Chris Engdahl's Lantern Brewing in the Phinney-Greenwood neighborhood is a "nano-brewery" stocking local shops, restaurants and bars with beer bottled from a 30-gallon kettle.
BEER IS BIG in Washington — but not for Chris Engdahl.
At his Lantern Brewing in the Phinney-Greenwood neighborhood, a one-man, studio-size basement space so quiet you can hear the “bloop-bloop” of the carbon dioxide off-gassing from his beer, Engdahl is operating a “nano-brewery” stocking local shops and restaurants and bars with beer bottled from a 30-gallon kettle.
Crafting Belgian-style ales in quantities just a few multiples above a home-brewer, he got his start at the Phinney Farmers Market last year, using locally grown cherries and currants for brews like Sour Cherry Witbier, as well as state-grown hops and some local malted barley. The flavoring for his autumn pumpkin stout came directly from the vegetables he personally scooped out.
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Engdahl, a former computer network and systems architect, calls his setup “probably the minimum economically sensible scale you could possibly do.” What it gives his customers, though, is a professional take on beer using the hands-on care of a dedicated home brewer.
Lantern’s specialties are Belgian-style ales rather than the typical Northwest “hop-forward” style. “There are already a lot of good breweries with Northwest pale ales, IPAs, good hop profiles,” Engdahl says. His goal is “to bring super-fresh and unusual beer to the super-local area.”
His yeast — probably the biggest flavor factor in beer — is a strain that originated in a Trappist monastery. He adjusts valves and temperatures and checks the pH by hand, and samples the beer’s density with a hydrometer in a beaker. The beer is conditioned with yeast right in its 22-ounce bottles rather than injecting it with carbon dioxide, “a more elegant finish to beer” that also influences the flavor — a universal touch in home brews and traditional in some Belgian brews.
“There are automatic controls I could get,” he says, but at this scale, why?
Engdahl’s first foray into beer happened in high school when his experiments with ginger beer “ended up fermenting slightly.” In college that turned to a passion for homebrewing, first with friends every few weeks, then on his own at home every few days.
His work with global networks was fine, but he eventually realized it was “not as tangible as I wanted.”
With beer, he can see what he’s done. “It’s there. I made that, and it tastes good, it makes me happy and makes other people happy.”
Even at this level — maybe especially at this level — it’s a struggle to match supply and demand. He’s sitting out the farmers-market season because it overextended his production.
“A truism of beer is that you can force it along, but there are flavor ramifications,” he explains. Those aren’t compromises he wants to make. But he’s still interested in experimenting with new varieties and with the ingredients Washington has to offer. “We’re a fruit state,” he notes, making his operation rife with possibilities for apple or pear beers.
And, hey, how about shellfish? “I could make an oyster stout!”
His plan is to grow beyond the nano-size to “at least what they would call a regional-size brewery,” something along the lines of an Elysian.
But “my whole goal with this is to create world-class beers,” he says. And wouldn’t it be something if the little local beer made it even further, showing some people farther away our regional styles and tastes, just as he was inspired by the Belgian beers he loves?
“Wouldn’t it be something,” he muses, “if someone in Belgium would hear about Lantern Brewing?”
Rebekah Denn is a freelance food writer and blogger. Benjamin Benschneider is a Pacific Northwest magazine staff photographer.