Sunday, May 4, 2014

Everybody's growing--

   As the consumption of craft beer in Washington continues to climb as a percentage of total beer sales (hey, if Oregon's percentage is 15, we still have a ways to go), signs of growth appear in breweries all over the state. Fremont Brewing, an old favorite, has expanded beyond its original footprint, in the same location so that it now has an L shape around a yoga studio at the corner of N. 34th St. and Woodland Park St. in Seattle.  They still call their taproom the urban beer garden but have moved it into a more spacious setting.
   The yoga studio must be scouting out a new location, because FBC has plans to expand further, into their space for yet more taproom capacity and production space.
    Across the lake in Woodinville, Dirty Bucket is also planning to expand the floor space and Bellevue Brewing has tanks on order to nearly double production over last year's levels.  Another sign of growth is more hours open to the public.  Dirty Bucket went from Saturdays only to six days a week, while up in Arlington, Skookum has gone from the Friday and Saturday afternoon taproom hours to five days a week, Wednesdays through Sundays.
     Here in Bellingham, as we await the next two breweries about to open (Wander and Aslan), our existing producers have been fitting more equipment into the floor space they have to put out more beer.  The recent appearance of Chuckanut bottles (the 500 ml size) is due to the new bottling machine they ordered from Meheen Manufacturing in Pasco, Wash.
The machine was filling at the rate of twenty bottles per minute on March 18, when I got to watch the operation.  Meheen customized this machine for Chuckanut as the half-liter size the brewery has oped for falls between the 12-oz. (355 ml) and 22-oz.(650 ml) sizes most commonly used for beer on both sides of the border.
The bottles are labeled before filling.  Chuckanut bought a hand-labeling machne from another northwest manufacturer, LabelOne Connect in Beaverton, Ore.

   Another Bellingham brewer, Kulshan, does a roaring trade in growlers, thanks to its exchange program. A cooler out front holds an assortment of growlers already filled with counter-pressure. A customer walks in with an empty Kulshan growler, chooses a full one from the cooler, and slaps a ten dollar bill and the empty growler on the bar.  He or she is all set.  Keeping that cooler stocked is a major job here.
To make growler filling more efficient, Kulshan has recently acquired and installed this double growler filler made by the Alfred Gruber Co, in Austria.  In the photo, only the right-side filler is in use.  The fill rate when two 64-oz. growlers are at the teat, so to speak, is two per minute or 120 per hour.  Kulshan has also altered the landscape of North James Street by installing a 26 foot high grain silo out in front, big enough to hold 50,000 lbs. of malted barley. This unit was built in Alberta.  Great Western Malting, down in our Vancouver, ships a truckload of the malt to Kulshan every other month.
    This is just a wee sample of the bull market in craft brewing in these parts.  As more people discover that beer is just as varied and as fascinating as wine, the demand driving that market will go up yet more.

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