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Spring is in the air, the sun is showing its bright face bringing beer to our mind! Chuckanut has the crispies to keep you going as the weather warms and you get more active. The newest Chuckanut collaboration is with Zeeks Pizza called Zealander Pilsner. The big kahuna of this sessionable pilsner is the New Zealand grown hops Rakau and Wai-Iti. These hops play together to give the beer a mixture of stonefruit, lemon and lime notes against a malt backbone of classic German Weyermann malts. Crisp, hoppy, and bold the Zealander Pilsner is begging to be had with your next slice of pizza.
Guest post by Tommy Brooks featuring an interview with Reuben’s Brews co-founder and master brewer Adam Robbings
I met Adam and Grace Robbings, founders of Reuben’s Brews, at the PNA (Phinney Neighborhood Association) annual winter beer fest in 2010. At the time, Adam was a homebrewer without a commercial brewing license (PNA Winter Beer Fest used to allow homebrewers to participate). Adam and Grace poured two of Adam’s initial homebrew recipes: Roasted Rye IPA and Imperial IPA, which are beers still brewed on occasion and still stand out in a sea of beer 10 years later.
It was immediately clear that Adam was brewing beers that were unique in style and quality; an “Ah-Ha” moment in my own personal beer journey.
In 2012, Reuben’s went commercial and opened a tiny brewery and taproom in Ballard. It immediately became my go-to spot for the best beer in town. I couldn’t wait to get their beer flowing at Zeeks, and soon after Reuben’s opening Adam was hand-delivering kegs of of Imperial Rye IPA at our Phinney, West Seattle, Belltown, Ravenna, Dravus and Greenlake locations. This was before they had tap handles, so Adam gave us generic handles that we attached Reuben’s coasters to.
This was the real beginning of the evolution of our beer program in that Adam’s beers stood out from the rest in Seattle and certainly the other beers we were pouring at time. It was also the beginning of our program being relationship-driven with suppliers. From 2012-2014, we rotated different Reuben’s beers at our restaurants. As Adam and I got to know each other better, we started collaborating on a house beer for Zeeks. We wanted it to be hoppy, lower in ABV than most IPA’s at the time, and food friendly. Adam created a recipe that was ahead of its time – heavy on late addition aroma hops (primarily Citra & Amarillo), low in bitterness, and soft in body (oats were included in grain bill).
Flash forward to February 2015 to when we celebrated our first pint of Hop Tropic at Zeeks. Five years and thousands of pints later, we are celebrating Hop Tropic’s 5-year anniversary! Few beers have that type of staying power in today’s craft beer world, and we could not be more proud of the beer and the partnership.
During those 5 years, Hop Tropic has won multiple awards:
We recently sat down with Adam and asked him some questions about Reuben’s, Zeeks, and Hop Tropic.
We wrap everything around the phrase “Beer Unbound.” This takes four key pillars:
I think this all goes back to balance. IPAs need a malt backbone to support them. Sours need to be balanced tartness, not enamel stripping acidity! We focus on balance, which I think is why our beers should all be approachable.
Zeeks is a PNW institution, and they were one of our very first customers. I remember delivering kegs to Zeeks West Seattle and Phinney myself in my car soon after we opened! I first met Tommy in 2010 when Grace and I were home brewers at the Phinney Beer Taste, and so we knew each other before Reuben’s was even a commercial brewery. For me, when he asked us about Hop Tropic and we had the capacity to brew it we absolutely couldn’t resist! To brew a beer for a great PNW restaurant, and for someone who has supported us from the start, was a great move.
You usually want a strong beer to hold itself up to a strong food. Bitter and spice are often paired together, so an IPA would be a good choice. Hop Tropic should be a great option!
Running the brewery is more than a full time job, so what little spare time I get I usually spend with my family – we have two boys that are a lot of fun. I play golf, and am teaching our youngest Warren how to play right now. Apart from that, right now I’m really into baking bread – it’s similar to brewing in that you use grain, yeast, run fermentations – and craft bread is so much better than macro-produced bread!
