This content was originally published by The Hop Review, a digital magazine that joined the Hop Culture family in March 2020.
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“DETOURS” is a travel series by The Hop Review. Being a weary traveler almost always calls for a reward in the form of a pint at the end of the day. Here, we document those beer breaks–as we travel the U.S. and beyond–with quips, photographs and Q&As.
2116 Western AveNUE, Seattle, WASHINGTON 98121
It was day two of my wife and my Northwest travels, but our last day in Seattle. Earlier in the day we’d covered Pike Place Market from head to toe, and even ventured over to Bainbridge via the 45-minute ferry ride. On our way back to the city docks it started to drizzle, but we were already scoping out our destination to grab a pint before dinner. On our phones and in the rain, we both quickly found Cloudburst Brewing–and it was everything we were looking for.
The entrance to Cloudburst is an unassuming garage door. (At night, the glowing logo sign is hard to miss.) A few tables and chairs make way to the small bar with a few stools. The beers on tap are written on brown butcher paper and some GABF hardware hangs from a pair of deer antlers. A few more seats opposite the bar are nestled up against the brewing equipment–and that’s about it. The taproom does its job and provides refuge from the rain and to anyone else just looking to grab a pint. I even noticed several groups of people with luggage, either making Cloudburst their last or first stop in Seattle.
Cloudburst’s offerings are a mix of American and German styles. Their flavor profiles tend to stroll away from their traditional brethren. But that all makes sense coming from a native New England owner/brewer that grew up with a chip on his shoulder, and who brewed, learned, and excelled at two nationally known breweries in Allagash and Elysian. Everything still works and tastes great no matter how creative those ‘traditional’ recipes get.
Cloudburst brews approximately 2,400 barrels a year, which just about maxes out their production. And that’s all perfectly fine with Founder and Head Brewer Steve Luke, who I was able to chat with briefly about the brewery.
“We’re pretty much going to be plateauing within the next year as far as production goes. At this point there’re still four full-time employees, including myself–and then we have five part-time employees as well. The mentality is, I’m a brewer first and I think every brewer dreams to have their own brewery. And when they get that, I don’t want to push myself off of the brew deck.”
That kind of contentment is sometimes difficult to find, especially when you’re talking about pursuing a full-fledged brewing business. Luke even had to buyout original investors who only saw dollar signs when initially interested in the brewery.
Before Cloudburst, Luke, originally from the New England area, got his brewing legs at Portland, Maine’s Allagash Brewing–a place which he still holds in high regard.
“Everything that they do, in my mind, is done with care and thought. Learning from a brewery of their caliber, it was unmatched–everything from packaging to sanitation to recipe development. Their inclusion of the community still has a long lasting impact on me, too. A lot of the things that I learned there, I still implement and think about today.”
Then after traveling across the country, Luke became a lead brewer at Seattle’s Elysian Brewing, and had his hand in crafting the original Space Dust recipe. But, after Elysian sold to AB-InBev in 2014, Luke began to entertain the idea of heading out on his own, and he wasn’t alone in that sentiment. He and a handful of other employees decided they were not interested in working for the big brewery conglomerate–nor would they leave an industry that they all had deep roots in.
“I’ve been brewing out here since 2010, and a lot of the people that we’ve brought on board had already existing relationships with other breweries, bars, and restaurants. So I think striking out [from Elysian]–or taking that risk of striking out on your own–certainly resonated with the other employees.”
That ‘risk’ could not have gone any smoother, as it would turn out. Cloudburst was built from the ground up for $700,000 without Luke losing majority stake. According to Luke, many of the smaller breweries use the same banks and accountants, which Luke believes he lucked into. I asked if he would change anything differently since opening the doors, and out of every roadblock you can possibly run into…he said he only mentioned he would have maybe changed the initial layout, to allow for more seating–a small hurdle when you consider the trials and tribulations of many fellow start-up breweries.
“I think since we’ve opened we have had some big expectations–and we still do. We have to continually meet these expectations, and stay true to who we are, especially in Seattle. We still only self-distribute, and 97% of that is just within Seattle City limits. So we consider ourselves a Seattle brewery first and foremost, and that’s kind of all that we strive to be right now.”
For how popular Cloudburst has become locally, they still need to spread the word. They are opening a new tasting room in the trendy Ballard neighborhood, in northern Seattle, and hope to add some tap handles looking to support more sour stuff.
“I certainly miss playing around with wild yeast; there’s just so much more development since I actually last got to play around with it. So that’ll kind of keep myself and the other brewers inspired in that world too.”
While hanging out and watching the rain at Cloudburst we found a home away from home. Is it a small place? Sure. Could it use a fresh coat of paint? Probably. But above anything, it’s authentic, and approachable. It really is a must try for any beer fan that finds their way to Seattle in search of quality local beer.
Ultimately, that’s exactly what Steve Luke and Cloudburst strive to bring to the table: simply great beer.
“Being your own boss, and making your own decisions–that’s all great. I’m sure there are some things that we do that we could be more efficient at. But at the end of the day, if we’re making great beer and that resonates with people, then everything else kind of falls into place.”
What We Drank
Life’s Finer Moments [Porter, 6.3%] – I’m not a big coffee drinker, but I got my fill in Seattle with this coffee porter. The coffee oozes out of the glass in every way–from aroma to the palate–which leads to an expectedly bold taste that finishes smooth with a slight bitterness. This here could be your new breakfast beer.
Photographed & authored by Michael A. Hubatch, contributor for The Hop Review. Hubatch is a writer and photographer based in Chicago. He has previously covered the beer scene in California, Illinois, Indiana, Nevada and Tennessee for The Hop Review.
Read the rest of the DETOURS series as we highlight unique places to drink across the world.