Weekly Volcano Blogs: Served blog

October 6, 2014 at 11:52am

Top Rung Brewing Co. to release new beers, increase hours and host Hoptober party

Top Rung Brewing Co.'s head brewer Jason Stoltz, left, chats with new hire Mike Besser, while the fifth batch of Prying Irons IPA ferments. Photo credit: Pappi Swarner

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"Hey! It's the Top Rung guys!"

I don't know how many times I have heard those words spoken with glee. I've heard the words at beer festivals, including the Washington Brewers Fest. I heard the words at beer events, including the recent soft opening of Pacific Brewing & Malting Co.

Top Rung Brewing Co. founders Casey Sobol and Jason Stoltz draw attention.

It could be the Thurston County firefighters are, well, firefighters, and good-looking ones to boot.

It could be they're genuinely nice guys.

Mostly, the home brewers turned brewery owners draw attention because they brew damn delicious beers.

Recently, huddled around Pint Defiance specialty beer store's taps, I witnessed customer after customer choose the Top Rung Prying Irons IPA after a taste comparison. Stoltz, head brewer, is currently fine-tuning his fifth batch of Prying Irons.

>>> Casey Sobol and Jason Stoltz pouring their Top Rung brews at the Washington Brewers Fest at Marymoor Park this past June. Photo credit: Pappi Swarner

The duo opened their Lacey brewery in April. The career firefighters - 20 years for Sobol and seven for Stoltz - had been brewing in a garage between shifts at the McLane/Black Lake Fire Department. It became real when the duo's Hosechaser Blonde grabbed the Dick's Brewing "Beer for a Cure" home brewing contest top prize in 2012 - and they began to shadow Dick's brewer Parker Penley. After finding investors, including Olympia Brewfest founder Mike Marohn, they opened a 10-barrel production brewery with tasting room off Hogum Bay Lane. Currently on tap are the award-winning Hosechaser Blonde, Prying Irons IPA, Raspberry Wheat, Good Jake CDA and My Dog Scout Stout, which they often run through a Randall loaded with chocolate and coffee. Two weeks ago, they released their first red ale, the 360 Red (a complete 360-degree assessment must be complete in order to size up an incident) with Cascade and Nugget hops and malts Red X, 2-Row, oats and Chocolate. The firefighting motif carries over into their tasting room, which is family friendly. Snacks are available, but substantial food arrives via local food vendors and food trucks. They do allow patrons to bring in their own food or have it delivered.

>>> Top Rung Brewing Co.'s 360 Red

Top Rung Brewing will host a Hoptober party Saturday. I caught up with Operations Manager Sobol for party details, his latest hires and upcoming beer releases.

WEEKLY VOLCANO: Tell me about the 360 Red.

CASEY SOBOL: This is the first Red we have done. We are very pleased with how it turned out. We've been happy with the color and balance. With all of our beers we may make some minor tweaks over time, but we are very pleased with the release of the Red.  We used a newer malt that we hadn't used before, Red X, and have been impressed with its performance and balance. It has received a great reception and is becoming very popular.  We expected that it would be a great offering to start in the fall. 

VOLCANO: Have you enjoyed running a brewery?

SOBOL: We enjoy the challenges and opportunities to come up with new recipes and the opportunity to see people enjoying our beer and talking about it.  We see ourselves as meeting a need in the community and providing people with a nice, relaxing atmosphere and place to congregate with family and friends while enjoying our craft beer.  It's also fun that both of us can brew and also do the "business" work. Obviously, the brewing is the fun!  But both Jason and I have divided up the work, and he took on the head brewer duties primarily and I took on the operations side of things. We both enjoy brewing.

VOLCANO: What did you not see coming once you turned on the machines?

