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Cheers to you, brewmeister
Silver City’s beers applauded with four more North American Beer Awards, brewmeister Big Daddy Don Spencer reveals the wisdom.
By most accounts, Silver City brewmeister Don Spencer has got a dream job.
He makes beer, tastes beer and gets his on-the-job inspiration from visits to multiple breweries throughout the year. He pairs beer with food, pairs beer with desserts and creates original concoctions like Basilsner Beer — a pilsner with the essence of basil — and the Whoop Pass double IPA — “the boldest, hoppiest, biggest mother of a brew we have ever created,” they say.
Not too mention, Spencer wins awards for his beer.
Sound like a dream job to you?
“I guess ... if you like beer,” Spencer said, sitting down with What’s Up over a glass of hefewiezen last week, talking about Silver City’s latest round of North American Beer Awards.
The North American Brewers Association doled out the annual bragging rights at the beginning of this month.
For the Silver City Brewery, Big Daddy’s ESB brought home the gold for Extra Special Bitters, while the Winterbock and Fat Woody Ale each garnered a silver in traditional bock and wood-aged beer, respectively. Silver City’s Copper Mountain Bock took bronze in the Marzen/Oktoberfest category.
Not bad for a fairly small brew pub in Silverdale.
What’s more is the company these NABA medals will be joining on the Silver City wall of fame, which greets patrons when they come into the restaurant. Feast on the awards while waiting for a table in the lobby: three from 2007, four from 2006, five each from 2005 and 2004 — and that’s NABA awards alone. Those medals are joined by a few golds and silvers from past Great American Beer Festivals and a silver medal for the Fat Scotch Ale from the prestigious World Beer Cup in 2006.
“When you first start out in a brewery, you’re just trying to learn as much as you can and hope that one day, you can maybe hang out with these guys and not be too nervous to talk to them,” Spencer said in reference the highly respected brewers who turn out for these festivals. “Then after a while, it’s almost like you are one of those guys ... and then it’s like, I want to beat these guys.”
While criticism from judges can be constructive, each medal is also another notch for bragging rights in the friendly competition of brewing contests, Spencer said, noting the size of his grin this year when Big Daddy’s ESB beat out brewing kingpins like Alaskan Amber.
Big Daddy is Spencer’s well-deserved monicker earned one brew at a time.
It’s a nickname he picked up while working at the now-defunct Thomas Kemper Brewery outside of Poulsbo in the early 1990s. But that’s not where his brewing career began.
Spencer remembers back to malting his own barley and home-brewing “on the sly” when he was a teenager, growing up on a farm in Poulsbo. His father was a home brewer, which is how Spencer was introduced to the brewing process, helping out with root beers and ginger ales on the farm.
Later in life, that training would pay off in his beer budget while also paving the way for a career in beer making.
“I remember being a young man and not having enough money to buy good beer,” Spencer said. “I had high taste, but I didn’t have the budget for it.”
So he started home brewing.
He went professional at Thomas Kemper in 1992, which was under the auspice of Pyramid Breweries at the time, and then onto to the brewmeister post at Silver City in 1995. Now he manages a staff of five and he’s got his own beers on tap at his house.
Each member on the Silver City Brewery staff is skilled in almost every aspect of the brewing process. They work in a medium-sized brewery, visible from inside the pub at Silver City. It’s a lot of hard work, Spencer noted, a lot of cleaning and drudging and repetition.
Each year throughout the spring and summer months they are diligently readying and aging brews for festivals and competitions, aiming for the beer to be at its peak when it hits the judges’ taste buds.
The North American Beer Awards are just the beginning of the festival season, Spencer said, looking forward to the World Cup and Great American Beer Festival and, of course, Oktoberfest.
“Meanwhile, you’re trying to make brew for a restaurant,” he added.
And in the midst of all of that, Spencer still finds time to visit breweries across the nation and even internationally, to keep the creative juices flowing.
He’s headed to Germany later this month for brewery tours, while, already this year, he’s been to the New Belgium brewery in Colorado, Stone Brewing and The Lost Abbey brewery in California.
While most of the operations at those breweries are on a much bigger scale than the brew pub at Silver City, nothing spells inspiration for a brewmeister like a fresh beer, right off the brewery floor.
“You’re tasting the beer the way the brewer meant for it to taste,” Spencer said.
That’s what you’ll get on tap at Silver City.