Local beer’s popularity might be the highest it’s been since pioneer Ezra Meeker planted hop vine cuttings on his Puyallup Valley farm in 1865. But with more than 15 Tacoma proper breweries operating today, and a few of them fairly new, navigating T-town’s brew offerings can be a pioneer’s task. That’s one of the reasons why the Parkway Tavern hosts the Tacoma Brewers Blind IPA Challenge during Tacoma Beer Week. Parkway Beerwrangler Sean Jackson contacted all the Tacoma breweries, asking them to submit their best IPA with no adjuncts, dry-hopping OK, with an ABV range of 5.9% to 7.9%. Ten Tacoma breweries submitted their hoppy goodness.
At 5 p.m. last night the Parkway tapped the 10 mystery IPAs for a blind flight tasting. Narrows Brewing Co. was the blind 10 spot. Pacific Brewing & Malting Co. was the blind nine spot. Wingman Brewers was in the eight slot with Odd Otter Brewing Co. as number seven, Tacoma Brewing Co. six, 7 Seas Brewing five, E-9 Brewery four, Harmon Brewing Co. in the three slot, RAM Brewery two and Gig Harbor Brewing Co. was in the first blind slot.
People sipped. People scratched their heads. Brewers had a difficult time picking out their own IPA. Everyone agreed it was a difficult task to choose a winner. “I’d be happy with second place,” said E-9 Brewery brewer Donovan Stewart.
Originally the blind flight of IPAs would cease at 8:30 p.m. The IPAs went dry before 8 p.m. Sticking with the schedule, at 8:30 p.m. Jackson — pen resting on ear and a pile of ballets under his arm — scurried outside and down to the Parkway’s office to tally.
At 9:15 p.m., Jackson reappeared, climbed on the bar top and announced the top three IPAs according to the Parkway patrons, a savvy group of craft beer drinkers.
“The runner runner up is Tacoma Brewing,” Jackson shouted. Cheers erupted as Tacoma Brewing founder and head brewer Morgan Alexander raised his pint in acknowledgement. Alexander won last’s year’s inaugural Blind IPA Challenge; the Tacoma Brewing sticker on the side of the trophy proves it.
“The runner up is E-9 brewery,” Jackson proclaimed. Brewer Stewart had a smile a mile wide.
“And the winner of this year’s Blind IPA Challenge is Pacific Brewing & Malting Company,” Jackson said before being drowned out in cheers. Pacific Brewing Sales Executive Andy Kenser threw his arms in the air. Pacific Brewing co-owner and Director of Brewery Operations Steve Navarro hugged his head brewer, Bethany Carlsen.
Jackson filled the pint secured to the top of the trophy with Pacific’s IPA and presented it to winning brewer Carlsen. She happily drank from said pint.
Seven votes made the difference between first and third place.
Pacific Brewing & Malting, E-9 and Tacoma Brewing also brewed the top three IPAs last year, according to the IPA Challenge.
Navarro had a Kung-Fu Grip on the trophy as competing brewers and drinkers congratulated him and his team. The trophy will perch high at the downtown Tacoma brewery’s taproom until next year’s competition during Tacoma Beer Week 2017.