In a previous life, I spent some time out there with the family (translated: on the road with the Grateful Dead). When people asked why, I told them, “A bus came by and I got on.” Well, last Thursday a bus came by and I got on, when I was fortunate enough to be invited on the Redhook Birthday Bus Tour of Seattle.
Although Redhook didn’t really begin pouring until 1982, the brewery is celebrating its 30th birthday this year. Redhook has its reasons and I don’t argue when there is free beer involved. The eventual point of the adventure was to let the media in on a secret. Besides myself, Paul Orchard (Northwest Beer Guide) and Alan Moen (Northwest Brewing News) were also aboard the bus to represent the local beer media.
This time next week we will be able to share some big news with you regarding Redhook−Washington’s oldest and largest craft brewery. We’ve been sworn to secrecy. Actually, Redhook recognized that it really couldn’t control what we said once they told us, but politely asked that we restrain ourselves until March 14th if at all possible. The Washington Beer Blog is not the only keeper of this secret. Maybe someone else will let the cat out of the bag, but not us.
The tour began at FX McRory’s in Pioneer Square—where they’ll tell you that they were the first place to ever pour Redhook. (Historians argue about that one.) Legendary publican Mick McHugh regaled us with stories of yesteryear. Exactly what Leroy Neiman (the famous painter) has to do with Redhook, I cannot be sure, but it was a lot of fun listening to Mick tell us about the olden days. Along the way, Mick said that Redhook is the longest running tap handle at FX McRory’s. After all of these years, Redhook is still usually one of the top three selling beers each month, according to McHugh.
Leaving McRory’s, we hopped aboard the Grease Bus−a tour bus powered by french fries, essentially. Next stop, the original Redhook Brewery in Ballard. This is the place serious old-timers refer to as “the transmission shop.” Currently, this is the home of the Medin’s Ravioli Station on Leary Way in Ballard. There, Redhook founder Paul Shipman explained that it was thirty years ago that he and his partners began putting together the plan to open one of the very first post-prohibition craft breweries in America.
“At that time , breweries were closing. Nobody thought about new breweries opening because the national trend was that breweries were being closed,” Shipman said, adding that the public’s perception of faltering breweries wasn’t the only obstacle Redhook faced in those formative days.
“It wasn’t easy to get money. It was a real challenge. The kind of money markets that are currently paying about 1 or 2 percent were paying around 20 percent back then.” Shipman said, explaining that he and his partners had to put together a plan that showed a clear path to profits to get any interest at all.
The next stop on the tour was Theo Chocolate. This is the location that many people think of as the original Redhook Brewery, but it is actually the second brewery: the historic trolley barn across the street from Brouwer’s Cafe. In case you don’t know, Theo is considered one of the top chocolatiers in the world. Pay attention. Pay them a visit. You won’t regret it. (aside: It blows my mind that so few people around here are aware that Seattle is such a prolific producer of world-class chocolates.)
There is a special kind of symbiosis between beer and chocolate. For one thing, the miracle of fermentation is an essential part of both products. What’s more, there is a lot of stainless steel involved in both processes. Floor drains also come in handy. Like good craft beer, the best chocolate is produced by artisans and not industrialists. One of the highlights of our visit was tasting a new chocolate confection produced by Theo using beer from Fremont Brewing Company. It was delicious. Like Fremont Brewing, everything from Theo is delicious.
Dana Kemmerling, National Events Manager for Theo, showed us around the chocolate factory. In addition to being a chocolate geek, Dana is a former Redhook employee. She managed the Trollyman Pub before it closed in 2002. In other words, she still works in the same place but for a different company. Dana is passionate about both beer and chocolate: the perfect person to lead this tour.
The final stop on the tour was the Redhook brewery in Woodinville. There, the secret was revealed. Look for an announcement from us next week regarding the big news. In the meantime, here’s a mysterious image to get you thinking.