Ever wonder who makes your favorite beer? Most brewers are regular guys and gals who happen to have a passion for — and commitment to — the craft of brewing. Yet because they work tirelessly behind the scenes, their stories often go untold. So for this post, I’d like to introduce one of Bellingham’s homegrown brewers. From keg washer to Head Brewer, Sam Milne has done it all at Kulshan Brewing. I recently sat down with Sam at Kulshan’s original location to hear his story and find out what’s brewing at James Street.
Like many brewers, Sam started out as a homebrewer. Originally from the Seattle/Bellevue area, he took a job at Pyramid Brewing to get a foot in the industry before making his way up to Bellingham to attend WWU. After a stint working out of state in pro baseball (Sam is a huge Mariner’s fan and wears his M’s gear with pride), he returned to Bellingham and took a job washing kegs at Kulshan in 2014.
At the time, Kulshan was a relatively young brewery and the newest in town. Sam worked his way up to AM shift brewer, eventually earning his current title: Head Brewer. Today, Sam spends his days crafting new recipes for the Brewer’s Select program that he created.
What is Brewer’s Select, you ask? It’s Kulshan’s label for new, experimental brews. Kulshan has long been known for their solid lineup, from Bastard Kat IPA to Russian Imperial Stout. These full-time beers are now brewed over at Kulshan’s second location, K2. With most production happening at K2, the original brewery is freed up for pilot batches. Sam enjoys the creative control of recipe creation and thrives on the challenge of brewing new beers.
When it comes to methodology, it’s all about balance and moderation for Sam. He admires the German brewing tradition of using fewer ingredients to craft the purest forms of beer. It’s therefore no surprise that Sam loves to brew lagers. Requiring patience and attention to detail, these brews can achieve a greater depth than hop-heavy IPA’s. A fine example is Kulshan’s German-style Pilsner — a “classic session lager” and 2017 Best of Craft Beer Awards gold medal winner.
And when it comes to making it as a brewer? “Do your homework,” Sam says. “That’s the most important part of being a successful brewer.” Research is key to the craft.
During my visit, I noticed a couple beers from other breweries in the office. Sam’s method for recipe creation is straightforward: he studies the style. He tastes commercial examples of the beer he wants to create, and formulates a mock recipe — pulling his favorite characteristics from each beer sampled. There’s also room for collaboration. In Bellingham’s tight-knit brewery brotherhood, it’s not uncommon for Sam to involve other brewers in the research and recipe creation process.
One fellow brewer in particular who Sam often works with is Ben Buccarelli from Menace Brewing. The two met at WWU and have since brewed together on multiple occasions. Their latest collaboration was in the form of a Belgian Pale for Bellingham Beer Week 2017. This one’s as good as gone, but fear not. There’s always something new in the works at Kulshan.
What’s New at Kulshan
Woods Coffee Porter
Pairing coffee and beer in the Northwest is a given, yet surprisingly few breweries pull it off. Kulshan’s undeniably delicious coffee porter more than pulls it off, featuring locally roasted Woods Coffee. As described on Instagram, it “is beautifully balanced, infused with cold brew and rings in at a smooth 6.5% ABV”. When Kulshan’s social media and community outreach manager, Paige, poured me a schooner at lunchtime on a weekday, I nearly ordered a second round. Good thing they offer cans and growlers to go.
Kulshan’s latest (and arguably its hottest) IPA is Greenwood. Named after one of Kulshan’s founding fathers (the late Jon Greenwood), this tropical style celebrates Greenwood’s life. Think Sunnyland IPA, but with 5 hop varieties, less bitterness, and more dry hop flavor.
Remember when Kulshan and Wander collaborated on a Raspberry Lager for Bellingham Beer Week 2016? The brew was such a hit that Kulshan is bringing it back — just in time for summer. Sam pulled a sample for me and it smelled like sweet summer days on the raspberry farm. That’s what you get when you pack hundreds of pounds of local berries into a beer. Expect this one to release around the 4th of July.
Also watch for a new Pale Ale in collaboration with Transition Bikes, a high-gravity Export Saison, a “crushable” Shandy, and additional German-inspired recipes in the coming months. Prost!