Ballard’s booming beer business

By Mwiza Kalisa

With seven breweries in five square miles, Ballard is fast becoming the Bordeaux of beer. The support for local businesses and a pioneering spirit has made the community a leader in the beer industry.

“The consumer keeps demanding variety and I think that’s fueling the growth in different breweries,” said Kevin Klein, head brewer of NW Peaks Brewery. “People aren’t going to be satisfied with the same craft beer; they’re forcing the market to change so they can try new things.”

Klein has been a home-brewer since 1998. His nano-brewery opened two years ago and is one of several breweries that have opened in the area. Klein’s brewery, which is operated in a garage on Leary Way, has helped him touch base with consumers. While he plans to expand production in the future, a smaller and intimate approach has brought him closer to customers.

“Ballard has been very welcoming and supportive,” Klein said. “People here want to support local businesses and they’re also going to want variety.”

The nano-brewery has more foot traffic now that Ballard is becoming a destination for beer drinkers. Located one block away from NW Peaks Brewery is Hilliard’s Beer, which opened in October. The owners, Ryan Hilliard and Adam Merkl, expected 500 people at their grand opening but about 1000 people arrived that day. Their beers are already available in local pubs and Whole Foods will start carrying their canned Amber Ale and Saison.

Ryan Hilliard of Hilliard’s Beer in front of a wall of beer cans

“I think that we’re lucky in the Northwest and Ballard especially, because we have educated beer drinkers,” Hilliard said. “They know about beer, they know what they like and they know good beer when they taste it.”

Hilliard’s also features a taproom and in the summer they plan to construct a beer garden. “The spirit of the breweries here are such that everybody wants to help each other out,” Hilliard said. “Ballard has the industrial feel to it but it also has the industrial spaces to rent.”

When the staple Hale’s Ales moved from Kirkland to Ballard in 1995, their production capacity increased from 6,000 barrels a year to 20,000 barrels. Twenty-five years ago Hale’s was just one of three breweries in the state. Phil O’Brien, sales and marketing manager, said that today craft breweries have become the norm, particularly when younger people join the industry.

In 2009, Tim Czarnetzki left Washington D.C. to start a pub in Seattle with two friends. Urban Family Brewing opened at 5329 Ballard Avenue last month and has already attracted many beer lovers.

“We decided to come here because of the visibility of this location,” Czarnetzki said. “Seattle is a 20 percent market so you have a lot more opportunities.” Czarnetzki recalled the first time he entered a grocery store in Seattle, compared to New York and DC “the biggest section was the microbrew section.”

Urban Family Brewing currently has 25 beers on tap, by late spring they plan to install their own brewing system. “When you have a city that supports local beers that way, it makes everything else easier to do,” Czarnetzki said. “People here would rather purchase local, even if it meant spending more money, because they want to support the local community.”

Reuben’s Brews is the latest addition to 53rd street. Owners Adam and Grace Robbings are currently working to achieve their June launch date. Adam already has 30 to 40 recipes prepared, some of their beers include; Old Ales, German Rye Ales and a Pumpkin Rye Ale with bourbon. Their taproom, featured in the middle of the brewery, will allow the team to engage with visitors.

After gaining recognition for his beers, Robbings wanted to share his work with people on a wider scale. He won the people’s choice award in 2010 and was one of the top home brewers in the Washington Homebrewer of the Year competition.

“Even from my first brew, our friends and family loved the beer,” he said. “I became a sponge for brewing information; absorbing whatever I could read or learn.”

Robbings moved to Ballard eight years ago, he said that the choice and styles of beer, which were different to the UK, opened his eyes. He believes that the underlying trend of craft breweries in the country is driving Ballard’s growth.

“Ballard is a great location for breweries to open,” he said. “The water is amazing in Western Washington for brewing, we’re close to the cast hop fields of Eastern Washington and there’s a vibrant demand for craft ales.”

