Over the past few years, Tacoma has gotten quite a reputation for having a selection of breweries, although each is different in their own way. Currently, there’s only one Irish brewery in town and that’s Dunagan Brewing, located in the heart of downtown Tacoma. The family-owned brewery specializes in small-batch beers, made with local and organic ingredients.
Jesse Dunagan owns Dunagan Brewing along with his brother, Cody, and their father, Dan.
The Dunagan family has been making libations since the 1860s, but they didn’t always specialize in beer. Back in those early days, the family made whiskey on a small Georgia farm. Jesse says his ancestors kept the whiskey tradition alive, passing down the knowhow from generation to generation. Eventually, the Dunagan brood began brewing beer. Jesse says it’s because family history and tradition is so deeply ingrained in his blood, the native Tacoman always knew starting his own brewery would happen one day.
Besides beer, Jesse has a background in art and making music, as well as sailing and boat building. Prior to opening Dunagan Brewing, he worked in the video gaming industry in Seattle and in California. When it came time to open his business, Jesse put his art background and graphic design skills to use by designing the brewery logo and other artwork used in the brewery.
His family’s history and interests have influenced numerous aspects of his small business. The Dunagan family’s Irish heritage can be seen throughout the establishment, from Ireland’s flag hanging outside the business, to the type of live musical acts the brewery hosts.
About once a month, the brewery features live music, typically on a Friday or Saturday, from 8:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. While Jesse says that not all acts need be an Irish band, he does try to stick with mostly folk music, such as bluegrass and Western performers.
His family’s history of boat building and sailing can be found in several touches throughout the bar, like the boat oars that line the walls of the small establishment to the nautical flag on the company logo. The flagship brew, The Kraken, is both a nod to his family’s time spent on the water, as well as their Irish heritage. The brew is an Irish dry nitrogen stout, made using Irish yeast and organic oats, barley and wheat malts. Other year-round brews include the Compass Rose, a honey lager and the Anne Bonny, a red West Coast IPA.
Jesse says he also makes a unique seasonal beer, a gruit. This summertime brew is a historical beer that takes its bitter notes from wildflowers rather than the hops traditionally used in beer. The Dunagan brew is called Capetown and is made with heather, meadowsweet, local, organic honey and rooibos, an herbal plant typically made into a tea. The result of all these diverse ingredients is a decidedly distinct tasting sour ale.
“It’s kind of like a beer tea kombucha,” Jesse says of the recipe. Jesse went on to add, “I’m one of the only people in the county that makes a gruit.”
Another seasonal beer that can be found at Dunagan Brewing is the Uncharted Waters, a chocolate and bing cherry triple porter. This dark, decadent dessert ale releases in winter and is made with seven types of grain, including flaked oats, roasted barley and wheat, and then aged in bourbon barrels from local distillery Chambers Bay Distillery. Rich Ghirardelli dark chocolate and local bing cherries provide a finish that builds as the beer warms.
Patrons can not only quench their thirst, but also grab a bite at the brewery. The establishment has a selection of high-quality brats to choose from. The Full Crew is a quarter-pound German smoked beef and pork grilled bratwurst, topped with brewpub-made horseradish, thousand island sauce, grilled onions, grilled bell peppers, and sauerkraut and served on a toasted hoagie bun. The other sausage on the menu is called Snoggery, a quarter pound Polish smoked kielbasa, topped with brewpub-made horseradish, thousand island sauce, grilled onions, and sauerkraut and served on toasted hoagie bun. Customers also have the option of building their own brat or grilled cheese sandwich.