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Obituaries

Bert Grant; Led Microbrew Revolution

August 04, 2001|JON THURBER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Bert Grant, founder of the nation's first post-Prohibition brew pubs and a pioneer of the American beer revolution, has died. He was 73.

In failing health for some time, Grant died Tuesday in a nursing home in Vancouver, British Columbia. The cause of his death was not announced.

An outspoken man who railed against what he viewed as the bland taste and uniformity of nationally distributed beers, Grant helped spark the nation's interest in microbrews when he opened Yakima Brewing and Malting Co. in Yakima, Wash., in 1982.

From that location, Grant built a closet empire, brewing six ales year-round and several other seasonal ales. His trademark style is Grant's Scottish Ale, which he modestly called "the world's best ale."

"I thought if enough people made enough different beers, people would go for it," Grant told The Times some years ago. "With the imports doing so well, I thought that people were ready to become accustomed to something better than Budweiser. The big breweries have always had this attitude that if you advertise your product well enough, people will drink it. The American public isn't buying it as much anymore."

The microbrewing industry has boomed since Grant's small start and there are more than 1,400 brew pubs across the country, with the largest number in the Pacific Northwest, Colorado and California.

Grant was something of a stickler for purity at his microbrew and didn't allow smoking in his pub or brewery, noting that "cigarette, cigar and pipe smoking gives an adverse taste to the stout and ale."

Grant also was pragmatic and had a take-it-or-leave-it approach to consumers.

"It's simple," Grant said. "If you don't like it, drink something else. I make it for me. I don't make it for the masses. But a lot of people seem to like it as well as me. We've won a lot of awards with our beer."

Born Herbert L. Grant in Dundee, Scotland, Grant was raised in Toronto. Because of the World War II manpower shortage, Grant went to work in the breweries at age 16. A top student in his chemistry class, Grant found work in the chemistry department of Canadian Breweries. At the same time, he was offered a job as an apprentice gold assayer.

"I chose beer over gold," Grant said in his book, "The Ale Master: How I Pioneered America's Craft Brewing Industry, Opened the First Brewpub, Bucked Trends and Enjoyed Every Minute of It." Co-written with Robert Spector, it was published in 1998.

Grant spent much of his life working in the tasting and developing division for major breweries in Canada and the United States, but he recalled those experiences as "a frustrating time."

"I'd come up with a new beer and the accountants would turn me down because it was too expensive to brew," Grant said.

He noted that Budweiser's success is its simplicity. "They made a beer that nobody could object to," he said.

Grant realized some taste buds "will never mature."

"There will always be people who like Velveeta, but I'm not one of them."

In 1995, Grant sold his brewery to Stimson Lane Ltd., the maker of Chateau Ste. Michelle wines. Last year, Yakima Brewing produced 10,000 barrels of beer.

Grant is survived by two sons and three daughters.

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