Robbings is looking forward to bringing different beers to the area. “There’s a lot of camaraderie in the brewing community,” he added. “I’m excited to be part of that.” (Disclosure: Hilliard’s Beer is a sponsor of MyBallard.)

Plus: Follow @BallardBeer on Twitter for more brewery news, and check out our new Ballard breweries map to plan a tour.

Local couple opening artisan brewery in Ballard

After a successful bout as home-brewers, Ballardites Adam and Grace Robbings are getting ready to share their passion for beer with the world, or at least with Seattle. Next summer they plan to open Reuben’s Brews in East Ballard at 1406 NW 53rd St.

“You may have already tried our beers,” they write in a press release. “As homebrewers, we were the People’s Choice First Place recipient in the PNA Winter Beer Taste in 2010 with our Roasted Rye PA. Our Best of Show American Brown was brewed by Anacortes Brewery in the fall of 2011, and served in a number of Seattle locations. Our co-founder and brewer Adam Robbings is an award-winning homebrewer with a vast collection of brews he can’t wait for you to enjoy.”

The artisan brewery and family-friendly taproom will have seasonal rotating ales. “This last year I’ve taken a commercial brewing program at UC Davis, attended the Craft Brewers Conference and worked hard to build a strong line up of award winning brews,” Adam tells us.

The Robbings want people to come in, drink a brew and tell them what you think. “Having a taproom was key to our plans – we really want to meet our customers and get direct feedback from them on our brews. We also can’t wait to show people our brewery and explain our artisan processes!” Adam says.

“My wife and I really enjoy sharing our passion with others by pouring our beers,” Adam says. “It’s something we have a passion for, enjoy, and can’t wait to share with others. It was something we couldn’t resist!”

You can follow their progress on the Reuben’s Brews Facebook page.

Ballard’s new micro-brewery pushes back opening

Hilliard’s Beer, Ballard’s newest micro-brewery at 1550 NW 49th St., has rescheduled its grand opening for Friday, October 7, from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. The brewery will then have regular tap room hours of 3-9 p.m. on Saturday. “We think by then we should have both the Saison and Amber in cans ready to go and a few draught beers as well,” said co-owner Adam Merkl in an email.

Here’s an earlier post about Hilliard’s opening.

Ballard’s newest micro-brewery opens soon

Update: Co-owner Adam Merkl sent us this update: “After getting the word out about opening on 9/17, it looks like we’re going to have to push it back at least another week. We’re shooting for 9/24, but now I don’t want to say for sure until it’s nailed down. We really want to launch when we have our cans ready and it was going to be cutting it too close with their arrival, canning line training, and finishing up the beer. Apologies to your excited readers… we’ll figure out something else we can add to make the opening worth waiting for.”

Earlier: Seattle loves its beer. According to Ryan Hilliard, one of the owners of Ballard’s newest micro-brewery, nearly 30 percent of all beer consumed here is craft beer. “That’s the benefit of opening a brewery in Seattle is that in general, we’re big beer people,” he tells us in his new 6,000 square foot space at 1550 NW 49th St.

Photo courtesy Adam Merkl

A couple of years ago Hilliard entered his home brew in the Puget Sound Pro-Am and it was selected for the Great American Beer Festival in Denver. After that, Hilliard decided it was time to go big – so he is.

The taproom photo courtesy Adam Merkl

Hilliard and business partner Adam Merkl are busy getting Hilliard’s Beer ready to open to the public. They plan on canning their beer and selling four-pack tallboys at local markets and at their taproom. “There are basically three reasons why we want to do cans: It’s better for the environment, it’s better for the beer and it’s better for the bottom line,” Hilliard explains.

Ryan Hilliard (left) and Adam Merkl (right)
Their Saison-style beer is currently at several area bars, including Greenwood’s Naked City Brewery and Taphouse and the new Phinney Market. The Amber Ale will be available in the tall boys, while several of their other beers including a Saison, a Scottish-style Ale and Imperial IPA will be available in their tap room and in growlers. These offerings are subject to change, depending on what Hilliard feels like brewing.

