The new Narrows Brewery opens at the 19th Avenue Marina in Tacoma this Friday.
Pacific Brewing Company is set to start taps gushing in downtown Tacoma before the end of the year.
In Centralia, long-time legend Dick’s Brewery is burbling with business that’s only getting better.
Puyallup’s Duo Brewing is looking into expansion, and local brands like Puyallup River can be spotted on most grocery shelves.
Seems like the vibe is really flowing — or perhaps, “hopping” — through the South Sound: Craft beer is still in, and growing stronger as a force in local business.
Take Pacific Brewing Company, for instance, a regeneration of the original 1997 company, which will open next to the Old City Hall, across downtown from its original Brewery District site, this winter. A collaboration between head brewer Steve Navarro and Pinnacle Capital CEO Brent Hall, the partners visualized the business concept just last December. Now they’re in permitting phase, with equipment soon to be in construction in Portland.
“We’ll be different simply in our uniqueness,” said Navarro. “Pacific Brewing and Malting was pretty big years ago, the heart of business and commerce in this area until is was closed due to Prohibition. Now we have the atmosphere of the tap room in an old brewery, as well as the opportunity to bring back all of the history behind us.”
The new brewery and tap room will occupy the roughly 3,000-square-foot basement space of the three-story building, along the northern stretch of Pacific Avenue, and seat around 50. For the first six months, Navarro and Hall plan to run it with a skeleton crew of themselves, friends and family; hiring of a few service staff will come later.
As for direct competition, that the new McMenamin’s brewery hotel in the Elks building will soon open across the street doesn’t faze the partners.
“We welcome the fact that McMenamin’s will be here,” Navarro said. “That will just bring more people, which will be even better for this part of town.”
On the other side of Tacoma, Narrows Brewing, too, is counting on an historic setting as an attractor to business. The 9,000-square-foot site is part of a century-old former lumber mill and later marina right at the edge of Puget Sound.
“(We’re) bridging innovation and tradition,” said general manager and co-owner Scott Wagner.
In Centralia, that’s just what Dick’s Brewing Company has been doing since 1986, after long-time home brewer Dick Young decided to make a go at opening his own local business. Now, his daughter is in charge of the 18,000-square-foot facility, as well as the adjoining tap room and deli.
“We’re definitely always experimenting with new products,” said head brewer Brandon Boch.
Dick’s 23-plus different beer varieties have specifically distinguished the company and the eight-variety packs have been a winner, Boch said. He also noted that the popularity of the deli and the growth in Dick’s merchandising have been boosts to the bottom line.
“The business is going really strong, and it’s always getting better,” he said.
That small-business beer brewing in general is strong here is also the opinion of Vince Cottoni, whose Sound Brewing Systems provides the machinery for well-known Puget Sound gathering sites like Fish Pub in Olympia, Anacortes Brewhouse north of Seattle, and Silver City in Silverdale on the Kitsap Peninsula.
Cottoni, who has been in industry since the 1980s, emphasized that beer micro-brewing is now a hotter industry for this region than ever.
“The current boom in building (these types of) businesses started about the time of the economic meltdown in 2008,” he said. “It’s my theory that everyone who lost their job decided to start a brewery.”
His company has done so well selling brewing equipment that he’s currently on lack of inventory.
“It’s a seller’s market completely,” he said. “My business has slowed because of that, not at all because there’s a lack of a market.”
As far as the brewers themselves, Puyallup, too, is rapidly growing into a microbrew hub.
One who can attest to this is Eric Akeson, who has been home brewing since the mid-1990s, and finally opened his Puyallup River Alehouse last year. Now he has 29 beers on tap and six employees, as well as a new gourmet hot dog selection.
“After nine years of running a trucking company out of Port of Tacoma, I decided I wanted to do brewing full-time,” he said. “People just want to have a place to order a good beer and relax, and to get good service.”
That’s not the only place Puyallup River can be found in the South Sound, though. The brand is also widely distributed in local stores like Tacoma Boys, adding a major revenue stream to the business.
“I just got out and beat the streets myself and found all the cool bottle shops and craft beer stores, and things started to catch fire,” said Akeson. “Then I got a really big break from Tacoma Boys and business started rolling pretty fast from there.”
Dan O’Leary, owner of Duo Brewery, is also based in Puyallup. After brewery ownership stints in Minnesota and Portland, which made him more industry-savvy and financially sharp, he moved his efforts to the South Sound.
Now he’s aiming to expand Duo’s facilities to keep up with demand. The home-based business doesn’t afford the space for the 10-barrel production he’d like, nor the tap room customers frequently ask about.
“We’re looking to find a space of our own, but in the meantime we’re just trying to stay focused on making good and consistent beer,” he said.
The best part about being a small brewery owner, though, are the customers. The work itself is his passion, he said, but it’s the positive customer feedback that’s the cherry on top.
“That’s what’s the most rewarding,” O’Leary said. “And my advice to anyone wanting to get into this industry is, ‘Keep making good beer.’ “