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Leading with lagers

In 2009, Bernie Duenwald launched Golden Hills Brewing, one of the few craft breweries (and the only one locally) to specialize in German-style lagers, as opposed to ales. The beers won an awards, but Duenwald wasn't doing that well financially, so he lined up a pair of investors and has rebranded the brewery as Orlison (a combination of their first names, Orlin and Jason). He's adding a line of seasonal beers, and plans to begin canning in August. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
In 2009, Bernie Duenwald launched Golden Hills Brewing, one of the few craft breweries (and the only one locally) to specialize in German-style lagers, as opposed to ales. The beers won an awards, but Duenwald wasn't doing that well financially, so he lined up a pair of investors and has rebranded the brewery as Orlison (a combination of their first names, Orlin and Jason). He's adding a line of seasonal beers, and plans to begin canning in August. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

Orlison finding niche in craft beer market

In Germany, beer purity laws stipulate that lagers contain only water, malted barley, hops and yeast.

But when it comes to running a brewery, as Bernie Duenwald discovered, a fifth ingredient comes in mighty handy: cold, hard cash.

Since starting his all-lager Golden Hills Brewing in Airway Heights in 2009, Duenwald has won a bronze medal for his brown lager at the World Beer Championships and a gold for his red at this year’s inaugural Washington Beer Awards.

But his sales numbers were nothing to brag about, and Duenwald – who wasn’t even paying himself wages – couldn’t afford to try to take his business to the next level.

“I didn’t have the capital to move forward,” he said. “You can have the best beer in the world, but if you don’t have the marketing behind it, you won’t go anywhere.”

Now, thanks to an infusion of new money, the brewery has a new name – Orlison – and ambitious plans to make big waves with its delicate lagers amid a sea of hoppy ales.

“We won’t know the answer for probably 15 years, 10 if we’re lucky, but we have the potential to be the Redhook of craft lager breweries,” Duenwald said.

Unlike fruitier ales, lagers ferment for a longer time at cooler temperatures, producing crisp, clean flavors.

While the vast majority of beer consumed in the U.S. is lager – the mainstream versions from Budweiser, Miller and Coors – few smaller craft brewers attempt the style on a regular basis. For one thing, it’s less cost-efficient, since the longer brewing process ties up tanks.

And as Duenwald pointed out, with their cleaner character, “There’s less room for error. You can’t hide defects in them.”

Since quality lagers aren’t as familiar, they’re not as valued as ales, said Orlin Reinbold, Duenwald’s former boss and chief initial investor.

“Once we approach people and say, ‘Try this,’ they will, and they’ll like it,” Reinbold said. “But it’s hard to get them to understand.”

Reinbold, owner of Spokane-based Landmark Turf & Native Seed and three other seed companies across the country, is betting that beer drinkers are ready to learn. He and a Columbia Basin business associate, Jason Miller, are putting up the additional seed money to grow the rebranded Orlison (a combination of their first names).

A Wisconsin ad agency came up with a catchy new logo – a pint glass with halo and wings – and the slogan “Brew No Evil.”

Duenwald, 61, admits his previous approach was geared to people his own age. “Though we certainly want them as customers,” he said, “that’s not the biggest part of the market.”

His assistant brewer, who used to work for beer, is now a paid employee, joined by an operations manager and a sales director. And two new fermenters are on the way that will more than double his annual production capacity, to 3,000 barrels.

With enough fermenters, Duenwald figures his 30-barrel brewhouse could comfortably churn out up to 36,000 barrels per year – almost the size of Mack & Jack’s in Redmond, Wash., the state’s second-biggest brewery last year behind Redhook.

“I can produce it, it just needs to go out the door,” he said. “I think I’ve got the beer to make that happen.”

While most of his smooth, finely filtered lineup is a hybrid of ale-like recipes and lager methods, Duenwald’s newest offering, Havanüther, is a true pilsner, albeit a lightened-up one (4.1 percent alcohol by volume, 29 International Bitterness Units). Even so, the subtle malt and hop characteristics come through.

“It’s what Miller’s been advertising for 40 years and hasn’t made yet – a light beer with flavor,” said Duenwald, a former barley grower who later worked with breweries worldwide as a malting company salesman.

Also on the milder side is the Brünette (formerly Ben’s Brown, 4.2 ABV, 23 IBU), with roasty, nutty notes. Clem’s Gold (5.3, 30) and Lizzy’s Red (5.5, 35) are all about the malts, while Orlison’s IPL, or India pale lager (6.7, 50) is Duenwald’s nod to hopheads.

A black lager is in the works for fall, with the latest test batch showing a chocolaty aroma and licorice notes.

Along with draft, the beers should begin showing up in 16-ounce cans sometime next month, starting with the Havanüther and Clem’s. And 22-ounce bottles are also a possibility.

Don’t expect to see a taproom anytime soon. “Maybe, but not this fall, and not at this (Airway Heights) location,” Reinbold said. “We want to get flying straight first.”

And still, he added, “That just builds the Spokane market. We have a big enough production capacity that we’re looking beyond that.”

Brewery watch

Hopping Frog in Newport, Wash., celebrates its grand opening Saturday from noon to 6 p.m. with beer and brats for sale, along with live music.

Owner/brewer Casey Brooks will have seven offerings, including a raspberry ale, a rye IPA and a big imperial stout. There isn’t a tasting room yet at the eight-barrel brewery, but Brooks will distribute to accounts around the area.

For more information and directions, see www.hopping frogbrewery.com.

Freshly tapped

• The new summer seasonal from Slate Creek in Coeur d’Alene, Single Track (think mountain biking), is a crisp, lightly spicy Belgian-style single (5.0 ABV, 25 IBU) with hints of orange and coriander.

• Belgian-themed Selkirk Abbey in Post Falls is pouring a lighter, brighter new IPA, Afterlife (5.8, 77), floral and spicy with melon notes. A huckleberry version of the Chapel witbier also is in the works.

• Spokane’s River City Brewing has just released its limited-edition Clocktower Imperial IPA (8.7, 109) with the promise, “It’ll ring your bell.” Relatively dry, and drinkable for its strength, it has a complex hop character – floral and fruity, piney and earthy – from Cascade, Apollo, Bravo and Nugget.

By the bagful

There’s a new noise coming from the growler world.

The BeerPouch, or Flexi-Growler, was developed by an Alaska beer store owner based on his daughter’s Capri Sun juice drinks. The sturdy, aluminized screw-top pouch is compact, lightweight (1.5 ounces unfilled), lightproof and unbreakable, ideal for outdoor activities.

They typically sell for $5, a little cheaper than glass growlers, and can be reused when properly cleaned (a soak with some baking soda in hot water, followed by thorough rinsing, should do the trick).

They’re available at Budge Brothers in Spokane and Laughing Dog in Sandpoint. Local distributor Inland Northwest Growlers is lining up more locations and looking at direct retail sales this fall. For more information, see inwgrowlers.com.

Send beer news to senior correspondent Rick Bonino at boninobeer@comcast.net.


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