52 Weeks: Walking Man Brewing, Stevenson, WA
Week 30 of 52:
Type of Establishment: Brewpub, local joint. This is the place where most of the boozers come to step out of the 95 degree Gorge weather and have a pint.
Visit: An amazing Saturday afternoon, after 100 miles of motorcycling around the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Mt. St. Helens and the Columbia Gorge. It was hot – 90+ – and we sat outside in the garden.
BEERS ON TAP (at time of visit):
Walking Man serves Walking Man. Go figure. This is an in-house only establishment, so you won’t find any other brewer here. Believe me, you don’t need anyone else:
Walking Man IPA – 7.2%
Pale Strider – 5.2% Pale Ale
Ramblin Raspberry – 4.8% Wheat w/ Berries
Peg Leg Pale – Seasonal Pale
Crosswalk Wheat – 4.5%+ Basic Wheat Ale
Old Stumblefoot – 12% Barleywine
Runaway IPA – 7.2% IPA made with Sorachi Ace!
Walking Stick Stout – 7.2% Oatmeal Stout
Flip Flop Pilsner – 5% Pilsner
Knuckle Dragger Pale – 6% Strong & Hoppy Pale
Walking Man does not bottle any of their beer. Since they only serve Walking Man, you can guess what their bottle and can list looks like. Zero.
Here is the menu so that you can see what I’m talking about. This is the reason that this place gets knocked back a peg or two.
The menu is a bit limited, which is fine considering its a brewpub. But the portions and prices do not match the typical brewpub production.
At Walking Man, we are talking pizza, spring rolls, fries and salads. Unfortunately, for $11.00 you get what most would consider a side salad, filled with bag of lettuce fixins.
There is good as well. The pizza and the appetizers are reasonable. Cohorts very much enjoyed eating the Black Pesto Pizza, finding it a decent value. I loved the Hog Wings (pork shanks in BBQ sauce) – best thing on the menu. I’ll discuss the food below a bit.
Walking Man Brewing has eluded me for some time. I have been a staunch supporter of their beers since first tasting their Black Cherry Stout some 3 years back. Its a beer revered by many.
Walking Man has been producing beer for just over 10 years. The story of how it came to be was an interesting one, starting in Indianapolis in 1979 when Bob Craig moved out west for the first time.
Bob Craig is a man’s man. I’m only saying that from his picture, which depicts him as a skinny, 60-year-old brewer with a big bushy beard and a constant smile. The Walking Man dream was apparently more of a good business decision than a blind desire to make beer for a living. Craig had determined that making beer was cheap – and he could do it well.
So, fast-forward to 2010. Stevenson, Washington’s Walking Man is kegging 1500 barrels of beer (2009 numbers) and showing up as the #15 brewpub to visit in the world, so says RateBeer.com’s 2010 rankings. The teeny brewpub on the Columbia River (about 45 miles East of Portland, OR) is on the rise.
I set out to see this place with my own eyes, and consume this beer for my own, um, educational purposes. Well, I finally made it.
I planned to be at the brewery when it allegedly opened at 3 PM. We pulled up in front right at 3 on the dot, just to notice that the sign said that it actually opened at 12 PM. Apparently, their website has yet to be updated. I would suppose that the new hours are merely for the summertime – but who knows.
Walking Man looks like an empty old house from the road. Many of my cohorts claimed that it must be closed. But alas, a sign on the door advises you to descend down the crotchety old staircase to find the pub.
As you walk towards the pub, you notice the long strands of hops growing from the building’s 2nd story balcony, down to the floor of the pub’s garden. I checked these out later on – they appear to simply be garden hops. But still, they provide an excellent decor for the pub.
When you approach the ground level, you enter the garden, which has both covered and open spaces filled with tables. We chose the open garden area – to bake in the 90+ degree heat.
I went inside to investigate a bit further. Quick notes on what I found:
- The inside is essentially a basement and therefore nice, dark and cool. Very refreshing on this hot day.
- The bar meets you as you enter. The bar top is situated at a perfect sitting and consuming height. No stretch required.
- The bar back showcases about 10 taps and a large chalkboard with the current specialty beers. I am enthralled to see Old Stumblefoot Barleywine.
- There are about 3 bar tables along the wall, 6 bar stools and then another 4 or 5 tables towards the rear of the pub. The rear tables fit a nice sized group of patrons.
- The bar stools are finely fabricated steel “walking man” signs that a local artist created for the pub. Very cool.
- There is quite a bit of shwag to purchase if you want to prove to your friends that you finally made the visit. A Homo Erectus T-Shirt is pretty sexy.
