The unexpected chill in the air foretold snow as we set off from Missoula in the direction of the interior of British Columbia. By the time we began to wend our way through the Bitter Root Range, driving sleet was upon us. Our destination was still an Idaho Panhandle and a Washington State away, so we stopped off in Coeur d’Alene to fortify ourselves for the remainder of the journey. Before leaving Missoula, we had provisioned ourselves with bread, cheeses, and sausages. A resort town situated on a pristine lake of the same name and surrounded by dense coniferous forests, Coeur d’Alene presented a scenic backdrop for our midday feast despite the rain. All that was missing were a few local beers to wash it down.
We pulled off the long ribbon of road connecting Boston with Seattle and went in search of Slate Creek Brewing Company. The unrelenting rain drenched us before we got to the door. No luck. It was 12:30pm, and the taproom didn’t open till 2pm. Fortunately, Slate Creek wasn’t the only game in town. On the other side of the interstate we found the elusive Trickster’s Brewing Company in a commercial park on the western edge of town. The taproom, executed in a contemporary industrial style that retains elements of warmth with its coral-coloured walls, was a welcome respite from the elements.
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In indigenous cultures, particularly those of the Great Basin encompassing the region between the Sierra Nevada and the Rocky Mountains, the trickster typically takes the form of a coyote. By turns cunning, foolish, or both, the trickster is, in some stories, the Creator, while in others the trickster is a prankster or a clown, or even messenger between the sacred and secular realms, often possessing powers of transformation.
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Matt Morrow, a transplant from Tulsa, OK, decided to pay tribute to his Native American heritage by naming his brewery after this Prometheus figure of indigenous lore. Though his own tribe embodies Trickster as a raven, he settled upon the coyote as the embodiment of his adeptness at the alchemic art of transformation of grain and hops into beer.
A philosophy major in college, Morrow happened upon his calling in a roundabout way, starting his brewing career washing kegs at Colorado’s Ska Brewing Company. He eventually worked his way up to assistant brewer via a stint on the canning line and as a cellar man, resolving along the way that he wanted to open his own brewery.
Dream became reality in late 2012. Since then, Morrow and his assistant brewer, Miles Polis, have been turning the raw ingredients of beer into harmonious North American concoctions that sometimes bear the mark of the shape-shifter. Take, for example, their golden-amber West Coast Classic Pale Ale with as much pine-and-resin character as any Pacific Northwest ale, but with orange-marmalade overtones and malt profile more suggestive of Albion. Trickster’s other North American styles are similar in inspiration. To their credit, the brewers realize that pale ales and IPAs are not merely about the hop hit and high octane. Not that they shy away from hops, mind you. But Trickster’s renditions of these styles are balanced by a malt backdrop that, depending on the beer, adds just enough honey, caramel, toast, or nuttiness to counter the bold hop additions.
Other styles exhibit this combination of balance and boldness as well. The Bear Trap Brown blends aromas of barley tea with roasted coffee, while floral-herbal hops set the stage for a pleasantly crisp raisin-roast finish. My personal favourite was Trickster’s seasonal Soul Warmer Porter, an almost opaque ruby-black brew highlighting the chocolate and coffee aromas of mocha, and intermingling cocoa with plum and an earthy roasted malt note. Smooth on the palate, the beer opens with licorice and black coffee, reveals a touch of spicy hops down the middle, and finishes with an emphasis on bitter-sweet chocolate.
The folks at Trickster’s keep their beer close to home, but they have started to bottle some of their limited releases in 22-oz. bombers. Look for their Daedric Druid Strong American Stout and their Professor Funkhouse Sour Stout in local bottle shops. This latter offering is no surprise, given Morrow’s claim that he could drink lambics till the end of time. Look for more sours and barrel-aged offerings to roll out in the coming months. Passing through the area later in the season? Chances are you’ll find a Kölsch-style beer in early summer, a Vienna-style later in late summer, and a Märzen-style beer just in time for Oktoberfest. Canning is also on the horizon. Once that happens, Morrow informs me, you might find the coyote popping up in Montana, western Washington State, and even as far away as New York.Alas, the trickster was not able to conjure any food on that particular day, so we set our sights just west of the Okanagan Valley wine region of British Columbia where a home-cooked dinner was waiting.
Should you find yourself traveling along the I-90 corridor and in need of a refreshing drink, Trickster’s is worth a visit. The lake and mountain scenery’s not too shabby either.
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Logo, brewhouse photo, and photo of Matt Morrow compliments of Trickster’s Brewing Company. Other photos by F.D. Hofer.
© 2015 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All Rights Reserved.