Enter the Brewpub
The early eighties also gave birth to a movement to change the laws regarding brewing (producing) and serving the product on premises (retail), a notion that was strictly forbidden by the alcohol laws of the time. Grass roots legislation made it possible for North American brewpubs to come into existence and begin making assertive and characterful beer. Horseshoe Bay Brewing north of Vancouver, BC, and Bert Grant’s Yakima Brewing & Malting Co. in Yakima, WA, were the first to produce and serve craft-brewed ales on draft in a restaurant setting.
The late Bert Grant was a larger-than-life Scotsman with an equally large opinion of his beers—mostly justified. His signature beer was a Scottish ale on draft that took the style to a much hoppier level. He brewed the way he drove—pedal to the metal—causing this reporter to question riding with him at all.
Grant had a sound background in commercial brewing and hop production, causing author Michael Jackson to observe, “He brought a combination of individualism and perfectionism and love of beer on the one hand, and technical brewing experience on the other.” Many brewers that followed had Grant’s passion for beer but few had his fundamental understanding of the process.
A short time later, Paul Shipman launched his Independent Ale Brewery (later Redhook) in Seattle. Paul tells the story of bringing some of his first beers to Bert to get his opinion. Bert tasted and replied, “Interesting.” Paul knew his first tries were somewhat flawed and said, “When Bert Grant tells you your beer is interesting, watch out!” Redhook improved greatly thereafter.
From British Columbia to Modesto, CA, the “good beer” movement was now in full swing. New places were opening at a feverish pace in the mid-eighties. Stanislaus Brewery (St. Stan’s) in Modesto was making “alt” beer before most people knew what it was, and—talk about simultaneous creativity—Widmer Brothers Brewery in Portland dedicated its initial “biers” to the German alt tradition at about the same time. Widmer’s hefeweizen, also a pretty wacky idea at the time, went on to become its flagship beer. In later years, Widmer partnered with the Portland Brew Crew to make commercial quantities of award-winning homebrew recipes with the Collaborator series.
BridgePort Brewing, Oregon’s longest-lived microbrewery, began life with the wine-growing Ponzi family and reached another level with ownership from Gambrinus producing authentic award-winning cask-conditioned English-style ales. BridgePort’s neighbor, Portland Brewing, grew out of its original location in the Pearl district (before it became “hip”) and evolved into the regional MacTarnahan’s, making assertive beers such as its IPA and Black Watch Porter.
Seattle’s Pyramid Brewery had a schizophrenic beginning with its lager half, Thomas Kemper, uncomfortably sandwiched in the mix. Try to imagine veteran brewer Rande Reed making world-class dobblebocks at a dairy farm brewery on an island west of Seattle and world-class ales at Pyramid in Seattle.
Juneau, AK, became the site of craft beer’s most difficult location when Alaskan Brewing opened. Its award-winning Smoked Porter has become legendary. Talk about “last frontier” innovation!