Sunday, May 17th, 2015

Friendships and beeryamids were formed at inaugural BikeroBrew

Ron Swarner

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If there’s one thing we know, it’s that happiness and deep sense of connection never comes from material success. Human connectivity doesn’t come from sitting around Instagramming, Twittering and Facebooking your soul into abject numbness. No, it’s much simpler. It can happen on a Saturday afternoon with strangers, over beers, of course.

Yesterday’s BikeroBrew (by-kroh-broo) saw 35 or so participants ride bicycles between downtown Tacoma microbreweries, drink craft beer and learn about Tacoma’s history. The event wasn’t one of those Tough Mudder or Warrior Dash races where you beat the hell out of your knees for a T-shirt, cute selfies and endless Facebook bragging rights. No, it was human connection stripped down to the basic need for human touch: a pat on the back to a deserving brewer; a high five over a tasty IPA; a fist bump for a successful human pyramid. More connected, aligned, conscious.

The relationship between bicycling and beer is undeniable, if inexplicable. Why is the bicyclist personality type also drawn to craft beer? New Belgium, out of Colorado, is possibly the brewery most associated with bikes, though it is not alone. Its flagship brew is Fat Tire; it sponsors a summer festival called Tour de Fat with bands, bikes and beer, with proceeds going to local bike nonprofits; and its Clips of Faith film fest also funnels its proceeds to bike nonprofits. Many other craft breweries sponsor cycling teams.

Locally, Harmon Brewing Co. has its own Harmon Bike Club, an informal group that gets together for rides in the Pierce County; these end at its Taproom’s beer garden.

Of course bicycles are a great mode of transportation for in-town pub crawls as well. No need to don Lycra. In fact, it’s better with a T-shirt and shorts.

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Our fearless cyclists ride along the Thea Foss Waterway on their way to Wingman Brewers. Photo credit: Pappi Swarner

The inaugural BikeroBrew offered participants a chance to explore four downtown Tacoma breweries — Pacific Brewing & Malting Co., Wingman Brewers, Odd Otter Brewing Co. and Tacoma Brewing Co. — while atop two wheels. With near-perfect cycling weather and little traffic, the tour was a filled with delicious beer, brewery tours, Tacoma historical facts and lots of laughs.

The afternoon kicked off broken into four assigned groups, each receiving a tour of one of the four breweries. My awesome group began BikeroBrew under the guidance of Steve Navarro, co-owner and head brewer at Pacific Brewing & Malting Co. Navarro explained that while the brewery has only been opened since September, its history traces back to the original Tacoma Beer recipe, which was distributed around the world. Pacific Brewing & Malting Co. was the second largest brewery in Washington state before Prohibition, brewing 60,000 to 70,000 barrels a year in 25 buildings on the other end of Pacific Avenue from today’s location at Sixth and Pacific Avenue. We learned Prohibition hit Washington state four years before the rest of the country.

“My brewery is not as big,” said Navarro with a laugh.

Pacific Brewing is a seven-barrel house (although he can stretch it to nine), with each barrel producing 31 gallons of beers, or the equivalent of two kegs. Navarro walked us through the brewing process, from the mash tun to the bright tanks, explaining grain grinding, brewing temperatures, fermentation and brewing time.

After the last Pacific brew was finished, the group formed a human beeryamid in front of the brewery.

Beeryamid in front of Pacific Brewing & Malting Co. / photo credit: Pappi Swarner
Beeryamid in front of Pacific Brewing & Malting Co. / photo credit: Pappi Swarner

From Pacific Brewing, our group traveled the longest stretch of the day, along Dock Street, past the Museum of Glass, over the D Street Bridge to Wingman Brewers. Our tour leaders, Justin Grisham and his wife, Jenn, kept the group together, pointing out historical facts and dropping one-liners. It was a leisurely pace. The ride went so smoothly, with good weather and no bike snafus to boot, that it seemed the Grishams have been leading bike tours for years.

Wingman bartender Nic Chmiel poured Black Currant Saison, Brux 2 the Cru, Old Plank Pils, Ace IPA, Berlinerweisse and others while the group laughed it up with Wingman regulars.

After another beeryamid, the Grishams lead us toward Tacoma’s Brewery District where Justin explained the area’s history and pointed out where each former brothel use to do business.

Bikes and beer are a perfect pairing, Justin pointed out. “In Washington, and especially Tacoma, there’s such a huge bike community, huge extension of trails,” he said. “Right now is the perfect time to start brewery bike touring because breweries are popping up everywhere.”

In contrast with the bus tours, which include slightly more beer at each stop, Justin said BikeroBrew spends less time at each brewery and serve smaller samples per stop. “That way it’s safer and more focused on history and biking,” he noted. Yesterday, the sampling seemed to work perfectly; attendees agreed it was just enough to taste each beer without getting dehydrated or hampering cycling ability.

A group sing-along of Kenny Roger’s “The Gambler” broke out as we passed extinct breweries, brothels and poker rooms.

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Beeryamid in front of Odd Otter Brewing Co. / photo credit: Pappi Swarner

We pedaled to Odd Otter Brewing Co., which was lively before our crazy asses hit the stools. Odd Otter co-founder John Hotchkiss helped pour Screeching IPA, Coconut Chai Porter, Ottermelon Hefe, “Stuff Dutch People Like,” Momma’s Pancake Porter and many other Otter brews. Odd Otter naturally fun atmosphere sparked our group, as you can see in the photographs below.

After the third beeryamid, we hit the hills toward Tacoma Brewing Co. on St. Helens Avenue, humming the theme from “Rocky.” Tacoma brewing founder Morgan Alexander was in the house, pouring his Aristotle’s Golden Mean IPA. Alexander launched a major brew house remodel, so he’s between brewing cycles. The gang busted out a game of Cards Against Humanity in Tacoma Brewing’s backroom.

After the final beeryamid, we pedaled down the hill to Pacific Brewing to hug it out.

As the tour concluded, attendees agreed it was an energizing and educational experience. The next BikeroBrew will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday, May 30. Jump on https://www.facebook.com/bikerobrew for details. Whether you come primarily for the bike ride or the beer samples along the way, the brewing history and education at the tour’s heart makes for a worthwhile afternoon.