- The bathrooms are a trip. I discuss this below, but remember that they are unisex, though themed.
I saddled up outside in the garden and perused the beer list. Luckily, I had come to the pub with a complete 5 man group, each of which have a sense for beer adventure. We set out to try the entire list.
I started with a Runaway IPA and an Old Stumblefoot Barleywine. I know that its not a good way to procedurally taste beer (barleywine so early), but I dont care about that “crashing palette” theory. Drink some water; good to go.
Runaway IPA became our champion of the day. It was the one beer we decided to take camping with us later on that evening. At 7.2% alcohol, its the perfect balance of taste and intoxicating power that campers need.
The beer is packed with Sorachi Ace hops, one of my favorite new hops on the market. The hop provides a very strong citric tart flavoring to your beer. Mixing this with another favorite – Centennial hops – made this an instant fave around the table. The beer is fruity, bold and smooth, yet crisp. If they still have it – get it.
Next, I tried the Old Stumblefoot. My instant reaction was that it had all the makings of a great barleywine, but it does not finish perfectly. Over time, I have learned that the best in barleywines have that oomph at the end, bringing the flavor development to a crisp close.
This one starts with a perfect caramelized sugar and honey maltiness, balanced very well with an intense sweet hop aroma. But it closes without any notice. Some might like the absence of alcohol flavors, but I have come to enjoy that closing. Depending on where you fall, this has the potential to be a very good barleywine.
I also grabbed some small samples of the Walking Stick Stout, Knuckle Dragger Pale and Walking Man IPA. Each of these beers impressed, especially Knuckle Dragger, which is an exceptionally well-balanced, yet incredibly hoppy and amber flavored pale.
On to the food. Apparently, everyone in the group ordered from their conscience, which can sometimes play tricks on your stomach. Of course, being a motorcycle trip, the men felt like men and the boys (guys in the car trailing us) felt like boys. So, I ordered the Hog Wings (nicely sized pork shanks, covered in spicy BBQ with blue cheese) and my biking cohorts chose two different pizzas. Our support team – salads.
Surprisingly (pure sarcasm), the motorcycling team truly applauded their choices. The Hog Wings really savor the classic BBQ taste, while taking a play on the classic wing delivery. I am hooked and, apparently, so are the guys eating pizza. Their pizzas are covered in intriguing topics, cooked crisply and reasonably sized. We are full and happy. Our friends are not.
To be fair, our friends had not been burning through energy stores the way we were. Instead of shifting gears, shifting weight, fighting horrid street conditions and fending off insect-to-the-face insurgence – they were faced with difficult decisions, such as the amount of A/C to use and the degree to which lean their seats. So, the salad decision is somewhat defended. Unfortunately, it was a huge mistake.
The salads are very small, unimpressive and pricey. They rifled through what appeared to be bag-o-lettuce ingredients (but cannot be sure of this) in about 3-4 minutes. Luckily, a basket of fries came to their rescue. Word of caution – stick with the pizza and apps.
All this eating and drinking called for a trip to the loo. I entered the building and found two mystical doors, one saying “Dreamers”, the other saying “Readers.” To avoid critical embarrassment, I consulted with friends. They deemed these to be unisex and luckily they were correct. I chose “Dreamers” for my first visit.
The inside of dreamers is filled with subconscious imagery in art form. The walls are adorned with paintings of Heironymous Bosch- like images and modern dreamlike imagery. Very cool.
For my next visit, I chose to be a “Reader”. The walls of this stall include storybook phrases, classic quips, and other storied sayings. If you had to visit this stall for a long time, you’d be a smarter person upon leaving. Again, very cool.
We decided to close up shop and gear up for the take out beer. This was the other stumbling block we ran into. Walking Man charges $12.00 (before tax) for their growler fills. You need to pay an additional $6.00 for the glass if you did not bring your own. So, you are looking at $20.00 (with tax) for 4 pints. If you want the barleywine, its $29.00 (with tax).
We had one growler with us, so we went ahead and filled that with the ever tasty Runaway IPA and decided to supplement our beer load with some good old backcountry swill (translation: Hamms, Icehouse & High Life).
During our stay, we had excellent service from a very nice waitress. The service was exceptional, considering the amount of tables that needed to be cared for by our waitress. I once saw her carry about 6 glasses full of beer at once. Impressive – thanks for the good time.
I will recommend this place to anyone. Perfect your trip by enjoying Walking Man’s hoppy ales, avoiding the salad and bringing your own growlers if you intend to take beer with you.