Chuckanut Brewery – Expansion Plans Realized

This is a blog about beer. For the most part, that’s what we talk about. Sometimes our chosen subject matter touches other topics. For instance, today’s news that Bellingham’s Chuckanut Brewery and Kitchen found a bank to organize and secure loans to fund another round of expansion is cause for cautious optimism about our nation’s economic woes. Maybe, just maybe, things are starting to loosen up.

Chuckanut Brewery and Kitchen opened in the summer of 2008 just a few short months before the nation’s financial backbone snapped like a twig. The original business plan called for a series of small business loans that would fuel the brewery’s steady (but not slow) growth. Chuckanut barely got out of the gate and found its wheels stuck in the mud. The bank that signed-off on the original business plan could hardly be bothered to return a phone call, much less secure a loan.

In 2010 Chuckanut found a way to fund some small growth. The traditional funding mechanisms were still frozen, but they found a way to make it happen. It wasn’t pretty. It was not at all what they had so carefully planned. After the Great American Beer Festival (GABF) named Chuckanut the Small Brewing Company of the Year last September, the brewery began, once again, to look for a bank willing to reorganize its loans and fund further growth. This time the bank actually returned the phone call.

According to a report in the Bellingham Herald (read it here), Umpqua Bank has organized and funded a Small Business Administration loan that will provide new equipment and allow the brewery to increase its production. Five new 20-barrel fermenters are expected to arrive in June. The expansion will also include a new fleet of kegs and some other equipment and supplies.

Chuckanut Brewery and Kitchen specializes in brewing German-style lagers. Doing it right requires a lot of time in the tank. Whereas traditional ale might only condition for five to seven days, Will Kemper is quick to point out that a proper lager typically requires at least three times longer. More time in the tank means you need more tanks to keep production moving.

Throughout the economic turmoil of the past few years our local breweries have found all sorts of creative ways to fund expansion. Chuckanut is no exception. They did what they had to do to make it happen. The original plan is now back on track. Remember the good old days when small businesses went to the bank and secured loans? Maybe, just maybe, those days are…

I don’t dare say it.