wingman brewers

Wingman Brewers Eyeing October Expansion

by Casey McLain, South Sound Bureau Chief

In a growing beer scene in Washington, and especially the Tacoma beer scene, Wingman Brewers personifies the evolution of the modern micro or nanobrewery, both in terms of their beer as a creative outlet that competes with the best beer in Washington, as well as the inherent bottlenecks and pitfalls.

One of those pitfalls, and unarguably the better end of the spectrum to be on, is that small breweries have a hard time supplying their customers’ figurative and literal thirst for their products. Wingman Brewers is no different, and after a move to the Dome District in Tacoma, the opening of a tap room, and a huge increase in popularity, I sat down with Ken Thoburn, head brewer and part-owner of Wingman over a couple pints and talked about their upcoming two-stage expansion from their present one-barrel system, and a couple other topics that may show up in future articles, as well as some topics that will never grace these hallowed pages.

Ken on capacity:

“I average between three and five barrels per week, sometimes I can do six. If one week I did a bunch of IPAs, the next week I’m dry hopping those IPAs and I don’t have the capacity to brew as much as I would in other weeks. Our first year we did over 90 barrels, our second year we did over 180. Close to 200. I was shooting for that. If you count the beer I brewed at other breweries it was over 200.”

Ken on the planned expansion:

“We’re getting a seven-barrel system. We’ve been seriously kicking around the idea of getting a seven or ten-barrel system for over a year now. We just didn’t have the money set up the way we wanted, so we waited, and thought about different financing while we got our credit better, because sub-prime lending blows. The estimated time of arrival for our new system is October. We’re getting a seven-barrel system, two 15-barrel fermenters, and a 15-barrel bright tank. This way we’ll be able to do more bottling and canning in house, because we’d like to put more brands in cans and bottles.”

Ken’s views on the saturation of breweries in the Washington market:

“A lot of brewers are just eating it now, with like 15 percent interest on loans. There are too many places that think breweries are the same as restaurants, and too high of a risk. At some point breweries might be, but I don’t think we’ve reached that saturation point. Last year craft brewers in Washington produced about a million barrels, and craft beer sales were about three million barrels. If people want to drink local beer, I think it could tip to about two-thirds Washington beer. Maybe we could have twice as many breweries. We could see more small breweries, up to ten-barrels, that only have to produce for their own tap room. I mean, how many bars are there? Are breweries going to put bars out of business? I don’t know.”

Ken on how expansion will effect Wingman’s creativity and tap rotation:

“We have five taps that we reserve for our beer. Once we have the seven-barrel system we will still brew on the one-barrel system. That’s my test kitchen and that’s what I want to use it for. One barrel at a time; we still make enough money brewing in small batches.”

Ken on Wingman’s ability to expand their distribution radius:

“We don’t know, would be the best answer. We’re hoping that, with our [new] system, initially we’ll be able to do all of Western Washington and some of Eastern Washington. Ultimately we’d like to do all of Washington and Oregon.”


About Casey McLain: Casey is better known as a sports blogger, writing his own sports blog (North and South of Royal Brougham) and contributing to Prospect Insider. He also harbors a deep passion for beer.

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