Scott Dietrich sees himself as an artist.
His tools: barley, hops, yeast and lots of water.
His creation: beer.
Dietrich, 35, is one of four men working at the Hale’s Ale Brewery in the Spokane Valley, where beer is more than a business.
“Most of the bigger guys have brewers working on a computer,” Dietrich said. “We’re on the other end of the spectrum, where it’s like an art form.”
Today, he will ride in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Friday, he brewed a batch of an Irish ale the microbrewery is offering through March in honor of the holiday.
The four employees of the brewery share the work.
While Dietrich brewed the Irish ale Friday, general manager Dave Metzger delivered kegs.
Brewer Bruce Smith prepared concrete for a curb on a street corner outside the brewery.
Stann Grater cleaned up the brewery’s red 1940s fire truck for the parade and visited a client business, the Rock City Grill, to put up a Hale’s sign.
All four love good beer.
Dietrich began making home-brew in the 1980s. His job now has many similarities.
“I kind of look at it as home-brewing on a larger, more grandiose scale,” he said.
Before coming to Hale’s two years ago, he was an avalanche technician at a Snoqualmie Pass ski resort and a contract painter in the summers. Finally, he got tired of seasonal work.
Founded in 1983, Hale’s is now one of the largest microbreweries in the state, with a second brewery in Kirkland, Wash.
The company has found itself competing with more and more microbreweries.
“I don’t look at it as competition,” Dietrich said. “I look at it as more diversity for the beer drinker.”
Some of the competing local brewers, such as Hale’s and the Fort Spokane Brewery, even have friendly relationships, lending each other ingredients on occasion.
Making a batch - about 45 kegs - of beer takes Hale’s six days.
Friday, Dietrich began the first day of that process for the holiday brew, mixing his ingredients together.
For Hale’s Irish Ale, that means 1,100 pounds of malted barley, 800 gallons of water, 11 pounds of hops. And yeast.
The amount and type of yeast is a secret. It’s what distinguishes Hale’s from other beers, Grater said.
In the third floor grain room of the converted 81-yearold Parkwater Elementary School, a machine cracks the barley and disperses it into a vat on the second floor.
There, the grain is mixed with hot water to make “sweet wort,” a liquid made from the barley’s sugars.
The wort is then boiled with bittering hops to balance the taste. Finishing hops later are added for the desired flavor. Yeast is added near the end of the day.
The mixture then sits for three days in a large dairy tank, while the yeast and sugar combine to produce alcohol.
When fermentation is complete, the batch cools for a day before the beer is filtered, carbonated and put into kegs.
Although there is down time during the process, Dietrich gets little rest.
Clad in jeans and a Hale’s t-shirt, he is constantly in motion, at one point climbing into the surplus milk tank to scrub out hardened mineral deposits.
Soon after he began brewing the batch Friday, a farmer stopped by to pick up some used barley.
Drained of sugar, the barley has no taste. But it still has nutritional value for Warren Castor’s pigs.
“It really helps me out. It’s really helps them too,” Castor said.
The job has perks for the brewers too.
Big breweries have labs and scientists to test their beers. Hale’s brewers taste each batch themselves. Their palates are the only measure.
“It’s like working in a bakery. You don’t abuse the privilege,” Dietrich said.