Eastern Washington Craft Beer

[WA Flag]

The Snake River roars in from Idaho as the Yakima winds on down the Eastern slope of the Cascades. Both join forces with the mighty Columbia as it charges toward Washington's Pacific coast, forming the Washington-Oregon border in the process. Amidst this activity 140 miles southwest of Spokane, WA, the Tri-Cities of Kennewick, Richland and Pasco seem to be producing new craftbreweries as quickly as the neighboring Yakima Valley sprouts new vineyards and hop plantations.

Born on the Fourth of July, 1997, Rattlesnake Mountain Brewing Co. in Richland offers a location any brewpub would envy, the banks of the majestic Columbia River. Outside, the large deck offers river vistas while inside, seating for 210 is surrounded by plenty of glass, high ceilings and dark wooden beams. The dining area hosts the glass-walled brewhouse that sports a brick fireplace, a legacy from the building's former life. Operating at about one quarter capacity, production now stands at 425 barrels a year at the hands of Master Brewer Steve Metzger. Regular features include the Golden, Honey Red, Amber, Smoked Porter and Oatmeal Stout. Currently seeing self-distribution to nine draught accounts within 60 miles, look for bottling to begin this fall. Stop by to catch some live music, sample the Brewer's Special, then get a growler or keg to go.

Richland's other brewpub is the Atomic Ale Brewpub & Eatery. The small bar inside offers a view of the three-barrel brewing system as well as of the cozy dining area where the walls are covered by all sorts of paraphernalia from the Hanford Nuclear Facility. Once the life blood of this tiny community, Hanford's role today has changed, with its current official designation as the nation's most environmentally contaminated site. President/Brewmaster Aaron Burks now produces products with a shelf-life measured in weeks rather than in centuries, much to consumers' delight. These include the Atomic Amber, Waynier Isotope IPA, Plutonium Porter, Burks Blonde, Oppenheimer Oatmeal Stout and Half-Life Hefeweizen.

Whether dining indoors smoke-free or outdoors on the shaded patio, the atmosphere is relaxed and both the food and beers are tasty. Plans call for growing production closer to the system's 700-barrel annual capacity, and lobbying to improve restrictive state laws regarding multiple liquor licenses; Aaron's ownership of the nearby Monterosso's Italian Restaurant with its full liquor license limits the brewpub's activities.

Just off I-82, 20 miles up the Yakima River, surrounded by hop fields, lies Cirque Brewery, open since February, 1997. Kyle Roberson considers himself and his wife Kaye to be the "owners/victims" of this family-owned and operated microbrewery. Now producing about 400 barrels a year, the beers find their way to market throughout Washington via three distributors and nearly 100 accounts, half of which are draught. As the name "Cirque" was chosen to invoke an alpine image, the name "Triple Mash" was trademarked to build a reputation associated with Kyle's use of a double decoction mash regimen on all brews. These "all lager" beers carry simple names such as Nine, a 9 Plato (1036) original gravity light lager; Golden, at 12 ; Pilsner Ultra, 12 , and 43 IBUs; Dark, 14 , a Münchner/Dunkel style; and Dopple Bock, 18.5 , a Spring seasonal. Plans call for cautious growth with expanded distribution to small on-sale accounts in Idaho and Oregon, accounts who can resist the evil empire's "100 percent share of mind" campaign. Ultimately, an independent distributor may even get them into the Seattle market.

In Pasco since October, 1996, Ice Harbor expects 1998 production to top 900 barrels. Mike Hall reports that his German-style beers stand out and are selling well. "You'll find no Cascade hops in any of these beers" says Hall. The Columbia Kölsch and the Runaway Red Ale are made year-round while the ESB and the Düsseldorf-Style Alt Ale are seasonal. The Alt started as a custom brew for a German restaurant and developed quite a following. Harvest Pale Ale and Sternwheeler Stout are sold only at the brewery. Current distribution covers all of Eastern Washington and growth plans call for bottled Kolsch and others to infiltrate the I-5 corridor from Portland to Seattle. Spokane and the Tri-Cities should see plentiful keg and bottle selections as even more custom brews are planned.

Opened since May, 1996 in Prosser, Whistran is run by partners John-Paul Estery and Brad Elliot. In 1997 they self-distributed 200 barrels throughout Southeastern Washington to a dozen draught accounts, with the first bottled product rolling out in June, 1998. Standards include Golden Ale, Highlander Scottish Export, 11th Hour Pale Ale, Belgian and Heavy Water Stout. Past seasonals were an IPA and a Spiced Holiday. With label approvals all secured, look for the 12-ounce bottles and a few 22's to find their way into the Seattle market soon.

Nestled in the eastern extreme of Washington's Yakima Valley since July, 1997, Snipes Mountain in Sunnyside offers the views and brews that one would expect from this state's hops country. Located halfway between the Tri-Cities and the town of Yakima, the beautiful log-construction building provides a great dining and drinking experience. The 15-barrel Newlands brewhouse behind the bar shines brightly under the beams of entering sunlight, and a large center fireplace opens into the lounge area as well as the front dining room. An upstairs banquet room is available for private parties. The sound system delivers light music as silent TVs display requested sporting events. The outdoor patio looks tempting but unless you're a dairy farmer, watch the winds carefully. The house beers include the Golden Ale, ESB, Nut Brown Ale, Porter, Rosa Reserve Barley Wine and Hefeweizen. All are tasty and true to style. Created by Mary Ann and Gene Bliesner, and enhanced by the brews of Joe Cruella, Snipes Mountain provides reasonably priced food and beers in a setting so comfortable that you'll be inclined to linger and enjoy. Through self-distribution, their beers may now be found in the Seattle area. Before leaving the Tri-Cities make a final stop at The Brew Garden in Kennewick.This retail shop offers hundreds of great bottled micros, brewery merchandise and even taps for growler refills. Remember, in this area there are good reasons not to drink the water, and even better reasons to drink the beers.

Atomic Ale Brewpub & Eatery
1015 Lee Blvd
Richland, WA 99352
Hours: Mo-Th 11-10, Fr-Sa 11-11

The Brew Garden
7935 W. Grandridge Blvd.
Kennewick, WA 99336
Hours: Tu-Fr 10-6:45, Sa 10-6, Su 11-5

Cirque Brewery
3800 Lee Rd., Suite D
Prosser, WA 99350
Hours: Fr-Su 11-5

Ice Harbor Brewing Company
415 W. Columbia St.
Pasco, WA 99301
Hours: Mo-Sa 12-6

Rattlesnake Mountain Brewing Company
1250 N. Columbia Center Blvd.
Richland, WA 99352
Hours: Mo-Th 11:30-11, Fr-Sa 11:30-1, Su 10-11:30

Snipes Mountain Microbrewery & Restaurant
905 Yakima Valley Highway
Sunnyside, WA 98944
Hours: Su-Th 11-11, Fr-Sa 11-2

Whistran Brewing Company
3800 Lee Rd., Suite B
Prosser, WA 99301
Hours: Fr-Su 11-5

Reviewed by Tom Ciccateri - May, 1998

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