Declaring any one beer to be the world's best is impossible. It's so subjective. Nevertheless, Manny's Pale Ale—created and brewed by Georgetown Brewing Company and served at roughly 500 bars around Seattle—is the best beer in the entire world. This fact is seconded by the only other person whose opinion matters: my significant other, aka he who must share pitchers with me. Prior to discovering Manny's, Jake gravitated toward Redhook ESB, I liked Shiner Bock, and pitchers were impossible, or at least imperfect, requiring one of us to make do for the sake of the other. Manny's changed everything, throwing itself in our path with ever more regularity and steadily earning a place alongside making out, marijuana, and Melrose Place on the list of Things We Love Together.
Manny's status as a bridge-building beer is no accident. As creator and namesake Manny Chao tells me, his dream with Manny's Pale Ale was to create a craft beer with "something for everyone"—hoppy enough to attract fans of India Pale Ale, but not so hoppy as to repel those wary of IPA (the cilantro of beer). The result: a pale ale with a "rich and complex malty middle with a snappy hop finish," as the Georgetown Brewing Company website puts it. This snappy hop finish is Manny's distinguishing characteristic, giving each sip a slightly salty sheen (think of salted fruit), and is the result of extended experimentation.
"I was always looking for that taste and kept adding hops to the back end," says Chao. "Eventually, I added some to the front end, and it all came to life." Thus was born Manny's, a built-for-pleasure beer that's delicious when ice-cold and continues to flourish even as it inches toward room temperature in a pitcher, while the 5.3 percent alcohol content guarantees a lovely buzz without bloat- inducing levels of consumption.
I ask Chao which beer best scratched his itch for the taste of Manny's before Manny's was invented, and he names Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. How many imperfect rough drafts preceded the perfection of Manny's? He says, "About eight batches..."
"More," says Roger Bialous, Georgetown Brewing Company's cofounder. Bialous and Chao met in the 1990s, when the lifelong Pacific Northwesterners (Manny is from Beaverton, Roger is from Port Angeles) crossed paths in Seattle and discovered their mutual love of Ultimate Frisbee and good beer. Back then, Chao was working in tech, Bialous was working in health care administration, and neither was very happy.
"We'd hang out, drink beer, and complain about our jobs," says Chao, whose experience as a home brewer guided them to the next phase of their lives.
The premier products of the Georgetown Brewing Company were brewed in 2003 at the old Rainier Brewery, where Chao and Bialous rented space and set up a 15-barrel system they'd purchased used from a defunct North Carolina brewery and hauled across the country. The first dispensary for their product was the Latona Pub—the owner is an old friend of Manny's. Other outlets soon followed, and in 2008, the Georgetown Brewing Company relocated to its own space in north Georgetown, quadrupling in size in the process. Last summer brought the opening of the on-site retail shop/tasting room, where customers can buy GBC products in reasonably priced kegs and freakishly thrifty growler jugs (refills: $6!).
After I profess my undying love for the product bearing his name, Manny gives me a tour of where the magic happens: an airplane-hangar-sized warehouse rigged with dozens of huge stainless-steel vats. It is the only place I've ever been that smells like beer while being immaculately clean. "Making beer is 90 percent cleaning and 10 percent brewing," Chao tells me. The cleaning and brewing is done by a small staff that rotates through the various tasks, an arrangement that guarantees every worker understands every step of the process. The crew brews 10 times a week, producing 10 batches of Manny's (which accounts for 85 percent of GBC's business) and two batches of its other brands, which include Roger's Pilsner, Georgetown Port, Lucille IPA, and Lisa's Chocolate Stout—the last of which comes with a heartwarming backstory involving a chocolate-loving employee named Lisa who one day reported to work to find a surprise new product created in her honor. ("Did you cry when you learned that your dream beer existed with your name on it?" I ask her. "I tried not to," says Lisa.)
When I propose a future in which Georgetown Brewing Company products are available around the globe, Chao balks. "We want to stay an independent company. Selling out to a big manufacturer would be too much like work. I really like everyone who works here, and we just want to keep doing what we love."