closed-breweries

Rash of brewery closures in Washington and what it means

 

Okay, I admit that “rash” is probably too strong a word, but around here brewery closures are very odd. We are not accustomed to any amount of attrition. So, since many people seem worried about things like craft beer bubbles and market saturation, I decided to take a look at recent brewery closures and see if there’s a pattern.

There are probably a couple that I’m missing, but below I share what I know about the Washington breweries that have closed over the last year or two. Not very many have, which is one reason why it is hard to identify a pattern. It’s also hard to identify a pattern because there probably isn’t one.

After some consideration, I included nano breweries on my list. However, I don’t think we should consider the nature of their lifecycles when looking at the industry as a whole. Each nano brewery is a unique and tiny universe. In most circumstances nano breweries are, by their very nature, unsustainable businesses. They are like eggs in a nest: some hatch and grow into adult birds, some do not, but you can’t sit there being an egg forever.

In a state with nearly 400 breweries, you’d think we would have seen a lot more attrition. As I said before, I don’t really see a common thread, at least not one that seems to suggest that the industry is about to implode. We will see what happens in 2018. I got a feeling it’s going to be an interesting year.

Big Al Brewing – When Al and his friends took over the old, always-struggling Pacific Rim Brewing Company in White Center, it was in dire need of upgrading and revamping. It never really happened and Big Al Brewing seemed to limp along with a lovely little taproom, a fiercely loyal crowd of regulars, and a brewhouse in desperate need of capital investment. That is, a serious upgrade to the brewing system. It never happened. I don’t know why. Not my business. Currently, the former site of Big Al Brewing is being completely rebuilt (practically from the ground up) into a new brewpub. Unified Brewing plans to open in the spring or summer of this year.

Blue Lightning Brewing – I do not recall the deal at this one. Wasn’t it part of a winery? Whatever the case, there was always something a little bit off about this place and the beer. Make subpar beer and your days are numbered.

Brickyard Brewing – The beer was never all that good, to be honest. They were off the beaten path in the otherwise busy Woodinville winery/brewery district. They tried expanding by opening a second tasting room/pub in North Bend. Eventually the owner just decided to throw in the towel. He basically told me that was tired of the battle, could see the storm coming, and the brewing industry wasn’t as fun as he’d imagined.

Des Voignes (B-Side Brewing) – A winery that was essentially dabbling in the world of beer. They opened as a winery years before adding a brewery. The statement they released in September 2017 said it all. “Although we have had a great deal of fun with the brewery… we have found that running two retail-focused businesses has taken more time and capital than we can comfortably sustain on our own.” Last I knew, they were looking for someone to come in and take over the brewery side of the business. They still operate the winery.

Duvall Springs – This was a nano brewery working out of someone’s garage. I remember them showing up at a couple of beer festivals, but that’s about it. For every nano brewery that closes thirteen more open, or so it seems.

Geaux Brewing – The Bellevue location closed because the property owner was not interested in renewing the lease. Luckily for Geaux, they already had a second location in Auburn, which is now the main brewery and taproom. They hope to open again in the Bellevue area when/if they can secure a good location.

Hilliard’s Beer – This was an interesting situation. First of all, let’s be honest, the beer was never on par with the rest of the neighborhood. As I understand it, they expanded with the expectation of exporting their beer (to Sweden I think) and then that deal fell apart for reasons beyond their control. Also, when they first opened, they proudly proclaimed that they would never brew something so mundane as an IPA. How’d that work out? Hilliard’s Beer certainly had beautiful cans.

Justice Brewing – Cool little nano operation that finally moved out of the backyard shed and into a building downtown. Then the city condemned the building and a legal battle with the slumlord began. Justice Brewing basically decided it wasn’t worth fighting that battle. We may hear from them again.

Prison Break – This nano came and went without me even noticing. Seems like I added them to our map/list of Washington breweries one day and the next day I was told they’d closed.

Spinnaker Bay Brewing – First of all, it’s still a brewery. It is now NW Peaks Brewing. Spinnaker Bay was a real mom-n-pop kind of operation. Very much a hands-on owner/brewer. The brewery’s owner got sick. Really sick. I don’t know that there were any problems with the brewery other than that. Life happens and when you’re sick, you gotta take care of you.

Strong Arm – They operated out of a shed in the backyard. Never realized plans to grow up. Another tree in the nano brewery forest.

Twelve Bar Brews – Now a second home for Everett-based Crucible Brewing, which has opened a tasting room at the location and intends to brew there as well. As I understand it, Twelve Bar was brewing on equipment that was owned by, and shared with, Brickyard Brewing (both in Woodinville). When Brickyard Brewing closed, Twelve Bar’s closure was something of a foregone conclusion unless they were willing to lay down some heavy capital.

