Of all the awards Eric Akeson has won, the plaque he and brewer Nat Woodsmith picked up last month at the Third Annual Washington Beer Awards is just about the best so far.
“The award for 2015 Small Brewery of the Year means a lot because there are more small breweries in this state than midsize and larger breweries combined,” said Akeson, owner of Puyallup River Brewing Company and the Puyallup River Alehouse. “When it was announced that we won this award, I couldn’t believe it. I was shocked.”
That wasn’t the only award that Puyallup River Brewing Company walked away with. It also won two Silver medals, one in the Farmhouse Ales category for its Paradise Blonde Saison, and a second in the Coffee and Chocolate Beer category for its Mud Mountain Milk Stout.
Akeson and Woodsmith topped that off with a Gold medal in the Fruit Beers category for their Pineapple Paradise Blonde Saison.
Winners were announced June 20 at the Washington Brewer’s Festival at Marymoor Park in Redmond.
All of Washington state’s professional craft breweries could participate by submitting entries where judges evaluated 716 beers from 107 breweries and judged them on their technical and stylistic excellence.
Akeson said he and Woodsmith are a good team. Woodsmith works full time with Akeson, and the pair has been together for nearly three years.
Woodsmith enjoys the process.
“I like being able to do the variety,” he said. “We do small batches so we can experiment a lot and keep a good variety of the ales. I’m having so much fun doing this — I plan to do it for the rest of my life.”
“We have collaborated on a whole bunch of beers, including beers we won for last year,” Akeson said.
This year the pair submitted 10 beers in the festival; six went on to the medal round and three took home medals.
“We were very proud to have won a silver medal for our Paradise Blonde Saison because it is one of our flagship beers that we brew year-round,” Akeson said. “The Farmhouse Ales and Saisons are my passion. I love brewing that style, and to be recognized in a style that we have worked very, very hard to get the beers to the point where they are correct means a lot.”
The pair has set pretty high standards for their beers. All the fruit used in their beers comes from Sterino Farms, “right here in the Puyallup Valley,” Akeson said. “They have been great to us in the last few years and their fruit works so well.”
The Pineapple Paradise Blonde Saison has been selling like hotcakes at the Alehouse, and the pair are doing their best to keep up with demand and not run dry between batches.
“We have five fermentation tanks and they are going constantly,” Akeson said. “As soon as one beer is done, we transfer that beer to our finishing tanks, clean the fermenter and we brew the next day.”
A great base for the Saisons helps the process, and Akeson said they have perfected that process by their introduction of the fruit to the beer to get as much of the flavor, color and aroma out of it as possible.
Akeson clearly loves the process of brewing beer.
“Even if there wasn’t a competition, I would brew beer,” he said.
Last year, he and Woodsmith decided to enter the competition and said they really enjoyed it, winning two medals in the Second Annual Washington State Brewers Beer Awards, a silver medal for their Cream Ale and Black Pumpkin Saison and a bronze medal for the Barrel Aged Point Success Porter.
The customers at Akeson’s Puyallup River Alehouse get a real kick out of hearing about the competition as well, and they love the brewed beers.
“For the last couple of weeks customers are congratulating us and really happy for us. That is what makes it worth it,” the owner said.