by Joel Smith & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & I & lt;/span & t's one thing to get eager chefs expounding on all the fresh and local and ingenious ingredients they put into their every dish; it's another to get brewers to give you a peek at their beer-making log books. They might open up about the kind of malt they use, but getting the skinny on the particular strain of yeast they use to ferment their brew is harder than getting your hands on Tom DeLay's bank statements -- it'll take a subpoena.
We'd been hearing a lot about Coeur d'Alene Brewing Company's vanilla bourbon stout, so we called head brewer Laurie Krauss to find out what makes it so good. Is it the water? The locally-grown hops?
Krauss and assistant brewer Greg Piller are open about a couple of things. First, all the water that goes into their beer (and water is about 99 percent of beer) comes straight out of the city of Coeur d'Alene tap, straight out of the aquifer. And most of the rest of the stuff that goes in (Piller estimates it at about 95 percent) is produced regionally, in Washington, Oregon or Idaho. Only a very few of their beers -- like the new seasonal Mai Bock, which contains hops and grains from Germany -- reach outside the region for their ingredients.
The Galena and Kent Goldings hops that give the vanilla bourbon stout its structure and bouquet came from HopUnion, a Yakima-based broker that buys hops from throughout the Northwest, says Krauss. The grain for the roasted chocolate, black, caramel and Victory malts that give the beer its oomph are grown largely in the Northwest, too. Krauss buys the finished malts from B.C.-based Gambrinus Malting, one of the smallest malt houses in North America.
Piller will even tell you that they buy their yeast from Oregon-based Wyeast, one of the best-respected yeast providers in the country. But don't ask him what strain they use; he won't say. Neither will he divulge the origin of the beer's central ingredient -- the vanilla bourbon. As with the brewery's Huckleberry Ale, the special flavor comes from an extract injected into the beer as it goes into the kegs. But he's not telling where they get the extracts -- though he did let slip that much of the huckleberry is likely grown around here. And Krauss acknowledged that the vanilla comes from Madagascar, the world's largest vanilla producer.
But while the aroma gives hints of Antananarivo, the body tastes strongly of the Northwest.