How often do you ever find yourself in Camas?
Probably not much. And you probably wouldn't expect a brewpub in a remodeled auto parts store within smelling distance of a suburban Washington paper mill to give much reason to change that. But as the new home of ex-Fat Head's brewer Mike Hunsaker, Grains of Wrath is fated to become a destination brewery anyway.
Hunsaker quickly built a cult following in Northwest beer circles upon his arrival from Ohio. In 2014, he came to Portland to open the now-rebranded Pearl District outpost of the Cleveland-based Fat Head's brewery, and while the "fat Chaplin" branding didn't work, Hunsaker's beer sure did. The dimpled, bearded Chicago native won a gold medal at the 2015 Great American Beer Festival, brewed the top two selections in WW's inaugural IPA taste-off and concocted a nocino barrel-aged Belgian dark ale that ranked among our Top 10 Beers of the Year in 2017.
So when we tell you that the beer and food at Hunsaker's new Washington establishment outshines his work in the Rose City, the 30-minute drive suddenly seems more appealing.
The place itself is actually quite nice. A 10-barrel tank-to-tap brewpub with a punk-rock theme, Grains of Wrath sports the kind of open, thoughtful design you wouldn't immediately expect from a business named after a middling Bad Religion single from 2007, with a helmeted-skull logo and heavy music on the house speakers.
A big, concrete patio and clear garage doors lie in wait for sunnier weather, contained by a black metal fence and a set of natural gas fire pits to light late-night cornhole matches. Large interior windows illuminate shining stainless steel tanks in the back of the house. The most significant interior design element is a vast array of reclaimed wood tables in the green, U-shaped dining room. Each old-growth plank was pulled from beneath a concrete floor that Hunsaker and co-owners Brendan Greenen, Shawn Parker and Brendan Ford replaced during the building's extensive renovation.
As with any Hunsaker-helmed institution, you should start drinking on the hoppy side. From the warming pineapple finish of the hazy Pandemic IPA to the Mötörhead-themed Overkill IPA—a passionfruit- and diesel-laced masterpiece that recalls Hunsaker's award-winning Semper FiPA —every IBU is utilized for maximum effect. Even the Eagle, Globe and Anchor IPA, which had two differently dry-hopped variants on our visit, is already marching toward fruity perfection.
The rest of the tap list is special, too. The Luger Pilsner and banana-steeped dunkelweizen rank among the finest German-style beers within an hour's drive. A chocolate stout, jet black with a rainbow trail of roast and molasses that chases each sip, reminds that non-imperial stouts can be much more than opaque placeholders. Even a peach-soaked blond ale—the kind of beer usually tipped toward the wine-cooler crowd—brought complex layers of fuzz and skin in place of cloying pith.
The food is made by former Southpark chef Fabiola Ponce-Wyatt and her husband, ex-N.W.I.P.A. co-owner Jackson Wyatt, and is outlined in equally dynamic contrast. The 10 starters and six main courses run the gamut from burgers ($14) to bone marrow ($9), and range in international influence from Asian-style pork belly ($9) to a massive carnitas torta ($14).
The highlights are the small plates. I've been dreaming about the pork belly starter for days: A single piece of fatty braised pig placed atop a pile of crispy rice that's steeped in mint, scallion, cilantro, and lime, it is a wonder of oleaginous pork and acidic herbal zip that immediately ripped me back to Bangkok.
The cheese board ($16), often manifesting at brewpubs as a middling grouping of overpriced accoutrements more suitable for birds than people, was superb here. A heaping pile of bread and spent-grain crackers was joined by chicken liver pâté, smoked steelhead, and Alesio goat and Point Reyes blue cheeses.
Any misses on the menu were slight. Massive, perfectly cooked wings ($9) came in a touch sweet, but ultimately found harmony with Hunsaker's hoppiest selections. And though the innards of the mostly sandwich-style main courses were enjoyable, the buns that surrounded the massive burger torta got a bit crumbly once you'd soldiered through the first third of the sandwich.
These are small gripes for a place that has, through great design and execution, placed a small mill town in Washington right up against the beating heart of the craft beer universe. For a Midwestern man of the people like Hunsaker, there is no better place to stage the most recent act of his all-American success story.