In another sign of Seattle’s maturing beer scene, the state’s first and only dedicated gluten-free brewery opened in SoDo in February. Ghostfish Brewing works with a 15-barrel brewing system; like Holy Mountain, it’s not at all a closet-sized nano.
Founded by Randy Schroeder, Brian Thiel, and Jason Yerger, Ghostfish’s beers are brewed without barley. Instead, brewer Yerger relies on naturally gluten-free grains like millet and buckwheat in a highly experimental, trial-and-error fashion. But the beer he’s making has been well-received, as evidenced by a consistently busy taproom and an audience reaching beyond just those avoiding gluten.
“Success is relative, but we knew there was a gaping hole in the craft-beer offerings for this category,” says Schroeder. “People stop by because they heard the beers are great or the space is great or the service is great—no idea about the GF underlay. We don’t preach, so it is very common for patrons to come in, drink the beer, compliment us on the beer and vibe, then leave, vowing to return. We love that, and it was our goal from the beginning.”
Though it was initially a challenge to create even a basic stout or pale without using barley—and to do so with great body and flavor—Yerger has mastered that and more. He’s also created “dozens of small-batch experimental beers” including a Belgian-style witbier, a grapefruit IPA, a smoked porter, and a Belgian-inspired red, brewed with an inventive combination of roasted rice malt, saison yeast, and tangerine peel before aging with hickory wood. They’re surprisingly full-bodied and smooth; most people wouldn’t know they’re brewed without barley.
Ghostfish believes they’ve captured a wide-enough audience that they can distribute beyond the taproom. Their Watchstander Stout is available in bottles, and they’re canning their Vanishing Point Pale and their Shrouded Summer Witbier—available at bottle shops around Puget Sound, like Chuck’s Hop Shop and 99 Bottles.
Schroeder thinks that Seattle’s attitude of welcoming innovation has created the perfect climate for his beer. “The beer-drinking community in Seattle, and Seattle in general, embraces and expects new things,” he says. “It’s not just beer; we love to see that next new idea in all areas of business and life. It is precisely this culture and open embrace of the new that emboldens entrepreneurs to venture forth here in the Pacific Northwest.”