Hilliard’s officially opens to the public on Saturday, September 17th at noon. They will turn their parking lot into a beer garden and serve three beers on tap and the Amber in tallboys. They’ll run the canning line at times during the day so people can literally have freshly-canned beer. After the grand opening, they’ll be open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. during the week. The taproom will be open for beer-to-go and “beer for here” Thursday through Saturday 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. (Thanks Don for the tip!)

Seattle Beer Week kicks off today in Ballard

The Jolly Roger Taproom (1111 N.W. Ballard Way) is the place to be this evening for the official kick-off of the third annual Seattle Beer Week. Maritime Pacific Brewing Company has brewed the commemorative beer this year and will tap the first keg of Special Cask Conditioned Decompression Ale at 5:30 as well as read a proclamation from the mayor. Afterwards, the SBW kickoff continues to Brouwer’s Cafe in Fremont at 7 p.m., Pyramid at 8 p.m. and the last stop at Naked City in Greenwood at 9 p.m. While it’s called “Seattle Beer Week,” it actually runs until Saturday, May 28th.

The Jolly Roger Taproom will also be hosting a fundraiser on Saturday, May 21st for the Glen Hay Falconer Foundation. Seven different breweries will be on tap, each one brewed using Falconer’s Flight Hops.

Other Ballard watering holes that are participating in SBW are The Noble Fir (5316 Ballard Ave. NW), Old Town Alehouse (5233 Ballard Ave N), King’s Hardware (5225 Ballard Ave NW), Shelter Lounge (4910 Leary Ave NW), Hale’s Brewery (4301 Leary Way NW), The Leary Traveler (4354 Leary Way NW) and Mike’s Chili Parlor (1447 NW Ballard Way).

Click here for an entire list of the Seattle Beer Week events and follow them on Twitter for more information.

Conor Byrne launches monthly brewers night

Tonight is the inaugural “Conor Byrne Brewers Night” at the Ballard Ave pub featuring Fremont Brewing. “Most of the time micro-brewers will only get one tap handle in a bar at a time, on brewers night they will have three to four taps, keeping 2 for the rest of the month,” general manager Diarmuid Cullen tells us. “I thought it would be fun to bring some of their experiments out of the brewery along with their staples, and into the bar.” On tap tonight will be Fremont Brewing’s Universale Pale, Abominable Winter Ale, Bourbon Barrel Aged Abominable Ale, and a special infusion of their Interurban IPA.

So far Cullen has Fremont Brewing, Big Al Brewing in White Center and Two Beers Brewing Co. in Sodo lined up, but his talks continue with other brewers. “I guess I should clarify that local means I can get in the car and drive to the brewery without worrying too much if there is enough gas in the car, 20 minutes or less,” Cullen tells us.

The Conor Byrne Brewers Night will be held on the first Monday of each month.

Ballard’s newest nano-brewery now open

NW Peaks Brewery is small. Very small. It’s called a nano-brewery, which is smaller than a micro-brewery. “I’ve been a homebrewer for a long time and people kept telling me my beer was as good as most stuff out there,” owner Kevin Klein tells us,”So I decided to take the plunge and move to the next step up, a nanobrewery.”

Kevin Klein pouring his beer at the PNA Summer Beer Taste.

For the last year and a half, Klein has been working to find a good location and get through the permit process. Once the nano-brewery was ready to go, he turned to his friends for a little help. “I started the endeavor, but friends have been helping out with their expertise. It’s amazing who will work to help out a friend and of course, for beer,” Klein says. For the last few months, Klein has brewed about eight batches of beer.

