When it comes to craft beer, everybody has his or her favorite. Everyone’s tastes are different, too. That’s why it’s so exciting that our selection of breweries in Bellingham just got a lot more interesting, with the launch of not one, but two new microbreweries: Wander Brewing and Aslan Brewing Company.
I recently checked out both breweries, tasted their beers and visited with the owners. While their beers couldn’t be more different, the brewers all share the pursuit of brewing high-quality beers their patrons will love. And lucky for us, they are upping the diversity of Bellingham’s brewery scene, so just about every beer lover’s needs can be met.
Here’s the lowdown on our two new breweries:
Wander is owned by husband-and-wife team Chad and Colleen Kuehl (looks like “cool,” pronounced “keel”), two Midwest kids who set out for the West Coast and fell in love with craft beer and home brewing while living in San Francisco. During a long overseas adventure, they decided that opening a brewery was their long-term goal. So, they started writing their business plan in Africa—I mean, doesn’t everyone?
Once back stateside, they settled in Seattle. Chad went to brewing school and worked at Hilliard’s Beer, and then they set out to find “their” town. Where would they and their brewery thrive? In Bellingham, of course!
Next step was finding their location, which proved to be quite the undertaking. It took them months to find the perfect building, a 1920s-era shipbuilding space, with big wooden beams, lifts and pulleys, steel trusses, very high ceilings, and tons of natural light. They’ve transformed it into an industrial, yet warm environment—perfect for hanging out with friends.
Wander is a true taproom: you enjoy your pint in the low-key Brew Hall, right where the beer is made. Or, you can fill a 32 oz. barker or 64 oz. growler to go. You won’t find a kitchen at Wander, but you’ll always find a food truck parked outside, rotating between waffles, barbecue, tapas, pizza and more. There is plenty of inside and outside seating, including beautiful, live-edge tables that feature the Wander logo at the base.
“So, why Wander Brewing?” I asked. Colleen said, “We spent our whole life wandering, traveling and moving all over. It’s a spirit that encompasses us and lots of others—everybody has a different reason for why they wander in life. It’s about finding what makes you happy.”
I like that philosophy! And now, for the philosophy behind the beer: Chad and Colleen’s approach was to add to Bellingham’s beer culture by brewing styles that weren’t being explored as much as others. They’re doing a couple of Belgian beers, and plan to add many more. Their other offerings represent styles that Bellingham imbibers don’t often see, such as the California Common, which sports the lengthy moniker Washington Uncommon California Common. Oh, and it’s my favorite.
Wander Brewing has a 20-barrel brewing capacity—so lots of room for growth, but they plan to steer away from the hop-filled beers that are readily available in Bellingham. When I asked Chad who influenced his brewing style, he said John Maier at Rogue, for his style and background; Ryan Hilliard, who taught him how to do a startup brewery successfully; and Adam Robbings from Reuben’s Brews, for his diversity and creativity.
The Kuehls sourced as much equipment as possible from as close to home as possible, and many of the wood and metal furnishings in the tasting room are crafted locally, as well. After all, says Colleen, “You can’t ask people to support your local brewery if you’re not supporting the people around you.” Much of the wood is reclaimed from barns, Birchwood Elementary School and Chad’s grandfather’s bar in Iowa. The table legs were made by Black Fin Design and Fabrication in Bellingham.
Wander’s biggest sellers so far are the Shoe Toss Rye IPA (this is Bellingham, after all), followed by the Wanderale Belgian Blonde and the Common. Also on tap are the Bellingham Wee Heavy (a strong Scotch Ale), the Global Mutt Coffee Baltic Porter, a Belgian Brown and an Extra Stout. Chad and Colleen look forward to making a wide range of styles that are creative but not too far “out there” for the everyday craft beer drinker.
Bellingham craft beer drinkers are definitely showing their love for Wander. Each time I’ve been in, a nice crowd is filling the space. Chad and Colleen love being able to work together in their small business and supporting the community. Wander, they say, is about sharing their love of craft beer with the community and creating happiness. Stop by the Brew Hall soon, or check out the Wander Brewing/Aslan Brewing Co. Brewer’s Night at The Local in Bellingham on May 26th.
