Thursday, May 22, 2014

New Belgian II: Wander Brewing in Bellingham

    The road Chad and Colleen Kuehl took to Bellingham and their just-opened Wander Brewing Co. rambled through a lot of the country, starting in Iowa, where they met as UI Hawkeyes, to San Francisco, to Seattle with a couple of years at Hilliard Brewing in the Ballard district, and finally to our city of subdued excitement.
Their beers were out in the community before the taproom was open.  Here are the Kuehls pouring a taster of Baltic Porter at the April Brews Day festival last month.  May 2 was the day the taproom doors were open and the customers poured in.
The brewing is done on a twenty-barrel system made by Marks Design and Metalworks down in Vancouver, WA.  "We wan to support local workers and jobs," Colleen says, so it was "extremely important to us to have equipment built in the U.S. and as close to home as possible."
The first thing a visitor notices is the high, cathedral-height ceiling in this industrial metal building.  It was erected in the 1920s and was involved in shipbuilding for some years. (Factoid: in World War II, Bellingham shipyards made minesweepers, with wooden hulls, for the Navy.)  After shipbuilding, the space was only used for storage until the Kuehls came along.
A crane, part of the shipbuilding days, now serves to hold a grist case over the mash tun.

      Wander uses three yeast strains, an American ale yeast, a German lager yeast, and a Belgian abbey yeast (Abbey I, Chad says, the same as Sound Brewing down in Poulsbo uses).  The first strain goes into popular styles, like a Rye IPA "for the hopheads."  The lager yeast goes into brews like the California Common, a steam beer like Anchor.  Chad's eyes light up when you get him talking about the Belgian abbey yeast.  I tried his Belgian Brown Ale (more of a Dubbel) and asked him how he got those hints of caramel and apple.  "Rather than add the yeast when the wort is around sixty degrees F, I like to stress the yeast at a slightly higher temperature, mid-70s, to tease out those esters."
    This was the opening day lineup: besides the IPA, the steam beer, and the brown already mentioned, they tapped a Belgian Blond, a Wee Heavy strong Scottish ale, a stout, and the Baltic Porter so popular at the festival.
     Wander has no restaurant side but has a rotation of food trucks in the creekside beer garden out back.
The standup tables inside are eye-catching.  These live edge tables were made by a miller in Everson, doing business as the Mad Marmet.  Tricky Timbers in Bellingham made some of the other tables.  The bar is a whole set of stories.  A strip of darker wood running down the center comes from a tavern Chad's grandfather operated in Iowa for many years; the lighter wood on either side is recycled wood from an elementary school in town, and the whole is framed by more live edge wood from the mill in Everson.
In the medium range plan, Wander expects to do some barrel aging and to start bottling later this year. The evolution of this business will be fun to watch.

(Visited 5/2/14)

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