This is one in an occasional series of 7 Sips interviews, where we sit down for a pint and seven questions with someone active in the local craft beer community. Today we catch up with Shane Noblin, who formerly ran a homebrew supply store and print shop on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula before moving back to the mainland with his wife, Melanie, to open Cheney’s first brewery since 1910.
A: We’re going to charge about three bucks for a little boat of the oysters and all that money will go to Pints for Prostates, and then a buck from each pint. The barbecue wagon’s going to be out here, Hungry Hound, they won’t be out here most of the summer after this, they’ve got a bunch of gigs lined up so they’re going to be pretty busy moving the wagon around. We’ve got a Scotch ale that we’ve been barrel-aging (in cabernet franc barrels) since January. We’ve also got kind of an odd one; I do large yeast starters because my system’s so small, it’s only a five-barrel so I can get away with, instead of buying a large block of yeast, I do a five-gallon homebrew starter, using some malt extract and water to get my yeast going. So the first batch of beer I ever did in here, the yeast starter, I went ahead and hopped it, and we’ve got five gallons of that back there that we’re going to release. I don’t even know what all’s in it, I had a bunch of stuff left over from the supply shop I used to own, I just started doing the mad scientist thing, a little of this and a little of that. I tasted it before we put it away back in November and it tasted pretty good, but I have no way to describe it. It’s got kind of a unique character to it, and I think it’s because it sat back there all summer and most of the winter, just heating and cooling and doing its thing. I don’t expect it to be a superb beer, it’s just something fun to do.
Q: What did you learn from the first year? Any big surprises?
A: I didn’t come from a traditional brewing background, I came from a homebrewing background, and you (think you) know how much work it is getting into it, but you really don’t know until you’re in the trenches and back there doing it, and then you’re like, damn, this is a lot of work. That’s been one of the big lessons. Working with distributors, that’s a whole other level. It’s finally coming around, a lot of the local bars and taverns are starting to support us a little more. They were pretty hesitant at first, but a good friend of mine opened up a sushi place, and the beer went in there, and after that it was like dominoes. If I could (afford to) sit here and run just the taproom, and be content and not have to worry about distributing, that’s what I like, just sitting here bullshitting with everybody.
Q: How much of your taproom business has been university-related, versus other locals, versus people coming from Spokane or the outside?
A: We got a bit (of outside business) before the (latest Inland Northwest Ale Trail) map came out, after the map was out that increased a lot. The college was slow at first, we weren’t getting a lot of college kids. They started out maybe 5 to 10 percent of the business, and now they’re up to at least 20. A couple of kids had their Founder’s Day party here, one of them was doing a report for his marketing class and he wanted to do it on the brewery, I think that gave us a little more exposure inside the college. A lot of the kids don’t even come downtown, several of them live in Spokane and commute from there. Our local population, the business we’ve been getting from them has been steady, we’ve been picking up a few more here and there but a lot of them really gravitated at first to us. It’s probably a good 60 percent of our base, I would say. … We lived in Alaska for 17 years, and nobody really lives next to each other. You might see the hardware store guy a couple of times a week or something, but here it’s like I drive down the road and people honk and wave. It seems like the community really embraced us out of the gate, which is pretty cool.
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