A long, long time ago in a brewery far away…
Are you old enough to remember a time when Bill Clinton was President? When the Seattle Mariners’ batting lineup included the likes of Ken Griffey Jr., Edgar Martinez, and Alex Rodriguez? It’s a long-forgotten world in which Silver City Brewery did not exist.
It was 1996, the year that brothers Scott and Steve Houmes built Silver City Restaurant and Brewery in Silverdale. With loads of experience in the restaurant biz, the brothers’ plan lacked just one key ingredient: a brewer to build and manage the beer side of the business. That’s where Don “Big Daddy” Spencer came in. (Vintage picture of him above from 1996.)
The building that would become the original Silver City Restaurant and Brewery was under construction when Scott and Steve added Don Spencer to the team. Today, 20 years later, the man known as Big Daddy is one of Washington’s mostly highly respected and highly decorated Brewmasters.
As Silver City celebrates its 20th year of existence, Daniel S. Frantz of Silver City Brewery tells the story like this.
Silver City Brewery Celebrates Don “Big Daddy” Spencer’s Twenty-Year Milestone as Brewmaster
Brothers Scott and Steve Houmes were putting the finishing touches on the building that was soon to become Silver City Restaurant and Brewery. Their beautiful new brewing system had arrived, awaiting assembly… and the most critical piece of the brewhouse, the brewmaster, was now officially signed.
“The windows weren’t installed yet, and there was all of this brewing equipment laying around unsecured,” Don recollects, “I actually brought a mattress onto the brew floor and lived at the brewery for a couple of weeks. I wasn’t about to leave everything unattended just weeks before launch. I’d run up to the gas station, grab a six-pack of [whatever], and sit watch all night while installing the fittings on the fermenters.”
Don’s journey as brewmaster hardly begins with Silver City Brewery. His fascination with fermentation dates back to high school, where he had developed quite a following among his peers as “the beer man” at a time before even most adults knew what homebrewing was all about. This eventually led to a tutelage at Thomas Kemper Brewing Co. in Poulsbo, where he honed his talents from 1992 to 1996, eventually achieving the Head Brewer title.
It was at Thomas Kemper where Don became acquainted with two fledgling businessmen, the Houmes brothers, who had attended a public tour of the brewery. While dishing the technical details of the art & science of brewing, little did Don know that these young beer enthusiasts and restauranteurs were in the hunt for an expert to spearhead a brewery of their own. When the tour concluded, the brothers briefed their guide on their grandiose plans to open a brewpub in Silverdale the following September in 1996.
“They asked me to spread the word to anybody I knew that might be qualified and interested in the job… of course I didn’t tell anyone else about it,” Don remembers with a grin.
Officially part of the team, Don had little more than two months to develop a complete brewing program. “The first beer we ever brewed was Clear Creek Pale. The first batch came out a lot more bitter than I imagined, so we dialed back the hopping to make sure it was perfect for launch.”
Amusing, in 2016, to think about a pale ale being deemed “too bitter”.
Today, sitting in his office, Don reaches deep into a file and produces a stack of weathered, wide-ruled notebooks.
“Just starting out, we didn’t have all of these computers with Excel. We had to do all of this by hand,” he shares as he pours over the fermentation schedules and temperature notes from 20 years ago.
When asked his proudest achievements are of his twenty-year career as brewmaster, “I’d really have to say all of the people I’ve had the privilege of working with who have gone on to do great things of their own. A lot of Silver City brewers have moved on to open breweries or their own or achieved head brewer positions elsewhere.”
“The 2009 Great American Beer Festival was pretty amazing. We won three medals that year, including a Gold for Ridgetop Red. Also winning three awards at the 2012 World Beer Cup as well, with a Gold for Imperial Stout, a recipe that’s very dear to me.”
Even with half a lifetime of brewing achievements under his belt, Big Daddy only continues to push the envelope. In 2015, Silver City brewery was bestowed with the honor of producing the official lager of Seattle Beer Week #7, largely due to Don’s extensive experience with German-style lagers.
So far in 2016, Silver City Brewery has experienced another great year with new successes including Nice Day IPA, the first addition to the year-round lineup since 2010, and the revisiting of old classics as part of the 20th Anniversary Series lineup including Copper Mountain Bock and Big Daddy’s own namesake ESB.
Of his longtime friend and colleague, brewery owner Scott Houmes adds, “Don has truly been the foundation of Silver City Brewery. I am extremely grateful to have had Don at the helm of the brewery. His passion, perseverance and patience has played a huge part of the success that we enjoy today. Twenty years flew by, I look forward to the next twenty.”
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