Back to Features

Taste testing Tacoma and Gig Harbor brews

Local winter beers offer extended holiday treats

Recommend Article
Total Recommendations (0)
Clip Article Email Article Print Article Share Article

Oh Father Winter, with you comes Jack Frost nipping at my nose. Fingers rigid and cold, hair wild from blustery winds, I curse you. And then I remember that with you also come winter ales and I take all the bad things I said about you back. You warm my heart, or at least my gullet as I chug and sip my way through copious amounts of beer to warm my soul.

Now that the holiday season has passed, many winter brews are exiting through a secret side door not to be seen again until next year when pinecone wreaths adorn our doors and Christmas lights dazzle from every window pane. It's not too late to get your lips around a pint or two of dark, delicious, roasted brews.

I met with two beer connoisseurs: Rob Brunsman, well-known marketing director of Olympic Eagle Distributing turned bigwig regional of Anheuser-Busch, clearly a lover of all things hops and shameless plugger of Stella Artois and Goose Island brewskis looking forward to delving into the beer world of T-town. And Chris Casella, my husband, and regional manager of Washington state Matador restaurants, though beers were his forte long before tequila having been managing bartender of the Ale House in University Place for several years. We united as a "panel of the brews" to bring to you what Tacoma breweries enlightened upon us as far as the winter beers go. Here's a rundown of our beer-ventures.

We began at The Ram along the Ruston Waterfront. The Ram's seasonal beer was Sno Angel Winter Weizenbock ($6). A German-style wheat ale, much different than the traditional holiday beers that are almost black in color, this one was a nice dark nutty-brown hue. Right off the bat we got the wheat flavors. We each were impressed by this winter brew's drinkability, as Rob informed me the folks in the beer business refer to this as a beer being sessionable. Rob noted the hints of chocolate and fruitiness and the nice clean finish. Not sure who was the first to mention it, probably me as I crinkle my nose and note about halfway through the pint that the sessionability that was first mentioned seemed to dissipate. The nutty factor really began to stick to the roof of your mouth. Great with a nibble, perhaps not our favorite all by its lonesome. The fellas found it great for the nutty brown fans."

Engine House No. 9 really brings it when it comes to the realm of winter brews. On our visit they didn't have a mere ONE seasonal brew to sip on but FOUR. All four being substantially different from the last. Engine House brew masters Shane and Shawn are looking to get on the map with experimental and drool-inspiring concoctions.

We started with the 2012 Snow Cru ($5.50); this had a mild hop and a slight skunkiness to it. Not necessarily a negative thing, think Heineken or Rolling Rock, but an acquired taste. We moved on to the Barrel A Batch #3 Sour Ale ($7), which is SOUR and served in a goblet-style glass. Made me feel fancy until the sour-lemon face hit me hard. Nice fruity aromas with a tartness that hit the back of your tongue. Rob thought immediately of a cider while sipping on this brew. For the finale, or so I thought initially, we tried the Merlot Spiced Porter ($6). UM, wow, more please. This is what I think of when it comes to seasonal brews. Beautiful aromas of roasted coffee, malty and well rounded. The oak from the Merlot barrel really lent a nice warm balance.

As an afterthought, we came across the Christmas in Brussels. Probably both Chris and Rob's favorite on this visit. Nice hints of spices like cardamom and nutmeg. It packed a punch for its golden hue and tasted like a nicely wrapped Christmas present under the tree.

Next up was 7 Seas Brewing. Our lone Gig Harbor brewery that has earned high praise for their Ballz Deep IPA, 7 Seas was a must to include. Rob was kind enough to snag a growler of the Le Havre (The Harbor) Belgian Winter Ale to share, since his abode is on that side of the dreaded lofty tolled bridge. This Belgian style used a pale ale malt and boasted of creamy chocolate, dark roasted aromas with maybe a touch of spice. Absolutely a big hit with the three of us, it was a simple task to divide and conquer the growler.

The Harmon Brewery has been wowing recently with their experimental beer concoctions, recently running a 12 Beers of Christmas challenge to prove it, collaborating with 21 Cellars and announcing plans to collaborate with Dry Fly Distillery as well. Their Steep and Deep Winter Ale was the most sessionable of all we tried. Nice and malty with faint hints of a bitter bite and a surprisingly clean finish. The aromas were lightly roasted with hints of chocolate.

Tacoma Brewing Company recently reached their Kickstarter goal to help fund a new bigger and better location, which is great news because sadly due to their limited availability of Friday evening tap nights, the three of us were not able to make it in and indulge in the likes of their Chocolate Chili Stout, Pomegranate Porter and Bloody Mary IPA. (shakes fist at the heavens) I cannot wait to wet my whistle with what's to come from this small brewery.

Unable to make it to Wingman Brewers tap room for a pint personally (again due to scheduling constraints), we scoured Tacoma for a sample of their seasonal only to settle for their P-51 Porter. Now, to "settle" sounds dramatic because the P-51 Porter is now on this girl's list! Robust, malty chocolates and roasted aromas fill this can of beer. An excellent chugging choice for those Northwesterners who love themselves a good cup of joe.

No one beer or brewery stood out as the reigning champion as we all swooned for different brews. Top three?

Rob really enjoyed the Harmon Deep and Steep Ale. It had great maltiness with just enough hops that made it super drinkable. Which earns brownie points as far as Rob is concerned, because who wants to just drink ONE beer? Not Rob, that I can tell you.

Chris, having a deep affection for 7 Seas' Ballz Deep, felt as though he had found a clear winner as far as his go-to seasonal brew was concerned when it came to 7 Seas Le Havre Belgian Winter Ale. We very well could have been witnessing the steamy affair of a man and his beer right before our eyes. It was love at first sip.

And mine is really a no brainer. I love wine and I love porters so E-9's Merlot Spiced Porter won a special place in my heart with its oaky, roasted black-as-night brew.

As our adventure came to a close, it was fully realized by the three of us that Tacoma has claimed its right to beer legend status. Stories were told, laughs were had, beer was drank, chugged, sipped and enjoyed. And with that I adjourn the panel of the hops.

Read next close



comments powered by Disqus

Site Search