Written by Gianna Starble

I don’t know that much about salmon. Let alone Spring Chinook Salmon. 

I’ve lived in the great Pacific Northwest for about three years and for the most part what I’ve gathered about salmon is that: 

  1. They hold great significance to the Indigenous tribes of the Pacific Northwest. 
  2. They are an important part of our ecosystem. 
  3. We love to eat them. 
  4. We like to throw festivals for them. 

Recently, Icicle Brewing released a tasty beer called The Kings Lager, which was a collaboration with Cascade Fisheries and Salmon-Safe. And on the beer can? None other than a giant Spring Chinook Salmon bursting upstream with the fierceness of Megan Thee Stallion. 

Juvenile Spring Chinook // Photo by Kristen Kirkby

But why is there so much hullabaloo about a fish? 

“They’re amazing,” Kristen Kirkby beams when I ask her to tell me a little bit about Spring Chinook Salmon. Kristen is a Fisheries Biologist for Cascade Fisheries and is a Chinook Salmon enthusiast/expert/artist (she created the gorgeous beer can art with a watercolor of a Spring Chinook Salmon!). She explains to me that Upper Columbia Spring Chinook Salmon are on the Endangered Species Act list (What?! I had no clue). Given their endangered status as a native species to Washington State, Spring Chinook salmon are the focus of a lot of the Cascade Fisheries work. 

“They need cold, clear water and complex, connected habitat. And that’s the type of work that we do. Reconnecting rivers with their floodplains, replanting streamside forests and putting in log jams to create cover and pools while trees regrow, or removing barriers to fish passage.”

And why is that important? 

Kristen explains how Spring Chinook hang out in our Washington rivers and streams from when they are little babies of less than an inch until they grow to 4-inch long smolts a year later. It’s imperative that our streams and rivers provide a functioning ecosystem for them to thrive before these teen salmon go out into the ocean. That’s right—the ocean. For those of you who didn’t know, salmon are what is called anadromous, meaning they live in both freshwater and saltwater. So they hatch in streams and rivers, grow up just enough to head out into the ocean, mature for several years, swimming as far as the edge of the Bering Sea (that’s near Russia, y’all), and then come back to our streams and rivers to spawn future generations of salmon.

And how are the future generations of Spring Chinook Salmon looking? 

Well, given they’re on the ESA list, and the declining return numbers of Spring Chinook has put them in the category of “In Crisis” ¹ —it’s looking like we humans need to step up our game. 

That’s where organizations like Salmon-Safe come in. Their mission is to “transform land management practices so Pacific salmon can thrive in West Coast watersheds” (Salmonsafe.org). I spoke with Brian Muegge, Brewery Outreach Consultant from Salmon-Safe who informed me of how they participated in this beer collaboration for The Kings Lager. 

“To be a Salmon-Safe beer, it has to be 95% or more sourced from Salmon-Safe certified farms or ingredients,” he explained. 

Icicle brewing partnered with Yakima Chief Hops for the hops and Skagit Valley Malting in Burlington, WA for the malts that went into creating this Helles lager. And what is it about these farms that make them safer for the salmon? They have to go through a rigorous certification process to make sure they aren’t using any hazardous materials that could end up in their drainage and inevitably out into our watersheds. Because remember—it’s about keeping Spring Chinook’s environment healthy! And water quality is a huge part of that. 

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Icicle-Salmon-12x14-web-IG-1.jpg
Watercolor by Kristen Kirkby

After attending The Kings Lager beer release party at the taproom and talking to the fine folks at Cascade Fisheries and Salmon-Safe, I am beginning to understand why people make such a huge fuss about salmon. Salmon are an integral part of our environment in the Pacific Northwest. If they don’t thrive, neither do we. I also see why we wanted to do this collaboration in the first place: we need more awareness around salmon. As Kristen reminded me, this is also the time of year that Spring Chinook are spawning, “You have lots of folks swimming and tubing and generally recreating right on top of Spring Chinook habitat as they start to spawn…we can all do our part and give them some space.” 

So, I learned a lot about salmon while hanging out drinking beer. My takeaways were: be aware when you go to recreate in streams and rivers during late summer months, go volunteer or donate to local fisheries organizations like Cascade Fisheries who are doing the critical work, and be aware of your consumer power and try to support products and institutions that are Salmon-Safe. 

Because Spring Chinook Salmon are really cool. Let’s do our part to keep them around. If you want to drink beer and help save salmon, one easy thing to do is go get yourself a four-pack of The Kings Lager today from our taproom or beer retailers around WA and $1 per four-pack will go to Cascade Fisheries. 

Cascade Fisheries at The Kings Lager Release Party // Photo by Gianna Starble

Works Cited:

  1. State of Salmon, “Salmon Abundance”, https://stateofsalmon.wa.gov/statewide-data/salmon