Rome, they say, wasn’t built in a day. And that’s certainly true for Zythum Brewing Co., taking root in the tiny Palouse farming community of Fairfield.
Shawn Carney bought the former hardware store as a home for his Roman-themed brewery, named after a Latin word for beer. Working off a tiny half-barrel brewing setup, he opened on Saturdays at the beginning of March to generate some cash flow while lining up financing for a larger operation.
The store’s old 7 Up cooler holds kegs connected to eight taps. A former glass-cutting table was refashioned into a bartop.
While the setting is spartan, Carney can see past the holes in the ceiling and the folding tables and chairs to his vision for a full-service family restaurant in the front of the sprawling space, and a 21-and-over taproom in the back, fueled by a hefty 20-barrel brewhouse.
“I told everybody I was going to open up, and it would be a work in progress,” he said. “The local support has been amazing. People are pretty much drinking everything I can make.”
Then again, it’s the first place in town where you can buy a beer since Cutter’s Café closed. “One guy came in and looked at me and said, ‘You know, it’s been six years.’ ”
Carney’s signs have captured traffic up and down Highway 27, which runs through the middle of town. And he expects to draw from Spokane, despite the 40-minute trip: “Most beer nuts will drive an hour for a decent beer and a good sandwich, particularly if it’s someplace they’ve never been.”
The 47-year-old Spokane Valley resident began brewing about five years ago after his wife, Debbie, bought him a kit for Christmas. “I let it sit in the basement for a year,” he said. “She informed me that if I ever wanted another Christmas present, I’d better start using it.”
When it was time to leave the roof coatings business after 27 years, Carney decided to try his hand brewing commercially. He and Debbie looked for locations from Dayton north to the Canadian border and finally found the right combination of size, character and affordability in the old brick building in Fairfield.
Originally a Caterpillar Tractor service shop, it’s actually a series of five connected structures, built between 1903 and 1913, totaling more than 8,000 square feet. As Carney leads a visitor through the catacombs, he points to his hopes – a greenhouse here, a smoking deck there, a nonsmoking one over there.
His inspiration is the Oregon-based McMenamins chain: “Their whole approach is to buy the nastiest old dilapidated buildings and turn them into brewpubs.”
Along with regular menu items, a commercial kitchen under Debbie’s oversight will turn out breads and snack foods made with used brewing grain. Granola, brittle and toffee already are in production and available at the brewery, along with other snacks and an entrée each night prepared down the street at the community center.
Like the space, the beers are evolving. The rapid turnover doesn’t allow much conditioning time – “as soon as I think it’s tasty enough, it goes in a keg,” Carney said – and he’s adjusting to higher elevation and softer water than he has at home in the Valley.
When he first brewed his flagship Crystal Rye recipe at the new location, it turned out lighter and hoppier than expected. So he dubbed it Roman Rye and serves it alongside the more balanced, caramel-accented Crystal Rye. Both are made with flaked rye as well as rye malt for more peppery spiciness.
AttraBution Porter (“atra” is Latin for “black”) betrays its origins as an attempted black IPA with a hoppy finish from Chinook and Centennial. The current lineup also includes Bishop’s Brown, in honor of the Rev. Brian Prior, former Episcopal priest in the Valley (he married the Carneys) and now bishop of Minnesota; he was able to try the beer during a recent visit.
In the works are a standard Caesar IPA and the return of the more floral, fruity Mighty Chow imperial IPA. A few guest taps (currently Hopped Up’s Quality Cream and Iron Goat’s Impaler) round out the offerings.
Along with beer, Carney makes a distinctive root beer (with vanilla bean and juniper berry) and ginger ale (with licorice root and star anise), which are used in a variety of beer “cocktails.”
Next month, he plans to start opening on Fridays, and launch a mug club called, of course, the Legion. When in Fairfield, it seems, you drink as the Romans would.
• Saint Stephen saison has returned as a spring seasonal at Selkirk Abbey in Post Falls, lighter in color, bigger in aroma and higher in alcohol (7.9 percent by volume) than its previous incarnation.
• Ramblin’ Road is pouring its second American style, a Northwest Pale Ale dry-hopped with Cascade. On the Belgian side, check out the recently released Imperial Saison.
• No-Li is introducing on Friday its next No Boundaries draft-only specialty, a single-hop pale using fruity El Dorado.
• The Budge Brothers have brewed a Fruity Beer, made with 15 fruit varieties and no hops. “People have been asking for a fruit beer for a long time,” Brad Budge said, “so we decided to go with the fruit cocktail approach.”