When Travis Guterson was a teenager, he dreamed of beer — but, unlike many curious teenagers, his dream was of brewing it. Later, after a series of stints in three Northwest microbreweries and a fortuitous meeting with Mike Runion, who became his business partner, Guterson was ready to engineer a great brew of his own. 7 Seas Brewing Company and a very creative brewmaster were born.
But Gig Harbor’s only microbrewery was off to a rough start. Six weeks away from production, a fire destroyed the operation, but not the partners’ determination. They moved to their present location, still in Gig Harbor, and produced their first keg under the 7 Seas label in July 2009. Now, a year later, their on-tap brews are raising eyebrows in fine restaurants and pubs throughout the greater Seattle-Tacoma area. And some retail store coolers are offering their canned brews.
Cans? For a microbrew? But what about the classy green or brown bottles that microbrews usually come in?
Battling Beer’s Enemies
“Cans are best for beer,” Runion explained. “Light and oxygen are beer’s enemies. Cans eliminate those problems. Today, cans are water-treated so the beer never actually comes in contact with the metal.”
The brewery released its first canned beers in April, the only microbrewery in Washington to do so. Not yet a believer that a well-crafted beer should be canned? A test to their claim with a pint of 7 Seas British Pale Ale proved they were right. A fruity and gently hoppy brew with a crisp, refreshing finish titillates the palate. Great beers can occupy the humble can.
“Also, cans are gentler on the environment than bottles,” Guterson said. “It takes 60 percent less energy to produce cans than bottles. And, they’re lighter and crushable, so it’s easier to pack ’em in and pack ’em out.”
Besides engineering fine beer and streamlining ways to pack ’em in and out, local sustainability is what Guterson and Runion are all about. The biggest measures of their hops are sourced from the Yakima Valley, the bulk of their malt is from Vancouver, Washington, and, rather than discard their waste, they delight animals on local farms with their mash.
Step Into the Lab
“Seven Seas is a small, eight-and-a-half barrel brew house,” Guterson said as he pointed to the brewing operation in view of the taproom. “That’s my laboratory. We can do a lot with four basic ingredients: water, hops, malt and yeast.”
“Formula, temperature, procedure and timing are also variables we use in the process,” added Runion, “but we always begin with a concept of what flavor profile we want to create.”
In the cozy 7 Seas Tap Room, the taps sport the names of their five brews. The year-round regulars are: British Pale Ale, Cutt’s Ale (named after Cutt’s Island near Gig Harbor where Guterson and Runion sometimes paddle to enjoy their brews), Port Royal Export Style Stout and Ballz Deep Double IPA. “Ballz Deep can sneak up on you,” Runion cautioned, referring to its relatively high alcohol content. “It’s not a beer you want sit in the sun and drink one after another.”
Sipping and savoring is the best way to appreciate hand-crafted brews. The partners also brew a seasonal beer: currently, Rude Parrot IPA, which they describe as “loud, sassy and relentless.” With a combination of three premium malt varieties and two hops, this ale covers a broad spectrum on the palate from first sip to finish.
“Brewing fine beers is a creative process,” Guterson said. “Our beers are literally hand-made and that’s a very labor-intensive process. Our approach is like a winemaker’s approach to making fine wine. The flavor profiles are not one-dimensional, but layered to achieve a level of harmony.”
Elevating the Humble Beer
“Great beer deserves to be presented well,” Runion commented, referring to their brand and packaging. Their graphic labels, often humorous, hint at the character of each beer. But presentation goes beyond labeling.
Both men, being avid foodies, have discovered their beers pair well with fine cuisine, so they work with area chefs to identify the ingredients and courses that showcase each of their beers. They have teamed up with restaurants, such as Ray’s Boathouse, Chambers Bay Grill and Brix 25, to host beer-pairing dinners that are always sold out.
Guterson and Runion, their earth-friendly values, their ingenuity and their artisan brews are all genuine products of the Northwest, the direction the compass points in their nautically themed logo. “Our only focus is great craft beers,” Guterson said. “And being a positive force in the community,” Runion chimed in.
Tacoma-based writer Allen Cox is a board member of International Food, Wine and Travel Writers Association. His website is allencox.org