Copyright photo used with permission

The philosophy of NW Peaks Brewery is a little different than some. There won’t be a “flagship” beer. Instead, Klein has decided to start with the standard styles as “sessionable” beers and will begin with a little more experimentation once he gets the process down. For now, the first two beers are Sahale (a pale ale) and Vesper (a bitter). Coming in January he’ll brew a winter beer called Snowfield and a full-bodied brown called Magic. “And yes, those names stem from names of mountains I’ve climbed in the NW,” he says.

Klein is starting a growler program called the “MountainBeers” which is like a beer-of-the-month club. “It’s a subscription program where you get one or more growlers a month and just exchange your empty growler every month for a filled one,” Klein explains. “Hey, and tis the season, it’s a great gift idea for a beer enthusiast in the area!”

The nondescript entrance to the brewery

NW Peaks Brewery is at 4912 17th Ave NW Suite B. The entrance is through the wooden fence of the Fuller-Anderson roofing/Swedish Contractors building. “We’re working on getting much better signage, but don’t have that yet,” Klein tells us. Check their website for hours, which change weekly.

Bike corral installed at Jolly Roger Taproom

After months of harassing the Seattle Department of Transportation, a bike corral is being installed at the Jolly Roger Taproom (1111 NW Ballard Way.)

George Hancock, the owner of Maritime Brewery and the Jolly Roger Taproom, tells us that they first talked with SDOT about installing a bike corral earlier this year when they were trying to figure out bike parking at their new location. A bike corral replaces one car parking spot on the street and allows about a dozen bicycles to lock up. “As part of the Bicycle Master Plan adopted by the City of Seattle in 2007, the Seattle Department of Transportation will continue to install On-Street Bicycle Parking in Seattle,” the SDOT website states. The department plans to install six of these facilities around the city this year. (Thanks Chris for the tip!)

Seattle Beer Week kicks off on Thursday

If you like to imbibe a cold one, Seattle is your town. In fact we’ve got an entire week (actually 10 days) dedicated to beer. Seattle Beer Week officially kicks off on Thursday at Hale’s Brewery (4301 Leary Way.) The inaugural tapping of a cask will be at 5 p.m.

A dozen or more beer-related events are each day through May 23rd. Although the official kick off is Thursday afternoon, the first event is the Old Town 15th Anniversary with $3.oo Big Time Brewing drafts starting at 11:30 a.m. Old Town Alehouse will host several events at the 5233 Ballard Ave NW location.

Other local spots celebrating Seattle Beer Week are The Leary Traveler (4354 Leary Way NW) with New Belgium Trivia Night on May 15th. Mike’s Chili Parlor (1447 NW Ballard Way) with the Iron Horse Brewing Night on May 15th, The Barking Dog (705 NW 70th St) with The Double Dog Dare Night on May 17th, Maritime Pacific Brewing (1111 NW Ballard Way) with the Jolly Roger Vertical featuring ’04, ’07, ’09 Jolly Roger and a special cask rumored to be from the ’90s. , Delancey (1415 NW 70th) with the Chuckanut Brewers Dinner on May 18th, The Dray (708 NW 65th St) with several events.

The festivities take place all over the city, but they end up back where they began, at Hale’s. On May 23, from noon to 5 p.m., beer connoisseurs can taste brews from 22 different Washington breweries.

Redhook releases new beer with Ballard brew ha-ha

“Ya Sure Ya Betcha” reads the label of Redhook’s newest beer. The popular microbrew giant is honoring its past with its new “Big Ballard Imperial IPA.” It’s no coincidence that Redhook decided to name the beer after our neighborhood, the popular microbrew giant got their start in an transmission shop in Ballard nearly 30 years ago.

To celebrate the new brew, Redhook is throwing a release party on Thursday evening at The Old Pequliar (1722 NW Market St) from 4 to 7 p.m. There will be happy hour prices, music and give-aways, including the chance to win $1,000 Redhook Ale Brewery gift certificate. If you can’t make it to the party, Big Ballard Imperial IPA will be available in 22 ounce bottles and on draught in the Western U.S. beginning late April.