From fishing to hunting, hiking to snowboarding, Jason and Ryan Wing are all about adventure. Now the Coeur d’Alene brothers are embarking on a new one: launching their own brewery.
Slate Creek Brewing Co., the latest addition to the area’s rapidly growing brewery ranks, opened for business last week. The name comes from one of the Wings’ favorite outdoor destinations, a tributary of the St. Joe River known for its trout fishing and whitewater kayaking.
“It’s an incredible little secret spot, in a deep canyon,” Jason Wing said. “It looks like a Hobbit forest in there.
“The brewery, we kind of see it as the same thing. We hope to be that little secret spot for local craft beer drinkers.”
Jason, 41, an attorney, tried his hand at homebrewing when he was young, and picked it up again a couple of years ago. Ryan, 38, a firefighter, stopped by one day and sampled his brother’s rye pale ale.
“I had thought of home-brewed beer as kind of like bathtub gin,” Ryan Wing said. “I was impressed by how good it was.”
He was hooked, too, and before long they were ready to take their hobby to the next level. They found a suitable spot – a former car wash – and installed a small two-barrel brewing system, capable of churning out 60 gallons at a time (with room for expansion down the road).
The adjoining taproom reflects their love of the outdoors. A rather massive mounted elk head, from a bull bagged by Ryan Wing, oversees the scene from high on one wall. The tops of canoe paddles serve as tap handles, with the blades used for sampler trays.
The beers tend to be balanced – the brothers aren’t hopheads – and relatively restrained strength-wise.
“The idea is to be sessionable, with beers that have good flavor and decent body, but you still can have more than one,” Ryan Wing said.
The most distinctive offering in the opening lineup is the Norse Nectar juniper pale ale (5.7 percent alcohol by volume, 25 International Bitterness Units), loosely based on a Finnish sahti in honor of the Wings’ Scandinavian heritage. The juniper provides fruity notes as well as contributing to the dry, spicy finish along with rye and noble hops.
Salmon Run Red (5.0, 21) is toasty and nutty with a dark fruitiness thanks to some Belgian Special B malt. The easy-drinking Wingnut Brown (4.5, 22), in the Northern English style (think Newcastle), offers a sweeter nuttiness.
Harper’s Stout (5.5, 32), made with both rolled and steel-cut oats, is smooth with a slight smokiness from roasted barley. It’s named after Ryan Wing’s daughter; he first brewed the recipe two days before she was born, and the beer fermented in the closet of her room (“the perfect temperature, a constant 68 degrees,” he explained).
A line of increasingly strong India pale ales will be named after fly rod weights. First up is the lightest, 6 Weight IPA (6.3, 67), which gets its pronounced piney, earthy finish from Chinook hops.
There’s also a Double Diamond black IPA (7.5, 71), the first in a series of rotating specialty beers. Well-balanced with some oat smoothness, it doesn’t drink as big or bitter as its ABV and IBUs might suggest.
Plenty more are waiting in the wings, from a strong Piloting Mountainman ESB, to a delicate Belgian-style single from Jason Wing (admittedly “kind of a Belgian geek”), to a hoppier Backcountry Brown.
It’s all uncharted territory, but the brothers are eager to explore.
“We think we know what people are going to like,” Jason Wing said. “We’ll brew it all and see.”
Among the other local breweries in progress:
• Hopped Up, a 12-barrel brewery going into the old International House of Pancakes near University City Mall, has received its federal license and is poised to begin brewing in anticipation of a potential May opening.
• Black Label, a planned 1.5-barrel nanobrewery with an environmentally green theme, has raised more than $11,000 of its $15,000 goal in a Kickstarter campaign that runs through March; for more info, search “black label brewing” at kickstarter.com. Owners hope to settle on a location and begin renovations and permit processes next month.
• Ramblin’ Road, which has been distributing Belgian-style beers to local accounts off its small pilot system, has ordered a 10-barrel brewhouse and begun work on its brewery/taproom just north of No-Li Brewhouse. It hopes to open by early July.
With the weather coming around, area brewers have been busy working on spring seasonals.
This year’s Spring Reverb from Spokane Valley’s Twelve String (5.5 ABV, 51 IBUs) is a soft, lightly sweet single-hop pale ale – Simcoe, to be precise – with citrus notes followed by a crisp, piney finish.
The XP extra pale ale at Trickster’s in Coeur d’Alene (7.5, 45) gets its fresh, fruity hop character, with hints of lemon and lime, from two relatively new varieties, Caliente and Calypso.
An imperial red ale is due any day now at Iron Goat, with a pair of special treats slated for release at month’s end: Goatnik Russian Imperial Stout aged in Dry Fly Wheat Whiskey barrels, and Cap’n Kidd Scotch Ale aged in Woodinville Whiskey bourbon barrels.
Budge Brothers is pouring a limited-edition Middle Brother imperial India pale ale – sort of a supercharged version of the brewery’s Hop Train, with Warrior hop spiciness – to be followed by a lighter spring IPA that will showcase either Simcoe or Citra.
A big, balanced imperial IPA will welcome April at the Steam Plant, with the Stack Frost winter ale remaining on tap in the meantime.
And while you’re waiting for the return of the regular St. Stephen saison at Selkirk Abbey in Post Falls, check out the rich, yet refreshing St. Thomas black saison.
Six for the road
Three beers each from Selkirk Abbey and its sister brewery, Laughing Dog, will be featured in a brewer’s dinner Sunday starting at 5 p.m. at Sandpoint’s Trinity at City Beach.
The six-course “road trip across America” menu will include regional specialties. Cost is $35 per person; for reservations, call (208) 255-7558.
Beer across the water
No-Li Brewhouse, which has been distributing to the Denver area and the East Coast, is expanding into Europe.
Five hundred cases of Crystal Bitter and Born & Raised IPA were recently shipped to Sweden, whose government gave its blessing after No-Li’s participation in last fall’s Stockholm Beer & Whiskey Festival.
On slightly less foreign territory, look for the Crystal at Seattle’s Safeco Field this season, while Born & Raised is on tap at Century Link Field.