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Heads Up: Fisher’s Back

Discriminating drinkers now have another option for good, locally brewed beer.

Another new brewpub? No, the oldest one in the Inland Northwest: T.W. Fisher’s in Coeur d’Alene, which shows signs of emerging from an extended slump.

Fisher’s, the first brewpub in Idaho, opened in 1987 to immediate success. Its flagship Centennial Pale Ale won a gold medal at the 1988 Great American Beer Festival, the annual Olympics of brewing.

But as the brewery kept expanding, the quality started to suffer. Renowned British beer expert Michael Jackson, in his latest “Pocket Guide to Beer,” deems the recent Fisher’s products “somewhat grainy and acidic.”

Should Jackson ever return, he might change his mind. Fisher’s new brewer, Chris Patterson, has been tinkering with recipes and working bugs out of the brewing system, with promising results. While still on the tame side by “beer geek” standards, the revamped beers are clean and flavorful, free of the off-tastes that too often plagued their predecessors.

“I’m still talking to customers, getting their feedback,” Patterson says. “I can’t just brew the beer I like. I have to brew the beer that people like.”

Patterson, a 32-year-old Portland native, started home brewing 11 years ago after sampling a Navy buddy’s efforts. After leaving the service, he decided to try to make a living out of it, working at a couple of small California brewpubs and studying brewing at the University of California-Davis. That led to an assistant’s job back home at Portland Brewing.

“I wouldn’t want to work in a large brewery again, but you learn a lot of things,” Patterson says.

It was love of beer that brought him to Coeur d’Alene - or, rather, love and beer. He met his fiancee, fellow home brewer Susan Manthey, on the Internet (“she was looking for somebody who had recipes”). After a visit, he moved north to join her in January 1997, bringing son Conor, now 5, and daughter Sydney, 3.

Expecting a “wasteland for microbrews,” Patterson was pleasantly surprised to find such multiple-tap taverns as the Moon Time and Capone’s.

Following a brief stint at Spokane’s Bayou Brewing Co., Patterson went to work for Northern Beverage in Coeur d’Alene, learning the distribution and sales side of the business. By last September, he was looking for a new job, and Fisher’s was looking for a brewer.

Because of a backlog built up over the summer, Patterson’s beers didn’t start showing up at the pub until November, and more recently on store shelves.

The response has been positive. The Centennial Pale won a tap handle at Capone’s for the first time in several years. Patterson tried to replicate the original award-winning recipe, producing a bit bigger-bodied beer that’s smooth with some malty sweetness.

The Festival Nut Brown Ale has been similarly overhauled, becoming creamier and slightly nutty. It seemed somewhat thin, but Patterson said he plans to beef up future batches.

Probably the biggest change is the huckleberry beer. Patterson created a soft, smooth golden ale to use as a base, which is also served separately at the pub. For the fruit version, just enough juice is added to create a nicely balanced beer with a hint of huckleberries but none of the cloying sweetness that often overwhelms berry beers.

The fruit flavor is similarly subdued in Patterson’s roasty Cherry Porter, a winter seasonal that’s fast disappearing. The latest arrival at the pub is a crisp Maibock lager, with a hearty, Scottish-style ale scheduled for St. Patrick’s Day.

And any time now, Fisher’s will be brewing its millionth gallon of beer, which will be marked by some sort of festivities. Here’s to the next million.

At the Barleyhoppers

Speaking of Idaho brewpubs, you may have noticed the bottled beers from M.J. Barleyhoppers in Lewiston starting to show up around Spokane.

Like the Fisher’s huckleberry, Barleyhoppers’ Huckleweizen isn’t overly sweet, but the slightly tart wheat beer is full of fruity huckleberry flavor and aroma. Rattlesnake Red is a relatively light-bodied ale that leans to the malty side, with some subtle hoppiness - pleasantly drinkable if not particularly distinctive.

Look for Barleyhoppers’ Steamboat Stout to join the bottled lineup before long.

Season’s greetings

Spring seasonals from the Northwest’s major craft brewers keep appearing on store shelves.

Portland Brewing’s India Pale Ale, which claims to be “the only modern IPA featuring the unique hop and oak flavor that characterized the British original,” has just enough hop presence to satisfy the current definition of the style. On the other hand, Full Sail’s always enjoyable Equinox ESB seems brighter and more bitter than before (although my memory may be a bit fuzzy, as the beer wasn’t available around here last year).

On the malty side of the stylistic street, there’s more to Redhook’s new Nut Brown Ale than the minimalist label might suggest: a soft, smooth beer with a hint of Hersbrucker hop spiciness and a touch of chocolate in the finish.

And Widmer weighs in with a rich Golden Bock that’s similar to Thomas Kemper’s Maibock, but with a little more lingering sweetness. (By the way, Widmer is in the process of revamping its entire product line, except for its best-selling Hefeweizen. We’ll have more details next month.)

Hopping around

Following up on last month’s discussion of barley wines, a limited supply of Anchor’s superb Old Foghorn has made a rare arrival in Spokane. Look for it at Jim’s Home Brew Supply and the Huckleberry’s stores….

Grant’s has launched a “Brew a Batch With Bert!” sweepstakes for home brewers, with the grand prize winner receiving some sophisticated brewing equipment and a personal visit from brewmaster Bert Grant. Keep an eye out for entry forms in stores, or write to Bert Grant’s Homebrew Contest, 1803 Presson Place, Yakima, WA 98903….

Guinness, meanwhile, is back with its annual “Win Your Own Pub in Ireland” contest. Ten finalists from across the country who best explain “Why Guinness is my perfect pint,” in 50 words or less, will be flown to County Kerry to compete in pub games for the title to Finucane’s Pub. Entries must be received by March 31; for details, call 1-888-697-8298.

Calling the kettle black?

Michelob’s latest foray into the specialty beer market is a Black & Tan blend that combines some of the roasty richness of a porter with the crisp prickliness of a pilsner. We’re not talking Guinness and Harp here, but fans of the style (or anyone looking for a lighter-bodied dark beer) might want to check it out.

Leaving a more sour taste in our mouth is this quote from a Michelob executive in a recent press release: “In 1896, Adolphus Busch created Michelob as a beer for connoisseurs - a step above the ordinary. That image has been blurred by the proliferation of micros, specialties and imports in today’s market.”

Excuse us, but we thought Michelob was the one doing the blurring with its Johnny-come-lately line of imitation microbrews.

, DataTimes MEMO: On Tap is a monthly feature of IN Food. Write to: On Tap, Features Department, The Spokesman-Review, P.O. Box 2160, Spokane, WA 99210. Call 459-5446, fax 459-5098 or e-mail to rickb@spokesman.com

On Tap is a monthly feature of IN Food. Write to: On Tap, Features Department, The Spokesman-Review, P.O. Box 2160, Spokane, WA 99210. Call 459-5446, fax 459-5098 or e-mail to rickb@spokesman.com

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