With so many breweries in the Pacific Northwest, it’s hard to claim that any one of them is the hardest-working. But Belltown’s Cloudburst Brewing is doing all it can to turn heads and assume that title.
“We’re brewing six wet-hop beers at our brewery,” says founder and head brewer Steve Luke of the four-person operation, “and doing two more collaborations at other breweries—Bale Breaker [in Yakima] and Holy Mountain [in Seattle]—which is exhausting, insane, and awesome all at once.”
Founded in November 2015 after Luke left Elysian Brewing, Cloudburst has established a reputation for excellent beer while producing likely the longest list of IPAs in the region, releasing a new one about every two weeks. “In general,” Luke says, “that’s where we see the industry going. People do have less loyalty [to particular flavors], and they do always want what’s next and what’s new—ourselves included.”
It’s this drive for the next great beer that pushes the company, Luke says. But, he’s quick to add, his ambition isn’t going to lure him to expand in any grandiose manner. Rather, he says, he appreciates working in a manageable, brewer-run operation. It’s what he’s always wanted, after all. Despite increasing production by a projected 300 extra barrels this year (to 1,700), Luke says he is not eager to sit at a desk, running numbers. “We want to keep physically making every beer we produce,” he says; “if you get too big, you get pushed to a desk—that’s not for me.”
But any artist—from a painter to a hops-and-yeast chemist—can risk burnout. “It ebbs and flows,” Luke says. “As tiring as it is doing that many [wet-hop beers], it’s equally exciting. And it’s one of those rare things that breweries outside the region can’t really do. Sometimes we do it just because we can. We have these great relationships with farmers.”
Many of those farmers call the lush Yakima Valley home. The area, some two and a half hours southeast of Seattle, is the largest producer of hops in the world—one of the many reasons Cloudburst is partnering with Bale Breaker, using hops from the Yakima brewery’s own farm to make the Citra Slicker IPA. And while Cloudburst seems always to be wiping the proverbial sweat from its brow, Luke is also quick to point out all the other great brewing work being done in Washington, which leads him to so many of his cherished collaborations.
“Beer drinkers are more and more aware of how special and rare this all is,” he says. “Odds are, most breweries [in Washington] are doing at least one fresh/wet-hop beer. It’s cool to see more and more people aware of that and appreciate it. It’s just another awesome, unique thing to our region.”