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Microbreweries Become Toast of Northwest

November 08, 1987|MARK D. ASPINWALL | Aspinwall is a free-lance writer living in Washington, D.C.

PORTLAND, Ore. — At Captain Neon's fermentation chamber in the rear of the Hillsdale Brewpub, 1505 S.W. Sunset Blvd., Conrad Santos, brewer and philosopher, carries forth on the joys of live beer.

Hillsdale--and a few other small breweries--has made it easier for Portlanders, at least in the beer category. They have a selection of eight to 10 "live" beers brewed on the premises, part of a growing trend in the Northwest and elsewhere to get back to the basics in brewing.

Small commercial breweries--microbreweries as they are called--dot the northwest terrain from Seattle to Victoria, B.C., and from Portland to eastern Washington. They are popping up all over the country.

What distinguishes them from major commercial breweries is their size (theoretically, they are limited to 10,000 barrels a year). A more important difference is their fanatic devotion to making a high-quality product using primarily four ingredients: malted barley, hops, water and yeast.

Land of Beer Lovers

If you like beer and want to try some brews that are only available in local markets, on a neat little swing through the Northwest you can taste scores of beers and ales brewed in about 24 breweries. It takes you through Oregon, Washington and British Columbia.

In the Seattle area three small breweries make beer and, although none of them serves it on the premises, some pubs and restaurants do.

Kufnerbrau, 112 N. Lewis St., is truly a mom-and-pop operation in Monroe, Wash. The brewery is in a long, narrow storefront lined with sacks of malted barley and kegs. A stainless-steel brew pot towers in the back.

Robert Kufner, a German-born brewmaster who has brewed beer in Germany and for Anheuser-Busch, fondly refers to the beer as "she" as he tends to the equipment. About 95% of his product is bottled, unlike most of the Northwestern micros, and he and his wife, Kathy, bottle, cap and label the beer by hand.

Thomas Kemper Brewing Co., 7869 Day Road, West Rolling Bay, Wash., is on Bainbridge Island in Puget Sound--a short ferry ride from downtown Seattle. The boat trip offers some magnificent views of Mt. Rainier and the Olympic Mountains.

Kemper does not have a pub, but the public can taste either the fresh light or dark Munich-style lager at a tap inside the front door. The fact that they brew only lagers--a dunkel (dark) and a helles (light)--makes Kemper different from the majority of Northwestern breweries.

Oldest, Largest Brewery

One of the oldest microbreweries in the Northwest, and the largest in the nation, the Independent Ale Brewery, 4620 Leary Way N.W., Seattle, produces brews in its relatively spacious and well-appointed quarters, including Redhook Ale, Ballard Bitter and Blackhook Porter. It also comes out with a Christmas ale called Winterhook.

The company, in the Ballard district of Seattle, offers organized tours of the plant on Saturdays at 4 p.m. and at other times by appointment.

All the breweries will show you around if you ask, but if you would rather just taste, some superb taverns in Seattle serve these brews. Among the best are Murphy's, 2110 N. 45th St., and Cooper's, 8065 Lake City Way N.E., under the same management and specializing in microbrewed beers. Most of these establishments will give samplings of various beers upon request.

Murphy's has 12 beers on tap and is a beer drinker's bar--friendly, dark, wooden and filled with a jumble of kegs in the back. You'll get live folk music most nights. Cooper's has 17 micros on draft in a mildly '50s atmosphere: tiled floor, chrome stools and a couple of jukeboxes. Four dart boards line the back wall.

Perhaps one of the most enjoyable stops on the beer circuit is Spinnaker's Brewpub, Lime Bay, in Victoria. Victoria is reached by ferry from Seattle or Port Angeles, a lumber town on the north side of the Olympic Peninsula. The crossing time from Port Angeles is 95 minutes and there are four round trips a day during summer. The fare for a walk-on passenger is $5.50.

Spinnakers serves British-style beers and grub in a wood and fern, red-tile floor atmosphere, with a view of Victoria Harbor.

Visitors Welcome

The beer is brewed in the back of the pub in Victoria West Brewery. Aside from Abbot's Ale and Spinnaker Ale, the brew pub also produces a stout, a bitter (don't let the name scare you) and several specialty beers. It brews about 2,800 liters a week and the brew crew is happy to show visitors the operation.

At least seven brewing establishments thrive in the Portland area, most of which serve their product on the premises. The Hart Brewing Co. in Kalama, Wash., north of Portland, makes Pyramid Pale Ale, a wheat beer, and Pacific Crest Ale. It doesn't serve its brew on site, but ships it to both Seattle and Portland as well as smaller cities.

Within five blocks of each other, in an old industrial section of Portland, are three microbreweries: Columbia River Brewing, 1313 N.W. Marshall St.; Portland Brewing Co., 1331 N.W. Flanders St., and Widmer Brewing, 1405 N.W. Lovejoy St.

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