Growth continues in the face of adversity and uncertainty.
We hoped for the best and feared the worst. Optimists like me assume the worst is behind us even though there’s no guarantee that we are out of the woods yet. It’s probably not what most of us expected, but it seems the pandemic spurred a flurry of positive brewery-related activity in Washington state. Opening a brewery during a global pandemic? Yep. No doubt the last 18 months have seen a lot of suffering in the brewery biz, but also a lot of growth to go with it. (Pictured above: Garland Brew Werks, now open in Spokane.)
A boom? A flurry? Those terms might overstate the reality, but maybe not. Amid all the pandemic-induced chaos and uncertainty, a surprisingly large number of people moved forward with plans to open new breweries in Washington. Also, several existing breweries expanded operations or added locations. It speaks to the resiliency and fortitude of the industry.
At the same time, very few breweries closed because of the pandemic. I do not mean to minimize the suffering or sound unsympathetic. Darn near every brewery suffered in some way, but the pandemic did not create the mass-extinction event that many people feared. (Fingers still crossed.) Growth continued, pandemic be damned.
We are not alone. The Brewers Association, which tracks this kind of craft beer industry info, reports that in the United States more than 9,000 breweries operated in 2021, a 6-percent increase from 2020. The same report suggests that, nationwide, the number of breweries will continue to climb, though at a slower than pre-pandemic rate. Here in Washington, according to the Brewers Association, we have 428 breweries, at least 21 of which have opened in the past 18 months. You do the math.
I’m not making this up. I count 21 new breweries in the past 18 months. (The 22nd opens next week.) No doubt I’ve missed some, but this list is just off top of my head and I haven’t done a ton of research. Let me know which new breweries I missed.
- Ladd & Lass Brewing in Seattle (opens next week).
- Bugu Brewing in Monroe (opened October 2021).
- Halcyon Brewing in Seattle (opened October 2021).
- Mother Fern Brewing in Tacoma (opened September 2021).
- Dunagan Irish Pub and Brewery in Gig Harbor (opened August 2021).
- Top Down Brewing in Sumner (opened August 2021).
- Garland Brew Werks in Spokane (opened August 2021).
- Iconic Brewing in Richland (opened August 2021).
- High Steel Beer Co. in Shelton (opened July 2021).
- Potlatch Brewing in Hoodsport (opened June 2021).
- Five Dollar Ranch Brewing in Walla Walla (opened June 2021).
- Hops and Seed Brewery in Maltby (opened May 2021).
- Meatheads Smokehouse and Brewery in Lake Stevens (opened April 2021).
- 5th Line Brewing in Yakima (opened March 2021).
- Brewing Savage Co. in Kirkland (opened December 2020).
- Audacity Brewing in Snohomish (opened November 2020).
- Sovereign Brewing in Seattle, an offshoot of Standard Brewing (opened November 2020).
- Yoked Farmhouse and Brewery in Port Orchard (opened November 2020).
- Logan Brewing in Burien (opened August 2020).
- Beach Cat Brewing in Birch Bay (opened August 2020).
- Otherlands Beer in Bellingham (opened August 2020).
- Temperate Habits Brewing in Mount Vernon (opened August 2020).
- Talking Cedars Brewing in Grand Mount (opened August 2020).
- E2W Brewing in Olalla (opened July 2020).
The following list also serves as an example and likely is not comprehensive. Some breweries expanded operations during the pandemic.
- Salish Sea Brewing in Edmonds opened a new, bigger brewery at a second location.
- Bale Breaker Brewing teamed up with Yonder Cider to open a tasting room in Ballard.
- Crucible Brewing also teamed up with a cider maker to open a second location, a tasting room in Seattle’s Crown Hill neighborhood.
- Kulshan Brewing opened a seasonal beer garden near Bellingham’s waterfront.
- Wandering Hop Brewing of Yakima opened its second location in nearby Zilla.
- Chuckanut Brewery recently opened its new tasting room in Portland. Also expanding production at its Burlington facility in the wake of closing the Bellingham brewery.
- Hellbent Bent Brewing of Seattle opened a taproom in Wenatchee.
As we wrap up this year and head into the next, some new breweries have announced plans to open in 2022. Here’s what I know thus far:
- Common Language Brewing in Spokane.
- El Sueñito Brewing in Bellingham.
- Project 9 Brewing in Seattle.
- Wheelie Pop Brewing in Seattle.
Why the Flurry?
This spate of brewery openings may not compare to some other periods in Washington history, but that doesn’t diminish its significance. Is it because of the pandemic or despite the pandemic? From my perspective, it is hard to tell.
