Rick Hewitt has vision and goals, but what really matters to you as a beer drinker is that he has a 2,400 square foot brewery and tasting room in the old Rainier Brewery. There, the public will be welcome to bear witness to his passion for great beer. When the Emerald City Beer Company fires up the brew kettle, they will be making beer on sacred ground. The construction of the new brewery and tasting room is well underway and they hope to be delivering beer sometime next month.
It’s been over ten years since they stopped making beer at 3100 Airport Way South, the former home of Rainier Beer. The significance of being the first person to brew at that location since they shut down the Rainier Brewery is not at all lost on Rick Hewitt, the founder of Emerald City Beer Company. When talking about it, he’s both reverent and giddy at the same time.
“I’m going to be the first one to make beer there in a decade. How cool is that?” he says. “The old Rainier lagering tanks are still there just outside my door. They told me it would have been too much trouble to get them out, so they’re still there.”
Emerald City Beer Company is about to open for business. They’re hoping to have their first batch of beer ready for the upcoming Washington Brewers Festival, held June 18-20 at St. Edward State Park in Kenmore.
As an old-time Seattle guy who loves to get nostalgic, I cannot get over the fact that they will be making beer at that location again. I know that I am not alone in saying that it warms my heart. While the building is rich in beer history, Rick Hewitt looks forward to doing something new and different. He respects the past but has his own vision for the Emerald City Beer Company and wants to create his own history.
I mentioned to him that he might want to consider naming his tasting room the Mountain Room as homage to the legendary tasting room at the Rainier Brewery, a simple act that would forever endear Emerald City Beer in the hearts of Seattle old timers like me, but he explains that he has something else in mind. I suppose it’s enough that he is opening Emerald City Beer on this hallowed ground. His plan sounds pretty cool, anyway.
“It’s going to be a beer lab. You’ll be able to come watch us make beer while you drink beer.” As an example, he explains, “You will be able to come down to watch Monday Night Football and watch us make beer at the same time. Then come back for another game in a few weeks and drink the beer we were making that night.”
You might expect Emerald City Beer Company to pump out the typical lineup of IPAs, Pale Ales, Porters, Stouts and other ales commonly produced by our local, Washington breweries; however, Rick is taking a different tack and will not focus on any of those styles of beer. Instead, they’ll focus on lager. In particular, they’ll focus initially on their flagship beer – Dottie’s Seattle Lager. In time, they will introduce other styles and brewing ales is not at all out of the realm of possibilities.
“We are inspired by the traditional brewing methods of the world yet not overly dominated by any one in particular. We are a melting pot of innovation, dedicated to carving our own path forward while staying true to our belief that balanced beers made with quality grown, fresh ingredients will always be the most enjoyable and flavorful beers to drink.”
Rick provides a thoughtful and complete description of the flagship beer. “Dottie’s Seattle Lager is an Amber Session Lager (4.9% ABV, 25 IBUs) that is made from the world-class local ingredients grown right here in Washington State. The grains (2 Row, Vienna, Munich, and Melanoidin) are predominately grown in the southeast counties of the state and the generous helping of Liberty hops that balances out this malty brew are grown over in the Yakima Valley. This truly is a Seattle Lager; it pours a clean and clear copper-reddish color with a frothy white head that reminds us that even a beer can be sexy too.”
Sexy? Hewitt named the beer after his grandmother (the daughter of German hop farmers), but don’t start thinking anything funny. A pin-up artist created the artwork and it is indeed sexy. Think of beautifully painted women from magazine ads of the 1960s.
Rick explains how he decided on this artistic direction for his brand. “My grandfather was an advertising guy, a real Madison Avenue ad man back in the sixties. You know, like that show Mad Men on TV? I just love that kind of Americana.”
Each different beer that they produce will feature a different girl and each girl will in some way reflect the character of the beer. Dottie’s is an amber lager, so a brunette was most appropriate.
Perhaps it’s the ad man’s blood in his veins, but Rick Hewitt seems to have his arms wrapped tightly around that critical part of the brewery business that escapes so many young brewers. Making beer goes hand in hand with marketing the beer. It was the University of Washington’s Business School that initially drew him to Seattle and now he is poised to make good use of his education.
Emerald City Beer will ask beer drinkers to “demand more from your beer.” Hewitt recognizes that there is an untapped beer market that needs to be addressed—the people who have yet to make the switch to craft beer. He also recognizes that the local beer market has room for lagers. His intention is to appeal to the market with a beer that is approachable for the newbie but also interesting enough to appeal to the craft beer aficionado.
Sure, he has a firm grasp of the marketing part of the equation, but don’t dismiss his passion for beer. He talks about his beer with the same enthusiasm and zeal as any brewer I’ve met. Rick combines his passion with a businessman’s drive and diligence.
There was a time when Rainier Beer was recognized as the Seattle beer. Rick really believes that he can create a beer and a brand that will someday be equally synonymous with Seattle.
His enthusiasm is infectious and you can’t help but walk away believing in his dream.
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