Monday, May 21st, 2018
Wander Brewing: Crafting Beer and Community in Bellingham
Brandon Fralic

When Wander Brewing first opened its doors in 2014, the Bellingham beer landscape looked a little different than it does today. Only a handful of breweries — Boundary Bay, Chuckanut, and Kulshan — existed in town before Wander came along. During the four short years since, Wander has propelled itself from “new kid on the block” to one of the most innovative, awarded, and sought-after breweries in Bellingham. Here’s their story.

A sunny day at Wander. Brandon Fralic photo.

Long before Wander Brewing was a thing, owners Chad and Colleen Kuehl were putting the name into practice by travelling the world together. They met at the University of Iowa before moving west for work. Washington Beer tells the story best:

“Then they decided to wander. Not just a vacation overseas or a roadtrip across America, but instead they set out on a worldwide adventure. The couple took a year off to backpack around the world. Somewhere out there, around a campfire in some exotic, distant land, they decided that beer was their future.”

And so it was that Wander Brewing was born. The Kuehl’s spent some time living in Seattle (Chad worked at Hilliard’s Beer in Ballard) before settling in Bellingham. They moved into their Dean Avenue warehouse location in October 2013. Their logo — a simple paper airplane — symbolizes this journey of wandering the globe through twists and turns, followed by a soft landing in Bellingham and the beginning of a new journey.

A paper airplane rests beneath the rafters. Brandon Fralic photo.

It may not seem so novel now, but in 2014 Wander’s warehouse brewery was an exciting new addition to the Bellingham beer scene. No other brewery in town showcased their brewing equipment in the same way — Wander’s brewhouse and taproom are one and the same, separated only by a fence. Bellingham Tap Trail was immediately impressed.  “When Chad told me the brewhouse would, essentially, be apart of the seating area…it occurred to me this would be a very different space,” said Scott Pelton.

Barrels inside the Brew Hall. Brandon Fralic photo.

Not long after opening their Bellingham Brew Hall, Wander earned its first big win: a Gold Medal at the Great American Beer Festival (GABF) in 2015 for their Wild Warehouse farmhouse ale. Young breweries dream of the day they might medal at GABF, and the majority never see it happen. To receive GABF Gold a mere year after opening is an outstanding accomplishment. Chad and Colleen had made a name for themselves, and the beer world was watching.

A series of successes followed Wander’s first big win. “Lots of our turning points are actually little things that happen,” Colleen says. “A new idea, a good conversation with customers or other brewers, small things that spark an idea that we run with.” She lists a few quantifiable accomplishments: the GABF Gold medals; Wander’s first foeders and coolship. I begin to understand that while Wander celebrates their past achievements, they are always looking forward. Colleen confirms: “We are constantly growing, changing, and evolving, so a new turning point is always right around the corner!”

Foeders at Wander. Brandon Fralic photo.

It was 2015 when Wander purchased their first foeder, expanding their award-winning Wander Barrel Project. Essentially oversized barrels, foeders hold a whole lot of beer for a long time, producing aged mixed-fermentation beers and sour ales. Then along came a coolship. Wander fabricated the first commercial coolship in Washington in 2016, further expanding their Barrel Project to include wild, spontaneously fermented ales. Each of these steps showcase Wander’s open-minded, innovative approach to brewing. Like the paper airplane in their logo, Wander is always moving forward.  

Wander beers. Brandon Fralic photo.

I like to think that, in a sense, Chad and Colleen have distilled their travel experiences down into each batch of beer produced at Wander. Their Uncommon California Common is just that — a steam beer inspired by their time spent living in San Francisco, the birthplace of the California Common style. Belgian influence plays into Wanderale Belgian Blonde and Together Belgian Dubbel. Global Mutt Baltic Porter is described so succinctly on Wander’s website that I simply must quote:

“Coffee sourced direct from the farmer in Brazil, fair trade cocoa nibs from the Democratic Republic of Congo, chocolate from Theo’s in Seattle, water from Bellingham, hops from Yakima, and specialty malt from Europe dance together in this BIG Baltic porter…a true Global Mutt.”

Does it get any better than that?

What’s New at Wander

Today, Chad and Colleen are busier than ever. Since celebrating the brewery’s 4th anniversary this year, they’ve spent their time coolshipping, collaborating, and creating. When we sit down to chat in the Brew Hall, they take turns holding their infant daughter as she bounces happily in their laps. It’s a portrait of the culture Chad and Colleen have created at Wander Brewing: nimble, tight-knit, and family friendly. There’s no rush to grow; they are patiently enjoying every step of their journey. The sky’s the limit for this paper airplane.

When I ask the Kuehl’s what they’re looking forward to next, they mention Bellingham’s waterfront redevelopment as a boon for the community. Of course, I meant to ask what they are looking forward to with Wander (my mistake), but their answers are revealing: they care deeply about the community. And by putting the community first, they’ve managed to win the hearts (and palates) of many a Bellingham beer drinker.

In conclusion, Colleen says it best: “We’re focused on being the best Wander we can be.”

Wander Brewing

1807 Dean Ave, Bellingham, WA 98225

Hours:

Monday – Wednesday /// 3pm-9pm
Thursday /// 3pm-10pm
Friday – Saturday /// Noon – 10pm
Sunday /// Noon – 9pm

Also, see our Beer page for more posts about Bellingham Craft Beer.

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About the Author:

Freelance writer Brandon Fralic has called Bellingham home since 2006. He writes about the outdoors, travel, and craft beer for a variety of regional publications. Brandon co-founded Beers at the Bottom in 2013 to highlight Pacific Northwest trails and ales. His first book, Beer Hiking Pacific Northwest, was released in 2018.