For Tommy Ortega, master brewer for one of Seattle’s newest brewpubs, the Ravenna Brewing Company, business is a family affair. The former London-bound information-security architect now runs the watering hole with his wife and brother-in-law, servicing the burgeoning Ravenna neighborhood.
Inside RBC, which holds about 50 people comfortably, are long, dark wood tables leading the hopeful beer drinker to the bar in the back of the house. Behind the bar are six taps, four of which are devoted at the moment to RBC beers, including their bold jalapeño kolsch and their smooth and springy “Millions of Peaches” hefeweizen–both flavorful and packing an unexpected punch.
“It’s my time in Europe coming through,” says a cheerful Ortega when prompted about his obvious penchant for brewing yeasty, Belgian-style beers. “But mine are 5.6 percent, not the usual 3.2.” Ortega explains that he has about 30 beers in his recipe “Rolodex” that he intends to run through.
Ortega brings some credentials to his brewing. Prior to opening RBC, he was a home brewer for six years, winning medals in the Hop Courage competition for his concoctions, including his bourbon vanilla porter. His brother-in-law, William, runs the day-to-day floor operations, while Ortega’s wife, Elise, is in charge of the taproom’s sophisticated and mature layout. The three have created the newest hot spot in a neighborhood growing by the day with young professionals and University of Washington students and faculty members.
Ortega—originally from Los Angeles, as you might guess from the tattoos of the city running up his right arm—moved to Seattle because of his Bellingham-born wife. But it’s in Ravenna where he’s found a home. “Here,” he says, “we don’t just want to be in the neighborhood–we want to be a part of the neighborhood.”
A few blocks away from RBC is the new and renowned Salare restaurant, run by Edouardo Jordan, and just up the street is the construction site of the Ravenna light-rail station, set to open in 2021. The neighborhood, just north of the U District and south of Northgate, is percolating, ready for change. “It’s starving,” Ortega says of the quiet residential locale. “And we’re the only craft brewery within walking distance.”
On the April day that RBC opened, there were lines around the corner. Not only does it have space to hang out inside–which includes an exposed glass view of the four seven-barrel fermenting tanks–but it boasts a handful of bright wooden tables in their beer garden, complete with a white-and-black speckled puppy named Cedar.
“We passed up two places in Ballard to be here,” he says. “And the neighborhood has totally embraced us.”