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Path of discovery: Squirrel Fight founders add to brewing scene

Staff Writer | August 11, 2021 1:00 AM

MOSES LAKE — The mornings before Moses Lake’s Squirrel Fight Artisan Brewing opens, co-owners Ruben Vela and Troy Watson are in their happy place: the brewery, behind the taproom, mixing their concoction.

“I love every aspect of what happens back here,” Vela said, stirring a wheat ale, “from the brewing to the transferring to the fermenters, to the cleaning up afterwards. It’s a labor of love.”

Squirrel Fight, established in 2019, follows the “discovery” brewing model, Watson said, meaning it doesn’t have flagship brews, and about anytime someone comes in there’s a new beer to discover.

What’s also unique about Squirrel Fight is the taproom itself. Its business model revolves around pint sales, not kegs or cans.

They wanted it to be a modern throwback to what pubs used to be, Watson said, a place for friends and family to meet. That means long, family-style tables handcrafted by Curtis Robillard, Vela said. It also has great big windows stretching across the entrance. A lot of people driving by see who’s inside and come in to say hi.

Squirrel Fight is at 530 W. Valley Road, Suite N, right next door to Chico’s Pizza Parlor. It’s a nice spot to hang out while the pizza’s in the oven, Vela said. There are a number of food options nearby, in fact.

“If you want to bring in a bag of Cheetos, great,” he said. “If you want to bring in a peanut butter and jelly sandwich from home, awesome. If you want to pick up some tacos from the corner, great, you know? Whatever you want.”

The craft beer scene is booming all over, Vela said, but especially in central Washington.

It’s long overdue, he said. Moses Lake isn’t far from Yakima, perhaps the world’s mecca of hop production.

“We get the freshest hops imaginable,” he said. “The fresh hop beers around here are phenomenal.”

The recent boom is also in part fueled by the unique community of beer lovers, he said. Brewers want to help each other.

“We’re not keeping anything top secret, man,” he said. “We wear our recipes on our sleeve.”

“Beer nerds” are the best critics, he said. He loves when people come in with questions and ideas, and it almost always results in more beer for everyone to try.

Both Vela and Watson have lived in the area their whole lives.

“My interest in brewing came from a love and passion of drinking good, quality craft beer,” Vela said. “You’re probably going to get that same answer from everyone who homebrews and does their own … brewery or whatever, but it’s the honest truth.”

The first beer Vela ever tasted was probably one of those old glass bottle Rainier pounders, he said, because that’s what his dad drank.

He grew up on all kinds of beer, he said: fat-bottle Heidelberg, Schmidt, Mickey’s. In college, beer became Henry Weinhard’s Blue Boar.

“When we got our student loans … we didn’t pay for school,” he said. “We went and splurged on Blue Boar ale.”

Vela was studying after all; he just didn’t know it yet.

Next came Heineken, St. Pauli Girl and more traditional German beers, he said, but he really cut his teeth on the Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.

Sierra Nevada really flipped a switch for him, he said. It put him on a path of discovery, wanting to find what came next. But what he soon discovered was the end of the line, he said. There wasn’t a whole lot out there, so in 2012 he joined the local home brew club and started making his own.

After seven years of trial and error, Squirrel Fight opened up shop.

“We get inspiration almost from every … brewery we go into,” Vela said. ”There is something that you like, whether it’s the windows, so you can actually see the brewery in the back, or it’s these guys have barrels out front, where people can see them, and stuff like that.”

They noticed immediately they did things a bit different from most, but it was less by intention and more happenstance, just by the way they wanted to do it, he said. It’s a working experiment.

“We’re brewing beer to fill a niche in the community, one to maybe feed our own interests and, dare I say, habits,” he said.

Vela’s favorite beer he’s ever made is probably the Everything’s Going to be All Rye, he said, a piney, earthy, peppery rye IPA. At Squirrel Fight, it’s almost always on tap.

More recently, he’s been excited by some of the goses they’re making, he said.

Squirrel Fight is soon to launch its beer garden, as well, a dog-friendly section of outdoor seating.

“I say dog-friendly, but ... bring your ... parakeet,” he said.

It also holds community brew days, he said, with live music and food. Home brewers from all over set their equipment in front of Squirrel Fight and work with each other to make new brews.

They’ll serve beer all day, Vela said, so folks who are curious about the process, but don’t necessarily brew should come, too.

Squirrel Fight is also teaming up with Moses Lake Distillery to have days serving whiskey and rum in the taproom, he said.

For people who are worried about the Mariners’ score, Squirrel Fight may have the game on, Vela said. But for folks who aren’t worried about anything and just want a place to hang out, Squirrel Fight is a great spot to do so.

“I think it’s something that’s sought after,” Vela said, “and, dare I say, needed.”


Sam Fletcher/Columbia Basin Herald

Squirrel Fight co-owner Ruben Vela mixes a wheat ale in the morning before the taproom opens.


Sam Fletcher/Columbia Basin Herald

Squirrel Fight’s Everything’s Going to be All Rye IPA is Vela’s personal favorite among Squirrel Fight’s offerings.