They map out breweries and make stops as they travel."

Spokane Valley's Twelve String Brewing also is gaining wholesale accounts with restaurants, says co-owner Terry Hackler, who opened the brewery in December 2011 with his wife, Sue Hackler. He says the venture includes a small taproom at the front of the 1,600-square-foot brewery, where he makes about 11 varieties of beer.

"All of us local breweries are trying to convince the restaurants to carry more Spokane craft beer, and it's coming around," he says. "We're getting more and more accounts locally, and people interested in having local beer. There are products that are being made in Spokane that are good."

Hackler adds that in the taproom, "We get a lot of beer tourists who travel around from brewery to brewery, or a business person here on travel, and they enjoy finding the local brewery scene."

Many of the brewery operators say they'd like to attract more tourists with a formal microbrewery tour similar to Bend's Ale Trail.

Some of the Inland Northwest breweries also are featured in a "Drink Local" campaign as part of the upcoming Spokane Restaurant Week, which will run Feb. 22 to March 3 and will include a group of eateries offering selected multicourse menus at special prices.

No-Li's Bryant says that company is doing more to display the name of Spokane and history on its product labels. This includes the Crystal Bitter ESB that gives a nod to the former Crystal Laundry business on Canada Island. Another example is Born & Raised IPA that recognizes how many people leave here for school or careers, but then return to Spokane, Bryant says.

No-Li, which employs 35 people, plans soon to expand its equipment and capacity for making beer, Bryant adds. Since May, No-Li also has expanded distribution of its bottled beer products in newer markets, such as Washington D.C., Denver, and Seattle.

"We proudly put Spokane right down the side of our bottles," he adds. "For those outside Spokane, it creates intrigue so people go and look up Spokane."

Selkirk Abbey Brewing Co.'s co-owner Jeff Whitman says its Belgian-style ales are served in a taproom at its brewery and distributed to restaurants around Northern Idaho, with plans to grow into Southern Idaho and Eastern Washington markets soon. The brewery started in June, with help from minority owner Fred Colby, who owns Laughing Dog Brewing, in Ponderay, Idaho.

"I think more people are realizing there's more to beer than American standard lagers and American light lagers," Whitman says. "Some of these beers go back hundreds of years."

Whitman says people outside of the Inland Northwest are recognizing the region's craft beers. At the recent Great American Beer Festival contest, No-Li won a gold medal for its Crystal Bitter Ale, and Laughing Dog won a bronze medal for its IPA in a category that had over 100 entries, he says.

"That's no easy feat," Whitman adds. "They did it with great beers."

Treva Lind
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