River City Brewing may be the Spokane beer scene’s new kid on the block, but it’s been around the block a few times.
Behind the venture are the Spokane-based owners of the former Coeur d’Alene Brewing Co., which lost its lease in the Lake City in fall 2010 after 23 years of operation as a brewery and pub.
“We spent a lot of time, money and energy trying to come up with a location that would work for us (in Coeur d’Alene),” says River City President Gage Stromberg.
Finally, they found a home right under their noses, in downtown Spokane’s Carnegie Square – spare space in the Eldridge Building, 1325 W. First Ave., owned by the family real estate development firm, Wells & Co.
There’s no room for a pub, but that’s just fine by Stromberg. “We really want to focus on making beer,” he says. “There’s no taproom right now, and we definitely never want to do a restaurant again.”
They also sold the Coeur d’Alene Brewing bottling line and are sticking to draft beer, though cans could come down the road. Most of the rest of the old brewery’s equipment is squeezed into the new spot, manned by a pair of familiar faces from the Coeur d’Alene days: head brewer Cody Ragan and assistant Greg Piller.
Their first efforts are just starting to hit the market, led by the flagship River City Red (5.6 percent alcohol by volume, 18 International Bitterness Units), an easy-drinking beer with caramel malt sweetness balanced by a dose of roasted barley.
Inspired by Coeur d’Alene Brewing’s best-selling Scottish ale, it falls somewhere between that style and a typical amber. Stromberg sees it in the same general category as Alaskan Amber and Fat Tire.
While the recipe still is being tweaked, he says, “I think we were all pleasantly surprised that batch one was so close to what we wanted.”
The other initial entry is Girlfriend Golden Ale (5.0 ABV, 6 IBU), easier-drinking still with a sweet breadiness from pilsner malt.
“We were looking for a fun way to say, this is our ‘chick beer,’ ” Stromberg says of the name. Not that guys won’t drink it, too, he adds; at a test tasting, one quipped, “I love my Girlfriend, but don’t tell my wife.”
Bigger beers also are on the way. An India pale ale scheduled for release next month will be considerably hoppier than the former Coeur d’Alene Brewing version, Ragan says.
For tradition’s sake, the brewery also will produce a few old favorites under the Coeur d’Alene name, including Huckleberry Ale and VB Stout (short for Vanilla Bourbon Stout).
The huckleberry will make its debut Saturday in Idaho at the Moscow Alehouse – formerly owned by Coeur d’Alene Brewing, but recently sold to longtime manager Wendy Smiley-Johnson – with the stout to follow at the beginning of March.
River City beers soon will be poured regularly at the neighboring Rocket Market in the Eldridge Building. And when the weather warms up, the brewery will be open to the public on Friday afternoons for keg and growler sales.
• The Moscow Brewing Co. is celebrating Presidents Day by inaugurating its taproom. The grand opening of the half-barrel nanobrewery at 630 N. Almon St., will run Monday from noon to 10 p.m. Look for a pale ale, IPA and amber on tap along with hard cider from Pullman’s Whiskey Barrel Cider Co.
• A Ninkasi Brewing “Tap Takeover Weekend” starts Thursday at the Post Street Ale House. The lineup includes some lesser-seen offerings – El Dorado single-hop pale, Redunkulus dark wheat, the Allies Win the War strong ale collaboration with California’s 21st Amendment Brewery – as well as the seasonal Sleigh’r and Renewale Extra Special Bitter, Tricerahops double IPA and the regular Total Domination IPA (the latter a Post Street fixture).
• February is “For the Love of Beer” month at the Steam Plant, with $1 pints of the house brews during late night happy hour Sunday through Thursday from 9 to 10 p.m., and Friday and Saturday from 10 to 11 p.m.
• The Belgians are coming: Post Falls’ Selkirk Abbey has received permission to start distributing its Belgian-style beers in Spokane. Look for kegs to start rolling out this week. And hometown Ramblin’ Road’s Saison and India Farmhouse Ale have been popping up around town at such spots as the Hop Shop, Jones Radiator, The Lantern Tap House and Manito Tap House.
This Bud’s for who?
A storied piece of contemporary American brewing’s past is sharing shelf space with a possible taste of its future.
As a special, limited release, Samuel Adams has revived New Albion Pale Ale (6.0, 30), made from the original recipe of the first modern microbrewery, which operated in Sonoma, Calif., from 1976 to 1982. The simple, straw-golden ale is nothing special by today’s standards, light-bodied and slightly sweet with a touch of Cascade hops.
Meanwhile, as anyone who watched the Super Bowl (or at least the ads) is well aware, Anheuser-Busch has introduced Budweiser Black Crown (6.0, 15). The winner among six alternatives tested nationwide, the light amber Black Crown tastes like regular Bud with a bit of caramel malt and a tad more hops.
While their flavor profiles differ, if you put Black Crown and New Albion side by side in a blind taste test, it might be tough for the average drinker to tell which is a legendary craft brew, and which is a mass-produced lager.
On one hand, that’s a reminder of how far craft brewing has come over the past four decades. And on the other, while it’s heresy in beer-geek circles to say anything nice about the big boys, if one of them is willing to put out a slightly better beer – and under its own name, not one of those phony, faux-micro labels – that seems like a step in the right direction.