By Chrissy Cooper
Last September, on my way to work I realized I was probably not going to make it unless I stopped to get gas… and as much as I didn’t necessarily want to go to work that day I didn’t really want to run out of gas and miss work either. So, I stopped at the gas station near my house and while I was waiting for my tank to fill I was kind of staring off into space and I noticed across the parking lot a sign… half hidden behind a tree said “Taphouse.” You should know that I pass by this parking lot at least twice a day during the week and often shop in that complex and I had never noticed that sign before… obviously, I was intrigued, but at 5:30 in the morning they were disappointingly not open, probably for the best. I was so excited about the idea of a taphouse so close to my house that I couldn’t even wait until I got home to tell my partner Michael about it. It was our date night that night and so we decided to go check it out. We walked up to this unassuming corner storefront in the large strip mall on the eastside of Vancouver and as we walk through the door and soaked in the great decor, the gentleman behind the bar… the VERY tall bar… greeted us as if we were already regulars. I think I knew by the end of that first visit that we would be regulars at Gossip in the Grain.
Owners Josh Pritchett and Mike Hannan have known each other for about 10 years. They met when Mike used to be Josh’s supervisor in the child welfare system. They got to know each other professionally and through grabbing beers together to unwind after work as well. Mike actually remembers the initial conversation that he and Josh had in his office about Josh leaving child welfare. Child welfare is a very difficult field to work in and the toll that it can take on someone can be immense. Josh loved the idea of doing something that involved him actually making something…and their love of beer came up… and kind of jokingly the idea of Josh going to school to become a brewer was planted. Josh’s wife Onni was incredibly supportive of the idea, she knew that it was time for him to move on to find something that he would love doing. Originally he and Mike talked about the fact that there are schools all over the country and even in other parts of the world with brewing programs. Ultimately Josh decided that traveling to another country would not be realistic for him and his family. Josh went to school at Central Washington University and for nine months spent the week in Ellensburg while traveling home to see his family on the weekends. After he got his brewing certification he was given a shot at Backwoods Brewing Company out of Carson, Washington. He started at the bottom, washing kegs and worked his way up through running the beer cellar and ultimately to being one of their brewers.
When Josh and Mike had originally talked, the idea was always to open a brewery and brew their own beer, but they talked about the cost of owning a brewery, the brewery flooded market, the overhead, and all of that. So, they decided that a taproom would be a good way to get a foot in the door and get them headed towards their ultimate goal of their own brewery..
Mike’s interest in microbrews started with his father’s love for big flavored beers. Mike said, “Back in the 60s and 70s, my dad could pretty much only get mass-produced beer, but he would buy imported beers from Germany and Austria, and other parts of the world and because of that he was really into the microbrew revelation, when that started in the mid-80s.” The beginning of the microbrew revolution came around the same time as Mike’s 21st year, so instead of starting out with the typical mass-produced beers that most of us start with, he started out drinking microbrews with his dad… before most everyone else figuring out how good they were and how popular they were going to be.
However, Mike’s history with beer started well before he was old enough to drink… Mike grew up on the east coast in Vermont for the first part of his life. His maternal grandmother’s grandfather was a beer distributor in Maine and sometime around the sixth grade she gave him some serving trays that advertised vintage breweries. Those amazing trays kick-started Mike’s collection of beer memorabilia. He says, “When you think about it, this country has always been beer and these old breweries… A lot of them went away during prohibition and never came back… There was a point in the late 70s when there were less than 20 breweries in this entire country.” The memorabilia is of a time that is long gone, but because of the love and respect of collectors such as Mike, it will not be forgotten.
When Josh and Mike were looking around the space that they had found to open their taphouse, they knew that they needed to find a way to escape that “strip mall” feeling. They got rid of the drop ceilings and carpet and took their inspiration for the space from old western and klondike saloons. They wanted people to walk in and say, “Wow, the people that own this place really care about the atmosphere and feel of this place!” They captured those feelings with huge wooden beams, vintage wood speakers, and reclaimed barn wood and of course the taproom became a very cool place for Mike to display some of his vintage beer memorabilia.
The sound piped through those vintage speakers is amazingly pure, it doesn’t matter whether they are playing a streaming station or one of the hundreds of records they have for people to choose from. Neither of them have a music background per say, but they both have a love for music from the 60s 70s and 80s.
No matter what they decided to name their taproom I am sure that it would have had little bearing on its success, because they make the business what it is… However, Gossip in the Grain is the perfect name for so many reasons. They spent a couple weeks bouncing names off of each other; names ranging from crazy, out-there names to beer and brewing related names. And actually Josh’s wife, Onni who had been searching as well, came across an album and song by soft-spoken folksinger, Ray LaMontagne. Though the song lyrics themselves aren’t exactly relevant to the taproom, the title touched on a couple aspects that seemed to be perfect for a taphouse. Josh said, “We wanted a place where people would come to have their ‘Cheers.’ So, Gossip in the Grain… Talking and gossiping around your beer just kind of fit.”
