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September 8, 2014 at 12:40pm

Brewing Pint Defiance: Specialty beer store and taproom celebrates second anniversary

Renee and Barry Watson opened Pint Defiance specialty beer store and taproom Sept. 10, 2013.

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The South Sound - Pierce County especially - is quickly becoming a major craft beer destination. With long standing places such as Engine House No. 9, The RAM, Powerhouse and Harmon Brewing Company, to newer breweries such as 7 Seas Brewing, Wingman Brewers, Tacoma Brewing Company, Narrows Brewing and Puyallup River Brewing to not quite opened Odd Otter Brewing and Pacific Brewing and Malting Company, the choices for awesome craft beer are long and varied. But a hub hidden away in a strip mall on the edge of Fircrest, Pint Defiance, which will celebrate its second anniversary Saturday, is quickly becoming one of the centers of the local craft beer scene.

Pint Defiance is a carefully laid out bottle shop with a 50 foot long, 16 door wall cooler full of beer, meads and ciders and a small bar with 10 taps usually staffed by co-owner Barry Watson and his crew of experts R.J. Adler, Justin Johnson, Clare Hayford and Scott Travis. Barry and his wife and business partner, Renee, have been brewing the idea of opening a specialty beer store and taproom for years.

Mashing The Ingredients

Asked about the genesis of the shop, Barry replied, "Not to simplify the answer, but we opened the store out of the love for craft beer, especially Northwest beer. I've worked in the industry for so long, and absolutely love it." Barry's grandparents owned the C Street Café in Tacoma.

Barry was in school studying computers, working part-time at the ParkWay Tavern. His interests quickly changed, and after a stint managing the ParkWay, he went to work for a local beer distributor. His knowledge of the industry doubled after he and Renee opened the Rosewood Café off 26th and Warner in 2003, which quickly became North Tacoma's go-to spot for scratch soups, sandwiches, Giant Cowboy Cookie and a notable wine and craft beer offering, especially after Sunday bicycle rides.

The Watsons sold the restaurant to Richard and Gretchen Benzin in January 2012, whom they knew could maintain the magic, and were ready for the next chapter.

>>> Barry Watson, co-owner of Pint Defiance Specialty Beers and Taproom, sips a brew. Photo credit: J.M. Simpson

Fermenting The Idea

Barry had been knocking around the idea of a store solely dedicated to craft beer for quite some time. He promised his family he wouldn't start a new chapter without closing the previous one. Plus, they needed a break.

The break lasted about two months. Barry had his eye on Tacoma's Westside.

"Sure, we're Northend folks living just off Sixth Avenue, but we felt the Northend had craft beer covered with the Engine House, The Red Hot, ParkWay and The Spar. ... There are a dozen other good places to grab a quality craft beer in that area. Metropolitan Mark, Thriftway and Tacoma Boys also do a nice job of stocking great beer. We wanted to differentiate ourselves, and reach another market. Yet, not too far for our Northend friends to drive."

Unable to completely cut himself off from the industry Barry filled in shifts at The Red Hot craft beer and hot dog joint while the duo researched locations and the specialty store business. His friends thought he was crazy to open a beer store. The Watsons knew it would work.

>>> R.J. Adler, assistant manager at Pint Defiance, left, and co-owner Barry Watson proudly display the store's popular T-shirt. Photo courtesy of Facebook

A play off Point Defiance Park, the Watsons opened Pint Defiance at 2049 Mildred St. W. Sept. 10, 2012. Located in the space that formerly housed Mario's Mercato Italiano on the edge of Fircrest, the 1,800 square feet store houses 1,000 or so beers, ciders and meads in a long, narrow bright space, which includes a bar, high and low top tables and a retail section stocked with clever promotional T-shirts, including the poplar I Hop Tacoma with an actual hop replacing the word.

The duo shares responsibilities, although Renee spends more time in the office while Barry pulls more taps. They're hand-in-hand during beer research trips, which happens often. They spend time with brewery owners and head brewers, researching the beers before allowing them in their cold cases.

The Watsons hired friendly, beer experts to help run the store and taproom, and encourage them to suggest beers and contribute ideas.

>>> Photo credit: J.M. Simpson

"I'd like to take credit for all of our great ideas, but Renee and our staff have come up with really good ideas," Barry says with a laugh. "Our newest full-time employee, Scott Travis, came up with the idea of our Seattle Beer Week Marathon. We crushed through 70 kegs in eleven days."

Filtering The Flavor

When you browse up and down the cold case trying to select a few 22-ounce beers you maybe haven't tried yet, the staff at Pint Defiance inevitably comes up and asks you with concern if you need help. And that's what makes Pint Defiance beer heaven. They can help you decide among Belgian Trappists and Northwest IPAs, debate the merits of Sierra Nevada's Beer Camp 12-pack even though you don't drink milk stouts, and explain the new Washington state liquor laws, including SB 6442 allowing cider to be sold in growlers. And if you already have your mind made up, just let the staff know what you need, and they'll send enough 10 Barrel Brewery beer to keep your party rolling straight to the cash register where you wait to pay.