So, what other breweries around Washington have closed in the past couple years? Got any insights as to why?

 


 

21 comments

  1. Woodinville’s seen a lot of turnover this year – we also lost the Redhook pub. With regards to Blue Lightning – they were based out of Vessel Wines but not owned by them as far as I know. Word of mouth was that the winery gave them very short notice to find a new home (which they didn’t), then kicked them out. Some time after, the winery started offering beer, but I’ve never checked it out.

    In the end, we still have Triplehorn (my favorite Woodinville brewery). 20 Corners is nice, the new Crucible taproom is promising and there are others like Sumerian and Fish if you’re looking for variety. We’re doing fine.

    1. i helped vessel right the ship, so to speak, and stayed on for a year.I’m not certain who’s brewing there now but they do have a good crew and lots of great concerts.

  2. It looks like In the Shadow Brewing has been down since April ’16 for local relocation but since then there hasn’t been any relevant posts/updates on their pages.

    Awkward Brewing, formerly of Lake Stevens, announced in March ’16 that they were moving out to Georgia due to a career advancement of a spouse. It looks like they’ve successfully reopened out there.

  3. I remember going to Hilliard’s a few weeks after they opened in a beautiful open spaced warehouse. It was an absolute beautiful space. They were one of the first to start canning beer from the start; I was surprised as I though growlers come before cans. I asked for their IPA and they said, “We don’t do IPAs”. I said give me your best beer and they opened a can of beer and poured it into a glass. I was actually double shocked as that was 2 strikes and guess now they are out.

    1. I always found that to be a serious flaw in their business model. How could they possibly have thought that not offering their flagships beers in kegs was a good idea, even in their own taproom? Having that product on tap in a bar or restaurant advertises the beer to the consumer so that they may go and buy the cans in a store or wherever if they deem the beer worthy. Terribly short sighted.

  4. Amnesia Brewing in Washougal closed late last year. Close to my parents’ house so I’ll miss them. Would love to know more about their story.

  5. Northwest Brewing in Pacific, WA closed mid-2017. And a couple of garage nanobreweries in Tacoma are unkown quantities after some beers appeared in the market – Destiny City BC and Janky Ox BC.

    1. Cole, as I said in the article, NW Brewing did not “close.” Rather, they switched to a contract brew model. Yes, there are a lot of those mysterious nano-brewers out there, but since they are still licensed by the state, I suppose they exist.

  6. New Boundary Brewing in Cheney just closed right before Christmas. River City Brewing in Spokane just shut down their taproom, but I believe the brewery lives on. Don’t know the circumstances for either.

    1. River City’s taproom was rented separately from the rest of the brewery, apparently wasn’t getting the foot traffic they wanted, and River City is gearing up for bottling and for greater distribution, so when it’s manager left for a gig with a distributor, they decided the taproom was more work than it was worth. Apparently they plan to hold events in the brewery itself from time to time.

  7. Gone is Westport Brewing, although I keep hoping whomever bought their brewing supplies will open up shop somewhere else in Westport. I love that town, but it has to be incredibly hard running a brewery there during the off season without any food offerings to fall back on. Still, I miss their cranberry beer experiments.

    Bog Water Brewing also has never really recovered since their fire either. Name is completely gone from the new building, and I heard that their brewer has now opened up shop in Aberdeen instead.

    1. I should state though, that I don’t know the true fate of Bog Water, just got sick of asking about them when I went in to the new space, and gave up a while ago.

      1. Bog Water was always an afterthought to the winery, or so it seemed to me. The only time I went there they only had on beer on tap and it was, well, unpleasant. Being kind.

        Westport was not without its problems, too. In terms of beer quality that is. And then there was a divorce that threw a big wrench in things.

        Thank goodness for Blackbeard!

  8. Brickyard won a silver for its Chili beer, and had its stout gain 2nd in magazine mention.

    It’s beer was distributed across Washington, as well both bottle and draft into Idaho.

    It was off the beaten path but the beer had to be at least decent to do all that.

    Thanks Kendall.

  9. If there is a pattern, it is unsound business practices more than bad beer. Whether it is conflict between partners, bad money management, city demanded code upgrades and lanlord/tenant disputes, it is the business side of things that shot these guys down.

  10. Oh. By the way. The new Geaux Brewing in Auburn is great. Brews and food are both worth the trip.

    Makes up for the loss of Strong Arm, Duo and Soos Creek down this way. Worried about Four Horsemen and Lumber House. 2018 May be a make it or break other for them.

  11. Any one know the deal with Hale’s Ales Pub? They’ve basically shut down the kitchen and are now operating as a taproom with a very limited menu. Sad to see that.

    1. That is the deal. The pub is now a taproom with Hale’s beer, on tap an to go, guest taps, and a limited food menu. Just 5 items.

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