Almost exactly a block down from the Aslan location we all know and love, lies the historic Union Depot building. For the last year it’s been dark windows hiding empty space, so we thought. Over the last few months, beer drinkers in Bellingham have been looking forward to the Aslan Depot, Aslan Brewing Company’s brand new barrel and blending project.
In the world of beer, arguably the most exciting part is the mixed-fermentation, or the barrel-aging.
While the space may be new, and people may be seeing a different side of Bellingham’s first 100% organic craft brewery, doesn’t mean this passion for barrel-aged and blended beers hasn’t been there all along.
So, why the Depot, and why now?
According to CEO Jack Lamb, the need for space, after transitioning from a 15 barrel brewing system to a 30 barrel, turned into an opportunity to showcase their quickly growing barrel program.
“That’s a whole soul, a whole side of us that we were really scared to forget. We needed a space for this,” Lamb said in reference to the barrel program. While Aslan cans have becoming a huge success in the last year, the barrel program was something Lamb and Head Brewer Frank Trosset the rest of the team refused to forget.
Now, instead of the few barrels Aslan started with when they opened, the walls of the Depot are lined with barrels from wineries and distilleries from all over the world. Barrel-aging is one of head brewer Frank Trosset’s biggest passions, which seems to have rubbed off on the rest of the Aslan team.
“In the world of beer, arguably the most exciting part is the mixed-fermentation, or the barrel-aging. It’s the bigger picture of these things that take time. That’s where all the romance of brewing is,” Lamb said.
And you can tell. Walking into the Depot space, it’s clear that the amount of passion for their barrel program is matched by the level of energy put into their new space.
“We knew the new brewhouse was coming, we were running out of space in our warehouse, everything was just busting at the seams. So we signed this lease with every intention of opening up exactly what we have here,” Lamb said. “It really did evolve when we realized ‘wow, this could be a showcase for our barrel program.'”
The Depot caters to a different crowd than the Forest Street brewpub, but that doesn’t mean the original location will get any less busy.
At the brewpub, you can expect a family atmosphere and Aslan’s original flagship beers, plus some one-off brews that do well in that space.
“It’s really hard to enjoy a nice saison when there’s bison burgers passing by your face or maybe a screaming kid in the corner. It’s the perfect spot for your whole family, graduation or a meeting. It all adds up as it’s own beast,” Lamb said. “At the end of the day, it was getting really difficult to showcase really good beer, and most importantly uphold a reputation as a world class brewery. It’s hard to come up to that spot and think just think about good beer.”
At the Depot, you can expect specialty barrel-aged and blended brews by Aslan, accompanied by guest handles from some of the most well-respected breweries from around the world. In other words, if you want Batch 15, you’ll have to walk up a block. If you want their newest Wild IPA or a foudre-aged saison from Holy Mountain, the Depot can provide.
“This was almost a challenge for us to show the world just how serious we are about beer, and that we can make as good of beer as you’d freak out about at Elizabeth Station,” Lamb said. “In fact, we’re putting them on the same platform.”
Choosing beers for the Depot will be based on what is stylistically strong. You won’t find Dawn Patrol at the Depot, instead a few new Aslan IPAs like Elk Street, products of their own barrel project, and beers from world class brewers like Pfriem out of Hood River, OR.
The featured guest handles seem to be moving just as quickly as the specialty Aslan beers. In fact, so far the tap list is changing so quickly that it has shown two new beers a day. Part of the benefit, Lamb said, is that you can come in two consecutive days and see at least one new beer.
Guest handles are chosen with the idea in mind that you can’t find that specific beer anywhere else in town. Aslan has been working with Elizabeth Station to move more premium beer into Bellingham, with the pretense that they want to be good neighbors and offer different things from one another.
“We are choosing beers purposefully that are respected in the beer community,” Lamb said. “Exclusivity is a big deal.”
On the subject of exclusivity, there will likely be collaborations coming up between esteemed brewers and Aslan, smaller batches on the barrel-aged side of things.
While Lamb wants to show Bellingham that Aslan can bring more to the table than hazy IPAs, let’s not forget their reputation as a philanthropic brewpub.
“We do good for the community, make all organic stuff, we’re a B corp, and we’re a restaurant. There’s always been a little chip on our shoulders though that’s like ‘wait, we’re brewers! Come talk beer with us.’ This [the Depot] was needed just to fulfill who we are.”
Being a B Corp, which is a for-profit corporation that focuses on having a positive impact on the environment, society, its workers and the community, has been an interesting balance with sourcing beer from all over the world. However, there is reason for straying from sourcing locally, making their tap list that much more eclectic.
“If we sourced all of our [guest] beer from around Bellingham, would that really elevate this town? At the end of the day, its in my best interest to increase the rep for this town,” Lamb said.
The goal for the Depot, beyond showcasing their barrel program, is seemingly a place to appreciate good beer. Whether it be Aslan’s signature brews, or beers you’ve never seen from Oregon or Belgium, without the distraction of food or kids, this space is a sincere project with a lot of soul poured into the decor and the product. It’s all about the beer.
Aslan Depot will be holding it’s grand opening event and very first bottle release this Saturday, February 17 from 12 pm to 1 am. Join Jack Lamb and the rest of the Aslan team for premium pints and live acoustic music (at 6 pm) to welcome in Bellingham’s newest addition to the thriving beer community.