Restaurant News & Reviews

Early take on Stones Throw beer? Murky, but promising

A Blanchard ESB from Stones Throw, a new brewery in Fairhaven.
A Blanchard ESB from Stones Throw, a new brewery in Fairhaven. chutton@bhamherald.com

One thing has been missing from Fairhaven — not burgers, not donuts, definitely not pizza — over the past couple years, as the neighborhood has steadily morphed into a food haven.

That thing is a brewery.

Since 2014 we’ve known Stones Throw was coming. Two years seems like a long time, but this planet is literally billions of years old. So in that context it’s a very, very short time. And you can’t help but feel the wait was worth it, sitting in the sun on a Sunday afternoon, on the brewery’s rooftop patio at 1009 Larrabee Ave. No music. Birds chirping. Hushed chatter about this and that beer, about how this was a long time coming — and now it’s here.

The brewery held its grand opening April 13, serving up a rotating tap list of six beers, a guest cider, and a nonalcoholic ginger ale. So far all of the beers are ales, fermented in Stones Throw’s one-of-a-kind shipping container setup.

The brewpub itself is a two-story blue collar hangout, with seating out front, at the bar, by a fire pit in the back or on the roof. This is like your cool neighbor’s garage and backyard. Turns out your neighbor happens to be into home-brewing. Right now he’s just OK, because he’s only done a few brews on a big scale, and there’s a learning curve with a lot of new gear. But he’s really into it, and he’s going to get better.

Let’s look at some of the brewery’s early efforts.

Stones Throw Banked Slalom American Bitter. The look of this American bitter — a very cloudy orange, like unfiltered apple cider — seems to be the rough target for Stones Throw’s lighter ales: unfiltered, rough-and-tumble, with a ring of white head. Like a home brew. Generally speaking the flavor profile isn’t far off. Having tried everything the brewery has to offer at the moment, I feel safe saying this has the cleanest flavor profile. What is an American bitter? Not sure if there’s a definitive answer, but here it’s like a heavier, maltier American Pale Ale, with 5 percent alcohol. After one glass, a bitter hop aftertaste of hay and orange rind grew more grating, and I found the malt profile too rough and uneven to salvage it. One pint was enough. C-

Stones Throw Blanchard ESB. This 5.2-percent alcohol ale emits a ruby shade of golden brown that’s murky but not as muddy as, say, the Flat Penny Pale Ale. Carbonation fades quickly. The “bitter” in ESB is misleading, of course, because it’s not supposed to be an especially bitter beverage, with a few notable American exceptions (see: Boundary Bay). Nuance and understatement are the keys to the style. This one steers toward the low-bitterness tradition but overcorrects. I found it way oversweet, like a cough drop. On a second trip to the brewery to double-check my first impression, I sat next to a gruff guy in sunglasses and a black bandana. “ESB?” he said. “Must stand for Extra Sweet Bitter-less.” Ouch, but not wrong. On nitro it was less cloying, more smoothed over. (Mouthfeel improved too.) Home brewers will recognize this syrupy flavor as something like liquid malt extract, when you get it on your fingers. Sure, hops are present, but you’ll need to look hard. Like, really hard. That’s not always a negative, and in fact, I wish fewer craft beer lovers conflated hops with craft. Because a beer can still be outstanding without being hop-heavy. This could be one of them, but it needs work. D

Stones Throw Neighborhood IPA. Here’s one of the brewery’s early flagship beers. It pours cloudy brown in the center — noticing a theme? — and golden on the edges, with a dusting of ivory head. On the nose floral notes seem oddly distant, as a pungent sweet malt aroma, something like honey graham cracker, belies any subtleties in the finishing hops. Almost all the bitterness comes on in the back end. Hops are the soul of the IPA, and here instead of sharp precise layers of citrus, et cetera, they linger in the background and sneak up on you. The finish is bludgeoning with bitterness. A hint of grapefruit-like tart cuts through that layer on the back end but lacks the sweet balance that makes that duplicitous citrus somewhat edible, or drinkable. Or at least that’s what I wrote after my first two trips to the brewery. On a third try, a week later, the look was much clearer, more of a hazy deep gold, and the flavors seemed brighter, sweeter, fruitier — still a little messy, but a big leap forward. So I’m not sure what to make of that. Either something drastic changed, or I got served the wrong beer. (Twice?) Either way, there are kinks to work out, as would be expected for a brewery that’s not even a month old. D+

In other brews …

— This month the Washington Beer Collaboration Festival catalyzed 25 new and intriguing beers, by pairing breweries from around the state, with all hands on deck in northwest Washington. Outside of the festival in Seattle I’m unsure when and where these might be available, but keep an open ear. Aslan Brewing and North Fork Brewery crafted a dark sour dry-hopped with Nelson Sauvin hops; Boundary Bay Brewery and Farmstrong Brewing, of Mount Vernon, teamed up for a sour saison made with Skagit Valley malt; Menace Brewing and Anacortes Brewery used a single experimental hop (HBC-438) and a single malt (Copeland from Skagit Valley) for their 4.2-alcohol offering; Wander Brewing and Hilliard’s did a Kölsch with Jasmine rice; and Chuckanut Brewing brewed a Rauch Helles with Redhook Brewery. And outside of the festival, Chuckanut paired with Kulshan Brewing for an English Mild, a lower-alcohol ale style that is “criminally underrepresented,” according to its brewers, with notes of chocolate and roast malt.

Caleb Hutton: 360-715-2276, chutton@bhamherald.com.

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