New trend: local crafters making beer, spirits

Budweiser is no longer king.

In the past few columns we’ve discussed the dire effects our digital technology has had on mass entertainment; for instance, it destroyed Hollywood’s studio system and replaced it with a bunch of independent, innovative film makers. All forms of mass entertainment, whether popular music, movies, or TV have, so to speak, been democratized.

Of course, the effects of the digital revolution have extended far beyond mass entertainment, shaking up everything from Wall Street to your kitchen range. And, for purposes of this column, it has also disrupted the booze industry.

Since Prohibition went down the drain roughly 87 years ago, the American beer market has been dominated by a few major companies like Budweiser and Miller. In the last 40 or 50 years, Coors has also joined these exclusive circles. Today, however, a handful of independent kids have opened their own breweries and they’ve raised holy-hell with the “old school.” Budweiser’s American sales have plummeted (see Google and Microsoft News) as beer drinkers show their preference for locally-owned, small-scale brews.

Look no further than Enumclaw’s local breweries – Cole Street Brewery and Headworks, both of which I’ve written about in previous columns. These beers are “thicker,” much more flavorful and carry considerably more punch; the alcohol content can run as high as 10 or 12 percent (as novice consumers are often late to discover).

Now I’m happy to find that a couple of entrepreneurs, Tyler Teeple and Sam Agnew, have opened Pursuit, a local distillery. Travel north on Cole Street across Battersby to that mini industrial park on your right. Turn to the right (the 2300 block) and drive all the way to the end of that complex.

For the benefit of those who may not distinguish between a brewery and a distillery, I’d explain that a distillery manufactures hard liquor; i.e., gin, vodka, whiskey, etc. Such small, localized operations are springing up all over the country and are already disrupting the status quo, cutting into the sales of national operations like Jim Beam and Jack Daniels.

Twenty or 30 years ago, my cousin and I chopped up a bunch of pears, dumped them in a bathtub, covered them with sugar and waited a few days for the mixture to ferment. Then we heated the concoction with a Bunsen burner, ran the vapor through a copper coil and eventually collected several jars of 120 proof moonshine. The procedure at Pursuit is, of course, much more complicated with all kinds of valves, gauges and dials but, stripped of all the high-powered hardware, it’s essentially the same basic process.

Pursuit specializes in 80 to 90 proof whiskey, vodka and gin. (Sorry, no absinthe at this time.) These finely-honed products are available in several local restaurants and clubs or you can stop by the distillery tasting room, comfortably furnished with a bar and stools where you can sample a free taste or purchase a shot, a fifth, or a five-gallon oak barrel of the stuff. They’re open Tuesday through Saturday, 2 p.m. to 8 p.m., and Sundays from noon to 5.

Assuming you understand your body’s tolerance for alcohol and abide by it, you’ll leave the place feeling better then you did when you entered.


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