I'd stopped one other time, but Fred Colby wasn't at his recently-opened establishment in Ponderay. His nice wife told me Fred had gone to the Tri Cities that day to pick up something for the business. Yesterday, however, while heading to All Seasons Nursery, I remembered I'd be passing Fred's place on the way. So, I pulled in, walked inside, and there stood Fred with a big smile, greeting me from behind the bar. Next to him stood Jerry Tifft, one of his assistants.
Fred and his wife recently opened the Laughing Dog Brewery, and they're thrilled with the response. On my first Fredless visit to the brewery, I learned that the name came from their young yellow lab which apparently has one of those big smiles for which Labs are known. I also learned that Fred had endured enough stress as a systems administrator for Coldwater Creek, during which he'd also brewed up a lot of beer.
"It was sitting all over the house, so I told him he ought to start selling it," his wife explained. The couple made their decision a little over a year ago. Now, just a few months after opening, Fred can count on one hand the establishments in the Sandpoint area that DON'T carry his brews. In most of those cases, that's soon to change because some would prefer bottled beer rather than on tap.
I'm writing about Fred this morning because I've not only sampled his beer, but he's one of my many former students. He graduated in 1982 with my brother Jim, the "Slightdetour" cartoonist and a microbrew lover himself. I'm pretty sure Fred and Jim were friends in high school.
Fred told me yesterday that he remembers most from my English class the times I'd read Patrick F. McManus stories---most specifically snippets from his book Kid Camping from A to Z. So, in additon to giving Fred some free advertising, I'll always promote anything Pat McManus writes. It's all family-friendly and funny, and it's mostly set in the Sandpoint area. There are about a dozen McManus books out there, so if you haven't read him, give one a try.
Now, back to beer. I was a bit surprised to learn that Jerry Tifft is a serious brewer. Have always just known him as Rhonda's (Sandpoint's premier flautist) devoted hubby. He's usually pretty quiet and just smiles whenever I greet Rhonda, whenever we meet at the Yoke's Pac n' Save parking lot. She's also a former student.
Anyway, I actually talked to Jerry yesterday and learned that he has just completed a microbrew program at the University of California at Davis. He's been in to beer brewing for quite some time. I also learned he's the systems administrator at Encoder Products. Fred said when he and Jerry realized they had similar backgrounds with computers and brewing, it seemed like a good business match. So, Jerry works one day a week with Fred at Laughing Dog.
When I was there yesterday, they were having a gravity problem with a batch. Jerry had a sample in a beaker and checked out something on his laptop to determine that the gravity was amiss. They tried to explain it to me, but my unscientific mind didn't absorb everything, except that it has something to do with all the ingredients--yeast and sugar agreeing to marry each other more willingly if the gravity's right.
In the meantime, I told Fred to fill up a bottle of his Amber Ale. The cool-looking bottle with the Laughing Dog logo was $8, and the beer, the same. I can take it back any time for a refill. He's also got some really neat imported decanters from Germany, which sell for $49. Very ornate, and definitely a gift idea.
Our visit got cut short when something happened in one of the 30-keg fermenters in the back room. All I know is that Fred and Jerry ran really fast through the door and that I could see brown liquid forming a lake across the floor. So, I took my beer home, chilled some glasses, made some pasta, warmed up a loaf of French bread and waited for Bill to come home for dinner. He must have liked the ale and the pasta cuz he asked for seconds.
Good luck to Fred and his Laughing Dog enterprise.