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Saturday, May 30, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Brewing buddies toast success with Airway Heights beer business

Graydon Brown, brewmaster for the Golden Hills Brewing Co. in Airway Heights, tests the level of fermentation on a batch of Clem’s (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Graydon Brown, brewmaster for the Golden Hills Brewing Co. in Airway Heights, tests the level of fermentation on a batch of Clem’s (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

Their friendship started like so many others: over a couple of glasses of beer. The difference? Bernie Duenwald and Graydon Brown’s drinks were tainted with diacetyl and lactobacillus.

The men were students in the master brewers program at Chicago’s Siebel Institute when they met in 1993. During the intensive course, they studied the science of brewing beer, along with brewery sanitation and operation. They also trained their palates to detect common flaws and problems with beer by quaffing from pints purposely infused with problematic aromas and flavors. Diacetyl can give beer a buttery or butterscotch aroma and flavor, and lactobacillus is a bacteria that renders beer sour or makes it taste of vinegar.

Duenwald and Brown now are using that expertise to brew lager-style beers at the new Golden Hills Brewing Co. in Airway Heights. Their first kegs of beer hit area taps in early May.

“What we’re trying to create is something that many of the big brewers have been advertising for a long time,” says Duenwald (pronounced Denwald), Golden Hills’ president. “What they’ve been saying is, ‘We have a product that has a lot of flavor, but doesn’t fill you up.’ ”

What they wanted, the brewers say, was the intensity and flavor of a craft beer, without the heavy lingering finish. Something flavorful but still refreshing, says Brown, Golden Hills brewmaster.

“The basic flavor profile of our beers is very similar to most of the American beers, but it’s greatly intensified without the harshness. The key to it is that it retains the crisp, clean finish. You’re basically getting the flavor impact of a craft beer without feeling like you’re full after one or two,” he says.

Brown, 46, was an electrical engineer when thoughts of a career change drew him to brewing school. He grew up in California and went to school amid the green hills of the central coast, earning his bachelor’s degree at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. He worked for Texas Instruments and Watkins-Johnson as an engineer before brewing school.

Duenwald, 57, grew up in Eastern Washington’s wheat and barley fields. He went to grade school in Edwall and high school in Reardan. When he left home for an Ivy League education at Dartmouth, he missed farming.

Duenwald finished a geology degree at Dartmouth and returned to the area, leased land and started growing his own wheat and malting barley. He farmed for the next 15 years, eventually serving as a charter commissioner on the Washington Barley Commission.

“In September of 1990, the banker and I both agreed I needed to find a job that paid better,” Duenwald says with a wry laugh.

That’s when he went to work for Great Western Malting Co. in Vancouver, Wash., selling brewing malts to beer companies all over the world. The malting company sent their salesman to brewing school so he could better understand the process and needs of his customers.

Although Brown and Duenwald hit it off at the Siebel Institute, their beer brewing dreams were still a while off.

Duenwald would work for the malting company until 2001, when he landed a new job at the U.S. Grains Council in Washington, D.C. Brown began working for breweries across the U.S. – including Anheuser-Busch and Anderson Valley Brewing in California. He consulted with breweries trying to troubleshoot sanitation and brewing problems and helped start a brewery in Thailand. His buddy Duenwald helped him out by air freighting 2,000 pounds of malting barley to help him get started.

“I knew he was good for it,” Duenwald says.

After three years working in D.C., Duenwald and his wife felt the pull of home. They missed their children and grandchildren. In the fall of 2005, they returned to Reardan and Duenwald took a job working for a grass seed company.

That’s when the brewing began.

With the help of some longtime farming buddies, Duenwald started with a pilot brewery. He was brewing a half barrel at a time, describing the results to Brown over the phone and tweaking the recipe according to his advice. They brewed 115 batches on their way to opening Golden Hills Brewing Co.

The business was incorporated in February and Brown relocated in May. The private company has 26 investors. Brown, Duenwald and three others serve on its board of directors.

On a recent weekday, the overhead door of the red, metal-sided building that houses Golden Hills Brewing Co. was open to the cool morning air. Inside, Brown drew a sample from one of the fermenters to test the specific gravity of the Clem’s Gold with a hydrometer. The beer is a premium gold lager, named for Duenwald’s father.

They are brewing one other beer right now, Lizzie’s Lager. The beer is named for Duenwald’s daughter because it was her favorite brew. Brewers describe the flavor as similar to an ESB (extra special bitter), but done in a lager style so it finishes clean. They plan to eventually add a brown lager to the lineup, called Ben’s Brown for Duenwald’s son.

The brewers chose lager-style beers because of their own preferences and because they believe there’s a strong market for a full-flavored lager in this area.

The Golden Hills brewing process begins in the copper-clad mash tun, where malted barley is mixed with water to form a sweet liquid called wort.

Wort is then transferred to the lauter tun, where the liquid is separated from the extracted grains. Then the wort is drained to the kettle where it is boiled and hops are added. The process takes about seven to eight hours.

After that, the liquid is transferred to fermentation vessels for the cool fermentation and cold storage “lagering” that distinguish the style of beer from the more popular ales made by other microbreweries.

Golden Hills beers are initially fermented for seven to nine days at 56 degrees Fahrenheit. Then brewers raise the temperature slightly to 58 degrees. They continue lagering the beer at 45 degrees for about 10 days. Finally, the thermostat is lowered again to 32 degrees for final cold conditioning and storage, where it is held until it can be filtered and put into kegs.

The brewery is on track to make about 1,600 barrels of beer this year. A barrel contains 31 gallons of beer.

Duenwald and Brown say they hope to grow enough that they will be able to begin canning the beer in the next few years. They also plan to add a tasting room to the brewery.

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