Redhook Ale Brewery is one of the granddaddies of the craft beer revolution in the US. When it opened its doors in 1981 Anchor, Watney's, and Sierra Nevada were among the few other breweries making craft beer. The Boston Beer Company and Samuel Adams Beers were just a glint in Jim Koch's eye back then.
What Do You Get When You Mix Coffee and Wine?
Beer, of course. Redhook was co-founded by Paul Shipman and Gordon Bowker.
Paul was working at an excellent Washington winery, Chateau Ste. Michelle, but dreamed of making great beer. Gordon had co-founded Starbucks so he knew a bit about brewing up a successful company.
From a Transmission Shop to a Trolley Barn
When Redhook first opened their doors in 1981 they were operating out of an old transmission shop. The US beer market at that time was awash with largely flavorless light lagers. Redhook promised to “defy the ordinary” with their full flavored ales. As the years passed sales improved as did their reputation. In 1987 they needed to expand. They chose the Fremont Trolley Barn which was the 1940’s Grand Central Station for trolleys in Seattle. There was some fear that beer lovers might not find their obscure location. There was no need to worry. Redhook struck on a formula that they’re still following today. They featured live unsigned bands at their Trolleyman Pub, served their then unusual ales and let the people come.
As Redhook’s reputation grew and the craft beer revolution really started to gather steam in the early nineties, they began to look for ways to improve distribution. In a move that distressed a lot of fans of the brewery, Redhook joined forces with Anheuser-Busch, considered by many to be antithetical to the good beer movement.
The Craft Brands Alliance which also includes Widmer Brothers, Kona, and Goose Island ensured nationwide distribution for Redhook. As part of the deal, Redhook, which went public in 1995, sold 25% ownership to AB. The deal with AB may have produced some cries of sellout but it certainly hasn’t hurt business. The increased distribution and sales led to another expansion.
Redhook moved operations to their Woodinville, WA location which allowed them to increase production. They now brew 250,000 barrels of beer per year there. They also opened another brewery in Portsmith, New Hamshire which brews about 170,000 barrels. The Woodinville brewery supplies all of the beer shipped to states west of the Mississippi while Portsmith supplies the eastern states.
Redhook may no longer be seen as the scrappy innovator that they once were but their product is respected and continues to attract beer drinkers. Their ESB is generally considered a fine American interpretation of the style. They now distribute to 48 states and Japan. (Redhook doesn’t ship to Utah or Oklahoma because their beers don’t conform to those states’ alcohol content laws.) They also have some test markets in Australia, Europe and Canada.
I recently visited Redhook's Woodinville Brewery. Check out my thoughts and review on page two.
The Woodinville Brewery
Their Woodinville location is beautiful. The grounds are the most attractive I’ve seen for a brewery. It looks more like a winery. In fact they are right across the street from Chateau Ste. Michelle. The Forecasters Pub attached to the brewery is clean and inviting with a sort of a nouveau tavern feel. There is also a spacious deck out back where one can relax with a beer or a meal served at the pub.
They give tours of the brewery daily. Here are some pictures I snapped of their brewing facility.
Beer Tasting Notes and Reviews
Redhooks ales are pleasant enough though not that exciting. I won’t go so far as to say that the cries of sellout in the mid nineties were warranted because they are still superior to the light lagers produced by the megabreweries. But in today’s craft brew landscape Redhook’s motto, “defy the ordinary,” seems a little antiquated. One of the biggest problems is that they use one type of yeast for all of their beers. There are many craft brewers that do this and their product suffers for it. If Redhook were to diversify a bit and use different strains of ale yeast, they could bring a lot of character to their beers, the lighter ones especially. Here are my reviews of the individual brews that were on tap when I visited.