“Citizens of Bellingham and travelers from afar, prepare to submit to the Brew World Order.” – Illuminati Brewing, Est. MMXV
With the opening of Illuminati Brewing in Bellingham, Whatcom County is now home to 14 craft breweries. 14 breweries is an impressive number for a city of 85,000 residents. In order to thrive in this increasingly saturated beer market, breweries need a “thing” — something unique — that sets them apart. My partner and I recently sat down with co-owner and Chief Fermentation Officer, Bill Kimmerly, to find out what Illuminati’s “thing” is. And a most illuminating discussion it was.
First, Some Background
Bill and his wife Jennifer first found their way into the fermentation business as winemakers. Their Masquerade Wine Company started in 2004 in Prosser, before deliberately moving the business to Bellingham in 2011. As they settled into Bellingham, the Kimmerly’s took note of Bellingham’s budding beer scene. Bill explains that he visited Kulshan for the brewery’s grand opening and was blown away by its reception. An avid homebrewer since the 80’s, he began to ponder the possibility of opening his own brewery alongside Masquerade.
The problem: red tape at the time prevented wineries and breweries from co-existing in the same space in Washington. A recent law change alleviated this issue, and in 2015 Illuminati was born. Fast forward to today: the dual-licensed winery-brewery taproom is open for business. Beer people, bring your wine friends. Wine people, you know the drill. Welcome to the only dual winery/brewery in Washington state! May the co-fermentation begin.
As unique as it is, dual licensing isn’t the only “thing” that sets Illuminati apart from the crowd. Because of the brewery’s proximity to the border (and perhaps because Bill grew up in British Columbia), all of Illuminati’s hops thus far have been sourced from BC. Since 77% of US hops are grown in the Yakima Valley, it’s somewhat uncommon for Washington brewers to source from Canada. But Illuminati likes to do things a little differently — including the beer.
Illuminati opened with a fairly conservative beer lineup including a golden ale, pale ale, and scotch. Bill describes their flavor profile as, “subtle, not sledgehammer” — meaning you won’t find any face-meltingly hoppy IPAs on tap here. More beers are brewing up all the time, and I believe the best is yet to come. During our visit, I was most impressed with Kimmerly’s darker offerings — including Lucky 13 English Dark Mild, and Skull & Bones Foreign Extra Stout. Served on nitro, these silky smooth brews are a nod to what’s to come: English-style cask ales.
Bill plans to bring in a cask cooler in the coming months, setting up three cask taps at Illuminati. Cask-conditioned “real ales” are typically served a bit warmer, and with less carbonation than your standard kegged brew. They are pumped by hand using a beer engine, rather than forced into your pint glass by CO2. This technique results in flavorful, aromatic, minimally-processed beer. When handled correctly, cask ales are sublime. I’m very much looking forward to trying Illuminati’s take on this technique. For a primer on the process, check out Cask Ale: Draught Beer At Its Best.
Nuts and Bolts
How about a meat & cheese plate to pair with your wine, or a tasty pint of Illuminati beer? Cheese only plates available too!
Illuminati offers small meat and cheese plates at their deli counter. Baguette sandwiches are on the menu, and Bill assures me that other options are in the works. Did I mention they also serve wine?
Yes! Kids are allowed in the taproom.
When I asked Bill for any final thoughts, his response was simple. “We’re hard to find, but worth the effort.”
3950 Hammer Drive, Suite 101
Thursday – Monday, 11am – 9pm
Tuesday – Wednesday, 11am – 7pm