Zeeks’ co-founder Tom Vial and a few buddies, including Zeeks’ franchisee Steve Sandberg (Kirkland/Bellevue locations), recently took off for a destination known and remote. In this case, the Chatter Creek Mountain Lodges, which are located about three hours northwest of Calgary. That is, three hours by helicopter, in normal conditions. This year, however, the cloud ceiling was too low to fly a bird in, so the crew instead rode a bus for three hours, and were then ferried in by a CAT for another two hours when roads had become obsolete.
Nobody complained on the bus or in the CAT. When the weather is too bad to fly the bird, that simply means snowflakes are flying, en masse. And they were.
Chatter Creek’s operation offers skiers 58,000 acres of options, from alpine bowls to stunning glaciers and endless tree runs. It is a powder skier’s dream set-up – steep, untouched lines in dry, fluffy snow combined with good food, good beers, (usually) good company and a super comfy bed to rest your exhausted head at the end of the day.
Tom and Steve are Chatter Creek regulars. It is a place where they can get their powder skiing stoke on in one of the world’s premier destinations during the day, but also then truly unwind at night, in a place uniquely remote and quiet. For Steve, it offers up a chance to show off his wicked powder skiing skills. Sandberg is, according to Tom, who is no slouch himself on the hill, “a bad ass.”
“The guy is good. Like, ski video good,” says Vial.
Steve’s relationship with Zeeks Pizza began as the result of a friendship with Tom and co-founder Doug McClure. Sandberg ultimately fell in love with the Zeeks brand as he got to know the company, its culture and its players better and saw ownership as a great way to fuel his lifestyle.
“You know, it’s funny because me becoming a Zeeks’ franchisee all happened because of a trip Doug, Tom and I took to BC’s Red Mountain for some serious powder skiing and beer drinking back in 2004,” says Sandberg. “Eventually during the trip, I let it be known that I really, really wanted to own a Zeeks franchise. I was tired of working in the boring, stodgy finance world and saw way more promise in pizza. Tom and Doug made it all happen.”
Amongst the steeps and couloirs at Chatter Creek Steve completely at home in his role playing powder pace car for the crew. The snowfall at Chatter Creek during this year’s trip was epic and deep — too deep to be stressed out, too deep to hold the weight of any of the world’s worries, and too deep to not dig in and rip it up. 15 years after Red Mountain, the Zeeks’ crew still leaves it all on the hill on a powder day.
“Steve gets after it,” said Zeek’s President Dan Black. “He skis and windsurfs in a manner we all aspire to and does it all while being totally kick ass on the business side. It is not a coincidence that he is able to run two franchises and continue to meet and exceed expectations year after year. The man is a beast.”
On a recent Friday afternoon, Zeeks’ crew led by beverage impresario Tommy Brooks, visited Vashon Island, the home of Dragon’s Head Cider. Dragon’s Head features a wide variety of ciders made from different heirloom cider apples, most of which are grown on site on their orchard. In colonial America, cider was the most common beverage consumed and producers like Dragon Head are leading a revolution of this traditional style and approach referred to now as Heritage Cider. Particularly popular in the PNW, Heritage cider is often compared to wine because it is more complex and tends to be on the drier side.
The Dragon’s Head production facility is located amongst an idyllic 8-acre apple farm not far from Vashon’s ‘town’ and next door to historic, Mukai strawberry farm. Amazingly, almost 70% of Dragon’s Head’s product is sourced from apples grown right on its own farm. That is a huge percentage in the cider production world. And it is a huge reason why Zeeks’ serves its product(s).
“They make some of the most interesting and delicious cider around, and they are some of the most passionate and intelligent people in the cider community,” said Brooks afterwards. “It was valuable for me to be able to catch up with Laura and talk shop a bit in addition to hosting the Zeeks team and sharing with them where the magic happens for Dragons Head. For me, tasting their cider in the environment we did with the orchards, the cidery and Laura, added layers of context and personality that totally enhanced the experience.”
