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February 9, 2015 at 1:38pm

Brewer On Brewer: Exit interview with Joe Walts of Narrows Brewing

Joe Walts, center, poses with Zoe Brackney and Todd Buckley at the ParkWay Tavern. Photo credit: Morgan Alexander

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During a recent Monday Randall night at the ParkWay Tavern in Tacoma's Northslope neighborhood, I met with Joe Walts, head brewer for Narrows Brewing Company. Walts is leaving Tacoma to return to his former position as head lab technician for Ale Asylum in Wisconsin. Seated around us at the ParkWay were Tristan Litke of Tacoma Brewing Co., Zoe Brackney of Tacoma Beer Week and Todd Buckley of Tacoma Alcohol Consortium. We decided it was a good time to give Walts a Tacoma beer community exit interview.

MORGAN ALEXANDER: What's been your take on the Northwest brewing scene?

JOE WALTS: It wasn't that different from what I was experiencing in Wisconsin and Michigan, which have been in the lead, and other states are starting to do more such as Minnesota and Illinois. What I expected when I came out here was to be blown away by the hoppy beers. I was ready for that. What I found is a good IPA is a good IPA everywhere. The difference has been the people who are drinking craft beer because it's local or drinking craft beer for the taste - those people are drinking IPAs out here. Back in the Midwest, they're drinking amber lagers and cream ales.

TRISTAN LITKE: Let's talk about beer flavors. What are some of your favorite flavors?

WALTS: First of all, my palate sucks. I'm the first to admit it. I drink a beer and I think it tastes beery and delicious. So, I'm going to start with what I don't like. There's one flavor in beer that I don't like, and that's dextrines. So, really sweet beers - that come from mashing at a high temperature - that flavor and mouthfeel, I don't like across the board. You're making a Scotch Ale and it could be malty and overly sweet or it could be malty and delicious. It's a really specific type of sweetness. I don't mind sugar sweetness but I hate dextrine sweetness.

ZOE BRACKNEY: I totally trolled your Facebook pictures and lusted over the lambics and other beers you were brewing. Now that you won't be working crazy hours for a startup brewery, are you looking forward to brewing at home?

WALTS: I am excited about that. I'm probably going to jump back into lambics for sure. It's something I was doing at home before I moved out here and was two-and-a-half years into a three-year geuze blending project when I got this (Narrows Brewing) job and abandoned it. I am going to have to brew an Anniversary beer again - I only have two or three bottles left. I'll have to do something Belgian and huge and raspberry for my wife. I don't expect to be brewing every weekend or anything like that. The biggest issue is that I don't have any time with my family. Getting back to that is what this job is going to give me, so I'm probably not going to be spending much of that time brewing.

TODD BUCKLEY: Being from outside the area, what did you think about Tacoma?

WALTS: Tacoma has a mix that is really rare in the world. Tacoma is a liberal blue-collar town where people are really pragmatic but also fairly educated and really not snobby about it - and that's hard to find. Places that I've experienced either tend to be really, really academic or really, really ignorant. Tacoma reminds me of Portland, Maine - it's just a place that I really identify with and I'm going to be sad to leave Tacoma. As a town, I think it's wonderful. As far as the beer scene goes, I think the best word I could use to describe it is under-rated. There's so much good beer in Tacoma and nobody knows it. I don't think even people in Tacoma know it.  Before I came out here, I checked on reviews of Tacoma's breweries and not many people had good things to say. When I got to Tacoma and started drinking the beer, I'm like, "this is delicious!" I've had people say to me before, "that brewery's beer tastes like poison" and "this brewery's beer is s--- garbage" and "this brewery's beers are boring," and every single one of these breweries is putting out some great beer. I think there's a disconnect with Tacoma's reputation and what Tacoma is actually doing in terms of beer. I think one thing Tacoma's excelling at is - even if the community doesn't know it yet - they're really good at connecting with the community. I mean, Morgan and Ken down at Wingman are both Tacoma as Tacoma gets. And people are figuring out their niches. Like Engine House Nine and their sour program. It's just off the charts. And they're running with it and they're turning it into something fantastic. I don't know anyone that's making a hard ginger ale and Tacoma Brewing is just rocking it. And so all these breweries are figuring out what they do really well and I think people are going to recognize it someday.

Joe Walts official send-off party will be held from 5-7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 20 in Narrows Brewing Company's taproom. The party is also a chance to welcome Mike Davis - formerly with Harmon Brewing Co., H-Fi brewing and Elliott Bay Brewing - as the new head brewer at Narrows Brewing Co.

NARROWS BREWING COMPANY, 2-9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, noon to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 9007 S. 19th St., Tacoma, 253.327.1400

Morgan Alexander is founder and head brewer at Tacoma Brewing Company, 625 Saint Helens Ave., in Tacoma's Triangle District.

Filed under: New Beer Column, 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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