Flagship February #6: Small town laid-backness is practically a cultural cliché but too many people confuse “laid back” with “slacker” – and they are not at all the same idea. Here’s a tiny brewery in a tiny Southern Washington town, that carved out a niche for themselves, even though they could scarcely be farther out of the mainstream of Pacific Northwest brewing culture, and produced TWO genuinely classic flagship ales…


Walking Man Brewing

“Homo Erectus” IPA and Cherry Stout




Walking Man Brewing is located so far outside the one major and several minor Beer Meccas of Washington state that most Washingtonian craft fans probably haven’t heard of them. For a LONG time, their beers were not even available in Seattle, their largest in-state market, but it was okay because…they’re just 40 miles east of Portland, in the Columbia River Gorge, along I-84, in a TINY, impossibly-beautiful hamlet called Stevenson. They did make it to the Portland market and, more importantly, Portlanders made it to their Stevenson pub and a legend was born…an earth and paradigm-shattering IPA called “Homo Erectus“…

Aside from all the fun beer wags had making dirty jokes out of the name, Homo Erectus was talked about in Portland because it was unlike any IPA being made by anybody, at the time: It was an Imperial IPA. In 1999, there were about as many Imperial IPAs in the NW as there were pro sports titles in Seattle. Within a year or two, there was also, very deliberately, a Stout that knocked everybody sideways: Cherry Stout. It was dry and “serious” and – unlike many of today’s fruit-addled ales – tastes like CHERRIES!!, without doubt and without searching, One sip and you’re eating Northwest Bings. It’s every bit as complex as Homo Erectus and gave Walking Man founder/owner, Robert Craig, what he had in mind from the git-go: a village pub that would give everybody some reason to visit and hang and socialize and make friends – just like the pubs he frequented in Europe and tried to recreate here.



So, in effect, Walking Man has always had TWO flagship ales, one for the fans of the pale beers and one for us dark freaks. BOTH are, to this day, DEVASTATINGLY FINE beers. I’ve been a fan of WMB since 2000 and have heard some people say, “Oh, they’ve lost a step!“, from time to time. Don’t you believe it. They still mill grains by hand, still use insanely pure local water, still focus on what they do best: the entire British ale canon…and they still possess that indefinable Thing that drew me down to Stevenson that first time and dozens of times afterwards: there is a frankly and unapologetically spiritual aspect to Walking Man; a character, in the beers and the pub and the people, that feels intimate and welcoming and larger than either food (maybe THE best taproom food in the Northwest) or beer or its picture-postcard location. They obviously aren’t primarily driven by money. They’re among the least self-promotional breweries in the country. They’re not searching for notoriety. I was unable to find any mention of them attending GABF after their one medal in 2005. They don’t advertise. They don’t even do much social media. They work toward, as Bob Craig puts it, “community. Brewing beers that people can drink and enjoy.” And I can tell you that, out of the thousands of breweries I’ve visited, over my 26 years in the beverage biz, Walking Man is the most peaceful, the most laid back, the greatest Step Out Time and frenzy and into a more civilized frame of mind…and the ONLY place where I have never seen anyone not smiling.


Bob Craig/Photo by The Columbian


These two titanic beers, even more than being delicious and near-perfect, do what flagships are SUPPOSED to do. Not outsell every other beer at the taproom but Tell A Story. State the Mission of their makers. Stand for Something; in this case, we’d have to call if Beer+: Beer Plus Community Plus Craftsmanship Plus Civility. Walking Man, in case you could not tell, is very near and dear to my heart and even moreso to my taste buds, which draw me to Stevenson whenever I’m down south and send me in search of their only THREE beers in bottles: Homo Erectus, Cherry Stout, and High Road Scotch Ale, which is every bit as much a small miracle as the other two.

Many of you who read this won’t find Walking Man beers near you. So, if you get to this soggy corner of America, make the Columbia Gorge a must-see…because it is, one of the most beautiful places on the continent. And make Walking Man a Must-Visit, because It Is; a virtual temple of Beer and Tastes and friendliness and caring about All The Right Things…




Speak yer piece, Pilgrim.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s