Friday, April 5th, 2024

Peaks and Pints Tournament of Beer: Northwest Ambers begins

Peaks & Pints bartenders Bilbo Brandon and Phaedra of Rohan launch the Tournament of Beer: Northwest Ambers!

Peaks and Pints Tournament of Beer: Northwest Ambers begins

There are many paths on the journey to amber and red ale greatness, but they all start with the Prancing Pony in the town of Bree in Middle-Northwest. Master Brewer Barliman Butterbur, proprietor of the Prancing Pony, poured his hallowed ambers and red ales enticing Hobbits to travel the 120 miles between the Shire and Bree to sip on the malty and caramel driven deliciousness. Wizard Gandalf the Grey even blessed said ales – calling them a category more than a beer style as Butterbur’s malty ambers and hoppier red ales were often interchangeable with the Hobbits. Then, spreading faster than the Beacon-hills of Gondor, amber and red ales became a norm in Middle Northwest. Beginning Friday, April 5, Peaks & Pints craft beer and cider bar, bottle shop and restaurant in Tacoma’s Proctor District, will revisit the legends of ambers and reds in Middle-Northwest told through modern-day voting of breweries in Oregon and Washington that brew the beer category – like the modern-day collegiate March Madness basketball tournament only with way more 2-row barley. Age-less women and gentlemen, Peaks & Pints presents our eighth annual beer competition, Peaks and Pints Tournament of Beer: Northwest Ambers, which occurs during The Third Age of Middle-Northwest.

Why are amber and red ales the key metaphor for The Third Age of Middle-Northwest? Because they capture both the approach to recipe design and brewing process from the first defeat of Sauron by the forces of the Last Alliance and the deaths of Elendil and Gil-galad, to the departure of Gandalf, Galadriel, Elrond, Bilbo, and Frodo to the Undying Lands after Sauron’s final downfall during the Great War of the Ring. These beers were sweet, sometimes under-carbonated, and always full of caramel/toffee flavors. While sweetness has become popular again in modern times, the flavor of caramel has not. So, for many wizards, elves, dwarfs, and men, amber and red ales were emblems of The Third Age.

Bilbo Brandon and Phaedra of Rohan discuss Middle-Northwest.

Middle-Northwest amber ales tend to go easy on the hops and have a hop bitterness that’s lower than basic pale ales, while Middle-Northwest reds have much more of a Lindon, or westernmost land, influence meaning they typically have a drier, hoppier finish. Red ales, unsurprisingly, are named for their reddish color. They have rich, robust flavors that provide a sweeter, butterscotch, or caramelized taste. Although dark and complex, the use of Middle-Northwest hop varieties gives them characteristics of a much lighter beer. The main difference between ambers and red ales are that red ales are brewed with specialty roasted malts and amber ales use caramelized malts for their pigment and flavors. “Irish” red ales are typically sweeter with little to no hop presence with flavors of toast, caramel, buttery toffee for a smooth, warm mouthfeel and the color is usually copper-red to reddish-brown.

Over the next three weeks, Peaks & Pints pits 64 of Middle-Northwest’s best ambers and red ales in a head-to-head battle of malts. This is a tournament, folks, not a playoff. Each match is do or die — one misstep and you’re out of the dance. Add too much Caramel malt, miss your bitter hop addition mark, and you can pack your brewer’s oar and head back the Shire.

We speak, of course, of the Tournament of Beer: Northwest Ambers. Sixty-four amber and red ales brewed in the lands of Oregon and Washington were selected and seeded by the public throughout February, separated into four geographical regions: Northern Washington, Southern Washington, Northern Oregon, and Southern Oregon with only one amber or red per brewery. Only one amber or red can be crowned king — so vote on Peaks & Pints’ Instagram Stories. The top 64 vote getters — the cream of the malts — will compete Monday through Friday at, April 5-27. Through this online voting, amber and red ale drinkers will pick winners until the best amber and red ale in Middle-Northwest is crowned.

