As many had done in the past, Ken Thoburn, Derek Moyer and Daniel Heath began brewing beer from home. Once their friends started putting it away faster than they could make it, they knew they were on to something. They decided to call their new business venture Wingman Brewers, a name that holds a special place in Thoburn’s heart. “My grandfather was a pilot in World War II,” recalls Thoburn. “He also painted nose art on a number of planes during his time in the South Pacific. I really like that aesthetic of WWII art and thought it fit well with Tacoma’s grittiness and proximity to JBLM.”
After their first beer release event at the The Red Hot in the spring of 2011, Wingman Brewers has since earned its place among Tacoma’s ever growing beer scene.
Wingman’s tasting room is rather Spartan, but the brewers prefer it that way. “It’s a production facility first and a tasting room second,” says Thoburn. “There are dirty kegs, and pallets of grain or empty bottles often in and among the seating areas. There may be noise from our pumps and brew system if folks come down on a Thursday or Friday while we’re brewing. It takes a lot of work for our little brewery to pump out enough beer for our tasting room and wholesale customers.” But don’t let that intimidate you. Even the clientele is friendly enough to strike up conversations with their neighbors. “Tacoma is full of fun and interesting people. Just the other day we had a group of complete strangers in here laughing and sipping suds together. A mechanic, a Chihuly employee, a couple of lawyers, some Tagro folks and a tire service guy all enjoying each other’s company.”
While the folks at Wingman have dabbled in a variety of beer styles, including ESBs and Belgian tripels, the brews that really stand out are their flagship beers. This includes the P-51 Porter and the Ace IPA. Each is available all year both at the taproom and wherever good beer is sold.
The P-51 Porter is as powerful as they come. The beer sits at 8% alcohol by volume (ABV), which packs quite a punch for the style, so please be aware when it’s time for the next round. It pours as dark as a stout, and hints of chocolate are prevalent both in the aroma and in the first sip. Yet despite the high alcohol content, it finishes very well. “The P-51 Porter has won us many awards,” says Thoburn. “From Best Porter in the Northwest to Top 10 Porters in the Country, this is a beer we at Wingman Brewers are very proud of.” The porter has been so popular in fact that Wingman Brewers hosts a yearly porter event at their tasting room called Porterpalooza, where visitors can sample around a dozen porters.
The Ace IPA is made from local ingredients. Using five different Northwest hops, including the Simcoe, Citra, Centennial Cascade and Bravo, most would assume this is a beer designed for those who live and breathe hops. While this is true in a sense, this humble writer was impressed by how easy it was to drink this IPA. The balance between hops and malt works here. For those who appreciate the style, but not the overwhelming bitterness that can come with hoppy beers, this is most definitely the IPA for you.
What makes the beer lineup especially unique are the seasonal varieties Wingman puts out throughout the year. For example, the P-51 Porter goes through two variations: the Coconut P-51, which is available in the summer, and the Peanut Butter Cup Porter, which is available in the winter. The Peanut Butter Cup Porter truly lives up to its name. From the second the bottle is uncorked, the peanut butter aroma dominates the senses. This infusion to the already chocolatey beer makes for a wonderful combination. “It’s a delicious dark brew that tastes like you’re drinking a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup,” says Thoburn. “We are very proud of this beer and of how well it’s been selling this year.”
The Ace IPA also has its own seasonal: the Pocket Aces Double IPA. “We release this beer annually around this time of year,” Thoburn says. “The recipe for Pocket Aces has been slowly evolving and changing a bit every year.” After several go-arounds, Wingman Brewers may have found the right balance. With 50% more grain and 100% more hops, expect a powerhouse of a beer (8.5% ABV).
“We’ve been experimenting with techniques used in making New England Style IPA recently,” Thoburn says. “After trying a number of things, we decided on producing a beer that is a mix of both a mix of both Northwest and New England styles. Oats smooth out the sharp bitterness of the hops and provide a slightly creamy mouthfeel.” Again, this double IPA is most certainly hoppy, but nowhere as bitter as its colleagues. This is one of the few double IPAs this humble writer would go more than one round on.
The next time you’re looking for a beer that is made by people who obviously know and care about their craft, look for the Wingman Brewers label. There’s a lot to like here.
Wingman Brewers is located at 509 1/2 Puyallup Avenue in Tacoma. Stop by their tasting room, visit their website or give them a call at 253-256-5240 to learn more.