Pike Brewing Company
Beer from Start to Finish, at The Pike Brewing Company
Excerpted from Pike Place Market Recipes: 130 Delicious Ways to Bring Home Seattle’s Famous Market
BY JESS THOMSON
PHOTOS BY CLARE BARBOZA AND CAROLE TOPALIAN
If you’re walking down the hallway that leads south from the old Economy Market Building toward Union Street, and you notice a man in rubber boots banging on a giant red silo with a big wooden oar, get closer and start sniffing: you’ve arrived at The Pike Brewing Company when the brewers are working. The Pike, which was one of the country’s smallest breweries when it opened in 1989, still makes all its beer on-site. But this isn’t your typical brewing warehouse. Take a seat at one of the high tables overlooking the brewing kettle, which steams away right in the center of The Pike Pub, the brewery’s restaurant, and you’ll have a good view up a diamond-plated spiral staircase to the grist case—the red silo that holds milled grain— where the banging is coming from. If brewing were a spectator sport, The Pike would be its Wrigley Field.
Tours of the brewery aren’t scheduled regularly, but ask in the pub, and they’ll find someone to show you around. When I arrive, assistant head brewer Dean Mochizuki takes me down to the basement, where grain is milled and beers are fermented and bottled. The brewery door opens, and I’m greeted with a flood of sweet, malty air. We wind our way up the staircase, right through the center of the pub, to meet Adam Palmer, a mop-headed brewer whose thick-framed glasses look awfully conservative for a beer expert, until you notice they have flames on the temples. Adam is the booted guy with the oar, and like all the brewers, he’s on a schedule, performing each detail of the brewing process with an engineer’s precision. Today, he’s in the middle of brewing Pike Dry Wit, a seasonal white ale that the Pike releases each May. He’s just started the mash-in process, where 1,200 pounds of milled grain and 50 pounds of rolled oats are added to a 930-gallon tank called a mash tun, along with 161-degree (not 162-degree) water. Over the course of about twenty minutes, he adds the grain more or less quickly, depending on how the mixture in the tank looks, carefully watching the scale that measures how much grain is left. It’s ironic that making something so intrinsically linked with losing track of time requires such accurate timing.
It’s also ironic that the nature of our drinking laws means that small boys don’t grow up wanting to be beer brewers, because Adam’s job is a twelve-year-old’s dream. In the mash tun’s control tower alone—looking down, you can see through the floor to the pub, and certain people might be tempted to spit—there’s what looks like a steering wheel (which controls how much grain spills out into the mash tun), that oar (for knocking stubborn grain into the funnel- shaped bottom of the grist case), and roughly ten million buttons and gauges. When the grain has all been added, and Adam has somehow manipulated all the different control gadgets, he takes me on a tour.
We start back downstairs at the mill, where fresh malted barley drops through a giant hop- per and onto a small and very squeaky conveyer belt, which takes it to the gristmill. There, the grains’ hulls are cracked open, revealing the starch that will be converted into sugar and then alcohol. The milled grain then takes a trip on a bucket elevator—imagine a small, metal Ferris wheel that only goes up—to the grist case, where we started. After the grain is mashed in, it percolates in the brewing kettle (the tank right in the pub) for about 75 minutes, where it becomes wort. At this point, Adam will add hops—nugget and Cascade hops, in this case. From there, the 200-degree wort heads back down to the basement of the brewery.
The fermentation room is a labyrinth of tanks and hoses. There are so many valves and knobs from floor to ceiling that I’m momentarily convinced the brewery was used as a set for The Hunt for Red October, until Adam explains that most of them enable the brewery to wash and sanitize each tank without carting around pressurized hoses—he says sanitization is about 75 percent of his job. While his thirty-barrel batch of Wit boils away one floor up in the brewing kettle, Adam shows me why he’s wearing boots—and why you should, too, if you plan to ask for a tour.
After the boiled wort gets recirculated in a tank they call the whirlpool, allowing the brewing kettle to be refilled with another batch of beer-to-be, it gets cooled in a heat exchanger to about 70 degrees, aerated with medical- grade oxygen, and pumped into a fermentation tank, along with live yeast. And every time the beer moves from one apparatus to another, said apparatus gets a full scrub-down. Adam takes time away from cleaning his fermentation tank to spray a new trainee with a high- pressure hose—these folks are detail-oriented, but I wouldn’t call them high-strung. After about a week of fermentation (depending on the brew), the Wit will be filtered, chilled to about 33 degrees, carbonated, and then bottled at a mind-blowing rate of forty-eight bottles each minute.
Walking back up to the pub, I’m a little overwhelmed. I’ve never prided myself on my knack for molecular biology, but Adam explained the brewing process in terms basic enough for a nonbrewer to understand yet detailed enough for me to, well, drink in about as much knowledge as I could take.
Better wash it down with a pint.