A Belgian-style brewery in Post Falls may not seem like the logical next step in the evolution of the local craft beer scene.
But that’s what homebrewing pals Jeff Whitman and Rob Wallace, with help from an accomplished pro, have created in Selkirk Abbey.
Belgian beers are distinguished by the fruity, spicy, sometimes sour flavors produced by special strains of yeast. Savored by connoisseurs, they can be intimidating to newcomers.
“I’m sure there are going to be a lot of people who aren’t going to try our beer,” Whitman said. “But enough people are going to try it, A, because of what I think is interesting branding; B, it’s local; and C, they’re curious about Belgian beer.”
The reception has been positive so far, adds Wallace: “Getting people on board with Belgian styles is just a lot of fun.”
He and Whitman, both longtime beer buffs, met in fall 2007 at the Enoteca wine and beer shop in Post Falls. They soon became friends with Fred Colby, founder of the nationally successful, Sandpoint-area Laughing Dog Brewing.
At a gathering two Christmases ago, Colby told how his wholesaler wanted him to make more unusual beers, like the Belgian-style India pale ale – dubbed St. Benny’s Hoppy Monk – he brewed for Laughing Dog’s sixth anniversary that year.
Colby had his hands full with his regular line, but Wallace and Whitman saw an opportunity.
“I said, ‘Maybe Rob and I can convince our wives that we should open a brewery,’ ” Whitman recalls. “And we did.”
With Colby as a partner, providing crucial connections and expertise, they bought a seven-barrel brewhouse and began setting up shop. Then things started getting complicated.
First, a disagreement with their original landlord forced a move to the current location, in an industrial area along Seltice Way between Post Falls and Coeur d’Alene – though they gained better water and sewer systems, and more production space.
Then Colby ran afoul of a post-Prohibition state law preventing anyone from having an ownership interest in more than one brewery. After considerable lobbying, the law was repealed this past legislative session.
The Selkirk Abbey taproom – with its hanging tapestries, antique light fixtures from a Pennsylvania church, and photos of beer-producing Belgian monasteries – officially opened to the public June 30.
While the initial concept called for using Colby’s distribution network to send Selkirk beers back East, the plan now is to focus on Idaho and Eastern Washington, then explore further expansion. Beer on tap and in 22-ounce bottles should start showing up in Spokane shortly.
The brewery’s three standard styles strike a balance between authenticity and approachability.
The entry-level White (4.9 percent alcohol by volume, 17 International Bitterness Units) is a light, crisp wheat beer brewed with orange peel and coriander, like a traditional Belgian wit. But unlike other Selkirk beers, it’s made with a regular yeast, for familiarity’s sake.
Deacon (5.5, 36) is a dry, peppery pale ale with a creamy mouth-feel. The sturdy Infidel (8.2, 66), based on Colby’s original Hoppy Monk, is fragrant with fruity Citra hops, a nod to American-style IPAs.
There’s also a summer seasonal, Saint Stephen (6.3, 32) – soft, lightly spicy and slightly tart – in the saison style of farmhouse breweries in the French-speaking region of Belgium. A rye saison is in the works for fall, to be followed by a strong, dark ale for winter.
That will still pale by comparison to the Octavian, scheduled to come in at 15 percent alcohol. Test batches are being brewed, but much aging and blending lies ahead.
“It’s going to take two years before that beer can be released,” Whitman said.
And don’t be surprised to someday see a Scotch-style ale, which isn’t uncommon in Belgium. After all, the actual Selkirk Abbey existed in Scotland, circa 1113-1128.
Wallace wasn’t aware of that when he came up with the brewery name, but maybe it was fate.
“My last name is Wallace,” he said. “That’s about as Scottish as you can get.”
Selkirk Abbey may be the area’s first Belgian-style brewery, but it won’t be the last.
Brian and Dani Guthrie and brewing partner Will Spear are establishing Ramblin’ Road Craft Brewery in a vacant industrial building at 730 N. Columbus St., just north of No-Li Brewhouse.
The three Spokane natives are returning from Seattle to set up the business. They plan to start distributing beer locally as soon as their brewing licenses are approved, possibly by the end of August.
Brian Guthrie said the brewery will specialize in saisons – including a hoppy India Farmhouse Ale, or IFA – and spiced abbey-style ales, in both kegs and cans.
Some specialty beers from New Belgium Brewing in Colorado will be featured in a Belgian-themed dinner July 24 at Manito Tap House.
Menu and price details still are being worked out, but the beer lineup is set: Brett Beer, a funky collaboration with California’s Lost Abbey; sweet-sour, cinnamon-infused Tart Lychee; rich Abbey Grand Cru; and Belgo IPA.
Jamie Mastin, one of New Belgium’s original brewers, will be on hand. For more information, keep an eye on Manito’s Facebook page or call (509) 279-2671.