CHAMPION: One who fights or argues for a cause or on behalf of someone else. An advocate, a proponent, a promoter, a supporter, a defender, an upholder, a backer.
When 25 breweries gathered at Fortside Brewing Company for the annual Northbank Beer Week collab in early August, the brewers hatched an idea to recognize the local retailers, who are a very important part of the industry. They determined to present an award honoring the three taprooms, pubs or beer bars that best supported SW Washington beer throughout the year. But what did it mean to “support SW Washington beer”? How would that be decided? A whole series of questions was thrown around before establishing that one single question would leave the door wide open for interpretation by the person answering it. The question asked privately to each brewery was simple: “Which retailer does the best job of supporting local SW Washington beer?” That question meant different things to different folks – as it was intended to.
For one brewery, the answer might be a matter of volume – the account that sold the most beer for them. For another, the answer had more to do with what a local taproom was doing to develop community beyond sales. Another may have based the answer on who held more events for their brewery. And even still for another, the answer may have come from the personal supportive relationship between a taproom and the brewery – advice and encouragement not publicly seen. At the end of the day, each brewery answered differently and according to their values.
Each brewery was given two nominations. The first place name was more heavily weighted in the score than the second place name. Nominations were collected anonymously via an email link directing breweries to an online survey where they were able to simply offer two names. About half of SW Washington’s 35 breweries, cideries and meaderies participated. No public polling or outside votes were taken into account. The Northbank Champion award was designed to be awarded from one segment of the industry to another segment.
The trophy itself was fabricated by local manufacturer, Marks Tanks. It’s a 1/6bbl keg sliced in half so the back side is flat. The front is embossed with “NORTHBANK CHAMPION” and a placard is affixed to it with the inaugural year’s winners. Future winners will see their names engraved and attached in a Stanley Cup-style manner. “It is a symbol of a new era of SW WA Beer retailers and consumers that actual Local Beer is more local than just Pacific Northwest Beer,” shared Mike Difabio of Fortside Brewing in a letter to the brewers announcing the winners. “It’s another step to solidifying the momentum of Northbank Beer Week and the identity of the Northbank region as a great craft beer region.”
Fortside Brewing Company’s motto is “Strengthening craft beer culture in SW Washington.” So, it comes as no surprise that Difabio, Fortside’s co-founder, took the lead in developing the Northbank Champion award. Difabio collaborated with Marks Tanks on the fabrication of the award and started the conversation around how SW Washington’s brewers could do something special to recognize the greater service industry community.
The 2017 Northbank Champions
Tap Union Freehouse – First Place
3Peaks Public House & Taproom – Second Place
Hockinson Market – Third Place
Tap Union Freehouse owner, Chris Daniels, holds the Northbank Champion award. (Photo: Gary Paul of Trusty Brewing)
Tap Union Freehouse is the creation of proprietor, Chris Daniels. Daniels spent time as a brewer alongside Mark Zech at Mill City Brew Werks in Camas, WA and also used his knowledge helping customers at Bader Beer & Wine Supply for a time. Tap Union played co-host with Brickhouse for the 2017 Northbank Beer Week kick-off, where Daniels’ team brought in two extra jockey boxes to bring their total number of taps to 26 – all of which featured SW Washington beer, cider or mead for the evening. It’s not uncommon to find the newest of the new beers in SW Washington on tap there. Many point to Tap Union as their introduction to Shoug Brewing, Brother Ass and even Brothers Cascadia Brewing. Brothers Cascadia held their first-ever event at Tap Union before they even had beer to sell – hosting a growler night to bring awareness to their project that would open in Hazel Dell a few months later. Not only does Tap Union pour a lot of SW Washington beer, but their late hours have made them an industry hangout every night of the week. It’s not uncommon to see brewers, taproom managers and beertenders crowded around the patio fire past midnight on any given weekday.
