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Friday, April 8, 2022

Precious Things Offers Stunning, Welcoming Experience

Reliving the quaint past of craft beer can be interesting...and instructive. Cash laden investors and hedge funds hadn’t yet entered the scene. Early craft brewers were stuck cobbling together makeshift breweries with their personal savings and borrowed money. Craft beer hadn’t yet arrived. 

On a recent trip to Spokane, I entered a worm hole that took me back to yesteryear. The area is home to a robust craft beer movement that’s probably a decade or so behind Portland in its evolution. There are a lot of small breweries catering to a growing audience of fans. 

My travels took me to Precious Things Fermentation Project, located in rural Spokane on the property of Jeff and Candace Clark. There, the Clarks have fashioned a unique experience with a collection of nice beers and a small taproom that has a ton of charm. You can't make this stuff up.

“We’ve been fans of craft beer for as long as we’ve been of drinking age…maybe longer,” Jeff said. “We’ve always been attracted to the camaraderie. It’s impossible to count the number of long lasting and close friendships we’ve made because of craft beer.”

The Clarks got totally hooked on craft beer while they were living in Portland, 2010-2015. Those years were instrumental in what they’re doing now, they say. It was then that they learned how to brew and started collecting the memorabilia that is now featured in their taproom. 

“The vision for what became Precious Things occurred to us about five years ago,” Jeff said. We had a bar set up in our garage, first in Oregon and then in Spokane. People would stop by and drink our homebrew and commercial beers. We had a tip jar, but it always seemed to wind up empty.”

While they enjoyed the experience of having people over and drinking good beer, the cost became unmanageable. They eventually decided to go into business for real and actually become part of the industry they had come to respect and love. 

“It’s ironic,” Candace said. “Many of the people who used to come to our place and drink for free now come here and pay to drink. And they leave tips. They could've saved money by just putting a little dough in the tip jar in the first place.”

Precious Things has a nice list of beers, but it operates on a tiny system. Even by the standards of the early craft brewers, it’s amazing that they get by with what they’re using. Of course, there are reasons for everything.

“Our system is incredibly small,” Jeff said. “You might say it's stupidly small. We still brew on two Grainfather systems we purchased years ago and brewed on before we moved here. Our plan when we moved here was to build a 2-barrel system. But the property won’t allow it.”

The issue with the property is it has a septic system and drain field. There’s no sewer in the area. Water disposal isn’t a huge problem, but disposal of solid waste (yeast and trub) is. The tiny system they have now doesn’t present much of a problem. Anything larger is a problem.

“We continue to use our Grainfathers, and we invested in four small conical fermenters and a glycol chiller to control their temperatures,” said Jeff. “We’ve managed to be open on Saturdays for two years doing this. For the last year, we've had an arrangement with Bellwether Brewing allowing us to brew on their pilot system and enjoy access to dry and cold storage.”

They do plan to expand the brewing system, though the taproom will stay exactly as it is. 

“We’re hoping to build a 3.5-barrel brewhouse here,” Jeff said. “The new building would allow us to move out of Bellwether and brew everything here. We’d also have more cold storage, as well as room to expand our barrel program." 

That plan hasn’t come to fruition because they haven’t been able to find a builder willing to do the work. Home construction in the Spokane area is off the hook crazy.

I had not searched out images of the taproom prior to my visit. It’s housed in what was once a garage. I expected a grubby space and was stunned by the aesthetics when I walked in. The place was packed and the visuals transported me to another place. While I enjoyed a few beers, Jeff and Candace poured beer and mingled with patrons. A most welcoming place.

“The aesthetic of our taproom has been influenced by places we love in Portland and beyond,” Candace said. “Places like Horse Brass Pub, Saraveza and Belmont Station, as well as the Cat's Eye Pub in Baltimore and the Delirium CafĂ© in Brussels. We really love to drink beer at places that have a lot of things to look at.”

For the Clarks, the overriding mission has always been to create a community of craft beer drinkers. That mission appears to have been largely accomplished in the two years they’ve been open. The busy taproom was evidence enough of that. 

“We love learning about beer, talking about beer, brewing beer, and of course drinking beer,” Jeff said. “We make beer for people we like and people we want to meet. If you love any of those things (learning, talking, brewing, drinking), then we make beer for you!”

If you find yourself in the Spokane area, a trip to Precious Things is definitely recommended. They don't currently have a website, but you can find them on Facebook and Instagram.