The first thing you notice when you walk in the door is there is this huge bar… I don’t just mean that it’s a long bar, it is… but it’s also really really tall… as a fairly short 5’4″ person… (Hey, I’m average according to statistics) I always joke about having to vault up onto the bar stools; they recently added a second foot rail making those of us under six foot very happy.
After you vault up onto your barstool… The next thing you notice is the wall of taps set into the straw colored tiles behind the bar. Their selection is always flexing and rotating, but they usually have roughly 15 beers, four or five ciders, two wines, and one mead on tap. Meads are coming back in popularity and the guys love to be able to support local meaderies such as Author Mead Co., who have plans to open a tasting room in Vancouver later this year. They keep a variety of beers on tap, not just IPAs like so many other taphouses tend to do. There are over 250,000 people within a five mile radius of their location and with it constantly growing they are always trying to figure out and understand what their regular customers in the area want to drink. Mike says, “It’s not about being a beer snob or anything like that, one of the things that I think we do really well here is keeping things like our ‘house’ lager on tap.” What they consider their house lager is actually Backwoods Brewing’s Little Town Lager, a traditional lager, which is a great beer type for someone coming in off the street with little to no experience with microbrews or even just someone in the mood for something light. Josh says, “We have room to grow and that is the good thing about Mike and I both… thought we are both drinking IPAs right now… We both have a really wide palette, so we’ve drank a lot of varieties of beer.” They know the importance of knowing what each type of beer is supposed to taste like when they are sampling beers to put on tap. Mike says about Josh making his own beer down the road, “I trust that he knows what an amber needs to taste like or whatever he’s trying to accomplish as a brewer, he knows what it’s supposed to taste like.” And Josh says, “Even if we don’t like them, we know what they’re supposed to taste like.” They have a large customer base of cider drinkers too, “We get a lot of compliments just about having four or five really thought out ciders.” They include a variety of cider flavors, ranging from sweet ciders and dryer ciders to even tart to sour ciders. They use beer menu system and point of sale software, Digital Pour to show their customers information about what is on each tap, such as: type, description, ABV, IBU, keg level, and more. I love being able to look at the digital pour app on my phone to see what is on tap before I even get off work. With the care and thought that the guys put into their tap selections, they have something for everyone in a group to enjoy.
After you turn the corner of the main stretch of bar you will notice… more taps! Those are the guest taps that are going to be used for special occasions such as tap takeovers and meet the brewers events. One of Josh’s ideas is to do a comparison series of the different types of Belgian’s and a saison or farmhouse ale. A way for people to try, compare, and learn about very different beers that are in the same family.
Gossip doesn’t serve food except for bowls of pretzels for those that just need a light snack, but they have partnered with local restaurants to provide their customers with free delivery. Some of the restaurants don’t even offer delivery to their regular customers, but have made exceptions to further their partnership with the taphouse. Some of the things that you can have delivered are pizzas, Thai food, Texas style bbq, and Japanese steakhouse food. If you would prefer to pick something up nearby there are plenty more options. My favorite to grab is Ichi Teriyaki just around the corner or even just stopping into Safeway and grabbing some fresh wings from their wing bar.
Gossip in the Grain has been open coming up on a year and they have lots of plans for their flagship taphouse. Next on the list is adding five reach-in coolers that they are going to fill with unique and tasty bottles and cans of beer. They want people to come in and say, “Oh, wow” at the selection they are going to stock, things that you won’t find on tap at most places or at the grocery store. People will be able to take something to go or drink them there while enjoying the atmosphere. In the future they want to have small bands in there on weekend evenings and they definitely have the space for it.
With their success being apparent even in the short time that they have been serving tasty beers they are already looking to the future and thinking about their next location. This location will always be their flagship, but their next location will be even bigger and better. They plan to open a small production, destination type brewery. It would include an outdoor seating and a full restaurant with a professional chef. Josh will get to make beer again, which was his dream all along and he said about their next location, “The bar [top] will be a little bit lower…” Short people rejoice!
Mike grew up experiencing the amazing customer service that his family got at Full Sail Brewing in White Salmon, Washington. Right after Mike turned 21, his dad and he went in there… the door was propped open and as they walked in the bar was still in the process of being shellacked and other finishing touches, and even though they weren’t officially opened yet, they poured them four or five beers to try. His dad and mom became regulars just like Norm and Cliff in Cheers; there was a picture of them up in the bar at Full Sail for years. “We went there for family gatherings and get-togethers, just like what Josh says, we wanted a place here that is like that, a warm place where people walk in and they know that this is… our spot to hang out.” A place where the customers are treated with respect and familiarity even if it is their first time. While driving down to Gossip that day I interviewed the guys, my partner and I were having a conversation about how we always feel so welcome when we walk in the door there, I jokingly told Mike and Josh that they were like extended family, but really that is exactly how they treat their customers, like family… well family they like anyways.
The guys wanted me to tell all of you one last thing… that they appreciate the people that have been coming in to Gossip in the Grain and giving them a chance. Their business is growing in leaps and bounds largely due to word of mouth and because of positive experiences and they really appreciate that.