expr:class='"loading" + data:blog.mobileClass'>

Thursday, December 12, 2013

7 Seas Brewing: Gig Harbor's Rising Star

One of my industry friends recently said this: "If Washington is the cradle of the craft beer movement, Oregon is the nursery." His rationale is that Bert Grant and Redhook were established before Oregon had much going on. But Oregon quickly displaced Washington once it got moving.

That allegory is not entirely accurate. Anchor and New Albion, both in Northern California, predated anything in Washington. These places provided the idealistic fodder that led to craft breweries subsequently being pieced together in Washington and Oregon. That's my view, anyway.

By the time I left the rolling hills of the Palouse for Portland in 1989, Oregon's craft movement was well-established and growing. Breweries were popping up in Washington, as well, but it always appeared to me that Oregon was leading the charge.

Fast forward to present day Western Washington. Seattle has emerged as a robust craft beer market. Sales are strong in numerous channels. Across the water from the Emerald City lies the Olympic Peninsula, where residents wear galoshes most of the year. It's a little sleepy. I know. I have soaking wet family out there.
Taking flight
It was largely thanks to those family connections that I discovered 7 Seas Brewing in 2009. The place opened shop in 2008 and occupied a quaint space in a funky part of Gig Harbor. I made it a point to stop in whenever I risked the elements and traveled up there.

The original 7 Seas location featured a miniature tasting room, the kind of place where you sometimes needed a shoehorn to get a beer. Through a glass window, you could watch brewing operations. Beer choices, in my experience, were limited to three or four. Capacity was clearly an issue.

The innerds
Space-challenged almost from the beginning, 7 Seas moved to larger, more lavish digs in 2012. Production shifted in March. The taproom followed in December. They brought along their old 8.5 bbl brewing system, now used for experimental and pilot batches. Production brewing moved to a 25 bbl system. Nice setup.

Just as importantly, the new location is a virtual Spruce Goose next to the old place. There is a glut of space for tasting and conversation. For the two or three days of decent weather they get every year, they have a patio area outside. Mixed nuts are complementary, but there are no TVs in sight. I'm told that's by design. I think they should fix that, but never mind.

Part of the brewing operation
I should mention that these folks have been selling their beer at retail since very early on. Many stores in the area carry 7 Seas beers. They package in 4-packs of 16 oz cans, a decision driven by the well-known benefits of canning. For folks who still think canned beer sucks, this ain't your grand-pappy's can or beer.

On my recent visit, I was impressed by the number of 7 Seas beers on tap. They had the standards covered, but were also pouring a collection of seasonals. This is apparently the result of having enough production capacity to mess around with unique seasonal approaches.

From the standard list, I have always liked Rude Parrot IPA and Ballz Deep Double IPA. Rude Parrot is lighter and fruitier, where Ballz Deep is mildly sweet and highly resinous. They also produce a decent pale (British Pale Ale) and amber (Cutt's). The real standout this time around was their Cascadian Dark Ale. I appreciate the fact that they don't call it Black IPA. Anyway, this is a fantastic beer with, as they say, layers of hop character balanced with a smooth, lingering malt finish. Very nice.

From the seasonal list, I was amazed by the Bridge-Toll Berliner-Weisse. (The name is a reference, I assume, to the nearby Narrows Bridge, which costs $5.25 to cross when you're headed back to civilization.) I thought Bridge-Toll was a brilliant little beer (3.9%) and perfectly tart. No one else agreed. Of course, no one else in the group was from Beervana, where we see this style a lot.

For Gig Harbor's sunny days
What's the future of 7 Seas beers? In a cordial email, co-founder Mike Runyon told me they are focused mostly on the local market. Keeping up with demand is a challenge. I suppose keeping cans on store shelves and draft accounts filled keeps them busy. They aren't really inclined to push distribution into distant cities.

"If beer lovers in a local market are enjoying all the beers a brewery has to offer, why ship the beer further," Runyon said. "As we grow and catch up with demand, we may reach a little further. We hope to distribute to Vancouver and Bellingham in the near future. Eastern Washington is another potential market. We'll see."

If you're in the area, visit 7 Seas, Gig Harbor's rising star.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Keep it civil, please.