SOBOL: Some of the time commitment and the challenges that create in trying to balance our time with our families, the brewery and our "full-time" jobs as firefighters. I think another challenge has been in distributing. We are self-distributing, which takes a significant amount of time and energy. I can't overemphasize the level of love and support we've received from our families in doing this and recognize the sacrifices that they have made as we fulfill our dreams and goals with the brewery and we can't thank them enough for that.

VOLCANO: I swear longtime beer blogger BrewDad poured me a Red Ale in your taproom Thursday.

SOBOL: Ahhh, Mike Besser.  We made the decision to hire two positions at the beginning of October, albeit sooner than we had anticipated doing.  But that decision was made as we found the amount of time we could commit to distribution wasn't where we wanted it to be and working in the tap room every night we were open in addition to our 24-hour fire department shifts was burning the candle at both ends a little too much.  We had the opportunity to meet Mike a couple years ago and he has been an excellent resource and extremely knowledgeable with beer.  He is well known, respected and has a very positive attitude.  Additionally, he has a wealth of contacts locally and we believe that he will be able to give the time and attention to our distribution that we want and help the brewery meet it's distribution goals.  We also hope to bottle in the near future, which will be another addition for distribution. Mike will also help with events and occasionally in the taproom.  In addition to Mike, we have hired Brittany who will work as a Tap Room associate and will also help with events and marketing.  They are both excellent additions to the Top Rung Brewing family. 

VOLCANO: I hope Mike continues to write at brewdad.com.

SOBOL: He will. We certainly encourage Mike to continue with that independently.

VOLCANO: How many batches have been released at Top Rung?

SOBOL: We are now on our 18th batch of beer overall, which is our Trashed Pumpkin Ale (see below).  Our fifth batch of Prying Irons IPA is in the fermenter now. We also brewed our first pilot batch of our Double IPA, which will be released at our brewer's night at Pint Defiance Thursday, Oct. 9, and at the Washington Beer Commission's South Sound IPA Fest at Tacoma's Union Station, Oct. 18. We had hoped to release some in the taproom but ran short. We'll plan to brew more. In regards to the Prying Irons IPA recipe, there have been some minor changes and adjustments to the amount of caramel malt and hop additions. In scaling up our recipes we knew the IPA would be the hardest to replicate just because of the challenges with hop utilization. This proved to be true. Welcome to craft brewing.

VOLCANO: Have you been well received in the firefighting community?

SOBOL: Yes, we do get firefighters from all over who visit the brewery. It's great to talk with them and have them visit.  We were especially pleased to hold our 9/11 Memorial run event here at the brewery on September 11th.  It was pretty emotional, and we couldn't have been happier with the outcome to remember those lost. This will be an annual event.

VOLCANO: What's next for Top Rung? 

SOBOL: We plan to continue to step up our production and distribution around Thurston, Pierce and Lewis counties. We will also continue to work on releasing some additional beers as part of our line-up. We are starting to get in more of a groove with our scheduling and timing of beer releases. 

Coming up, we will be releasing our Pumpkin Ale at our Hoptober party Oct. 11 - as well as an Imperial Stout and a Black Lager.  We will also be brewing some other beers on our pilot system and releasing them as a "Pilot Series" for in the taproom only and special events. 

On Thursdays, we will continue to do our "Thirsty Thursday" and run a beer through our Randall. 

And lastly, we will start to open on Sundays from noon to 5 p.m. in a couple weeks and will have the Seahawks on!

The Top Rung Brewing Co.'s Hoptober party will consume the taproom, front patio and the large parking lot behind the brewery from 2-9 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 11. Expect barbecue food, games such as cornhole, ladder toss and Jenga. As mentioned, Top Rung's Pumpkin Ale will be released at the party. Bluegrass trio The Outlanders will perform three sets beginning at 6 p.m. There isn't a cover charge.

TOP RUNG BREWING COMPANY, 4-9 p.m. Thursday, 2-9 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 8343 Hogum Bay Lane NE, Suite B, Lacey, 360.239.3043

Filed under: New Beer Column, Lacey,
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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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