By Jeff Fijolek
The co-owners of YaYa Brewing in Spokane Valley may have a hit new brewery on their hands, but success doesn’t come without a few arguments. Of course, that perhaps should be expected when brothers start a business together.
“We’ve got a Kolsch coming out this week,” says Chris Gass, brewmaster and older of the duo. “There’s a lot of German influence in eastern Washington, so we used Baroness Pilsner, which is a German malt from Colfax, and German Perle hops. It’s literally the simplest beer: a single barley, a single hop and a single yeast. That’s it. If you were to go to Cologne, Germany, it’s what you’re going to get.”
“Koln,” interjects Jason Gass, Chris’s younger brother
who oversees the business side of YaYa. “K-O-L-N.”
“But also Cologne,” replies Chris.
“That’s not the same city”
“It’s not the same, but it’s where it originated from.”
“Not Cologne, Koln. K-O-L-N. I promise you,” says Jason, definitively.
“So anyways, if you were to go to Germany, this is what you’re going to get if you order a Kolsch. It’s one of my favorite styles, and a lot of people have been asking about it, so we’re super excited to get it on tap,” says Chris, ultimately correct about Kolsch’s origins.
This and other squabbles won’t get in the way of the Gass brothers’ goal of becoming a major player in the Spokane beer scene. Though born in Memphis, Tenn., both brothers graduated from Mead High School after their family moved to Spokane in 1998. Originally reluctant to the practice, Chris started homebrewing almost a decade ago while living in Pullman.
“Back 10 years ago, everybody was making IPAs that were super bitter and super malty, and I didn’t really like those beers,” says Chris. “So in opening this brewery, my hope is that other people like to drink the beer that I like to drink: very flavorful, very citrusy, very fruity, very aromatic.”
“We’re hopheads. Depending on the style, we prefer to showcase hops rather than grain,” says Jason. “We’ve got Simcoe hops in that glass over there. I just sit there and smell it all day.”
While Chris was honing his brewing skills in Pullman, Jason was on the other side of the country working at a brewery in Portland, Maine, where he fell in love with a New England-style Hazy IPA. On one of his visits east, Chris sampled these hazy beers and was immediately a convert.
“Now I had to figure out how to make these. I really started studying why they’re hazy, how they become hazy,” recalls Chris. “But I’m kind of a nerd, honestly. The science side, the process side is really interesting to me. The brewing is the fun part. To Jason, drinking is the fun part.”
“Drinking and selling, yes,” says Jason. “I hate the brewing part of it.”
Despite their differences, there is plenty on which Chris and Jason agree, like how Spokane Valley was the perfect location for their new venture. Located in a former Mary Kay Cosmetics showroom in an industrial office park, the brothers enlisted the help of Erin Haskell Gourde of Design for the PPL to transform the space into the bright tasting room that it is now. The focal points of the brewery are the copper pipes and custom “YAYA” beer taps that stand out against a wall of white subway tile.
“I think the people of Spokane Valley are incredible. They’ve been so receptive to this concept, and we’ve got regulars already, which is insane” says Chris, just days after YaYa’s grand-opening festivities. “As much as I think our beer is pretty good, to have people come back regularly is the biggest compliment.”
In addition to the Kolsch and New England IPA, which shares a name with a family parakeet, Fluffy Puffy Sunshine, Chris has been working hard to create new beers to satisfy the tastes of their new and returning customers.
One of the newest offerings is The Exposition Ale, a “super bright, super tropical, super fun to drink” double-IPA that clocks in at 7.4% ABV in honor of Spokane’s Expo ’74. The Gasses agree that the Exposition Ale is a representation of the fun and funky flavor of Spokane, but there was another small argument over which of the Equanot, Vic Secret or Ella hops gives the beer its “girth.”
But it’s their signature Angel IPA that truly tells the story of YaYa Brewing. “That beer is incredibly important to us. I’m tearing up just thinking about it. Angel IPA is for Lara,” Jason says, speaking of the Gass’s sister who passed away in 2014. “Lara’s favorite beer was an IPA, so when we started this brewery, we knew that IPA was going to have to be our flagship.”
The brothers say it took all of 30 seconds to decide on the name for their new venture, which also can be attributed to their sister. As a child, Jason struggled to pronounce “Lara,” but he was able to get out “YaYa” and the nickname stuck.
“She was two months away from graduating law school, one of the top of her class, and she was always one of the smartest people around, but she was also the first to suggest going out drinking. She was always just so much fun,” recounts Jason. “Everything we do, our entire mission is to brew and involve ourselves in the community to make Lara proud.”
The family runs the Live Like Lara Foundation that provides scholarships and help to charities they feel represent Lara’s legacy. The brothers also donate a portion of Angel IPA sales to local nonprofits.
“The goal is to make this area of Spokane Valley, and Spokane in general, a beer destination,” says Chris. “And if we can be a part of that, I think we’ll have succeeded in our mission of growing the beer scene, honoring our sister, and making some new friends.”
“And making quality product,” adds Jason. “We think Chris makes distinct beers, so we needed a tasting room that fit with that. But let’s be honest, we’re focused on the beers. Our product is our product, and we’re proud of that. And it’s only going to get better—these are all our first tries of each one. So if we could be a little cocky for a second, it’s only going to get better. We’re doing this for Lara, and she wouldn’t expect anything less.”