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Keeping the faith.

Keeping the Faith

Microbrewing is often viewed as the province of enthusiastic amateur brewers. Whatever the truth in that characterization, it doesn't fit Bert Grant. Grant is brewmaster and president of Yakima Brewing & Malting Co. of Yakima, WA, one of Washington's pioneer microbreweries. Beyond that, Grant is an active member of the Master Brewers Association of the Americas, with over four decades of experience in the North American brewing industry.

This experience is serving him well in his latest venture, the expansion of his modest microbrewery/brewpub operation into a modern 12,000-barrel craft brewery.

Bert Grant's fascination with small-scale brewing started during a varied industry career that included service with several large Canadian and U.S. breweries. He entered the industry in the mid-40s, when he joined Canadian Breweries, Ltd. (later known as Carling O'Keefe) as a brewing chemist. After 15 years, Grant moved on to the Stroh Brewery Co., where he served as research director until 1963. Following his stint with Stroh, Grant spent some years as an independent consultant, before joining the staff of hop-grower S.S. Steiner in 1973.

During all those years, Grant harbored a dream - to build his own brewery. While working for the large commercial breweries, he had become dissatisfied with the prevailing beer-styles - imperceptibly-hopped lagers and golden ales.

From Grant's perspective, brewery marketers gradually bled the character from American beer in the years after World War II. "There was some good well-hopped beer available in the late-40s," he recalls, "but since all the brewers wanted to sell beer in a larger area, they started making blander beers they thought would appeal to a larger audience."

Grant sees the same philosophy at work today. "The tilt towards lighter products is continuing in the mainstream," he says, "but we're also seeing a significant counter-flow towards beer with character."

In point of fact, Grant was one of the earliest contributors to this counter-flow. When he opened Yakima Brewing & Malting in 1982, it was the first microbrewery in Washington state.

From the beginning, Yakima produced strong ales reminiscent of those brewed in the British Isles. All-malt and well-hopped, Grant's Ales soon built a strong reputation among beer enthusiasts. For Grant, however, the critical acclaim is incidental. "I brew the kind of beer I like," he says, "not some beer designed for the mass-market."

Grant's personal preferences are clear from the taste and aroma of his ales - he likes hops. The Yakima Brewing & Malting Co. product line includes the flagship Grant's Scottish Ale, a "Celtic" Ale, an India Pale Ale and a Russian Imperial Stout. None of these beers suffer from a dearth of hops. In fact, the noted beer critic Michael Jackson called Grant's India Pale Ale, "the hoppiest beer in America."

Grant's love for hops made Yakima a logical location for his microbrewery. Located in the rain-shadow of the Cascades, Yakima is in the heart of Washington state's hop country.

It's also not far from a growing metropolis with a taste for beer - Seattle. "We had looked at the proposition carefully," Grant says, "and found that Seattle was one of the strongest import beer markets in the country. We realized that once we got production above a certain level we could start shipping to the city."

Soon after Yakima Brewing & Malting started operations, it became clear that Grant's market research had been accurate. "We were brewing at capacity within the first six months," Grant recalls, "and it kept climbing from there."

In 1986, the company began to bottle its products, and expanded distribution out-of-state. Over the intervening years, off-premise beer sales have continued to grow as a percentage of the business. Last year, for example, the brewery sold 4,558 barrels, 90 percent of it through wholesalers in 14 states.

As Yakima Brewing & Malting has grown, the microbrewery movement has grown apace. There are currently over 240 operating microbreweries and brewpubs in the United States, 14 in Washington alone.

As the field has become more crowded, Grant is forging onward to the next plateau. The gateway, as he sees it, is competitive pricing. "Most microbreweries are operated on a very small scale," he observes, "but the product price is not that much higher than for specialty imports. If you can bring some economy of scale into it, I think it's possible to bring the price down to the level of the Canadian imports. If you can get down into that range, small-scale brewing starts to become economically feasible. But it's only possible when the scale of production is high enough."

His search for economies of scale has driven Grant in his latest venture. Last year, he began building a large new brewery on the outskirts of Yakima. The plant was completed in September, and bottled beer is rolling off the line.