3Peaks Public House & Taproom is headed up by Zack Goldfinch in Ridgefield, WA. A retailer that moves considerably more beer than one might expect given their more remote location, 3Peaks is a regular host to brewers events and their taplist contains mostly SW Washington beer on any given day. Their enormous patio hosts local live music and events, and it provides plenty of space for a lot of thirsty folks when the weather is right. Inside, the taproom is spacious and uniquely northwestern in its style. Big barn doors open to reveal even more space with a banquet room in the back. Goldfinch is so in love with SW Washington beer that he’s started a project to brew some himself. Look for more news on Hookem Brewing in downtown Ridgefield in the coming months!
Hockinson Market isn’t big. And neither are the breweries they feature on tap. In the back of this convenience store turned growler fill station is a small bar with seating for about 10 – more if you include the fact that patrons can wander the store with their beverage or visit the pizza joint under the same roof. Picnic tables are sometimes brought in on the weekends or for events. All one needs to do is meet Jim VanNatta once to realize how such a small place in such a remote area of Clark County received enough votes to place third. VanNatta shows up to many area festivals reminding anyone with the chance to meet him that their taproom is not only committed to 100% craft beer, but that he’s committed to 100% SW Washington beer – from North Jetty Brewing on the Long Beach Peninsula to Everybody’s Brewing in White Salmon. He’s vocal in his support, and he gives everyone who visits the tap station the opportunity to sample a broad range of SW Washington’s best beer.
Not Everyone Can Have A Trophy
The award wasn’t without controversy. While the spirit of the trophy was intended to bridge the gap between brewers and retail, it faced criticism as any prize would. Off-the-record rumblings of a few ranged from indifference to vocal displeasure. Notable taprooms that received votes, but were not recognized on the trophy included SW Washington’s first taproom, NW Liquid Gold where new owner Chris Pullen is brewing multiple collaboration beers with local breweries. NW Liquid Gold is where many local brewers placed their first self-distributed kegs and where the public first learned about breweries like Heathen, Ghost Runners, and Loowit over 5 years ago.
Ben’s Bottle Shop and their impressive taplist of craft beer and bottles has become more than a local draw, but even a regional draw. Folks often visit from the other side of the Columbia River for brews that can’t be found in Portland. Ben’s is a sponsor of Brewcouver, a local brewery passport, and has most recently been home to the launch party for Irv & Millie’s – a brand new meadery out of Ridgefield. Beer buyer and co-owner Tim Augustine hosts events for SW Washington breweries on a regular basis. Ben’s also collaborated with The Heavy Metal Brewing and NW Liquid Gold on a Northbank Beer Week Bottle Shop Peanut Butter & Jelly Porter (and it was delicious).
The Thirsty Sasquatch is also a sponsor of the passport to Vancouver’s breweries in addition to hosting private industry bottle shares and giving back to local causes. Proprietor Jeremy Cram and GM Ben Davenport have created an atmosphere of collaboration that includes Cicerone certification training and off-flavor classes open to anyone in the beer community and hobbyists alike.
Final Draft Taphouse are the new kids on the block, but owners Mike Bolt and Kimberly Johnson have dived head-first into supporting SW Washington. During Northbank Beer Week, Final Draft hosted 3 brewers per night for 6 nights to compile a documentary-style video highlighting everything that’s truly special about the region. It’s a tear-jerking tribute to the hard work of men and women in beer on the Northbank that they plan to release via social media soon.
Caps ‘N Taps, Grapes ‘n Growlers, Mill Creek Pub, Old Ivy Taproom, Brickhouse – entire articles could be devoted to their supportive roles in the development of the beer scene happening in Clark County and beyond. Some as pioneers, some as innovators, but all as champions of the new beer community that has enveloped SW Washington. As you can see, the task for a single brewery to narrow down their selection to just two taprooms was not an easy chore.
Community Is Greater Than Competition
This statement was heard over and over again during the Northbank Beer Week collab brew day and throughout Northbank Beer Week. There’s something special happening in SW Washington and it deserves to be celebrated. There’s a community that’s been formed that competition can’t undermine. The rising tide is lifting all ships. Like a family heirloom, the Northbank Champion trophy is a token of something meaningful passed from the giver to someone who will again pass it on. It’s a symbol of gratitude. In time, it will carry many names and retell the stories of contributions from the ones who make up a vital segment of the beer community – the people pouring the pints.