Use the bracket below to guide you through the daily matchups or grab a bracket at Peaks and Pints in Tacoma’s Proctor District. The Tournament of Beer Big Board above Peaks & Pints 850-plus beer and cider cooler also follows the battles.

The Dark Crystal Malt-to-Dark Crystal Malt battle of Middle-Earth ambers and reds grand champion will be announced at the Tournament of Beer Party, April 27, at Peaks and Pints, 3816 N. 26th St., in Tacoma’s Proctor District. The final two ambers and reds – Oregon versus Washington – will battle live pouring from our Western red cedar tap log with the champion brewery receiving a permanent handle at Peaks & Pints through the spring and summer 2024.

Friday, April 5, First Round Middle-Northwest Amber and Red Ale Games

PHAEDRA OF ROHAN: Welcome to the 2024 Peaks & Pints Tournament of Beer Northwest Ambers edition. Once again, Peaks & Pints bartenders will break-down the action and re-cap the previous day’s action. I’m barmaid Phaedra of Rohan. For those of you who are still tuned in after that lengthy, confusing introduction, let’s dive into today’s opening round of four amber and red ale battles. Please vote for one beer per game on the Peaks & Pints Instagram Stories. Voting for today’s amber and red battles ends at 11:45 p.m. Peaks & Pints’ bartenders will announce the winners tomorrow morning around 10 a.m. The next round of eight amber and red ale battles will commence at 12:01 a.m. Monday, April 8.

BILBO BRANDON: And I’m Peaks & Pints bartender Bilbo Brandon. Age-less ladies and gentlemen, let’s do this thing! Let’s do a quick liver size check, and dive into today’s First Round amber and red ales battles.


Mac & Jack’s General Manager Seth holding the number one seed African Amber.

Character: African Amber (#1 seed)

House: Mac & Jack’s Brewing Company, Redmond

Stats: 5.8%, 30 IBU

BILBO BRANDON: Mac Rankin started homebrewing and fell in love with the process. Two years later, he approached Jack Schropp with the possibility about starting a microbrewery. Over the next nine months the first batches of the African Amber and Pale Ale were rolled out from Jack’s garage. Three years later, Mac & Jack’s finalized their African Amber, Blackcat Porter, and Serengeti Wheat (their hefeweizen beer). These signature beers were introduced at The Park Pub, next to the Woodland Park Zoo. Mac and Jack realized that it was time to move out of Jack’s garage. They built a brewery in the North Sammamish Center in Redmond and went on to become one of the biggest breweries in the state.

PHAEDRA OF ROHAN: For the longest time, still probably, everyone asked for a Mac & Jack’s when desiring their African Amber Ale, the Northwest’s original, unfiltered, and dry hopped amber ale. On the tongue, expect a floral, hoppy taste, followed by a well-rounded malty middle, finishing with a nicely organic hop flavor.

Stemma Brewing bartender Maddy wards off Orcs.

Character: First Amber (#16 seed)

House: Stemma Brewing, Bellingham

Stats: 5.25%, 25 IBU

PHAEDRA OF ROHAN:  Do you know where you and your people come from? Jason and Kim Harper’s great great grandchildren will know: Stemma Brewing. Stemma, a Latin word meaning “written family genealogy,” is owned by the Harpers, both of whom moved to Bellingham to attend Western Washington University, and then stayed. As part of his WWU curriculum, Jason developed a business plan to take his homebrewing passion pro, which happened when Stemma opened on the border between Bellingham neighborhoods Sunnyland and Roosevelt. Jason took his experience working for a beer distributor and his Level 3 Advanced Cicerone certification and launched the family-friendly brewery with his award-winning homebrew recipes on a 10-barrel brew system previously owners by Silver City Brewery and Cloudburst Brewing.

BILBO BRANDON: Their first amber, First Amber, is smooth and light bodied with crisp malt flavors and a balanced hop backbone.

VISIT PEAKS & PINTS INSTAGRAM STORIES TO VOTE >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

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Alissa pours pints of Red Patina at the Hellbent Taproom inside Pybus Public Market in Wenatchee.