While Pint Defiance sees its share of beer newbies, the specialty beer and taproom is also home to a who's who of West Coast brewing. Grab a barstool and within a half hour a brewer, distributor, patron with 1,000 or more distinct beers on the Untappd app or a top customer for Barry's days managing the ParkWay Tavern will drop by for a beer. Barry can name all the breweries in Astoria, Oregon, even notable but hidden Buoy Beer Company, because he's visited them all. The middle table at Pint Defiance was a gift from Rob Widmer, who threw it in his truck and drove it up from Portland. South Sound head brewers celebrate their birthdays at Pint Defiance. And Pint Defiance's almost weekly Brewer's Nights, more often than not, include prided possessions from the represented brewery's owners as raffle prizes.

>>> Photo credit: J.M. Simpson

"Pint Defiance has become a destination for beer lovers," says R.J. Adler, assistant manager at Pint Defiance. "I've seen countless people make friends at the bar just by asking, ‘What are you drinking?' People who love craft beer love to talk and share and have a seemingly endless well of generosity. I was helping a couple pick out some beers one day, and we got to talking about Russian River Brewing and how they had recently decided to stop distributing to Washington in early 2013. I mentioned that I have never tried one of their sours that we had carried previously, Supplication. The couple bought a few bottles, thanked me, and left. About an hour later, I'm pouring a pint and someone reaches over the bar and sets a bottle in a brown paper bag in front of me. That same couple came back just to give me a bottle of Supplication. I was gobsmacked. I have hundreds of stories like this of the generosity that the craft beer community has. And Pint Defiance gives them a place to circle around."

"I think why people come to drink at Pint Defiance is because of our atmosphere and customer service," says employee Justin Johnson. "We all pride ourselves in our knowledge of craft beer and providing a welcoming environment. I personally enjoy talking to people and getting to know them. As cheesy as it sounds, I like having a pub where everyone knows your name. We are all a fun group of people who enjoy sharing a laugh over a pint."

Clinking Pints

Pint Defiance has squirrelled away some special kegs for the second anniversary celebration.

"We wanted to show off some of our favorites as well as showcase a few unique offerings," explains Barry. "I don't want to give too much away, but know that there will be a little something for all tastes. IPAs, sour, barrel-aged porter, cider, pale and others. Elysian Brewing Company brewmaster Steve Luke has been sneaking us special kegs all year for events. This time around, he is advancing us a keg of what Elysian will be entering in this years Great American Beer Festival - The Quarter Nelson Pale."

Besides Elysian, expect some of the Watsons' other favorites such as Almanac and Dogfish Head, plus a few rarities.

Barry's Beer Camp "No Sleep ‘Till Chico" Coffee Vanilla Porter will also be in the house. Barry was fortunate to attend Sierra Nevada's Beer Camp, the Chico, California brewery's full-immersion, hands-on beer education where - in addition to learning everything about the pioneering brewery - distributors, brewery owners and select industry campers such as Barry work with Sierra Nevada brewers to develop a name, concept and recipe for a new beer of their choosing, which is produced and distributed to a very select number of accounts. Apparently Barry is an "A" student, which you'll discover Saturday, if you haven't tasted the porter.

Of course, it's not a second anniversary party without a second anniversary beer. Thanks to Stoup Brewing in Seattle, the 2nd Anniversary IPA will be on tap Saturday.

"I met Brad Benson from Stoup Brewing back in March when we hosted the Tacoma leg of the Hop-Mob Triple IPA Fest. We were so impressed with his young brewery that Renee and I started making trips to Ballard to sample his beers and bring kegs back to Pint Defiance," explains Barry. "They have since hired a sales manager so we can get their beers more regularly and have had much of the Stoup line-up in regular rotation. I asked Stoup to brew our anniversary beer after Brad and I bonded over 10 Barrel Brewing Co.'s O.G. Wheat IPA. We both liked how uniquely the wheat in the grain bill of that beer changed the overall mouthfeel of the beer and how well it showcased the hops."

Bittered with Millennium hops, finished with Falconer's flight and dry hopped with a combination of Amarillo, Simco and Falconer's flight, the 2nd Anniversary was brewed with two-row barley, red, flaked and crystal wheat, ringing in at 6.2 percent ABV and 45 IBUs.

"The 2nd Anniversary IPA is fantastic," notes Barry. "Brad and I wanted to put a twist on an IPA without it being a novelty. We made a wheat-based IPA with strong color and terrific palate - really rich, and more full-bodied than a traditional IPA. Starts off nice and citrus-y and hoppy, then once you swallow it, the palate is wiped clean and ready for the next taste. Stoup is certainly a brewery to watch. Not only do they make fantastic beer, but they play well with others and collaborate a lot."

Typical of Pint Defiance Brewer's Nights, the two-year anniversary party will be lively, full of beer chatter and pats on the back from Barry and Renee, who will be the first to admit none of their success would have happened without their staff and customers. A lot of stores in the South Sound sell beer, but then, a lot of stores sell batteries and toilet paper, too. Pint Defiance is the place to go if you want to hang with people who revel in beer - who really love the stuff.  

PINT DEFIANCE TWO-YEAR ANNIVERSARY, 11 a.m. to close, Saturday, Sept. 13, Pint Defiance, 2049 Mildred St. W., Fircrest, free admission, 253.302.4240

Filed under: New Beer Column, Fircrest, Tacoma,
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Served, a blog by the Weekly Volcano, is the region’s feedbag of fresh chow daily, local restaurant news, New Beer Column, bar and restaurant openings and closings, breaking culinary news and breaking culinary ground - all brought to the table with a dollop of Internet frivolity on top.

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