I know that the last time the world faced this level of tumult, at the hands of the global financial crisis, it sparked a growth spurt in the brewery business. Anecdotally at least, that surge related to people losing jobs, carving out new careers, and pursuing long-held dreams. Also, some folks were looking for places to invest their money other than real estate and the stock market, which suddenly seemed very volatile and risky.
I am not sure if there is anything similar happening here, so I decided to ask. I posed the following question to some of the recently opened breweries.
Was there any relationship between your brewery’s opening and the pandemic or is it entirely happenstance that you opened during these unusual times?
“Actually, a little of both,” said Chad Cray, one of the owners/founders of Top Down Brewing. “We tried to open before the pandemic, but days before signing our SBA [Small Business Administration] loan the pandemic went in full swing. The SBA loan program got shut down and all funds went to PPP [Paycheck Protection Program] loans. From there we were on hold for about eight months, until the SBA program was funded again and we were able to move forward with an SBA loan.”
Cody Morris of Potlatch Brewing says, “Well, we have been planning on doing a brewery for a while – that was our reason for moving out to Hoodsport back in 2019 – but we had the horrid timing of signing [a lease for] a spot in February 2020 so we certainly had a very weird and slow buildout due to [the pandemic].”
Nick Ladd and Jessie Quan offer a similar response: “Our plans to open Ladd & Lass Brewing predate the pandemic. We had actually started looking for properties in 2019 so our opening during the pandemic is pure coincidence. Though we didn’t intentionally plan to open in the midst of a pandemic, the experience has only reinforced our belief that a neighborhood taproom is a vital part of being able to properly celebrate craft beer.”
One of the owners of Logan Brewing in Burien, Chris Polumbo, says, “We were building the place out, working towards opening our brewery and taproom, and then COVID happened. We basically quarantined ourselves in here, painting and building and getting the taproom ready for our opening, not knowing exactly when that would happen.” In August of 2020, the taproom opened, but at that time it was outdoor seating only.
The Log Jam
I’ve spoken to a few of the new breweries about this, and I surmise that one way to explain this wave of new brewery openings is to think of it as a log jam. The industry was churning along as it has for years, with folks making plans to open new breweries, and then the pandemic created a major impediment. When that log jam was cleared, everyone moved forward all at once.
Opening a brewery has never been something that happens overnight. Most often it is the result of years of dreaming, followed by creating and fine-tuning a business plan, and then months and months of buying, building, permitting, inspections, and so on. Some of the breweries with which I’ve spoken said that the plan was in motion and there was no turning back, regardless of the unexpected circumstances.
Knock on Wood
At the same time all that was happening, the number of breweries that closed because of the pandemic or even during the pandemic is hardly worth noting. I do not mean to sound cold or unsympathetic. Looking back at the last few years of reports here on the blog, the number of closings during the pandemic was about on par with the years leading up to the pandemic.
- American Brewing closed, terminating its unusual, circuitous romp through the craft beer industry. I don’t think the news surprised anyone. They’d barely locked the doors when Salish Sea Brewing announced it was taking over the space, reigniting the brewhouse, reopening the taproom.
- Populuxe Brewing cited the hardships caused by the pandemic as the reason for the closing of its brewery in Ballard. That space was taken over by Bale Breaker Brewing and Yonder Cider as a joint-venture taproom.
- Oldsters like me might remember Big E Ales in Lynnwood. Not likely any of you young whippersnappers are familiar with the name. That brewery closed last February, citing the pandemic as the impetus.
- Hopped Up Brewing in Spokane closed because the owners reached retirement age and wanted to relax. Perhaps the pandemic made their decision easier, but they did not directly cite it as the reason for the closure.
- Chuckanut Brewery closed its brewery and restaurant in Bellingham. By all accounts, the closure was not because of the pandemic so much as it was because of issues with the building owner, though that has not been confirmed. It was not a draw-down: Chuckanut Brewery is relocating and expanding operations at its location in Burlington.
I am likely missing some closings, and I fully expect to hear about those, as well as other news from the dark side of the cloud. Maybe I’m blacking out some stuff. Whatever the case, a certain amount of attrition is normal in the craft beer industry. Yes, the pandemic definitely had a lot of negative impacts on our beloved breweries, and those have been well documented, but around Washington, the pandemic was not as devastating as many people feared and predicted. Still, it is always sad when a brewery closes.
For years, some folks who observe the craft beer industry have predicted a bursting of the bubble or a thinning of the herd. One thing seems clear, pandemic or not, they are still waiting for their prophecies to come true. In the meantime, somewhere in the United States, a new brewery opened as you read this article.