A Craft Brewers Mecca

I visited a place recently where the mountains were so high one could ski for 8 months of the year. Where the rivers and lakes so clean fishing is not a patient wait but rather an energetic pursuit.

The people were educated, proud of their homeland, loved the outdoors and were adventurous in spirit.

Under these conditions, something else was in abundance… craft beer. You could walk into virtually any bar there and the savvy customer would have a vast array of tasty beautifully hand crafted beers

For beer enthusiasts it was our ‘mecca’.

Earlier this year I visited Washington State, (no not to see the President, that’s Washington DC on the other side of the country), but to research bottling machines and do some training.

What I encounter as I arrived into Seattle, the capital of the 7.6 million inhabitant strong state was a vast selection of beers, (yes I did head straight for the nearest bar).

I thought, how incredibly lucky I was to stumble upon a bar which served something other than the mass produced beers served at most pubs here in Ireland. But it wasn’t just that bar, it was virtually all of them. I was in some sort of Nirvana state.

The craft beer revolution has been in full swing there for around 15 years, the state alone has over 130 micro / craft breweries, the United States has over 1,500 breweries. This compares with Ireland that at last count has 13 craft breweries, Eight Degrees Brewing lucky #13. The interesting thing I noticed, in their own newspaper,( yes they have a monthly newspaper for the 130 breweries and followers to keep abreast of events and happenings) was a map of the States with a count of microbreweries. The, lets say, more educated, less redneck states had far more craft breweries than say Big George W’s southern states and this gives me hope. You see, Ireland is educated, and they love their beer, and they beginning to scream out for choice and good value in their beverage of choice, and infact in everything they consume.

So back to Seattle with its wonderful selection of beers but so little time, and unfortunately far too much driving required from me also, thus preventing me from over indulging.

So I headed to Pasco, a four hour drive through the rocky mountains and into the desert, to meet Dave Meheen of Meheen Manufacturing to learn all about semi-automated, yet affordable bottling machines, you know the ones, with long tube fillers, double pre-purging and evacuation and … oh, sorry have I lost you already.

Our Meheen Machine

 Ok, so I was geeking out on cool bottling machines that maximise the shelf life of bottled beer. We spent the afternoon at Ice Harbour Brewery, http://www.iceharbor.com , to see how the bottling machine works in practise, the result, very impressive with around 1,500 bottles filled in one hour, and that was with me slowing the production down. That was worth the trip over in itself, but on the retrun journey I took it nice and slow over a couple of days and visted some of Washington States prized craft / micro-breweries.

First stop was Snipes Mountain, http://snipesmountain.com/ , only because it was 2 minutes off the interstate.

Chris Miller

Midday on a Tuesday, I wasn’t sure how this would go but I wandered in and asked to see the Head Brewer. With a suspicious look they enquired who I was, and as soon as I mentioned I was setting up a brewery in Ireland, well the welcome was incredible. It was like I had discovered a secret society, a brewers club and they welcomed me right in, well Chris Miller, the Brewmaster did anyway. I met one of the most enthusiastic guys, such passion for his beers, he quickly showed me the brewery and we chatted for over an hour, which got him out of kegging I think. His latest limited release IPA had around 75 IBU (bitterness units), which really ought to suck the teeth out of your month it’s that bitter, but amazingly it works and was incredibly well balanced and enjoyable. Why so many hops, well we were in the middle of the Yakima Valley ,says Chris, which produces over one-third of the worlds hop production, and some very new and interesting varieties, all of which Chris wants to try. I couldn’t leave without promising to go to another brewery up the road, his mentor almost, Black Raven Brewery, and I definitely got a feeling of a collaborative society also, the small guys pulling together to educate the masses on how good beer ought to taste.

So off I went to Black Raven Brewery, http://www.blackravenbrewing.com/ , outside Seattle. It was half four on Tuesday but the brewpub was packed. What is going on I asked, ‘a launch of their latest imperial stout’, yes but it’s a Tuesday, and middle of the afternoon. Yeah, they are quite popular around here was the reply. I couldn’t argue there. I asked to see the brewmaster, and again the secret society password worked and I was escorted to the brewery where I was met by five bearded blokes wielding hoses and taking the piss out of each other, generally having a ball. You have to be invited to work here said Nigel, the chief sellerman (self titled I think). They have quadrupled production in two years and won loads of awards and continue to push boundaries, and their customers love it.

What a buzz from a few days in Washington State, and it fills us at Eight Degrees Brewing with hope and excitement as it’s Irelands turn now for the craft beer revolution.

 Are you READY????

  1. Hi, it sounds like heaven, I would love to know more about the bottling plant. I am looking at setting up in Mayo. So many questions. Any chance I could come down and have a look at you guys???

  2. Hey Marcus, give us a call, more than happy to share our passion and help if we can. Very happy to show you the brewery next time you’re in Mitchelstown

  3. Very enjoyable read, can’t beat the states for craft beer, can’t wait to purchase your howling gale ale in bottles, liked it at easterfest.

  4. I love to see the behind-the-scenes decisions that go on at breweries; thanks for including us in your choice of a bottling machine. Black Raven is a FANTASTIC little brewery in Redmond, Washington. (Wednesday or Thursday is cask night.) You found a true gem while in the area. They’re very much focused on taking the English brewing tradition and adapting it to the American desire for stronger flavors/ higher ABV and those delicious US North West hops. An incredibly fully tap room considering they don’t sell food.

    Best of luck!
    P.S. Some NZ hopped beers would be fantastic! (With Citra being the newest craze, Rakau is just begging to be invited to the party.)


  5. best of luck – what pubs are your beers in – can you buy direct from the brewery?

  6. higuysjustnowreallyenjoyedtwobottlesofhowling gale ale
    looking forward to picking up a few
    møre good bottled gems at the r d s on saturay i hope you will have ssandwiches there for soakage congrats on your great product hope it will be in the charleville and adare pubs soon brian millercarroll

  7. Just checking out the website with a view to stocking craft beers and saw comment by Marcus. As I’m located in Mayo would be interested to know how he’s getting on almost a year later. If he’s up and brewing maybe I could stock his product.

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