Next week, a brewery so small that it's called a nano-brewery will join a small, but growing, pocket of South Sound craft brewers. Puyallup River Brewing Company will begin offering three of its brews by the bottle at the Tacoma Boys store in Puyallup.
Brewer and Puyallup resident Eric Akeson is no newcomer to the brewing scene - he’s been working and brewing in the industry since he took a job at the Rose Hill Ale House in Kirkland in the 1990s. Home brewers on staff there loaned him equipment and he started a serious brewing hobby. He took a long hiatus from brewing after getting married in 2003 and two daughters followed. He returned to hops and malts around 2010. About a year ago, he started building his own back-yard brewery. It’s a tiny operation and in a residential neighborhood, and his business permit does not allow for public tastings. His space is barely bigger than a shed - an out building about 20 by 24 feet that holds a full one-barrel system that produces about 32 gallons at a time. As an homage to his home in Puyallup, all his beers are named after Puyallup or Mount Rainier landmarks.
For now, he’ll stick with bottling only. He contemplated selling his beer by the keg - a business model that has brought success to two South Sound brewers who followed that protocol and are now expanding - 7 Seas Brewing in Gig Harbor, which is growing to a larger location near downtown Gig Harbor, and Wingman Brewers in Tacoma, which will expand to a bigger taproom by the Dome this spring. Those breweries found success in selling kegs to watering holes and restaurants like The Red Hot, 208 Garfield, Villa Caffe and Imbibery and Metronome. Considering the smaller scale of his brewery, selling individual kegs was a model that Akeson was afraid he could not sustain, especially because he still has a day job as an operations manager of a trucking company. “I wanted to get a start and get my name out there and not have to chase around kegs,” he said by phone last week. “I want to be able to control what I’m doing, especially at first."
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Local grocer Tacoma Boys became his first client. The Tacoma Boys store in South Hill will offer three of his brews in store beginning April 4 (read about the beers and tasting notes below) and the Tacoma store also is expected to follow, as well as sister store H&L Produce in Lakewood. Beyond Tacoma Boys, Akeson also has more brewing to do - he was just invited to pour his Belgian style saison - flavored with grains of paradise, coriander and bitter orange peel - at the Washington Brewers Festival in June at Marymoor Park in Redmond. After that, - he’s got a porter planned, as well as a personal favorite, a spiced pumpkin ale.
Joe Haugen, a local beer aficionado and former beer and wine specialist for Tacoma Boys who now works for a wine distributor, became a fan of Akeson’s beer when the two struck up a friendship at the Tacoma Boys store. Akeson would bring Haugen samples of his home brews. Said Haugen, “When he told me he was going to be opening a brewery, we ironed out that when he first started bottling, the first store would be Tacoma Boys.” Haugen also noted Tacoma Boys’ longtime commitment to promoting and selling micro-local products. “Local - that’s the business model at Tacoma Boys. It only makes sense when a new brewery opens up that is literally 40 blocks away from the South Hill store, that they’re going to carry their beer first,” said Haugen.
Haugen said he became an instant fan of Akeson’s home brewed Oktoberfest style ale, but what he’s most looking forward to trying is Akeson’s saison, which Haugen said should be a coveted summer beer not only because of the summery flavor, but also because the beer will be comparatively lower octane (meaning a lower alcohol content)- making it a perfect summer sipper.
Here are the beers available at Tacoma Boys next week, with tasting notes from Akeson:Electron IPA: Northwest style IPA. “Lots of citrus notes, it’s got a really dry finish. It’s pretty light in color for an IPA.”Frying Pan Cascadian Red Ale: “It’s medium bodied, lots of hops, beautiful red-hued color from the different malts used in brewing that beer. It’s pretty smooth on the palate.”Lahar Imperial IPA: It’s got a deep orange color, it’s one of those in-your-face tons of hops beers, and tons of sugar before it ferments, it’s a pretty intense beer.”
Puyallup River BrewingWhere: Puyallup, WaBottling: April 4 is the release date for the first three brews for Tacoma Boys in Puyallup. Find Tacoma Boys locations hereInfo: Puyallup River Brewing Facebook page here
Coming next: Check back for a story on Duo Brewing, another small craft brewery seeing local success in bars known for good brews. Local watering holes Engine House No. 9, The Red Hot and HG Bistro are all carrying Duo beers. Business is so brisk, brewer Dan O'Leary said he's having a difficult time keeping up with demand.