Character: Red Patina Red Ale (#8 seed)

House: Hellbent Brewing, Seattle & Wenatchee

Stats: 5.8%, 22 IBU

BILBO BRANDON: Running a brewery isn’t just waving a Gandalf wand at grain, water and hops until beer appears; it’s dealing with dangerous gases, caustic chemicals, scalding water, and a dozen of other things that can harm or even kill you. It’s not flipping a switch and you’re in business; it’s assembling a complicated, resource-hungry manufacturing system at the same time you’re building a neighborhood bar. Prepare to deal with bureaucracy at many different levels, and a Misty Mountain of ensuing paperwork to follow. Opening a brewery open is often hell. You must be hell-bent to follow your dream. Brian Young, Chris Giles, Randy Embernate and Jack Guin were hellbent on opening a brewery in Seattle’s Lake City neighborhood, which they did when they opened their 20-barrel Hellbent Brewing in Seattle’s Lake City neighborhood. Six years later, they opened a taproom in the fancy Pybus Public Market in Wenatchee.

PHAEDRA OF ROHAN: Novelty rappers have a surprisingly long lifespan, but there are at least two rules to maintaining your irrelevance-relevance indefinitely: Do not commit felony domestic assault, and have a red ale give a nod to one of your songs. Funky Red Patina Red Ale is well-balanced, rich, and malty with a dark auburn color, light herbal hops and an airy toffee finish. It grabbed gold at the Washington Beer Awards in 2019.

Reuben’s Brews bartender Michael has a Little Fox for you.

Character: Little Fox Irish Red Ale (#9 seed)

House: Reuben’s Brews, Seattle

Stats: 6.5%, 47 IBU

PHAEDRA OF ROHAN: Englishman Adam Robbings’ beer recipes killed at homebrew competitions, including winning the silver medal at the National Homebrewing Competition, and his talent, along with a Kickstarter campaign that raised close to $11,000, eventually earned him, and his wife, Grace, their own brewery — Reuben’s Brews in Seattle’s Ballard District ‑ named after their son, Reuben. Since then, the team has accrued an astounding number of accolades, including more World Beer Cup medals than Hobbits have fingers and hairy toes.

BILBO BRANDON: Little Fox is a modern take on the classic Irish red ale brewed with a grain bill of Caramel Steam, Chocolate Rye, Munich, Pale, and Vienna malts for notes of dark caramel, cherry, and light chocolate with a low level of bitterness and a clean finish.

VISIT PEAKS & PINTS INSTAGRAM STORIES TO VOTE >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>


Character: Admiral Red (#7 seed)

House: Claim 52 Brewing, Eugene

Stats: 6.7%, 40 IBU

BILBO BRANDON: Mercy McDonald, Jeannine Parisi and Trevor Ross opened Claim 52 Brewing in West Eugene. Named after a donation land claim number and refers to the original tract of land in Eugene settled by pioneer William Luckey. South Eugene is where some of Claim 52 founding head brewer Trevor Ross’ first beer recipes got their start on a homebrew system, tying into the company’s deep Oregon roots. Today, under the guidance of head brewer Bryce Fisher, they specialize in European-style, super-small batch beers made in the Northwest tradition, as well as exceptional hazy IPAs, and crazy dessert sours. They also opened Claim 52 Kitchen on Willamette Street.

PHAEDRA OF ROHAN: Formerly known as Admiral of the Red, this Middle-Northwest red ale is brewed with 2-row barley, Caramunich, Caraamber, and roasted barley plus Centennial hops for a malty nose and hoppy, slight roast on the palate.

Character: Mountain Traffic Red (#10 seed)

House: Crux Fermentation Project, Bend

Stats: 7.8%, 60 IBU

PHAEDRA OF ROHAN: Larry Sidor walked into Olympia Brewing Company wearing galoshes. Two decades later, he ran out. He couldn’t take dumbing down lagers anymore. He found happier times at Deschutes Brewery, developing legendary recipes such as The Dissident, The Abyss and Red Chair. Then, he and Paul Evers opened Crux Fermentation Project in Bend, Oregon, with the complete freedom to brew whatever they desired, and by desire that meant fun IPAs, complex barrel-aged Flanders reds and restrained pilsners. They designed the brewery for non-traditional brewing methods such as decoction mashing, open fermentation, oak barrel aging, wild yeast strains and experimental hops.

