Fifteen or 20 years ago, little hometown microbreweries began spring up all over the U.S. In our region, the first ones I remember were in Seattle and shortly thereafter they were popping up all over King and Pierce counties.
Ten years ago, Rich Dirk opened the Elk Head Brewing Company just west of downtown Buckley. Back then, the place was rather barren and cold, with no more than the brewing tanks and a couple of beers on tap. My cousin and I brought an empty glass, gallon jug and had Rich fill it with Amber Ale. That went down quite easily and we returned the following week for a refill. Then, for whatever reason, I never went back again.
Until last week. In the interim, the place has gone through a major renovation. Today, there are booths, a long, beautiful, polished wood table with several attractive “stumps” for seats and a life-sized, wooden elk (a sculpture by chainsaw artist Mark Herrington) standing in a corner. It’s a rustic, comfortable lounge where you can enjoy 12 different tap beers. (Rich sold the last of his winter brews a few weeks ago and is now into his spring suds.)
And now, I’m happy to report, a micro-beer factory has also come to Enumclaw. Eric Brandjes recently opened Cole Street Brewery at 2551 Cole St. That’s about a block north of Battersby in that little industrial park area.
One afternoon last week, he walked me through the operation, explaining the various stainless steel tanks; that is, the hot water tank, the boiling kettle, a mash tub and the fermentation tank. He said stainless steel is easier to clean and holds up better than the traditional copper vats.
At the time this goes to press, Eric is still putting the finishing touches on the bar, several tables, and some chairs – but four taps are working just fine, thank you. He currently offers an American amber, an English-style brown ale, a dark porter and an IPA. I couldn’t visit such an establishment and not taste the product – after all, you’d expect nothing less of a worthwhile newspaper columnist. (This is just one of many sacrifices I make while pursuing these stories.) The IPA (India pale ale) was the most bitter of the four, but not exceptionally so. My favorite was the Porter, a really excellent dark beer.
Stop by for your own sampling and, if you find one you’re especially fond of, Eric will sell you a half-gallon in a glass jug, known in the trade as a “growler.” Or, you can enjoy his beer on tap in the Mint, the Rainier, Jackson’s and the Bootlegger in Buckley.
After I left his shop, I drove downtown and wandered into the Mint, where I asked the bartender about the Cole Street Brewery. “Oh, yeah,” she proudly declared. “We have his beer.”
“What kind?” I asked.
“Well, just the Amber now,” she explained. “We used to have the Porter, but it sold out in a couple days. Customers really liked that stuff!”
Apparently, I’m not the only one.