Terry Hackler is brewing porter.
As we talk, he’s got one eye on the wort draining from the bottom of the stainless steel mashtun and into a small metal container. When it’s full, he closes a valve and flips a switch that pumps the runoff into the brew kettle and onto the next step of the brewing process.
The wort, a sweet liquid that results from mashing crushed malted barley and water, will be boiled and hops added in the next step.
“It’s kind of a hurry-up-and-wait operation,” Hackler said.
The loud pump that punctuates our conversation isn’t traditionally part of the process, he said. “Most of the brewing system, I built from scratch, so we’re still working out a few little bugs. Nothing that affects the beer, it’s more just how easy it is to work.”
Hackler has been brewing beer at home for more than 30 years. His new commercial operation, Twelve String Brewing Co. has been in the works for about a year.
He caught the brewing bug at a bar called the Backstage in Ballard when he lived in Seattle and played guitar at local bars.
“It was a really hot day and I decided I’d have a beer … I was 23 or 24 years old, but I didn’t like beer. I asked them what they had on tap, and they said well, ‘We have Budweiser and we have Coors, blah, blah,’ … all the standard stuff.”
They also had an intriguing sounding brew called Ballard Bitter from what was then a new neighborhood brewery, Redhook. The beer arrived in a pint glass, not a schooner, and it was dark by the standards of the day.
“I tasted it and I said, ‘Oh, baby this is good,’ and I was hooked,” Hackler said.
In fact, he went to the brewery for a tour, talked about brewing with the owner and stopped on the way home to buy equipment.
“That night I made my first batch of beer. And I was completely hooked from that moment on and I’ve been brewing pretty much constantly ever since,” he said.
Hackler worked as a contractor doing residential remodeling until recently. About a year ago, he decided brewing beers commercially sounded like more fun and as though it might be easier on his body.
But first, Hackler and his wife, Sue, did all of the work on the new Twelve String Brewing Co. brewery and taproom themselves – brewing system, plumbing and woodworking. He even makes the brewery’s tap handles that look like the neck of guitar.
Hackler’s other hobby, playing guitar, inspired the brewery’s name. He said there were many rejected names, but one day when he sat town to play his 12-string guitar it seemed obvious that the brewery should be Twelve String Brewing Co.
Even after many years of practice home brewing, Hackler said he told himself the first batch of commercial beer wasn’t going to be good enough to serve.
“I’m a perfectionist … so really nothing is ever good enough, but I just told myself that the first batch of beer … no one was ever going to taste it. But as it turned out it was fantastic, and people were just loving it. That was a nice surprise and that gave me a little bit of confidence that I did know what I was doing,” Hackler said.
The brewery’s signature beer is the G-String Blonde, again inspired by guitar playing. He’s also making Archtop Amber, Electric Slide IPA, Don’t Fret Porter, Drop D Stout, Double Drop D Stout and some seasonal ales.
The taproom offers a rotating array of those beers along with appetizers, such as a special cranberry salsa served with brie on a wheat cracker, peanuts and chips and homemade salsas. They’re also planning soft hot pretzels with pub mustard and a variety of other specials.
There’s live acoustic music featured some nights.
The beer is on tap around town as well. They keep the brewery’s Facebook page updated with locations as well as the website at 12stringbrewingco.com.
Hackler said his brewing system capacity is 8 1/2 barrels per batch. A half barrel contains 14 to 16 gallons of beer. He’s not planning an expansion right now, but there’s room for it someday. He said he could take over more space in the industrial complex eventually if one of his neighbors moved.
“Right now, I’m just going to be happy to build this place up to capacity and do as much as we can do here,” Hackler said. He’d like to serve the Spokane and North Idaho region, and hopefully get into a few places in Seattle.