It’s normal for any small business owner to be worried before they launch a new product, especially if it’s an entirely new brand. But the precise worry that is on Chris Smith’s mind the day before he launches his new brand, Seattle Lite, is somewhat strange when you consider he is the owner of a so-called craft brewery.
“Sometimes I worry, did we make too much flavor? Like, does this taste too good?” Smith told me Tuesday.
That worry might seem strange for someone in an industry dedicated to making beer taste better, but Smith's new beer isn’t like most craft beers. In fact, it’s almost in a class of its own. While most craft breweries are trying to appeal to drinkers who are willing to spend a few extra dollars for more flavor, Seattle Lite is aimed at the opposite type of drinker: people who want a beer with the least flavor for the least amount of money. To be blunt: Smith is trying to get people to stop drinking Rainier and start drinking Seattle Lite.
And Seattle Lite might be able to pull it off. Despite Smith’s worrying, the beer is extremely light with a hint of pleasant grain flavor, perhaps a touch of hop aroma, and a dry body that makes it feel extremely drinkable. It’s served in an 11-ounce glass bottle, a type some people refer to as a “stubby,” and priced to be about $4 when you buy it in a bar. It’s everything most craft beer is not, which is why Smith thinks he might find an audience.
“There hasn’t been a choice when you want a light beer that is 4 percent and super crushable… there really hasn’t been a local option,” Smith said.
Smith isn’t the first person to think that Seattle’s Rainier drinkers might be looking for a local choice. Premium Northwest Beer (shortened to PNW Beer on their stag-covered cans) launched a similarly light and fairly cheap canned beer, but they were forced to make their beer in Wisconsin and ship it into Seattle. Smith and his business partners, Seiky Huerta and Dan Martinez, think even cheap beer fans in Seattle can appreciate a hometown product. “That’s people’s first choice, buying local if they can,” Martinez told me. Huerta echoed the same sentiment, “We love local, we love anything from here.”
And Seattle Lite is a thoroughly local beer. The beer is made at Lowercase Brewing in Georgetown, which Smith is a co-owner of. Lowercase’s lead brewer, John Marti, is one of Seattle’s most adept brewers when it comes to making lower alcohol beers. His Italian Pilsner is a beautiful beer every Seattle drinker should try. Huerta and Martinez also employ Marti to produce the beer for their Seattle Lite taproom in South Park.
Roughly 50 percent of the ingredients in Seattle Lite beer comes from Washington state, including grains from Skagit Valley Malting, according to Smith. Brewing the beer locally allows the brewery to serve the beer to customers fresher than your Rainier and it also leaves the beer unfiltered. That gives the beer a very slight haze, not like a hazy IPA, but there is a bit of a cloud compared to an ultra filtered, super pasteurized Rainier.
“Lagers historically are super filtered, and the reason they do that is more for shelf stability than anything else,” Smith said. “But what’s cool about us is we are only making enough just for this area. We’re going to store it cold, we’re going to deliver it to bars weekly. We don’t have to play the games that they have to play to get their product across the United States.”
Seattle Lite only needs to travel from Lowercase’s brewery in Georgetown to the bars around town where you can find it, which include Flying Squirrel in Georgetown, Linda’s Tavern, The Oak, The 5 Point Café, Dottie’s Double Wide, Sully’s Snowgoose Saloon, and Hooverville. You can also buy 12 packs of the bottles at either Lowercase Brewing or Seattle Lite Brewing. The beer is only available at these places to start, but the entrepreneurs hope to have it available in grocery stores sometime in the future. That will depend if Rainier drinkers can be convinced to quit buying beer made in California (where Rainier is produced) and start buying beer made in Seattle.