Tuesday 25 August 2015

Tacoma beer city

Beer town, beer city, go to Tacoma I was told. Never heard of the place I replied. Go to Tacoma I was told. And so on my way out of Seattle, off to the Pacific coast and the trail to Oregon, I did what I was told and spent 24 hours in Tacoma, a city that seemed like a pleasing ghost town after Seattle. 

Downtown was lined with regenerated warehouses whose façades were wispy with the names of long gone businesses. The six-storey high former Hotel Olympus with its name carved on a stone façade seemed particularly poignant. The clanging of a trolley bus in the next square rounded off the whole Edward Hopper effect. In the east, the snow capped summit of Mount Rainer rose, a legendary home of the gods, perhaps?

Before checking into the hotel, I walked through downtown and came across the Odd Otter brewpub, a newly renovated space with brewing kit skulking at the back. I enjoyed a mid morning glass at one end of the bar, looking through big open windows onto the street, while a woman in running gear dashed in and asked for a growler of watermelon Hefeweiss. I conjoined with a glass of Jolly Otter ESB, a custodian of malt character with a jangle of hop.

‘We’re in Tacoma.’ A beer fan and his wife settled at the other end of the bar, a flight of beers asked for alongside Connect and as the couple played, the plastic counters clicked as they tumbled down. Meanwhile outside, the sun shone in the wide streets and the breeze ruffled the leaf-heavy branches of a tree.

Beer town, beer city? Indeed. Apparently there are 15 breweries and brewpubs in the area, which form part of the South Sound Craft Crawlthough I went for moderation and only visited a handful of breweries, including Odd Otter again, where I spent some time chatting with co-founder John Hotchkiss (me: ‘as in the machine gun?’; John: ‘yes’). And this time as the day was well-worn I tried Poppa Bacon Breakfast, warming and roasty and smoky, a matrix of flavours.

Elsewhere my beer experience included Tacoma Brewing Company’s fascinating Simcoe-hopped Cigar Box IPA, which was aged on cedar wood; Pacific Brewing’s Simcorilla, where head brewer and co-founder Steve Navarro explained hop bursting to me; Wingman’s refreshing cucumber farmhouse beer Brux 2 and a good chat with Harmon Brewing’s head brewer Jeff Carlson, a former Enduro bike racer — after going through the regular beers, we switched lanes and went for the experimental barrel-aged stuff, including an exemplary two-year-old sour, which had been aged in red wine barrels and had a cider-like nose, a hint of petrol (think Riesling) and bananas on the palate and a dry tart finish. ‘This was my take of a Berliner Weisse, with apples in the mix,’ said Harmon as we sipped this marvellous beer.

Next morning I left Tacoma, Mount Rainer looming over the highway. One question had been answered. Tacoma beer city? Yes.