A brief history of Redhook – Seattle’s original craft brewery

redhook returns to ballard
sponsor
sponsor
sponsor
sponsor
sponsor
sponsor
sponsor


Originally published in 2015, some updates were added in 2022 as noted.

By now you may have heard rumors about Redhook returning to Ballard or Fremont. Well, apparently it’s true. Redhook Brewery recently announced that it is exploring opportunities for returning to either Ballard or Fremont where it would open a new brewpub. Right now I don’t know much more than that, but I’m working on it.

[update 2022 – Turns out Redhook opted to open a brewpub in Capitol Hill back in 2017. The Redhook Brewlab produces small-batch beers generally for consumption at the pub.]

A quick history for all you young ‘uns. Abbreviated and abridged.


sponsor

sponsor

sponsor

sponsor

sponsor

sponsor

sponsor

sponsor

sponsor

sponsor

sponsor

sponsor

sponsor

sponsor

sponsor

sponsor

sponsor

sponsor

sponsor

sponsor

Redhook started brewing in a converted auto repair shop in Ballard in 1981 or 1982. There is some debate, but the way I always knew the story, the company was founded in ’81 but sold its first keg in ’82.

Circa 1981. Workers hang the first Redhook sign at the original brewery in Ballard.

It was Seattle’s first craft brewery. It opened at about the exact same time as Bert Grant’s Brewery Pub in Yakima. At that time, you could count the number of craft breweries in America on your fingers. They were not called craft breweries yet. Back then, we called them microbreweries.


sponsor


sponsor


sponsor


sponsor


sponsor


sponsor


sponsor

The first keg of Redhook gets delivered to FX-McRory’s in Seattle — 1982.

In 1989, Redhook opened a new brewery in the old trolley barn in Fremont. The Trolleyman Pub opened in the same spot. So 1989 is when Redhook left Ballard.

sponsor
sponsor
sponsor
sponsor
sponsor
sponsor
sponsor
sponsor
sponsor
sponsor
sponsor
sponsor
sponsor
sponsor
sponsor
sponsor
sponsor

[update 2022 – the old trolley barn is now the home of Theo Chocolates.]

In 1994 Anheuser-Busch purchased a 25 percent stake in Independent Ale Company, the Seattle company that produced Redhook. Anheuser-Busch distributed the beer far and wide as part of the purchase agreement.

sponsor

sponsor

sponsor

sponsor

sponsor

sponsor

sponsor

sponsor

sponsor

sponsor

Anheuser-Busch did not buy Redhook in 1994, although some people are happiest if they believe otherwise. “Budhook” haters aside, A-B purchased a 25 percent stake and entered a distribution agreement with Redhook. Anheuser-Busch has since acquired other craft breweries (Elysian, Goose Island, etc), but at that time, it did not completely acquire Redhook.

Fueled by Anheuser-Busch’s investment and the prospects of being distributed by that beer behemoth, in 1994 Redhook built the big brewery and pub in Woodinville. Brewing operations moved to Woodinville but the Trolleyman stayed open in Seattle. Shortly thereafter Redhook built another brewery, a replica of the Woodinville brewery (essentially), in Portsmouth, New Hampshire to fulfill the demand for the beer on the Eastern Seaboard. 

[update 2022 – Redhook has since closed the Woodinville brewery, while the brewery in Portsmith still operates.]

In 2002 Redhook bid farewell to Seattle altogether and closed the Trolleyman Pub.

In 2008 Widmer Brothers Brewing and Redhook Ale Brewery joined together to form the Craft Brewers Alliance (CBA), an independent, publicly-traded company. A-B was a major shareholder in the new company.

Circa 1981. Cheech on the left, Chong on the right.
Circa 1981. Cheech on the left, Chong on the right. Photo courtesy Redhook archives.

Fast Forward and Redhook is Coming Home

Maybe.

About 18 months ago (in 2014) I was having a beer with someone who happens to work in a position of some importance for Redhook. We were discussing, among many unrelated things, exactly what Redhook could do to become relevant in the eyes of local beer drinkers again. What would it take for Redhook to be cool again?

My suggestion, which is hardly original, was to open a small, satellite brewery or brewpub back in the old neighborhood. Not only that, but install something like a 10-barrel system and give the brewers creative license to produce interesting and uncommon beers. That idea had been run up the Redhook flagpole before but nobody ever saluted.

But wait! Redhook is talking about a return to Ballard or Fremont. If they follow through, I’ll be the first one at the bar on opening day.

[As mentioned above, Redhook was part of Craft Brew Alliance, which was fully acquired by Anheuser-Busch back in 2019. As far as I know, here on the West Coast, most of Redhook’s products are brewed in Portland at the facility previously owned by CBA.]



sponsor
sponsor
sponsor
sponsor
sponsor
sponsor
sponsor
@washingtonbeerblog
@beerblog

4 thoughts on “A brief history of Redhook – Seattle’s original craft brewery

  1. Biggest mistake Redhook ever made was leaving Fremont & the Trolleyman pub …I am reminded how much I miss the brewery every time I go by there.

  2. I was just wondering if RH qualifies for the #drink wabeer campaign? Although clearly not a “micro” brew anymore, they are a Washington beer. Correct?

  3. Yes Jack, they do qualify for the #DrinkWaBeer campaign. They are not considered “craft” because they are publicly traded, but that does not change their status as a WA brewery. “Craft” (in this case) has nothing to do with size.

    As far as “micro” is concerned, that term is used to describe breweries producing less than 15,000 barrels per year. Fremont Brewing, Georgetown Brewing, etc are not micro anymore. One size bigger than “micro brewery” is the “regional brewery,” which produces between 15k and 6 million barrels per year.

  4. I would be sure to join you also Kendall on that Opening Day, Ballard Bitter was my 1st beer awakening, oh the memories!

Comments are closed.