Wander Brewing 1807 Dean Ave Bellingham, WA 98225
Brew Hall hours: Tuesday – Thursday 3:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m., Friday 3:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m., Saturday noon – 10:00 p.m., Sunday, noon – 7:00 p.m.
Outdoor and indoor bike parking. All ages in the Brew Hall.
Wander Brewing on Facebook
Aslan Brewing Company
Another brewing team with an interesting backstory, Aslan Brewing Company is co-owned by Jack Lamb, Pat Haynes and Frank Trosset. Like so many great businesses, this one started over a pint, when the three were having one at Bellingham’s Green Frog. Soon they declared, “We’re going to open a brewery!” And with that, they started brewing at home, then built a pilot brewery in a downtown warehouse. There, they brewed batch after batch of beer until they decided they had some they could actually sell.
Once they reached that magic moment, all they needed was a space. And, like Wander, they had a difficult time finding one. A downtown Bellingham location was important, along with the right square footage and some fairly high ceilings. Finally, after nine months’ of trials and tribulations, they scored the perfect building. Then, it took another nine months of hard work to bring the brewery and restaurant to fruition.
And it’s gorgeous. Walls of windows offer views of passing people and traffic, while skylights keep the space bright. Plenty of wood, open ceilings with hanging bare-bulb lights, stone and metal are softened by green plants to make it an inviting space to hang out.
Aslan is Bellingham’s first all-organic brewery, with a 15-barrel capacity. They’re aiming to brew filtered, sessionable beers, along with some herb brews and beers with other fun ingredients not typically found in Bellingham. The owners love to describe Aslan’s beers as “dank,” which to them means delicious, high quality beers. (It means something else in the urban vernacular.)
But first, they wanted to get the standards out. On tap when I visited were the Flagship IPA, Irie Eyes Red Ale, Oatmeal Pale Ale, Pilsner, Cascadian Dark Lager, Stout-ly Man Ale, Bellingham Brown and Ginger Rye Ale. Aslan’s brewers were influenced by Hopworks Urban Brewery in Portland, along with Will Kemper, from Chuckanut Brewery, right here in Bellingham. “Chuckanut has been a massive influence. We have much appreciation for their standards and quality,” said Jack.
My companion and I decided to each get two-ounce samples of three beers. For me: the Red Ale, the CDL and OPA. For him, the Pilsner, Ginger Rye and IPA, each of which they’ll be canning, starting in July.
Aslan is also a full-service restaurant. Between the two of us, we tried the yam tacos, the Carne brat with house-made sauerkraut and waffle fries. The food was tasty, especially the fries, which are served in little steel buckets. I also loved the chipotle lime cashew cream on the tacos.
In case you were wondering, Aslan is Turkish for “lion,” and it’s pronounced AZ-lan. Jack, Frank and Pat chose the name because they wanted the lion as their brewery symbol. And you’ll see it everywhere—on their signs, glasses and t-shirts, for starters.
Since opening day, the Aslan boys are keeping super busy. The lunch, after-work and dinner crowds are flocking into the space, indulging in bison burgers and sampling all the beers. As busy as the brewery and restaurant are, Aslan will also be appearing at a few upcoming brewer’s nights:
May 26: Brewer’s Night at The Local (with Wander Brewing) in Bellingham
May 29: Brewer’s Night at H2O in Anacortes
May 29: Release Party for the Buffalale (a session IPA) at The Wild Buffalo in Bellingham
June 3: Brewer’s Night at Kulshan Brewing Co. in Bellingham
Aslan Brewing Co. 1330 N. Forest St. Bellingham, WA 98225
Hours: Monday – Thursday 11:00 a.m. – 11:00 p.m., Friday and Saturday 11:00 a.m. – 12:00 a.m., Sunday, 11:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m.
Outdoor bike parking. All ages.
Aslan Brewing Co. on Facebook
As Bellingham’s craft beer scene continues to grow, we beer enthusiasts will continue to have reason to celebrate! Whether you’re fortunate to live here or are visiting our fair city, be sure to check out all of our breweries. Each offers something distinctly different, but all serve their products with tons of love.