After Grains of Wrath Brewing (GoW) was awarded five medals, including four gold, at the 2019 Washington Beer Awards (WBA) competition earlier this month, co-owner and head brewer Mike Hunsaker felt a sense of relief.
“We came out of the gates pretty hot last year,” said Hunsaker, referring to GoW’s six-medal haul at last year’s WBA, just months after opening in downtown Camas. “It wasn’t beginner’s luck or a new-kid-on-the-block kind of thing. It’s great. How else can you explain it? It’s kind of hard to describe. To win four gold medals, one of them being in the biggest category, is a big deal.”
Judging for the awards took place prior to the 2019 Washington Brewers Festival, held June 13-15 in Redmond, Washington. A team of 78 trained beer judges evaluated 1,467 beers from 193 Washington breweries and awarded gold, silver and bronze medals in 79 categories.
GoW beers took first place in the American-style India Pale Ale (Dystopia IPA), American-style Pale Ale (Papermaker Pale), South German-style Hefeweizen (Hefeweizen) and Vienna Lager (Vienna Lager) categories. The Camas brewery also won a bronze medal in the German-style Pilsner category with its Luger Pils.
“It’s always a surprise,” Hunsaker said. “You never expect it because the competition is so thick and so competitive as far as quality of beer in this state. That’s why it’s such an honor. Washington is one of the top beer states in the country. It’s good to see we’re on the right track.”
GoW’s Vienna Lager won a bronze medal at the 2018 Great American Beer Festival, one of the largest beer gatherings in the world.
“We really liked it, and we tweaked it a little bit,” Hunsaker said. “I think it’s just a natural progression to keep sticking with it.”
Hunsaker said the reception to his hefeweizen has been “one of the biggest surprises.” The beer won a bronze medal at the North American Beer Awards last month.
“It’s one of those that grabbed us a little bit. ‘All right, we’ve got something here,’” he said. “We’re actually going to be entering it in the Great American Beer Festival. The feedback we’ve gotten on it, it’s a good one.”
The Papermaker Pale is one of the brewery’s flagship beers, and one of its most popular.
“It’s one that we’ve always wanted to make as an homage to the mill and what built this town,” Hunsaker said. “It’s one of our go-to beers for all of us.”
Dystopia IPA, one of the brewery’s newer beers, is quickly working its way into the regular rotation, Hunsaker said.
“That was the first time we ever brewed it,” he said. “If we ever expand, it would be a little more sustainable for us as far as the hops that we have on our contract. It’s got some pretty exotic hops in it that are pretty hard to get, so we wanted to get some feedback on it, and we got it.”
The Luger Pils, GoW’s first beer, is still one of the brewery’s most popular offerings.
“That was a big surprise last year,” Hunsaker said. “We haven’t really ever tweaked it.”
Most of the award-winning beers are on tap at the brewery on a fairly consistent basis.
“The Papermaker is kind of my go-to, but I’ll go for a good Vienna when we have it,” said co-owner Brendan Greenen. “I’ll have a pilsner every now and then. I’ll bounce around a little bit. I like a cleaner, crisper style of beer, and that’s typically going to be your lagers or the hoppy beers that we make that are showcases for the hops themselves.”
GoW brewers ‘own worst critics’
Hunsaker moved to southwest Washington from Cleveland in 2014 to open Fat Head’s Brewery in the Pearl District of Portland before opening the GoW brewery and restaurant at 230 NE 5th Ave. in February 2018.
Greenen is the brewpub’s general manager, in charge of bar and service staff. Additional partners include Shawn Parker and Brendan Ford, owners of Fuel Medical in downtown Camas.
“Brendan (Greenan) and I became good friends because he used to own Caps N’ Taps right here in town,” Hunsaker said. “We really loved downtown, and it needed more options. It’s a good spot for it.”
The IPA style has dominated the craft beer scene for years, and while GoW regularly serves a hearty selection of hoppy beers, the brewery’s tap list is balanced with malt-forward lagers, a favorite style of Hunsaker and lead brewer Owen Lamb.
“We have a pretty good idea of what our strengths are,” Hunsaker said. “We make some good lagers and German-style beers. Vienna lager, pilsner, schwarzbier – we’re big lager fans. The first couple times I went to Germany, that was super inspiring to see what those beers can be. It was eye opening.”
Hunsaker said the brewery’s rapidly-increasing award count is a reflection of “the passion that we have.”
“Anything that we make here we make as best we can, and we use the best quality ingredients,” he said. “We nerd out over ourselves. We’re our own worst critics.”