Trail Blazing on the Inland Northwest Beer Scene

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For those of us living on the wetter side of the mountains, it is easy to ignore our brothers and sisters in eastern Washington. There is no disrespect intended, it’s just that our attentions are too easily occupied with the beer scene here on the mossy side of the state. There are no shortage of reasons to visit the Spokane area, but the Inland Northwest is now a bona fide beer destination and the local breweries have teamed up to issue an invitation to beer lovers.

This past weekend I was in Spokane for the launch of the Inland Northwest Ale Trail, which is a program initiated by brewers in far eastern Washington and northern Idaho. In all, the Ale Trail consists of 16 breweries. There are actually more than 20 breweries in the region, but 16 of them decided to participate in the program, which is fueled in part by a grant from Spokane County’s Tourism Promotion Area. Below, we describe what the Ale Trail involves and how you are invited to participate. Visit the website at http://inlandnwaletrail.com/ for more information.

If you are considering making the trip east for the upcoming Inland Northwest Craft Beer Festival (September 27 and 28 in Spokane), perhaps this will help strengthen your resolve. Otherwise, use the Ale Trail as an excuse to head east any time. Visit www.visitspokane.com for more information about what awaits you.

Hit the Ale Trail

Local brewers teamed up to create a program to help increase awareness of the region’s beer scene. At the heart of the program is the Inland Northwest Ale Trail brochure, which includes a map to all of the local breweries as well as a little information about each. The brochure is available at area hotels, breweries and other locations. The region’s breweries invite visitors and locals alike to travel from brewery to brewery. Present your brochure at each stop to get a sticker or a stamp. Once you’ve visited ten breweries, you are eligible for a free 32-ounce growler full of beer (an Inland NW Ale Trail grunt).

In other words, at your tenth brewery you’ll get a free 32-ounce grunt of beer. You will also be asked to fill out a brief questionnaire. I filled out the form the other day and it is painless. They just want to know where you’re from, where you stayed, how many breweries you visited, and so on. It takes, literally, about 20 seconds.

At the bottom of this post I provide a list of all the breweries on the Inland NW Ale Trail. As for me, I was on the ground for two days and had more to see than just the breweries. Intrepid reporter that I am, I also needed to see what was happening at some of the local pubs and beer retailers. Also, I wanted to feel the vibe of the city as a whole. Still, I was able to visit seven different breweries on the Ale Trail.

Here are the highlights of my visit to Spokane along with some recommendations.

Two Days, Seven Breweries

River City Brewing – Situated in the heart of downtown Spokane, this brewery is the relocated, renamed and revitalized Coeur d’Alene Brewing (which originally opened in 1987). They do not have a tasting room, but the paint is still pretty wet on the walls. We’ll see how things progress. Keep an eye on their Facebook page find out when they’re open for tours and tastings. The flagship beer here is River City Red, a surprisingly dry and well-balanced amber ale. They are still producing some of the Coeur d’Alene Brewing beers, by the way. https://www.facebook.com/RiverCityBrewing

Orlison Brewing – The brewery formerly known as Golden Hills Brewing still pumps out the delicious lagers you’ve come to love, like Clem’s Gold (a personal favorite). Brewmaster Bernie Düenwald, who focuses exclusively on brewing lagers and not ales, is quick to point out­­­ –with tongue in cheek– the unfiltered prejudice of the term ale trail. FYI, part of the reason they changed the brewery’s name is because of concerns that the previous name conjured images of retirement centers and cemeteries. Be sure to try the Havanüther (have another), a light Pilsner. This sparkling, clean, tasty brew is what those Big Beer brands could be, if they cared at all about trying to produce good beer. http://www.orlisonbrewing.com/

Steam Plant Brewing (Steam Plant Grill) – I’ll be honest, I don’t really remember the entire story, but I’m pretty sure that another brewery used to brew most of the beer served at Steam Plant Grill. It doesn’t really matter because today Steam Plant Brewing brews it all themselves on their own ten-barrel system and offer a lineup of ten regular beers along with seasonal and special-release beers. The Double Stack Stout is outstanding. Also, don’t be afraid to try the Jalapeno Beer, which offers more jalapeno essence than any other beer of this type I’ve tried. Not so much in the heat, but in the sweet pepper flavor. http://www.steamplantspokane.com/

Twelve String Brewing – Located just east of Spokane in Spokane Valley, Twelve String Brewing is in a light-industrial complex and offers a cozy, friendly tap room right next to the brewery. Owner/brewer, Terry Hackler, is a guitar aficionado and it shows, not only in the names he gives his beers, but in the decor as well. Be sure to try the Rhythmic RyePA and the C#7#5 IPA (just call it “C 7”). If you’re lucky, you’ll get to taste a barrel-aged beer, like the Whiskey barrel-aged Volume 1 Anniversary Double IPA (aged in Dry Fly Whiskey barrels). http://12stringbrewingco.com/