Brooks makes it a point to regularly visit the people behind the brands that Zeeks serves to its customers. The people behind Dragon’s Head include Wes and Laura Cherry, who moved to Vashon in 2010 from Seattle, in order to do exactly what they are doing now – live the dream. We like to talk about the stoke factor a lot at Zeeks and Laura and her family are definitely stoked by outdoor living and farming, and to make it even better her and her husband are fueling their family’s stoke by sharing the results of their efforts with us as consumers.
In addition to finding the company’s cider on tap in various Seattle bars and restaurants, you can also find it in bottles at the better bottle shops and grocery stores, and you can buy it online. Or like Brooks and crew, you can visit Dragon’s Head in person, like we did, and sample their creations to find out which one, or more, you want to purchase on site. Maybe you are the type that needs some time for the flavors to settle before you make a purchase decision? After your sampling experience then, take some time to walk Dragon’s Head’s beautiful grounds and soak in the relaxed vibe brought on by the cider, the farm’s smells and fresh dirt, the boat ride to Vashon…
After spending some time ‘feeling the farm’ you will know what your palette wants. And by then you too will understand, not only why the Cherry’s followed their dreams and created this wonderful place, but also why paying a visit to a producer on their home turf is such a special experience. Brooks and his team put this type of effort into every local product featured on all Zeeks Pizza menus, from Bellevue to Belltown and all stops in between. This is just the first chapter of many more to come…
This “Seattle Foodie” podcast, featuring an in-depth interview with NW Cider Association Executive Director Emily Ritchie, embodies the stoke the Zeeks crew is feeling about the PNW cider scene. There are plenty of astute food and cider reviews and recommendations, so we encourage the curious to click the link and give it a listen.
Powderhounds! We just officially announced a full sponsorship of professional freeskier, wakeboarder and mountain biker Tyler Ceccanti, a local guy who hails from Lake Tapps! This partnership with Ceccanti represents Zeeks’ first foray into athlete sponsorship and the first public display (you could call it a roll-out) of Zeeks’ longstanding internal mantra – #FuelYourStoke.
“Not everyone knows this, because we don’t talk about it all that much, but at heart Zeeks is a lifestyle company. Our brand embodies Northwest values and its way of life including a love of outdoor adventure. In fact our roots are in the Seattle ski and snowboard community,” says our co-founder Tom Vial. “Tyler is like our spirit animal. He is a Northwest native and he is maximizing everything the PNW offers from an outdoor lifestyle perspective, and also working his tail off to make it all happen. That level of stoke and get-after-it-ness defines our brand’s roots and we relate to him in every way”
Zeeks’ relationship with Ceccanti kicks off with an official Warren Miller Entertainment (WME)-sanctioned party on Friday, November 22, from 4:00 – 7:00 p.m., at the Belltown location (419 Denny Way). The party is a pre-celebration of WME’s showing of its 2019 film Timeless at nearby McCaw Hall at 7:30 p.m. Ceccanti is one of the film’s feature athletes and will be on site, along with a handful of the film’s other stars, to meet and party with moviegoers.
“This party is going to rock Belltown,” said Ceccanti. “Afterwards, I’m looking forward to working with Zeeks on bigger things from a sponsorship perspective. Prior to meeting the founders, Tom and Doug, and learning more about Zeeks’ mission and how the company got started, I had no idea Zeeks and I shared a such a similar stoke, which is basically life in the Northwest.”
In addition to the giving fans access to their skiing and snowboarding heroes, the pre-funk at Zeeks will also feature cool giveaways and a chance to ride the Timeless Shotzski, which will be in constant use at the bar. Entrance is limited to those with tickets to the show, plus any available overflow traffic.
Zeeks Pizza is now the first pizza chain in the United States to ditch plastic beverage containers.
“Anytime we can do business with a local company, we’re going to do that,” McClure said. “For us that was icing on the cake when we could take all those plastic water bottles out of the equation. That’s a bonus.”