Seniors tour Northwest breweries: Baby boomers take active living to new levels

Mary Mauth shares a laugh with her fellow day-trip travelers at their first stop, Skagit River Brewery in Mount Vernon.  - Jenny Manning/Whidbey News-Times
Mary Mauth shares a laugh with her fellow day-trip travelers at their first stop, Skagit River Brewery in Mount Vernon.
— image credit: Jenny Manning/Whidbey News-Times

Today’s baby boomers are redefining what it means to live out the “golden years.” This generation of seniors are active and out to have a good time; their social engagements extend beyond the walls of the Oak Harbor Senior Center where many a game of bridge, pinochle and bingo are played. Recently, a group of 23 toured four Northwest microbreweries.

“We have one of the best day trip outing programs,” said Shirley Rasmussen, one of a dozen volunteer trip organizers who meet once a month to brainstorm new adventures.

Rasmussen spearheaded the “Active Lifestyle Group” this summer. More than thirty people attended the first meeting, she said. The new program has hosted group hikes on Mount Baker, kayaking in the Puget Sound and a bike tour of Guemes Island. A ski bus is already scheduled to transport senior snow bunnies to Stevens Pass every Thursday in January and February for downhill and cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.

“We’re trying to focus on people ages 50 and up who are more active and want more opportunities to stay healthy,” she said. “It’s nice to do these activities with your peers.”

Rasmussen hopes to expand the program in the spring to include overnight backpacking and river rafting excursions. Anyone with activity trip ideas like basketball, volleyball, golf or fishing, are more than welcome to help organize and event, she said.

Other popular outings include Skagit Valley, Tulalip and Angel of the Winds Casinos for gaming and shows and shopping at Seattle malls. The senior center also hosts international trips. This summer a group will travel to Oberammergau, Germany.

As for the recent brewery tour, the excursion kicked off with Oompah music playing over the speakers of the comfortable, new senior center bus as designated driver Tom Luehr drove the bunch off island for a day of beer tasting.

Tour guide and beer aficionado, Jim Parker, described the beer selections, introduced the in-house brewer and doled out tidbits of beer facts and lore at each stop.

An assistant brewer at Chuckanut Brewery in Bellingham, Parker has 21 years of experience.

“Washington state had the first post-prohibition brew pub,” he said on the way to Skagit River Brewery.

Skagit’s senior brewer Mike Amstrong, sporting a Scullers IPA sweatshirt - the brewery’s flagship IPA - took a break from the bottling process to talk to the group.

Skagit Brewery produces 11 to 15 kinds of beer each year, he said, as the group sipped Skagit River “Steelie” Brown Ale and Washington Wheat.

Next stop was Birdsview Brewing Company in Concrete, a mom and pop (and son) operation that began in July 2006. The homey brew pub’s walls are lined with old beer cans and growlers from all over. On a clear day, pub patrons can enjoy scenic mountain views from the beer garden. Here, the group snacked on chips and salsa and tasted the Pilsner 152, a light Lager-style Bohemian Pilsner, and It’s Da Porter, a dark chocolate, coffee-flavored brew.

In Bellingham, at the Boundary Bay Brewing Company, head brewer Aaron Jacob Smith greeted the group and led them into the back where all the brewing magic takes place. The seniors got a quick lesson on the brewing process, what ingredients make a good beer, and learned the difference between a lager and an ale.

“It’s not color,” Smith hinted, before he revealed the answer. “They’re made from two different strains of yeast.”

Smith sipped an IPA as the seniors tried Scotch beer, malty with a light hop finish, and Bellingham Blonde, a crisp, summertime ale.

The group enjoyed a true Oktoberfest meal of locally made Hempler’s bratwurst steamed in beer and served with Sauerkraut, Stout Mustard and a pint of their choice at Chuckanut Brewey and Kitchen.

Following dinner, Parker gave a tour of the three-vessel brew house that follows the “traditional, German-style” of brewing. It’s “the most technologically advanced” in the state, he said. The system, controlled by a custom-made computer program, allows the brewers to remotely control the brewing process and keep water temperatures within one-tenth of a degree. The outcome is consistent, quality-tasting beer, Parker said.

As the sun set, the group piled back into the bus where Rasmussen surprised the group with dessert; a homemade chocolate cherry porter beer cake.

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