Morgan Alexander’s brewery is so small, he calls it a sub-microbrewery. He operates a quarter barrel system out of his coffee cafe, Amocat, which aptly spells Tacoma if you flip the letters. Visitors to Tacoma Brewing Co. will find new kegs tapped every Friday night. Like the coffee he brews by day, the craft beer Alexander creates is an extension of his self-described foodie side – most everything he brews is with good grub in mind.
Alexander’s love of brew bloomed after he industriously figured out that it’s cheaper to make beer than buy it - something he discovered in - a-hem - high school. Stadium High School, to be exact. Alexander is a 1986 graduate. He grew up in the neighborhood near Frisko Freeze. I don't know if anyone can get more Tacoma than this - Alexander delivered newspapers as a kid to the drive-in and Frisko Freeze paid him in money and ice cream. True Tacoma story, right there.
Alexander’s Friday night tappings showcase a wide range of beers – a recent tapping had an oak-aged imperial stout, a low-alcohol ginger ale, coffee-flavored porter and a dopplebock. Alexander brews with his brother, Tristan Litke, who acts as an assistant brewer. For now, Alexander and Litke are tapping every Friday, but eventually tappings will be added on Thursdays and Saturdays. Expect Alexander’s brewery to remain tiny for now, but it won’t always be. He eventually intends to open in a space that will support a 7-barrel system.
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Expect to see flavor forward beers from Tacoma Brewing Co. with unusual ingredients such as falernum and wasabi. Those beers will be projects in concert with local restaurants, something you can expect to see more of from Alexander, who already has a history of supporting other food businesses, such as Valhalla Coffee and Mad Hat Tea, at Amocat.
I asked Alexander a series of questions about his tiny brewery that could practically fit in a closet, here's what he had to say:
Q: So just how small is your operation?
A: We’re doing a quarter barrel - I’m hoping in the next few months, I’m hoping to bump it to a full barrel, which isn't much, that’s two kegs. That’s going to max out what I can do in the coffee shop.
Q: How difficult is it to work in the space?
A: The space is not conducive to making large quantities of beer, I have to do a lot of moving around to set up the brewing station. It’s a lot of work just to get ready to brew. I’m looking at warehouse space.
Q: How big an operation do you want to be?
A: A one-barrel system and grow up to a three-barrel cooker which then can grow into a six or seven barrel - even brewing three barrels at a time, you can do two batches at a time. You can move that up to a seven barrel ... That’s my immediate goal to get to that level. It takes the same time and energy to do five or 500 gallons.
Q: How did you get interested in beer?
A: It’s the same reason I’m so into coffee. I'm a total foodie, beer is an extension of cooking. I come at it with that approach. I will be doing beers for people who might not even like beer.
Q: Take us back to when you first started brewing, when was that?
A: I got back into it more recently, three to four years ago. I actually started in high school. I learned that you couldn’t buy beer at the store, but you could make it. I made crazy and some really disgusting stuff. I did it through college. If you want decent beer, it’s cheaper to make it. I was always a kind of more a wine kind of guy. I did quite a few batches of that. I just kind of rediscovered craft brews with the new generation of craft brewers like Georgetown and the more recent start-ups. They’re doing more innovative things. There are brand new hops that have only existed for 10 or 15 years, they were considered experimental. Brewers are picking up on it, the new hops are citrus forward, brewers are producing some really good beers now.
Q: Which new hops interest you most?
A: Simcoe, it has been a rare hop. The demand has been so high and they underestimated the demand for it. The larger breweries like Widmer and New Belgium, they are enormous and they have taken up, bought so much of it. I love experimenting with that, that’s what made me love the new generation of beers, there’s a bitterness that doesn’t stain your throat. I did this one, it was like drinking grapefruit juice ... I overloaded an IPA with hops, I used three times as much than what you’d usually use, it was just a test to see if I went way over the top with the hops ... it was a double IPA, it was like tasting grapefruit juice. I want to do another batch, but the unavailability of Simcoe hops has made that hard.
Q: You're a Stadium graduate and you grew up in Tacoma, but you left at one point. What did you do after you left Tacoma?
A: I used to do web development, but I hate sitting in front of a computer all day. I had this crazy idea, some friends I went to school with started coffee shops in Seattle. They started Top Pot Doughnuts in Seattle. ... I wanted to open one too. I started doing research, I thought I'd work for Starbucks and live the day in the life of a coffee shop. It was insightful to see how a big coffee company does it, there was a lot of organizing. It’s a smart business, but it's not the kind of business I want to have.
Tacoma Brewing Co.Where: Inside Amocat Cafe, 625 St. Helens Ave., TacomaHours: Tap nights are 5:30 p.m. Fridays. Age: Kids are welcome, kid-friendly beverages are servedInfo: 253-242-3370 or tacomabrewing.com