This past weekend, the Washington Beer Cruiser racked up some serious mileage. We drove roundtrip from Seattle to Walla Walla. While we admit that the purpose of the trip was a Saturday wine tasting adventure to celebrate Mrs. Beerblog’s birthday with friends, we did manage to visit five breweries along the way: Yakima Craft Brewing Company, Snipes Mountain Brewery and Restaurant, Walla Walla Brewers, Whitstran Brewing Company, and Roslyn Brewing Company. Instead of posting them all at once, we’ll post stories about each brewery individually over the coming days.
Yakima Craft Brewing Company
Our first stop was Yakima Craft Brewing Company (YCBC). You will want to trust your navigator or call for specific directions to find this spot. You will not find it by accident or without paying attention. Although they keep regular business hours, YCBC recommends that you call before visiting to confirm that they will actually be at the brewery and not out making deliveries. The brewery is in an industrial building and they do not have a large or obvious store front. The “tasting room” is a table in what you would call the break room if this were a cabinet shop or a welding shop, which it may have been in a previous life.
After a high stress career in the frantic world of high technology, Jeff Winn wanted to do something that he could control. Namely, he wanted to make beer. Like many of his fellow Washington brewmasters, Jeff began dabbling in zymurgy in his garage. His hobby grew into a passion and eventually a profession. Recognizing Yakima to be an underserved craft beer market, he relocated from Portland to open Yakima Craft Brewing.
Jeff teamed up with Chris Swedin, who brewed at Bert Grant’s brew pub back in the day. Not only are they using one of Bert’s old brewers, they’re using Bert’s original brew kettle. Yakima Craft Brewing is a bit like a living museum. It’s easy to imagine Bert scratching his chin and peering into the boil as he conjured up the Washington craft beer revolution back in the early 1980s. The old copper kettle is still pumping out world-class ales 3.5 barrels at a time. In fact, back in March one of the nation’s leading beer publications, the Beer Advocate, awarded Yakima Craft Brewing IPA a rating of A+. (Read our original post about that award.) Not many beers earn that distinction.
“Getting that acclaim from the Beer Advocate put some pressure on us to expand,” Jeff Winn told us, “But we just built this place and expanding would involve moving to, and building out, a new location.” As we said, Jeff started brewing professionally because he wanted to do something that he could control. He intends to expand the operation on his own terms and in his own time.
“There are things you can control and things you can’t,” says Jeff, talking about the craft beer industry. “That’s what our slogan Just Good Beer means. We can control that.”
We sampled an array of beers. The IPA is very impressive and lives up to its acclaim. We were also impressed with the Pale Ale, which seemed lighter and more refreshing than many Washington pale ales we encounter. The YCBC Pale Ale satisfied our sophisticated craft beer palate but could also serve as a good primer for a craft beer novice. On the other end of the scale are the two Belgian-style ales: the Good Monkey and the Bad Monkey. The Good Monkey is golden and the Bad Monkey is dark. Both are rich and complex. They impressed us equally.
Bert Grant wasn’t a native Washingtonian. He could have located his brewery anywhere. He specifically chose the Yakima River Valley because he wanted to be close to the hops. He didn’t choose Yakima because he thought it was the best place to make a buck brewing beer. He chose it because it was the best place to make good beer. Bert would be proud of the beers YCBC is producing.
Just good beer, indeed.