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Brew Talks Seattle: A City Indifferent Toward Craft Beer

When Brew Talks finished the long trip from Los Angeles up to the Pacific Northwest stops, in Seattle and Portland, we found two established craft beer cultures, albeit cultures with very different takes on the role craft should play as a civic institution.

In Seattle, which is the subject of today’s Brew Talks video (above), it became apparent that, despite the maturity of the craft industry, it has yet to become an outwardly-directed calling card for the city.

“I would define Seattle as a city indifferent towards craft beer,” said Joel Vandenbrink, the founder of Two Beers Brewing, which hosted the event. “They don’t lean one way against and they don’t really do too much for craft beer.”

Vandenbrink joined Ryan Hilliard, the co-founder of Hilliard’s Beer, and Kendall Jones, the founder of the Washington Beer Blog, in a discussion about the cultural and civic institutions that help promote a craft beer culture in Seattle.

Jones passionately explained that Seattle is commonly viewed as a very progressive city, but that it’s regressive in many ways outsiders don’t consider.

“This is the problem in Seattle – we are known for the Space Needle,” he said. “There are people in this town that resent the fact that we are known for the Seahawks or the Mariners. There are people who don’t want Seattle known for anything.”

Perhaps an indicator of Jones’ sentiment is the recent attempt by state officials to raise excise tax rates on small brewers.

“While the state of Washington was trying to quadruple our excise tax to the highest in the nation, our neighbors down south [in Oregon] passed a little bill that elected yeast as the state microbe,” said Hilliard. “Does that give you a perspective on the different states and how they recognize craft brewers? I think that sums it up right there.”

That isn’t to say that Vandenbrink and other local craft brewers aren’t actively pursuing change.

“I have some template letters that I give my regulars, that I have written or one of my guys has written and I mail those to legislators,” he said. “There are certainly laws that I want changed.”

One of those laws Vandenbrink helped to change was his ability to pour other Washington-made craft beers over his own taproom bar. Now, he’s advocating for similar changes that would give him the ability to sell Washington-made cider products as well.

But in order for Washington craft breweries to effect regulatory change, they’ll need more of an organized effort.

“Breweries could do better to band together and talk to our legislators and do it from the top down,” said Hilliard.

Editor’s Note: Additional video footage of the Brew Talks stop in Seattle, which includes a one-on-one interview with Mike Gorman, the VP of craft and import beer for Columbia Distributing, is below.