Selkirk Abbey  - This brewery opened in Post Falls, Idaho­ in 2011. It’s about 25 minutes east of Spokane and well-worth every minute of the drive. The brewery has a lovely tasting room that feels very much like a proper pub. As the name implies, the focus is on Belgian-style beers. Because they’ve yet to start distributing west of the mountains, Seattle folks probably haven’t heard about Selkirk Abbey yet. They will. Selkirk Abbey’s Rye Saison and Belgian Pale won gold medals at the 2013 North American Beer Awards. Beyond that, I cannot direct you to one beer over another. They are all quite spectacular. Jeffrey Whitman, the owner/brewer, hit a homerun when he hired head brewer Steve Milnes, who spent three years in Belgium becoming familiar with the local fare. http://www.selkirkabbey.com/

Iron Goat Brewing – Tucked away in a neighborhood just east of downtown Spokane, Iron Goat Brewing’s tasting room was completely packed on a sunny Saturday afternoon in August. That says a lot. Note the small, iron statue of a goat on the bar, ask about it and about the brewery’s name. If you’re lucky, you’ll get to see the picture of the 92 year old artist responsible for both. She’s a nun with an affection for the brewery’s Imperial IPA. The Head Butt IPA is solid, as is the Goatmeal Stout. If you can get your hands on one of the barrel-aged beers, don’t let go. Just drink. http://www.irongoatbrewing.com/

No-Li Brewhouse – The brewery formerly known as Northern Lights continues to lead the way for the other breweries in the region. No-Li Brewhouse co-founder John Bryant is a passionate advocate for his fellow brewers of the Inland Northwest. I could rave about the beers, but most folks are already familiar with beers like Crystal Bitter and Born & Raised IPA, so let’s talk about the recently expanded beer garden. Located on the banks of the Spokane River, this is one of the most relaxing beer gardens I’ve found in Washington. Picnic tables, Adirondack chairs, and plush grass beneath your feet accompany your beer and food as the river ambles along at your side. Inside, the pub hopes to continue expanding to satisfy the hungry and thirsty crowds, and we hear they will soon be revamping the food menu as well. In the brewery, a new and larger brewhouse is on the way. http://www.nolibrewhouse.com/

 

Eat and Drink

Manito Tap House – I visited some great pubs in Spokane, but I want to give a special shout-out to this place. Manito Tap House is an amazing dining destination, which just happens to have 50 beers on tap. While I was there, a local magazine was presenting Manito Tap House with a pair of “Best Of” awards. Beer loving out-of-towners might be disappointed by the lack of local beers on tap (some local brews, but not a lot), but there is no shortage of great beer and no lack of commitment to serving it the right way. Owner Patrick McPherson prides himself in showcasing hard-to-get beers from the likes of Dogfish Head Brewing, Sierra Nevada Brewing and Stone Brewing, among others. This is the only tap house I’ve visited that publicly posts a record of when the beer lines where cleaned. (It should be a law, in my opinion.) They even tell you how they were cleaned. I don’t want to sound like a highfalutin Seattle snob, but this place would wow foodies and beer geeks even if it were in Ballard, Wallingford or Capitol Hill. http://www.manitotaphouse.com/

Central Food – Overlooking the river and downtown, Central Food is a new restaurant in the Kendall Yard development: 80 acres of mixed use, residential, retail and commercial real estate that is at long-last coming to fruition. In the coming years, Kendall Yard will become a vibrant urban village just a few minutes (one mile) from downtown and Central Food will be at the heart of that brand new community. While they only have a few taps, they are all well-chosen craft beers. Chef David Blaine is no stranger to good beer and he gives the tap list his personal attention. The food will not disappoint and the view of the historic Monroe Street Bridge, downtown Spokane, the river, and the surrounding territory cannot be beat. http://eatcentralfood.com/

Sleep

There is no shortage of mid-range and low-range places to stay in Spokane and I invite you to discover those for yourself. As for me, I’ve grown accustom to a certain level of luxury and comfort. (Oh man, I am so joking about that.) If you want to treat yourself to something special, stay at any of the properties owned and operated by the Davenport Hotel. Perhaps the most breathtaking is the original Davenport Hotel itself. The Davenport is opulent and offers historic luxury. The Davenport Towers offers a more contemporary version of luxurious lodging. Hotel Lusso offers a charming boutique hotel experience and sits atop the Post Street Ale House, which offers good pub grub and 25 beers on tap. http://www.davenporthotelcollection.com/

The Breweries of the Inland Nortwest Ale Trail

  • Budge Brothers Brewing
  • Hopped Up Brewing
  • Iron Goat Brewing
  • Laughing Dog Brewing
  • No-Li Brewhouse
  • Orlison Brewing
  • Paradise Creek Brewing
  • Ramblin’ Road Brewing
  • Repubic Brewing
  • River City Brewing
  • Selkirk Abbey
  • Slate Creek Brewing
  • Steam Plant Brewing
  • Trickster’s Brewing
  • Twelve String Brewing
  • Wallace Brewing

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