OLYMPIA – Jeff and Roma Bert are about as beer geeky as it gets.
Pay a visit to their Olympia beer store, Gravity Beer Market, and you may depart with an earful about oak barrel-aged beers, smoked beers, aged beers, gluten-free beers, beers brewed only in the South Sound, beers to pair with pungent cheese. They’re a font of brew knowledge, those two. Their bottle store, with an inventory of more than 600 craft and imported beers, will be open three years this month.
Collectively, they’ve worked 25 years in the business. Jeff previously worked as the marketing director for New Belgium Brewing Company, and also worked at Snoqualmie Falls Brewing Company. Once upon a time, the Olympia native managed the Eastside Club Tavern, which his grandfather sold to the current owners in 1942.
Wife Roma, also a Northwest native, previously worked for Pyramid Breweries and Columbia Distributing, one of the largest beer distributors in Washington and Oregon.
With their collective knowledge, they can answer deep-level beer questions, or recommend beer to somebody who has never sniffed a smoked porter or sipped an imperial stout. Just like wine shops with expert staff, the Berts are experienced in telling customers how to match food and drink.
They can get technical in talking about beers that pair well with desserts (see the sidebar for their thoughts on that), but they also take an everyman approach to pairing up food and brew.
“We truly feel that there is absolutely no boundaries when it comes to pairing food with beer. From a light lager to a heavy stout, there are many different possibilities, but as long as you have good beer, good food and, of course, are surrounded with family and friends, you seriously can’t go wrong,” Jeff said.
The world of beer is ever changing. We interviewed Jeff recently to ask him about running Gravity and about beer trends. Here’s what he had to say:
TNT DINER: What is the best way for you to introduce people to new beers?
Bert: We have beer tasting the last Friday of every month. They are from 5 to 7 p.m. and are $5 per person (21 and older only). We have a different brewery every month and it’s a nice way for the customers to interact personally with the brewery. They can put a face to the brewery and ask questions. They can sample five different products. We get between 75 and 125 people in there for a two-hour period. It’s a fun and great time.
TNT DINER: How do you guide a customer who likes a certain kind of beer, but may not be sure what else to try?
Bert: We try to help people along. (If they say) I drink amber. OK, well, progressively your palate is going to change. I’ll ask, “Do you like sweet or bitter?” You can ask little questions to help give people some information.
TNT DINER: What’s your approach to what you stock in your store?
Bert: We want to give people the option of traveling around the world without leaving Olympia. We focus on craft beers, and especially Northwest beers. We also have stuff from the Czech Republic and Japan. We want people to come into the shop to experience what it would be like drinking beer anywhere.
TNT DINER: What’s unusual or interesting about your stock?
Bert: We stay on top of the newest beers, the special releases. You can count on them being in our shop. We don’t have to follow a corporate schematic and we change things around all the time. We keep the standards and things people want. And we are always looking for the next thing that consumers want. We’ve always given people options.”
TNT DINER: What are new trends for beers? Are your customers asking for certain styles of beer?
Bert: One of the biggest new trends people clamor for is oak-aged beers, beers that have been aged in wood. You see breweries investing in old barrels. Beer is alive, and when you put it in a bourbon barrel, that becomes part of it. There are so many layers in (flavors) in beers these days.
TNT DINER: What’s your favorite oak beer?
Bert: The Abyss, which is aged in oak bourbon barrels. When I drink one that’s fresh, the smoke’s up front. I can taste the bourbon. When you let a beer like that age for a year or two, there’s layers of chocolate and vanilla. It’s really nice to take the oak age from two years behind you, and try that. That’s what a lot of brewers are hoping – that you let the beers sit for two years.
TNT DINER: Beer fans are buying and aging beer to enjoy later?
Bert: I think the true beer connoisseur kind of understands that philosophy. We’ll get two beers. We get one to drink now and save one for later to enjoy. It’s kind of along the same lines of wine, but the beer has to be a big, heavy, malty beer. You don’t want to age an IPA for too long, because the hop characteristic goes away, but when you age a barleywine or a stout ... as those beers tend to age, they just get better. I just drank a 17-year-old barleywine, it was absolutely incredible. It was sweet, it was smooth, it had mellowed out, the hops had toned way down and the malts exploded. It was absolutely brilliant. When you put them side-by-side, you can taste where this beer is going to go. You can put them side-by-side and see where the flavors will go. You never know with wine or beer what’s going to happen as it ages, but you take the chance.
PAIRING FOOD AND BEER More beer lovers are pairing food and brew. Here are Jeff and Roma Bert’s top picks for food and beer pairings:
BROWN ALES: Serve with barbecue ribs. “The malts in the beer stand up to the grilled flavors that you get with ribs and also works well with barbecue chicken.”Try this: Dick’s Brewing Company Working Man Brown
BARLEYWINE ALES: Pairs with any “stinky” cheese. “Stilton and a nice room temp barleywine works as the sweetness from the malts cuts the pungent flavors of the cheese. We also like a nice Belgian Saison with certain cheeses.”Try this: Sierra Nevada Bigfoot Barleywine
STOUTS: Excellent with oysters. “By drinking a heavy stout between slurping down a local raw oyster, it helps to cleanse the palate and flush the brininess away.”Try this: Elysian Dragonstooth Stout
BELGIAN WHEATS: Pair with clams or mussels. “The orange peel and coriander that are used in the beer are a perfect match for either shellfish.”Try this: Hoegaarden
INDIA PALE ALE: Pair with spicy foods. “The citrus tones and aromas from the hops go well with the heat from the spices. We also enjoy a nice IPA when eating anything that involves pork.”Try this: Snoqualmie Falls Brewing Company Wildcat IPA
EPIC BEERS TO SIP BEFORE YOU DIESo what are the beers that Jeff and Roma Bert recommend all beer lovers sample? Take a look here. They provided the tasting notes.
1. Tripel Karmeliet from Belgium“This beer is, by far, the quintessential Belgian beer for us. With its floral nose and sugar candy tones, this is one that takes the palate on a mellow, sweet ride throughout. This pairs very well with “stinky” cheeses as the malts cut through the pungent flavors and aromas.”
2. Pliny the Elder from Russian River Brewing Company“Mouth come alive. Huge citrus notes both in the nose and on the tongue put your senses in overdrive. Many have tried to duplicate, and some have come close, but nothing being produced thus far ... has come close to the hop nirvana that is played out in a glass of Pliny. Some say hops versus spicy is good as it continues the rush of the heat, but for us, it can be drunk with numerous types of foods.”
3. The Abyss from Deschutes Brewing Company“This Imperial Stout that incorporates molasses and chocolate, with a portion aged in bourbon oak barrels, is a skyscraper when it comes to flavors. Levels of vanilla, chocolate, brown sugar, coffee and, of course, bourbon gives the end consumer plenty of places to explore this wondrous dark and dreamy libation. We like to indulge in sweets like French vanilla ice cream (think floats) and even fresh baked chocolate chip cookies with this heavy hitter.”
4. Wildcat from Snoqualmie Falls Brewing Company“This Northwest India Pale Ale is what we measure other IPAs by. Full-on grapefruit blast from beginning to end. The key is the hidden malt that completes this harmonious marriage of hops, malt, yeast and water. We like this in the summertime with grilled chicken or fish as the citrus tones pair very well.”
Gravity Beer MarketWhere: 1001 Fourth Ave. E., OlympiaInfo: 360-352-5107 or gravitybeermarket.comHours: Noon-8 p.m. Mondays, 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays, and noon-5 p.m. Sunday