Building a Brewery: Stemma Brewing to enter Bellingham beer community

By |2018-10-18T13:20:58+00:00September 28th, 2018|

*We’ve mentioned Stemma in other stories and Tap Roundups in their beginning stages, but referred to them as Hoppa Brewing. After some decisions were made and copyright issues were smoothed over, Hoppa recently became Stemma*

There’s no doubt that Bellingham has shown endless support to breweries new to the local scene. Lucky for us beer drinkers, each one brings something special to the table. Whether that something is within the beer itself or part of the atmosphere created by spending time at that brewery, there’s something for everyone in this town.

If you need a quick lunch beer and some solo-work or study time, or if you want to bring your family out for a night of fun in Bellingham, there’s options beyond options in this town. Soon, with the addition of Stemma Brewing to the brew community, there will be a family-friendly brewery with a coffee shop atmosphere and the potential of offering ice cream as well.

Stemma, a Latin word meaning “written family genealogy”, is owned by Jason Harper and his wife Kim, both of whom moved here to attend Western Washington University years ago, and stayed in Bellingham after Jason had developed a business plan for a class in the later part of his time at WWU, around 2011. Jason had been home brewing for about a year  at that point, and in a time when Chuckanut and Boundary Bay were the only two breweries in town, he wanted to start a brewery.

Kim and Jason Harper

While the Harpers pursued other jobs post-graduation, Jason with Dickerson Distributors, where he did operations and beverage sales and around Bellingham and got to know the local beer industry well.

After starting a family and starting to take the brewery idea a bit more seriously in December of 2017, Stemma was born.

“A lot of what we’re trying to build as a brewery is a family-friendly space, something that we hope we can pass down to our kids or pass down to our employees,” Harper said.

Stemma will be doing just that when they open their location up against I-5 on Moore Street. In the immediate future, Harper plans on making Stemma a mellow taproom with a family-oriented atmosphere, where kids are welcome without the worry of bringing them into a bar setting. Harper attributes this plan to the idea that craft beer has truly become about the appreciation of taste and quality, rather than the ABV.

“Everyone does such a good job in this town,” Harper said of the breweries that have come before Stemma. “I want to have kind of an array of seating, and have it be a little more relaxed.”

Harper plans on having couches and areas where groups can sit, as well as bar seating, making sure he caters to the many types of beer drinkers in Bellingham, people bringing in their families or large groups, or those enjoying a solo pint.

What about the beer? We are lucky to have a brewery that specializes in certain styles, making the Bellingham beer scene unique in the sense that there truly is something for everyone. In Stemma’s case, we’ll be seeing hop-forward classics as well as some more experimental and herb-based beers.

“We’ll be producing some styles naturally lower in alcohol, like 5.5% ABV and less. The term ‘session’ right now has kind of a negative connotation, we aren’t going to be making a barleywine and calling it a session,” Harper said. “Rather just choosing styles that are naturally lower in alcohol.” In other words, Stemma won’t be compromising flavor for the sake of making something more sessionable.

The idea here is that someone can come in and have a couple beers and try all the things they want to try, without running the risk of feeling like you had a few too many.

Otherwise, Harper will bring some of his home brewing experience to Stemma with recipes for beers he’s made at home over the years, some of which he’s won awards for, like his lemon-cayenne lager. Pairing perfectly with the ice cream, there will also be a vanilla bean milk stout to drink on it’s own or in a stout float.

“Messing around with herbs and spices, messing around with all ingredients…everything is on the table,” Harper said. “The focus will still be making a quality beer.”

Making quality beer on the new Stemma brewhouse will in fact be possible, Harper knows. In fact, he’s had quality beer from this system before, when it belonged to Silver City Brewing years ago, then Cloudburst Brewing, who passed it on to Stemma, showing part of Stemma’s namesake.

Stemma’s space, pre-renovation.

While 75% of Stemma’s taps will be generally lower alcohol brews, Harper plans on making seasonally higher ABV beers.

Opening a brewery always comes with certain challenges and obstacles. In Stemma’s case, other than the copyrighting issues with their original name, zoning laws have made finding a space more difficult than anticipated. Finally, Jason and Kim have found a space on Moore and Iowa, perfect for a brewery with high ceilings and a warehouse space for the actual 10 barrel brew system. There will also be outdoor seating, and lots of opportunity for development and on-site expansion.

Jason signing the lease for their Moore St. location.

As of now, the goal for Stemma will be to launch during Bellingham Beer Week 2019. Harper has a long list of things to do, including perfecting the space, and hiring a lead brewer (he’ll still have a hand in production and recipe writing).

“Finding someone who can complement that side of it will be pretty key,” Harper said. Otherwise, there will be a small staff, meaning you’ll definitely be seeing Jason and Kim around the brewery.

There’s no doubt that we live in a very special craft beer community, and Jason and Kim Harper are excited to become a part of it.

“I think it was the culture in Bellingham that we stuck around for,” Harper said. “I feel like you have good conversations with all of your bartenders. It’s the community and culture that kept us here. We know a lot of brewers and bartenders in town. It’s a cool group and we are stoked to be a part of that.”

Stemma is well on their way towards an opening in 6 or 7 months. We are looking forward to seeing what the challenges and victories are that Stemma faces in their pre-opening stages, and exactly what it’s like to build a truly grassroots brewery.

About the Author:

Layne Carter
Tap Trail's Assistant Editor, Layne Carter, grew up in Spokane, Washington but has spent the last five years in Bellingham studying journalism at WWU. When she’s not beertending around town, you can find her biking, drinking beer or biking to a number of local breweries for a beer.