The new Yakima Brewing Co is just that - new. Where most microbrewers have been content to adapt existing structures, Grant has built a brewery from the ground up. It is an impressive plant, built on the traditional vertical-tower floor plan. "The vertical lay-out was darned expensive to build," Grant says, "but it will make the plant extremely efficient. We'll do two brews a day, three days a week."

According to Grant, the new plant boasts a whole range of improvements over the original Yakima Brewing & Malting. "We're starting to get into nicer equipment," he says. "We'll have a proper lab, and we'll have a full-time chemist once we're up and running at the new plant. We'll have a bigger bottle shop, and more volume should allow us to drop per-bottle cost. That will enable us to be more competitive."

The new brewery was financed through a small business administration loan, a contrast from Grant's first plant. "The first time around," he says, "I financed the plant from my wallet. It worked, but in retrospect we were very undercapitalized."

This time, Bert Grant is intent on doing it right, starting with the brewhouse equipment. The centerpiece of the brewhouse tower is a 40-barrel traditional copper kettle, manufactured by Vendome of Louisville, KY. On the upper level is a 35-barrel lauter tun, manufactured by JV Northwest of Wilsonville, OR. "This lauter tun is a big improvement for us," Grant says. "It's got an automated mash mixer, so we're not restricted to mixing by hand It's also four times the size of our old one."

The fermenting tanks were built by Mueller of St. Louis, MO, and include a mix of some older small fermenters. One unusual brewhouse feature is the large hot water tank. "The extra tank will allow us to add calcium to the water," Grant says, "and allow us analyze it so it'll be just right."

Yakima Brewing also boasts a pasteurizer, a rare accoutrement in a microbrewery. "We pasteurize all our bottled beer to give it a good shelf-life," Grant says. "A lot of people seem to be hung up on the idea that pasteurization changes the flavor. If it's done right, it shouldn't, and if you're planning to sell beer outside a local area, you've got to do it."

Grant's draft beer is filtered, except for cask-conditioned specialty products which he serves in his pub, and in select Seattle accounts. "Cask-conditioned beer is beer as it should be," he says, "and if it's matured properly at the right temperature there's nothing like it. Unfortunately, the distribution system doesn't make it really practical. If there's one good thing about English tied houses, it's that the brewery can tell the pubs how to handle cask-conditioned beer."

To package his bottled beers, Grant is depending largely on used equipment. "We bought an entire Coca-Cola bottling line just to get the filler and case packer," Grant says. "We'll just sell off the rest of the stuff." Grant notes the company will also use four World Tandem labelers.

One brewery feature that Grant highlights is the sensory analysis room, which stands just off the brewery floor. "You can follow every analytic parameter," he points out, "and you can still brew lousy beer. Ninety percent of beer is taste. That's why one of the main necessities is good taste testing, not by one person, but by three or four."

With a full lab, part-time chemist and exhaustive beer tastings, Grant is working to ensure a level of consistency yet to be achieved by many of his microbrew competitors.

Although the new brewery has a stated capacity of 12,000 barrels, Grant notes that the structure would allow expansion beyond that mark. And, given the booming specialty beer market in the region, he doesn't rule out further growth. "The market is here," he says, "and it can be developed. Seattle is one of the biggest specialty draft markets in the country, which makes it perfect for small local breweries."

Grant believes that the trends visible in the Washington market will eventually be evident nationwide. "People in some market areas are more adventurous than others," he says, "but, given the choice, I think people will choose better beer.

"There are a lot of consumers who are looking for flavor," he concludes. And, if that's the case, Bert Grant will be more than happy to sell them a beer.

PHOTO : The new Yakima Brewing & Malting Co. is built on a traditional vertical tower floor plan.

PHOTO : Sherry Grant, quality control manager, and Bert Grant, president and brewmaster, toast the future from their pub, located in the old Yakima railway station. The Scottish-born Grant has built a reputation for brewing high-quality ales.

PHOTO : Grant's Celtic Ale is a light-bodied ale in the English mild style.
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Title Annotation:Annual Transportation Report; Bert Grant of Yakima Brewing & Malting Co.
Author:Reid, Peter
Publication:Modern Brewery Age
Article Type:Company Profile
Date:Nov 18, 1991
Previous Article:Making the right moves.
Next Article:Cellular glass brewing insulation.

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