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Holy Mountain's Coming Year of Excellent Beer

April 05, 2017

By Ryan Murray, April 05, 2017

Holy Mountain Brewing Company is built on a foundation of oak.

More than half its beers are aged in oak barrels at some point on their way to your glass. That careful aging process means that sometimes the date the beer is released is not as important to co-founders and brewers Mike Murphy and Colin Lenfesty as it might be to other brewers.

As a result, the brewery does not have any year-round beers or a set schedule of releases, preferring to keep its beer timetable close to its anthropomorphic chest. There’s no guarantee the beer you fell in love with last time will be pouring. The release calendar you see below is an educated guess.

But there are a few beers you can find most of the year – depending on Murphy and Lenfesty’s mood – and several brewed at the beginning of seasons or for special events which can be somewhat expected.

The brewery and taproom sit in a squat, jet-black building along the BNSF train tracks in Seattle’s Interbay neighborhood on busy, industrial Elliot Avenue. The taproom is stark, high-ceilinged and staffed with knowledgeable beer lovers.

Holy Mountain itself is a somewhat mysterious name, as Murphy said the brewery finds itself with a dark theme of religion and the occult.

“The name plays to Mount Rainier, the ‘holy mountain’ that looks over all of us,” he said. “That is sort of an ominous name with some occult-style imagery. We draw ideas and names for beers under that umbrella very loosely.”

Its beers are fermented and aged in puncheons, foeders, and bottles, with bold new brews premiering seemingly every week, making planning a visit around a certain beer difficult.

“In the taproom you’ll always find something light and hoppy, something darker and a handful of mixed-cultures beers,” Murphy said.

Their thoughtful, careful tutelage has guided the brewery to slow growth and a limited distribution throughout Western Washington”

However, there are a few beers which are much more likely to be on tap at any given time.

The Kiln & Cone series of pale ales are often at the top of the taplist. They feature a rich, fruity base pale ale which changes from batch to batch. Holy Mountain has brewed more than 10 batches of this beer, using hops as varied as Nelson Sauvin and Mosaic and Waimea. Most batches are notably citrusy with a melon backbone atop some light malts.

Should Kiln & Cone not be on tap or pale ales not your speed, Holy Mountain’s Black Beer is a roasty, low-alcohol schwarzbier brewed with flaked barley and gentle, spicy English hops. It’s found around Seattle as a popular local dark beer, providing some needed coffee-like roast to Starbucks-bleached tastebuds.

Murphy and Lenfesty met while both working at Schooner Exact Brewing Company in Seattle. They hit it off and began planning out Holy Mountain a few years ahead of time. Their thoughtful, careful tutelage has guided the brewery to slow growth and a limited distribution throughout Western Washington. The brewery will be taking several kegs to Philadelphia near the end of April, but – as is their wont – aren’t sharing what exactly they’ll have.

The brewery started production in September of 2014 and opened the taproom January 2015, and have been producing intriguing one-offs and solid rotating beers since.

Holy Mountain BrewingTrue Will, a Saison brewed with Pilsner malt, fermented with a famous yeast strain originating from Antwerp, and then aged in an oak foudre with Brett for eight months.

One of those which rotates in often is the Demonteller. A brett-influenced, foudre-aged saison, the Demonteller is tart, oaky, spicy and light in body, creating a bold juxtaposition on the tongue and not something typical at all for a Washington brewery. The brewery turns it out in about eight weeks, so it’s one of the quicker-to-tap beers in the lineup, but still offers no guarantee of sticking around for long.

Holy Mountain details the process in making a similar beer, the Autumnal Rustic, on its website.

“Autumnal Rustic is a Saison brewed with 75% flaked and malted rye and hopped exclusively with Ella,” the description goes. “It was fermented with a blend of Saison strains in one of our French Cognac foudres before being transferred to puncheons, where it aged for 4 months on Brett. After which, it was lightly dry-hopped with more Ella.”

That’s not unusual at the brewery, which takes six months to a year to produce a great deal of its beers.

One of those even more complicated brewing processes is reserved for the Midnight Still, a barrel-aged imperial stout.

“It’s a super important beer to us,” Murphy said. “It’s 100 percent bourbon-barrel aged. We don’t let any fresh beer in this blend. We use the bourbon barrels to draw on for the beer.”

Midnight Still is slated to drop in April or May, and if last year’s offer is any indication, heavy-beer lovers are in for a treat. The first batch of Midnight Still was brewed in October 2014 and laid down in Kentucky bourbon barrels where it aged for 15 months. The second batch was brewed in July 2015 and aged for six months. They were blended and released in bottles in February of 2016.

For us, blending the different saisons is for the fun of it.”

Another big part of Holy Mountain’s interesting dynamic is the collaborations Murphy and Lenfesty work into their lineup.

Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales’ Production Manager and Brewmaster Ron Jeffries is a good friend of Holy Mountain, so when he comes out to Seattle from Grand Rapids, he stops by to lend his creative touch.

Just last month, the collaborative efforts of both breweries gave birth to Dust to Dust, a Belgian pale ale with a touch of Brettanomyces. It’s slighty tart, funky from the brett and a touch of rye and hopped entirely with Citra and Mosaic Lupulin Powder before being bottle fermented.

Another Jolly Pumpkin and Holy Mountain brewchild coming down the line is one Murphy describes as “a super hoppy pale ale fermented with oak.” Monkish Brewing from Torrance, California, also partnered with Holy Mountain to produce a Bier de Miel called Land of Oats and Honey using California and Washington honey, malted oats and aged on wine and port barrels.

Bonne Nuit, a Belgian strong ale, is brewed to celebrate the coming of winter and is typically available December through March. Corpse Reviver, a barrel-fermented sour ale, released in November of 2016 and might make a return this year as well. A gin- and bourbon-barrel-aged beer should hit the market this summer, but that’s fairly secret at the moment.

In March, the brewery also released the third iteration of its Gray Tower series, a group of blended saisons the brewers are very selective with.

“For the most part, we know where we want these beers to go,” Murphy said. “For us, blending the different saisons is for the fun of it.”

Ultimately, it’s hard to pin down exactly when and what will be releasing from that ominous black building adjacent to Elliott Bay, and Murphy said that’s to limit the crowds on a beer-day release.

Sustainable growth and temperamental, delicate beer means Holy Mountain might remain as mysterious as the occult lore lurking behind many of its beers. And that’s something its owners are just fine with.

ZX Ventures, a division within AB InBev, is an investor in October
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