When I was a kid, my family took a lot of road trips in our RV. My dad worked in the construction industry, and many of his projects involved working on dams, so many of our trips involved driving along various rivers across the state. More often than not, we’d pass by one of many signs featuring the silhouettes of Lewis and Clark pointing to God only knew what (Sasquatch?), indicating that a historical site could be found ahead. My mom liked stopping at these sites. I did not. Being subjected to involuntary education during my precious summer months was not my idea of fun. I remained vehemently opposed to history lessons for years to come. Not until high school, when, on a whim, I signed up for AP US History, did I begin to take an interest in the happenings of the past. To my genuine surprise, I loved that history class, and now, I’ll even go out of my way to learn about the places I am and their historical significance (thank you, Mr. Schneider!). My 7 year-old self would be appalled.
Schooner Exact Brewing Company gives its patrons a hefty dose of Seattle history with every pint. Founded by former teachers Matt and Heather McClung in 2007, the brewery’s name itself is an homage to the city’s founding: on November 13, 1851, the twenty-two passengers, all members of Seattle’s “five founding families”, aboard the schooner Exact made landfall in what is now West Seattle (read more about the landing here). One of Seattle’s fastest growing breweries, Schooner Exact is currently located in Seattle’s SoDo district, and, within the past year, opened a restaurant in addition to the taproom. During last week’s Seattle Beer Week, I stopped by for a bite, a pint, and some brief shelter from the rain.
When I pulled up on a cloudy afternoon, the brewery’s daily operations were already well underway with brewers scurrying about and a truck out front full of Jack Daniel’s barrels waiting to be unloaded. Taking a seat, I was pleasantly surprised to find that rather than having the restaurant area finitely separated from the brewhouse, the space was completely open: one could feasibly order a pint at the bar, then take a few steps back and be leaning up against one of numerous fermenters. To the left of the bar stood a slightly different scene: rather than an endless hall of metallic cylinders, the wall was lined with barrels upon barrels of aging beers. As far as immersing visitors in a full-on beer experience, Schooner Exact takes the cake.
I took a seat near the bar, affording myself an unimpeded view of the brewhouse, the listings behind the bar, and that most intriguing stock of barrels aligning the wall opposite. Not wanting to miss out on one of Schooner Exact’s more unique offerings, I ordered up a pint of the day’s on-tap seasonal, a double IPA by the name of Evergreen. Deep golden with a frothy white head, Evergreen greeted me with a comforting aroma of citrus with a bit of pine, the beautiful result of dry-hopping with Simcoe hops. Along with my trusty pint of IPA, I enjoyed a pulled pork sandwich which left me wondering why I’ve never endeavored to be a more adept grill master. The sandwich was to die for. The pulled pork was seasoned with cumin and chili, then given a refreshing contrast by way of cilantro-cabbage coleslaw and a hit of lime aioli. Though I’d had no doubts about it before, my lunch of one heck of a mouth-watering sandwich and a crisp and slaking IPA reassured me that my drive across the state had been well worth it.
Back to those promising and thought-provoking barrels, it turns out that barrel-aged brews is somewhat of a specialty of Schooner Exacts. With the exception of their Barrel-Aged Imperial Porter (yes, I left with a bottle of it), all of the brewery’s barrel-aged beers are currently available only on tap. I’ll be the first to declare that I think bourbon barrel-aged beers are the bomb(.com), but I’m more than a little curious to someday try some of Schooner Exact’s more adventurous barreled creations, such as their Kriek, aged for “over a year in [Washington] red wine barrels using a golden wheat base with Montmorency sour cherries”. Wine and beer combinations could very well be the next big thing in brewing (check out Dogfish Head’s Noble Rot or Sixty-One if you’re curious), and I think that Schooner Exact is right on with their craftsmanship of what is sure to be a beer jam-packed with flavor and with a great story to tell.
Speaking of stories, Schooner Exact is chocked full of ’em, from the barrels it uses for aging to the names of its beers to the owners themselves. As I mentioned, both Heather and Matt McClung are both former teachers. A few years ago, they both gave up teaching to devote their full attentions to their brewery: Matt is the head brewer, and Heather keeps track of the books (and serves as president of the Washington Brewers Guild). Schooner Exact began as a nano-brewery (defined as having a capacity of “three barrels or less” by Jeff Alworth at Beervana, though the Brewers Association doesn’t presently have an official definition) just over six years ago, but they now have six 30-barrel fermenters residing in their brewhouse and a capacity of over 3,000 barrels per year. Of those beers, their flagship brew is 3-Grid IPA, named in reference to the bizarre and befuddling layout of downtown Seattle’s street system. For those who prefer something a bit less hoppy, there’s King Street Brown, named, I can only assume, for King Street Station in Pioneer Square. Paying homage to Seattle’s promiscuous past, there’s Seamstress Union Raspberry Wheat Ale, which I was fortunate enough to try filtered with fresh raspberries, rhubarb, and Hallertau hops at the Pine Box’s Randall event later that afternoon. If you’re unfamiliar with the link between promiscuity and sewing, please, allow me to fill you in: in Seattle’s earlier years, it was somewhat expected that one may run into a lady of the evening here or there. While prostitution was all well and good as a way to make a living, loitering about downtown by one’s lonesome was rather frowned upon. The city of Seattle mandated that everyone carry proof of employment or union affiliation on his or her person, so the working girls of the Emerald City formed the Seamstress Union and took care of the area men’s tailoring and, uh hmm, other things that they may have needed taken care of…. Additionally, if you happen to be into the notion of promiscuously-inclined brews, I also recommend Pike Brewing Company’s Naughty Nellie, “named for Nellie Curtis, madam of the LaSalle Hotel (read: brothel), where the Pike was founded.” Who knew that Seattle had such a colorful past?
I never thought I’d be all that interested in history. Then again, I never thought I’d be a beer drinker, much less an all-out beer geek. It’s fascinating to see who we grow up to be, find out what we end up doing, and discover what our passions may be. I think it’s amazing that the McClungs both up and left the safety of their day jobs to pursue their mutual love of great beer and fantastic that they’ve experienced such tremendous success with their company. I had a great time visiting Schooner Exact’s brewery and am a huge fan of both their beers and their clever infusions of Seattle history into their products. I haven’t the foggiest idea where I’ll find myself in the years to come or what I’ll end up doing, and I have to think that, based on previous experience, it’s unlikely that I’ll be able to guess with any accuracy where or what that may be. Nonetheless, I’m eager to find out. Perhaps I’ll speculate it over a pint.