BILBO BRANDON: After a fun day in the Misty Mountains, nothing sounds more satisfying than sharing a refreshing pint. And while that long line of Hobbits heading back into the Shire may slow your journey toward fulfillment, Crux Fermentation Project’s hoppy and malt-forward Mountain Traffic red ale is well worth the wait — robust and bursting with rich, hop flavors and a balanced malt body this easy-drinking, apres-whatever winter refresher will have you seeing a different shade of red.

VISIT PEAKS & PINTS INSTAGRAM STORIES TO VOTE >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>


Block 15 bartenders Goody and Laura entertain The Fellowship.

Character: Ridgeback Red (#2 seed)

House: Block 15 Brewing, Corvallis

Stats: 5.5%

PHAEDRA OF ROHAN: Nick and Kristen Arzner opened Block 15 in the 1926 Gazette-Times newspaper building, just blocks away from Oregon State University and its prestigious Fermentation Science program. The Arzners took full advantage of Willamette Valley’s agricultural abundance, which, of course, includes hops. Block 15 built a reputation for first-rate IPAs and other hop-forward ales, rock-solid renditions of classic recipes from around the world and a dazzling variety of Belgian-style brews, including cask-conditioned specialties featuring wild yeasts and exotic flavors.

BILBO BRANDON: Their red ale, Ridgeback, carefully balances a blend of craft malt with an exciting ridge of select Middle-Northwest hops. Expect notes of toasted nuts and caramel that transition into layers of pine and citrus hop flavor.

Cascade Lakes Brewing bartender Jake will Red Thump you.

Character: Red Thump (#15 seed)

House: Cascade Lakes Brewing, Redmond & Bend

Stats: 5.9%, 30 IBU

BILBO BRANDON: Cascade Lakes Brewing was started on a shoestring budget by brothers Steve and Dave Gazeley in a nondescript 5,000-square-foot building in an industrial park west of the Redmond Airport. The Gazeley brothers sold the business to Doug Kutella and Rick Orazetti, and the two new owners basically put the brewery on the map behind their Blonde Bombshell, 20-Inch Brown, Paddleboard Porter, Cyclops IPA, Hopsmack IPA, Mosaic IPA, Slippery Slope Winter Ale, Snow Park Extra Pale Ale, and Paulina Lake Pilsner. Next, they remodeled 7th Street Brew House and opened the company’s flagship restaurant Cascade Lakes Lodge in Bend at the corner of Century Drive and Chandler Ave. Then, father-and-son Bruce and Andy Rhine acquired a majority stake in the brewery with minority partner Chris Justema. After they built a new 5,000-square-foot pub on the southwest corner of Reed Market Road and 27th Street, they closed the Cascade Lakes Lodge location.

PHAEDRA OF ROHAN: Wow! That’s a lot of thumping, as the Orcs say. Red Thump will draw you in with a blend of malts toasted biscuit undertones and a light toffee finish, plus intense flavors and aromatics of Amarillo and Altus hops.

VISIT PEAKS & PINTS INSTAGRAM STORIES TO VOTE >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

Monday, April 8 Tournament of Northwest Ambers action …

Game 1: Heathen Brewing Arson Red Ale (sixth seed) vs. Barrel Mountain Brewing Ash Cloud (11th seed)

Game 2: Wet Coast Brewing Hi Jack! Red Ale (third seed) vs. Sig Brewing Amber Rambler (14th seed)

Game 3: Migration Brewing Cannonball Red (fifth seed) vs. Ancestry Brewing Irish Red Ale (12th seed)

Game 4: Pelican Brewing Sea ’N Red (fourth seed) vs. McMenamins Red Rhino (13th Seed)

LINK: Tournament of Beer Headquarters

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