Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Pike Brewing shows it doesn’t have to be Siegfried’s funeral pyre

Part of the brewing kit in the pub, the rest lurks below
As the dominoes fall and the disinterested call wolf and those with a stake aim to stake their lives on a different way of doing things, here is a refreshing route, a three cheers, hip-hip-hooray way in which a brewery changes its structure.

I’m writing about Pike Brewing in Seattle, which has been around since 1989, when founded by Charles Finkel (though he sold it in 1997 before buying it back in 2007); Finkel also started the influential beer importing company Merchant Du Vin. Last week, in the midst of what seems an on-going beer equivalent of March 1918 on the Western Front, he declared that he’d expanded the ownership group of Pike Brewing to include three key, long-term employees. The story can be read here.

I’m pleased about this, having spent a very enjoyable afternoon with him back in late May when working on a Seattle-Portland Pacific Coast road trip for the Sunday Times Travel Magazine (it’ll be out next year). We’d first met at Michael Jackson’s funeral in 2007 and when I turned up in Seattle I headed for his brew pub at the heart of Pike Place Fish Market, where singing fishmongers serenade their customers and the smell of grilled chicken fills the air.

Finkel was in fine form having had spent lunch launching the first beer in his Pike Locale series, a light golden beer called Skagit Valley Alba, which used local malted barley from the eponymous valley and Yakima Valley hops (the barley farmers had been at the launch). The beer had an aromatic lemony nose, and was crisp and light on the palate with a dry finish, a refreshing corrective to the exceptionally hot day.

He was a genial host, taking me through the beers that his team produced in the brewery below the pub (a brief visit made me think of a cross between the Tardis and a Bond villain’s lair); the pub, meanwhile, is like old England transported out west, with plenty of dark wood and several massive spaces whose walls and shelves were devoted to beer and brewing ephemera. As we tasted a glass of the peaty Kilt Lifter Scotch Ale, he waxed lyrical about the foodie reputation of Seattle and Washington.

‘Washington is the largest onion, potato, cherry, mint, lentil, apple and hop state. Add to this salmon, crab and other shellfish equaled by few places. We also have more than 250 breweries. People say that it is the damp winter weather that encourages people to stay inside and read (we also have one of the highest library usages in the country), eat and cook.’

He was chatty, enthusiastic and friendly (he seemed disappointed I wasn’t able to join him, his wife Rose Ann and friends on a boat for dinner that night, but I had to head out early) and above all he was passionate about the beer he made. On my trip I enjoyed plenty of resiny, headily hopped West Coast IPAs but what I wanted to try that day was his brewery’s take on the traditional styles that American breweries first picked up on in the 1980s (we had a tripel that used Westmalle yeast, a saison that was more Belgium than Soriachi this, Citra that). He talked about Sam Smith, whose beers he first brought into the US in the 1980s, Michael Jackson, the White Horse and food and beer and the afternoon slipped away. He had to go, I had to go. I hope to meet him again (not at a funeral I hope), and I like how he’s dealt with his brewery — which means it doesn’t always have to end in the brewing version of Siegfried’s funeral pyre. 

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