Redhook Ale Brewery is returning to Seattle. The city’s original microbrewery left town in the mid 90s when it moved to Woodinville. Recently, Redhook stopped brewing in Woodinville as Craft Brew Alliance, the parent company, consolidated operations at its big brewery in Portland. Suddenly Redhook wasn’t even a Washington brewery anymore. (More about all of that, and Redhook’s storied past, below.)
The new Redhook Brewlab opens in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood on Thursday, August 17 in the Pike Motorworks Building at 714 E. Pike Street (map). To mark the occasion, Redhook is throwing a party featuring 16 new, experimental beers brewed by Redhook Head Brewer Nick Crandall in collaboration with local breweries like Chainline Brewing, Silver City Brewery, Naked City Brewery, Matchless Brewing, 20 Corners Brewing, and many others. The party features DJ’d music from KEXP, live music, and most importantly all the beers.
I was at Brewlab for a media preview event recently and sampled several of the beers. I was suitably impressed.
About the Beer
If the city’s original microbrewery is looking to regain relevance in the eyes of craft beer oldsters, and if it is looking to introduce itself to the throngs of craft beer newbies, opening the Redhook Brewlab looks like a step in the right direction. Not only because it represents a return to the city from which Redhook came, but because it will foster creativity and allow Redhook to become a more interesting brewery.
“Redhook was built on experimentation and taking risks back in the early 80s,” said Crandall. “Redhook Brewlab will allow us to experiment and test brewing boundaries, as well as get feedback directly from our guests. We’ll see what works and what might not. Ultimately, the next generation of Redhook’s core and seasonal beers will be born at Brewlab.”
I’ve been told that you should not expect to find Redhook’s usual suspects on tap at the Brewlab. No Redhook ESB or Long Hammer IPA, though such beers will be available in bottles and cans. Instead you will find a constantly rotating selection of Nick Crandall’s creative concoctions, seasonal beers and specialty beers. He says that collaboration with local brewers, and distillers for that matter, is part of the plan.
At the Redhook Brewlab, Crandall operates an eight-barrel brewing system that employs a state-of-the-art High Efficiency Brewing System (HEBS), which uses a mash filter instead of a lauter tun, enabling significant water and grain conservation, quicker brewing times, and easier batch-to-batch turnover. Redhook is not the first Washington brewery to employ such technology: Sound Brewery in Poulsbo uses, in part, the same technology. So does Crux Fermentation Project in Bend, Oregon and Cochella Valley Brewing in Palm Springs, California. There are many others.
The flexibility and efficiency of the brewhouse is intended to allow Crandall the freedom to experiment with a wide variety of beer styles and recipes, and to brew more than 100 different beers every year.
The HEBS employed at Brewlab is the smallest one available from IDD, the company that produces the technology. Learn more about the HEBS technology here. One of the reasons they’re using an HEBS at Brewlab is to test it’s viability for use at Kona Brewing in Hawaii, which is also part of Craft Brew Alliance. On an island, even a big one like Hawaii, high efficiency is particularly valuable.
About the Place
The focus of the Brewlab is the brewery, and it’s right there for you to see behind glass next to the pub, but they also have a kitchen. From Executive Chef Adam Stevens: “I’d describe the menu concept as unabashedly good bar food, the kind of food we like to eat while drinking great beer. Our stone-hearth oven, the seasons, and local ingredients will dictate the menu, which will rotate throughout the year. In this way, the food aligns with our beers — we won’t limit ourselves, we’ll be experimental, and we’ll always be having fun.”
It seems that menu will consist of creative pizzas, appetizers and salads, but like everything else at Brewlab, it will be a continual work in progress. That’s the whole point of the place.
Redhook Brewlab is on the ground floor of a new, fancy apartment complex on Capitol Hill. The space was supposed to house a group of smaller shops, but Redhook stepped in with a grander vision. It was not designed to be a brewery or a restaurant. That created some challenges. For instance, where do you put the glycol chillers? In the parking garage beneath the building, and you then plumb accordingly, and expensively, as needed. Anecdotally, I heard that some of the tenants in the building don’t necessarily like the smell of brewing beer wafting into their expensive, luxury apartments. It has taken a lot of time, almost two years, but they’ve worked through all the issues.
There are two bars, one at the front of the space and the other in the back. Sixteen taps at each bar. The bar in back was salvage from the Greyhound bus depot in Bellingham. There are two patios, one out front just off of Pike Street, the other in the courtyard out back, where apartment dwellers can gaze down upon you and envy your pint. You can gaze up at them and wonder just how much an apartment in a building like this costs in Seattle these days. Spoiler alert: $1,800 per month for a studio. Two-bedroom apartments start at about $5,000 per month.
It’s nice to have Redhook back in Seattle where they helped kick off the craft beer revolution over 30 years ago. That’s cool, but let’s face it, what really matters is the beer. The intention is to start making better and more interesting beers. Ultimately, that’s the goal at Brewlab. I hope they achieve that goal. Nick Crandall certainly is up to the task and with the opening of Brewlab, it seems he’s got the support of the corporate mucky-mucks.
It’s a fact that Redhook was Seattle’s first microbrewery, having started production in 1982 at a re-purposed auto repair garage in Ballard. In 1995, or thereabouts, the brewery left town and moved to Woodinville after it entered into a much-misunderstood distribution relationship with Anheuser-Busch (read more about that below). In 2002, Redhook’s Trolleyman Taproom in Fremont closed and the company left Seattle entirely. The Redhook Brewery in Woodinville recently ceased production as Craft Brew Alliance, Redhook’s parent company (read more about that below), consolidated its Northwest production at the big brewery in Portland.
The facts about Redhook and Anheuser-Busch: A lot of people seem to think that Redhook is owned by Anheuser-Busch. I’m not telling you what to feel or how to think, I’m just sharing facts. You be the judge.
In 1994, Anheuser-Busch bought a 25 percent stake in Independent Ale Company, aka Redhook. That influx of capital, along with the rest of the capital raised by the Initial Public Offering, funded the company’s growth. Eventually Redhook and Widmer Brother Brewing teamed up to create what would become Craft Brew Alliance. Today, Redhook Ale Brewery, Widmer Brothers Brewing, Kona Brewing, Omission Beer, Square Mile Cider, and a couple other smaller breweries make up Craft Brew Alliance, which is a publicly traded company. Anheuser-Busch owns about 32 percent of the stock, has two seats on the board of directors, and is the company’s distribution partner. Rob and Kurt Widmer own 18 percent of the stock, with Kurt acting as the Chairman Emeritus. Who owns the remaining 50 percent, I do not know. The public, I assume.